4 Reasons Why the ASU / UA College Football Rivalry Stands Out from the Rest
Shane Dale
By Shane Dale,
July 25, 2013 2:46 PM

During my two years of research in writing my book Territorial: the History of the Duel in the Desert, I came to the conclusion that there are no Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 1.38.14 PMless than four unique factors that separate the the ASU / UA College Football Rivalry from others in college football.

A. How the fans view their arch-rivals.

There exists in this rivalry a mutual condescension among ASU and UA fans, students and alumni. The Wildcat faithful see ASU as its obnoxious, academically inferior little brother – after all, UA was a university for a full 73 years before ASU earned that distinction. On the flip side, Sun Devil Nation look down on the City of Tucson as a Podunk town that has seen time pass it by compared to the growing metropolis of the Phoenix-Tempe area.

B. This game’s unpredictability.

You know that old cliché, “You can throw the records out when these two teams get together?” That really does hold true in this rivalry, especially in recent years. In the last three Territorial Cup match-ups, the team with the inferior record has gone on the road and beaten the team with the better record. This has happened often in the Duel in the Desert, especially during a dark period in the rivalry on the ASU side known as The Streak – an era from 1982-90 in which UA went 8-0-1 against the Devils despite often going up against an ASU team with a superior record and superior talent.
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C. The Territorial Cup trophy itself.

It’s the nation’s oldest rivalry trophy, and its journey from 1899 to present day is bizarre, even Hollywood-ish. Shortly after ASU (then the Territorial Normal School at Tempe) won the trophy in 1899 – not specifically for beating UA, but for going 3-0 in the Arizona Territorial Football League – the cup went missing for over 80 years, only to be randomly discovered in a Tempe church basement in 1983. This lost piece of treasure was given to the winner of the Duel in the Desert for the first time in 2001, and it has added another layer of intrigue and nostalgia to a 114-year-old rivalry tucked away in the Southwest.

D. Its History.

There was an ugly off-field fight in the 1950s when Arizona State College sought to become Arizona State University. There have been in-game brawls. Controversies have arisen before and during games. The Duel in the Desert has a nasty side that isn’t readily found in some of the country’s most prominent and celebrated college football rivalries, and frankly, it’s a shame that many ASU and UA fans – including myself prior to my book research – aren’t aware of it.

The 2013 Duel in the Desert in Tempe will be played on Saturday, Nov. 30. In August and throughout the 2013 season, and I will run down the ASU-UA football rivalry’s top 10 most controversial moments, which range from off-field drama to pre-game commotion to in-game chaos.

2012 - Sun Devil Marion Grice breaks away from the pack in Tucson (photo, ASU)

2012 – Sun Devil Marion Grice breaks away from the pack in Tucson (photo, ASU)

Everyone in the Grand Canyon State knows that the annual fight for the Territorial Cup is a vicious one. We’re about to break down the reasons behind that intensity.

Stay tuned.

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Shane Dale is the author of Territorial: the History of the Duel in the Desert, available in paperback and for Kindle.

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