November 12, 2004

In the summer of 2000, the Tribune wrote about a tall, strongarmed quarterback Arizona State recruited.

His name as it appeared in the story: Andrew Walters.

We eventually got the name right. The kid gave us no choice.

Walter will play his final game at Sun Devil Stadium on Saturday night. There’s still a trip to Tucson and a bowl game to be played, but this is it for No. 16 on Frank Kush Field.

It will be an emotional goodbye — for the fans and Walter.

"It’s been a long ride filled with a lot of ups and downs, tough decisions and fun times with the guys," Walter said. "It feels like I just got here the other day.

"It’s going to be sad, but it’s something I just have to put out of my head until after the game and then shed the tears."

Walter’s spectacular career often has been defined by spectacular statistics.

The 400-yard games. The fivetouchdown nights. The 80 career touchdown passes, a Pac-10 record.

Extraordinary accomplishments for sure, but they’re insufficient in measuring his value to ASU.

Here’s a better judgment: Where would the Sun Devils be without him?

Certainly not 7-2. Or making travel plans to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl. The athletic department wouldn’t be on the verge of wiping out its $1.6-million deficit. And the ASU football program wouldn’t have emerged from the dark ages.

Other than that, Walter hasn’t done a whole lot.

"We’ve had our ups and downs in trying to build a program, and in terms of getting this thing back to where we want it, he’s the biggest piece," said coach Dirk Koetter. "If he turns pro (in 2003), who knows where we are right now?

"He had the opportunity to change our fortunes most drastically of any individual player, and he chose to stay. Right now I appreciate Andrew for that as well as the way he plays."

Walter is not the best quarterback in ASU history. That honor belongs to Danny White, with Jake Plummer and Jeff Van Raaphorst in the money because they led the Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl.

But in terms of what he’s meant to the program, and the pressure placed on him every week, Walter has no equal.

The Devils already were a powerhouse under Frank Kush when White became the starting quarterback in 1971. White threw more logs on the fire.

Van Raaphorst had great talent around him when he led ASU to the Rose Bowl in the 1986 season. Fourteen players from the ’86 squad were NFL draft picks.

Plummer was similarly blessed. He was one of 14 players on the ’96 team who were drafted.

This ASU squad is nowhere near as talented. In fact, there’s not a single player from this year’s team who would have cracked the starting lineup on the ’96 club.

That the Devils should finish 9-2 — their only losses to top-five teams USC and California — is testimony to Walter’s impact.

Walter also shoulders more responsibility than any quarterback in recent ASU history.

While Air Koetter has enabled Walter to rewrite the ASU record books — he’s the career leader in touchdown passes, passing yards, career attempts, career completions, single-game passing yards and single-season passing yards — it also places an extraordinary burden on the QB.

Simply put: If Walter plays well, the Devils have a chance to win. If he doesn’t, they have no chance.

"He is one of the major reasons we are where we are," Koetter said.

One of the major reasons?

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Walter’s career is that it almost never happened. He considered transferring after Koetter named Chad Christensen the starter heading into the 2002 season.

"I was thinking about that the other day," Walter said. "There was a chance where I could have hit the bricks and left. To come from out of nowhere and to go through a coaching change, and then 80 touchdowns later . . . who would have thought that would happen?"

By now, we know everything there is to know about Walter the quarterback. Yet, unlike Plummer, whose personal story was well known, Walter’s private life has remained a mystery.

We know he’s from Colorado. We know his grandparents own a cabin near Camp Tontozona. Other than that, we know very little.

So we asked for a little help from safety Riccardo Stewart and center Drew Hodgdon who, along with Walter, were part of ASU’s 2000 recruiting class.

They describe a 22-year-old who is going on 52.

Walter likes his room neat, with the bed made and everything in its place. He listens to Frank Sinatra. He reads newspapers and watches the evening news.

Stewart and Walter were roommates as freshmen, and Stewart would laugh as Walter went to bed wearing earplugs and with a pillow over his face.

"He’s like a grandfather," Hodgdon said. "All he needs are some slippers and a smoking jacket, and he fits the role."

They also describe a 22-year-old who’s going on 12.

"He’s probably less mature now than when he got here," Hodgdon said. "Our level of humor now is around the junior-high range.

"I wish I could tell you more, but honestly, I don’t think it’s PG-rated."

And does Walter have game with the women?

"He doesn’t have to," Hodgdon said. "Everyone wants to date the quarterback."

In less than two months, Walter will be history, and we’ll remember the dominant performances, the cannon of a right arm, the ability to elevate his game when his team needed him most.

Hodgdon will remember something else.

"He truly was somebody who didn’t care about the statistics and the numbers," Hodgdon said. "He cared about winning."

There’ll be one last encore Saturday for the home folks. Pat Tillman’s No. 42 will be retired. No. 16 deserves a lengthy standing ovation.

For, by now, everyone knows his name.

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