By James Romo for DieHardDevil.com
Battle lines are drawn on I-10 between Tucson and Tempe this week. Houses are divided. Friends become enemies. Family reunions are just another excuse to wear school colors. Often, the blood that is shed on the field isn’t the only blood shed in and around the stadium. Welcome to the 2012 edition of the Duel in the Desert. This is rivalry week for schools all over the country, but this one tends to hold a very distinct level of unadulterated hatred and hostility between the respective teams and their fan bases. The game itself doesn’t make as many national headlines as Michigan and Ohio State or Texas and Oklahoma, but the riotous nature of fans surrounding this feud toes the line of having to put the National Guard on alert. And more importantly, will provide one side with bragging rights for 365 days. No national headline could be nearly as gratifying.
Nothing about the rivalry is pretty, including the The Territorial Cup trophy itself that is held for a year by the winner of the game. This rivalry is the oldest in college football dating back to 1899, and the tarnished Cup that has been around since the beginning is just an old jug to anyone outside of the state. But to fans of ASU or UofA, having it displayed on their respective campus is about the most beautiful thing in sports. I’m losing sleep as I write this chomping at the bit to make the trek on Friday to one of the more inhospitable places I’ve ever been to.
Both of my parents are Arizona natives, and have a combined 19 siblings with several generations of children now. We are spread out evenly all over the state, and there are a whole lot of us. None in the Phoenix area ever considered attending UofA. The other half of the family lives in the Tucson area and they have the “envy” that usually plagues those that admire all things from the big city, but none ever attended ASU. The “big city” is a scary place to them. We travel to each others campus for the rivalry game every year, but we don’t tailgate together. We have routine family golf outings, and the green grass on the fairways is divided evenly with maroon & gold or red & blue polo shirts on either side. As much as my fandom is spread across my hometown professional teams, nothing evokes the same level of investment and emotion as ASU football. Because the UofA is the only sports team in Tucson to cheer for, their allegiance is concentrated all in one place. And with laser focus, their malevolence for all things maroon and gold is focused on one target. For Sun Devil Nation, this game is circled on the calendar every year like a countdown to an annual and inevitable good old fashioned street brawl.
There is no greater high for a sports fan than watching your team win a rivalry game. And there is no more frustrating or maddening of an experience than when your team loses that game. Similar records, similar post season mid-tier bowl games, and similar recruiting territories define the bigger picture of the game this year as much as the innate animosity that seems to grow with the outcome of each showdown. One of my favorite things (and there are several) that Cat fans always say to me is “Just wait until basketball season”. I once had a 110 pound clarinet or flute player from the UofA band flash one finger of the ASU pitchfork hand sign at me while boarding his bus on his way home after a Wildcat loss. Emotion of the game clearly transcends any sense of judgement or intelligence for many.
I have come to realization that an ASU win on the field would be far less gratifying if I didn’t have the UofA fans in my family to share it with. And I know that they make any ASU loss that much tougher to stomach throughout the year. Also, being a writer for DieHardDevil.com has allowed me to speak with many current and former Sun Devil players. The disdain in their eyes when I mention the rivalry is clear and unmistakable, which will be a part of them for a lifetime. I think it’s safe to say that same bad blood toward the team down south is shared throughout Sun Devil Nation.