The Duel in the Desert: Arizona and Arizona State Duke it Out for the Territorial Cup

Every Thanksgiving weekend, deep in the heart of the southwest United States, the University of Arizona and Arizona State University take the field and battle for the Territorial Cup.

This rivalry, between two schools separated by one hour and 45 minutes on Interstate 10, began all the way back in 1899, 13 years before Arizona became a state.

In 1899, ASU, then known as the Territorial Normal School at Tempe took the train down to Tucson, where they met up with and they played U of A at Carrillo Gardens Field. TNS, recognized as the Normals, took the first meeting between the two schools, 11-2. The victory gave the Normals the Territorial Championship Cup, the same trophy that the schools battle over to this day.

The Territorial Cup on display in Tempe, Ariz., sometime this past year. Photo courtesy of Nick Bastian on Flickr

The Territorial Cup on display in Tempe, Ariz., sometime this past year. Photo courtesy of Nick Bastian on Flickr

According to author Shane Dale’s book Territorial, The Territorial Cup was not originally created to go to the winner of the game between U of A and the Normals. It was created to go to the champion of the Arizona Foot Ball League, a league that included U of A, Territorial Normal, Phoenix College and Phoenix Indian School. Normal was presented the trophy because they had defeated all of the schools in the conference. Because of their victory, an inscription reading “Arizona Foot Ball League 1899 Normal” was engraved into the Cup. That is the only inscription on the Cup, as it disappeared very soon after that first game. Thus, the Cup will always belong to Arizona State, even though it has taken a few trips south during its lifetime.

The Normals would learn to savor that victory, as the Normals would only taste victory once more in the next 49 years.

The two schools did not meet again until 1902, and they would meet again in Tucson, but the home team would not let the Normals, whose school had become Tempe Normal School, escape with a victory. This time U of A came out on top 12-0, a victory that began a nine-game win streak that would last 28 years (1902-1930).

The teams then took a 12-year hiatus between meetings. When they did meet on the gridiron again, U of A appeared under the nickname “Wildcats” instead of what it had been called, Varsity. This name came from an article in the Los Angeles Times said that U of A had “showed the fight of wildcats” after a game against Occidental College. Soon after, the nickname became official, and it has stuck to this day.

The next meeting between the Wildcats and the Normals took place in 1914, and Arizona emerged victorious again, and this time, it wasn’t even close. The Wildcats won 34-0.

The two teams met again the next season, with the Wildcats emerging victorious, but it was much closer this time, U of A only won by a score of 7-0. Four years would pass before the next meeting.

In 1919, the teams met again, and it was one-sided once more. Arizona destroyed the Normals, 59-0. The teams would not meet again until 1925, and during the hiatus, in 1922, Tempe Normal had changed its name to the mascot from the Normals to the Bulldogs, and in 1925, changed the name of the school to Tempe State Teachers College. The mascot change did not mean victory for Tempe, and that game resulted in a 13-3 victory for the Wildcats. After the 1925 game, the rivalry became an annual game, with a few exceptions.

In 1926, as has been the theme, the Wildcats won, this time by a score of 35-0. They were inspired by starting quarterback John “Button” Salmon, who after being hit by a car, told head coach James “Pop” McKale, “Tell them… tell the team to bear down.” That has become the school’s unofficial motto and is displayed prominently down the middle of the field at Arizona Stadium today. There was not a game in 1927, and in 1928, Arizona won again, 39-0, the first game in Arizona Stadium. 1929’s game would see a 26-0 Wildcat win over the newly named Arizona State Teachers College, and 1930 would be U of A’s ninth straight win, but it was a very close game 6-0.

The series took it’s first trip up north to Tempe in 1931 and with it came new life for ASTC. The Bulldogs won their first game against the Wildcats in 28 years, 19-6. Arizona would not let this bother them, as they went on to win the next year, 20-6 back in Tucson, and that began an 11-game win streak.

