LOS ANGELES – Arizona State University is unlikely to be playing in the Rose Bowl, but the Grand Canyon State will still be represented.
Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords was named grand marshal of the Rose Parade in Pasadena on Jan. 2. At the Rose Bowl game later that day, she will flip the coin to decide the kicking and receiving teams.
Giffords, a Democrat who represented Tucson and southeast Arizona in Congress from 2007 to 2012, was gravely wounded during a 2011 assassination attempt on Jan. 8, 2011.
Parade organizers said, Giffords, who’s now an anti-gun violence activist, fits this year’s parade theme, Turning the Corner, because of her courage and tenacity after being shot.
She’s not the first with strong Arizona ties to serve as Rose Parade grand marshal. For instance, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, had the honor in 2006.
Just as O’Connor did, Giffords will ride down Colorado Boulevard and wave to crowds in the 134th running of the parade in Pasadena.
Tournament of Roses President Amy Wainscott praised the former congresswoman’s bravery for not only in recovering from her injury, but for doing so while still in the public eye.
“Almost all of us have the luxury to face our challenges in private, and many of us also have the freedom to overcome or heal on our own timeline. But when one has no choice but to be both vulnerable and strong in public, with the whole nation watching, that calls for a special brand of bravery,” Wainscott said in a statement. Thus, she “is the perfect example of how to turn the corner.”
The Rose Bowl usually features a matchup between the Pac-12 and Big Ten conference champions. The parade and game traditionally take place on New Year’s Day – except when the start of the new year falls on a Sunday, as is the case this year.
The Sun Devils’ football season got off to a rocky start with the departure of head coach Herm Edwards after a shocking loss to Eastern Michigan University just three games into the season and amid an NCAA investigation into the program’s recruiting scandal.
Under interim head coach Shaun Aguano, the team lost to Utah and the University of Southern California, but rebounded against the University of Washington.
The Sun Devils are currently in eighth place in the Pac-12 with a 2-4 record. UCLA leads as the only undefeated team in the conference.
The last time ASU appeared in the Rose Bowl was 1997, when they lost to Ohio State 20-17.
Giffords was holding a Congress on Your Corner constituent event outside a Safeway grocery store north of Tucson on Jan. 8, 2011, when a gunman opened fire. The attack left six dead and Giffords and 12 others injured. Giffords was struck in the head by a bullet fired from point-blank range.
She went through a lengthy recovery, including being placed into an induced coma and being kept alive with the aid of a ventilator. After waking, Giffords went through intense speech and physical therapy to recover her ability to move and speak. Giffords was eventually able to deliver speeches, including an emotional address to Congress in 2013.
In a statement, she called being named grand marshal “a tremendous honor” and lauded the parade’s theme for “the idea that we all can make a conscious decision to go in a different direction, towards something better.”
“This philosophy of moving ahead is one that I’ve tried to embody both in my personal journey of recovery since being shot in 2011 and in the fight for gun violence prevention that has become my life’s work.”
After Giffords resignation and recovery, she became a leading gun control and anti-gun violence advocate, founding Giffords, a political action committee, with her husband, U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat who is seeking re-election.
The nationally televised parade, known for its lavish floats, decorated horses and marching bands from around the world, starts at 9 a.m. MST on Jan. 2.