The UA Wildcats will take on the ASU Sun Devils during the Territorial Cup Championship to be held Nov. 23 at 8 p.m. in Tucson. The Territorial Cup is the oldest rivalry game trophy in the U.S., with the first cup granted in 1899.
In a series of letters that Kevin Knowles sent to his family and friends while deployed in Afghanistan, he wrote about spending Christmas with others in the service and thanked everyone for the thoughtful letters and care packages they had sent.
Knowles, who graduated from the University of Arizona in 1992 with his undergraduate degree in chemistry, served in the U.S. Navy for 20 years. Most recently, he served as a headquarter staff member in Kabul on special staff assignment during which he worked with civilian contractors and service members from every branch of the military and from allied countries.
"That in itself is not remarkable. What is wonderfully remarkable is that he just got back home from serving a 14-month deployment in Kabul, Afghanistan," said Barbara Knowles, his mother, who lives in northern Arizona.
"He has been very committed to the Navy," she added. "The letters and emails never mentioned how discouraged he or his comrades were but always talked about the sacrifices those troops were making."
The family had already considered organizing a reunion. But then Kevin Knowles mentioned to his mother that he deeply wanted to attend the UA-Arizona State University football game, which is being held Nov. 23 at Arizona Stadium.
Initially, and without his knowledge, Barbara Knowles set to work, inviting siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews to fly out to Tucson from across the nation for the UA-ASU game.
It was meant to be a surprise, but she eventually broke down and told him about her secret plan. Now, a group of 25 to 35 members from both sides of the family are expected to attend the game and enjoy what is amounting into a family reunion after all.
For many in the family, which includes individuals who have served and are serving in various branches of the military, it has been years since they have been able to connect.
"Something like this is more special, not only because Kevin was gone for so long, but because there was such sparse communication from him," said Michael Seall, a UA Honors College student and one of Kevin Knowles' nephews.
It also will be one of the few times Kevin Knowles will be on campus since graduating 20 years ago.
"After graduating, I was on active duty and deployed a lot," said Knowles, who now lives in Texas and has returned to work as a pharmaceutical sales representative.
Knowles, the youngest of six children in his family, had earned a Navy ROTC scholarship to attend the UA beginning in 1987. After graduating from the UA and being commissioned, he set out for duty.
After years of service, Knowles said he has developed a better understanding and deeper respect for his colleagues.
"These guys go on very little sleep when away from the main base, have very little food and live in a combat zone. Some could have retired years ago, but they stay so dedicated," said Knowles, who had served as an analysis and a production team leader.
"Looking back, and through the years, there was no problem paying back my time for what the Navy provided with regard to paying for college and providing me with maturity and skills," he added.
Reflecting on his career and his family life, the return to the UA – especially for the UA-ASU game – is particularly meaningful for Knowles.
And the competition will be intense, both on the field and in the family. In addition to Michael Seall, who is majoring in biomedical engineering, his brother Matthew Seall is also a UA Honors College student studying computer science. And others in the family have either attended the UA or ASU over the years.
"It was a great experience, and I loved everything about the University. The sports, the interactions with the other students, the ROTC program – it was great," said Kevin Knowles, whose email address contains "cats92."
"It's going to be a good, rival game and a long weekend. It doesn't get any better than UA and ASU," Kevin Knowles said, adding that he and his family also plan to attend popular locations around Tucson during their visit. "My children have seen pictures, and we're looking forward to going to the game, seeing Old Main and walking around the campus."