In 1933, the game came back to Tempe, but ASTC would not see the effect that playing in Tempe had in 1931, and U of A won 26-7. 1934 saw a 32-6 Wildcat victory, 1935 was a 26-0 win for U of A, Arizona won 18-0 in ’36 in ASTC’s brand new Goodwin Stadium, 20-6 in ’37, and then the series took a four-year break.

ASTC and U of A resumed playing each other in 1941, and the Wildcats continued their dominance, winning 20-7 in Tempe. ’42 saw a 23-0 Wildcat victory and then there was another hiatus as both schools had many students fight for the Allies in World War II.

The series would resume after the War ended. During the War hiatus, in 1945, ASTC had changed its name to Arizona State College, and in November 1946, the Bulldogs would be no more. Arizona State College decided to change its mascot and a student vote decided that the new mascot would be the Sun Devils. After this was decided, Disney artist Berk Anthony designed the iconic Sparky logo, which has been rumored to be modeled after Walt Disney himself.

In 1946, Arizona absolutely embarrassed ASC, 67-0. ’47 saw a much closer game, with U of A winning 26-13, and the Wildcats would win their 11th straight, 33-21, in ’48.

ASC would get back on the winning track in ’49, beating U of A 34-7. That would be the first of four straight for the Sun Devils. In 1950, ASC would win 47-13, then in ’51, the Devils won 61-14, and in ’52 ASC emerged victorious, 20-18.

Arizona would take the next three (’53-’55) by scores of 35-0, 54-14, and 7-6.

’56-’59 would belong to ASC by scores of 20-0, 47-7, 47-0, and 15-9.

1958 was a very exciting year for ASC. 1958 would see the hiring of one of the greatest coaches in Arizona State history, Frank Kush, the beginning of play in Sun Devil Stadium, and ASC becoming recognized as a university, and it became Arizona State University.

The beginning of the 1960s belonged to the Wildcats, as they opened the decade with three straight wins over ASU, by scores of 35-7, 22-13, and 20-17. ASU took the 1963 meeting 35-6, and U of A took 1964’s battle, 30-6.

In 1965, the Sun Devils would emerge victorious, 14-6, the first of nine straight wins for ASU.

In ’66, ASU won 20-17, ’67 saw a 47-7 Sun Devil victory, in ’68, ASU won 30-7, then in ’69, the Sun Devils won 38-24, in ’70, the score was 10-6 in favor of ASU, ’71 was a 31-0 ASU victory, ’72 saw a 38-21 ASU win, and the Sun Devils won that ninth straight game in ’73, 55-19.

Arizona won 10-0 in 1974 before the Sun Devils went streaking again, winning four straight from 1975-78, by scores of 24-21, 27-10, 23-7, and 18-17.

U of A would grab another win in 1979, 27-24, ASU would then go on to win back to back games in 1980 and 1981, 44-7 and 24-13.

1982 would see the beginning of a time every Wildcat and Wildcat fan looks back on fondly, and every Sun Devil fan would like to forget. From 1982-1990, Arizona State did not win in nine straight years, during a time period known as “The Streak.”

The first two games in 1982 and ’83 saw U of A win 28-18 and 17-15. 1983 would also see the return of a precious relic.

Shortly after it was first presented in 1899, the Territorial Cup disappeared. No one knew what had happened to it until 1983, when it was discovered, according to Territorial, in a closet in the basement of the First Congregational Church of Tempe. After its discovery, the cup was put on display at Arizona State. 18 years later, in 2001, it would start being awarded to the winner of the ASU-U of A football game.

Arizona would win 16-10 in ’84, 16-13 in ’85, and 34-17 in ’86, a year that saw the Sun Devils go on to win the Rose Bowl, 22-15 over Michigan. The series saw its only tie happen in ’87, with a score of 24-24, and many people consider it a Wildcat victory, a la, Harvard-Yale in 1968, because of the improbable way that they Wildcats tied it. ASU was forced to punt with mere seconds left in the game from their own 38-yard-line. Sun Devil punter Mike Schuh fumbled the snap and U of A recovered with 13 seconds to go on the 13-yard-line, and the Wildcats kicked a field goal to end the game in a tie.

Arizona would then win 28-10 in ’89 and 21-17 in ’90, which would be the final year of “The Streak.” ASU ended the streak in 1991 by beating the Wildcats 37-14. The Sun Devils would win again the next year 7-6.

Arizona then won three straight from 1993-’95, 34-20, 28-27, and 31-28. ASU won 56-14 in 1996, before going on to lose to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, 20-17, and then U of A won back to back games, 28-16 and 50-42, in 1997 and 1998.

1999 and 2000 saw two Sun Devil victories, 42-27 and 30-17. Arizona won the initial game in which the Territorial Cup was presented as a traveling trophy, 34-21, in 2001. ASU won back-to-back games again in ’02 and ’03, 34-20 and 28-7.

Arizona State wide receive Mike Willie celebrates in front of Arizona safety Adam Hall after catching a touchdown pass from Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., in 2010. Arizona State would go on to win the game 30-29 in double overtime. Photo courtesy of Scott Jones on Flickr.

Arizona State wide receive Mike Willie celebrates in front of Arizona safety Adam Hall after catching a touchdown pass from Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Ariz., in 2010. Arizona State would go on to win the game 30-29 in double overtime. Photo courtesy of Scott Jones on Flickr.

Arizona upset No. 18 ASU in 2004, 34-27, but ASU would respond with three straight wins, 23-20, 28-14, and 20-17 (while the Sun Devils were ranked No. 13), from ’05-’07. ’08 and ’09 would see back to back Wildcat wins, 31-10 and 20-17. 2010 was a Sun Devil victory, 30-29 in double overtime, 2011 belonged to U of A, 31-27, and last year was a Sun Devil victory, 41-34, over No. 24 Arizona, thanks to a 14-point fourth quarter comeback.

This year’s Duel in the Desert is the largest in years. ASU is ranked No. 12, and will host the Pac-12 title game against No. 8 Stanford if they beat Arizona. Arizona is coming off of an upset over No. 5 Oregon. The game will be played Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013 and will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Networks.

Due to it’s national importance this year, many fans will ask why this game is considered “forgotten.” In Territorial, the introduction is titled, “The Best Rivalry No One’s Heard Of.” Continually on television and on the radio, ASU is called Arizona and vice versa. ESPN cannot even get the teams’ match-ups straight. During week three of this season, ASU played Wisconsin, but on College Football Live, ESPN put an Arizona helmet with a Wisconsin helmet when previewing the game. The rivalry is obviously well-known in Arizona, but it seems that if the teams cannot even be kept separate, then it must not mean much nationwide.

Fans have their own reasons for why this rivalry is not known nationwide.

“(The Territorial Cup is not known nationwide) because neither team has been a major or consistent force in college football,” Greg Cravener, Arizona alumnus, class of 1983, said in an email. “They have both had glimmers of hope and short periods of greatness but neither has been able to show the consistency to garner other than regional interest. ASU had a good run under Frank Kush, but this was in the WAC days when very little interest was given to this conference. It takes years of being a force in a major conference to garner much national attention.”

“The rivalry does not get the national recognition of a Notre Dame-USC or an Ohio St.-Michigan simply because neither school is a traditional power house,” ASU sophomore Lucas Robbins said in an email. “The game has little significance outside the state of Arizona because most of the time neither team is very good. Between the two neither school has a national title nor a BCS berth. It’s the no-respect Arizona curse.”

The fact that the teams have not been nationally ranked in many of their games adds on to that, so many of the games have not meant as much, but, both teams are playing much better football as of late, so maybe they will mean more in the future. But, if it teams do happen to go back to being middle of the pack teams, hopefully this fantastic rivalry will not be forgotten.


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