Why the Arizona State-Arizona Rivalry Is the Nation's Most Underrated

Robby Baker@@Robby__BakerContributor IIIAugust 16, 2013

The Territorial Cup is the nation's oldest rivalry trophy.
The Territorial Cup is the nation's oldest rivalry trophy.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Arizona State and Arizona's battle for the Territorial Cup is the most underrated rivalry in college sports.

When most think of great rivalries they think of ones such as Ohio State-Michigan, Notre Dame-USC, Army-Navy and Alabama-Auburn.

Not many would name Arizona-Arizona State.

Every year these schools battle for more than just glory on the football field, but for the right to hoist the Territorial Cup. A prize with so much history, a book was recently written about it.

The Sun Devils and Wildcats hate each other.

Whether it's a hockey, basketball, baseball or football game, tension runs high and disdain fills the air.

Maroon and Gold don't mix with Cardinal and Navy Blue.

The history of the matchup, the names that have participated in the battle and the fact that this one game can make or break a school's entire football season makes ASU-Arizona the nation's most underrated rivalry.


Many probably don't know this, but the battle for the Territorial Cup is one of the most storied rivalries in all of college sports.

The history, as laid out at territorialcupseries.com, of this matchup dates back to before Arizona was even a state.

When the games were first played, ASU wasn't a major university. They were the Normal School, a small teachers college.

As Shane Dale, author of the book Territorial, tells Josh Nacion of the State Press, the roots of this rivalry go much deeper than just football though:

The history behind it that makes it so personal. In the ’50s, when Arizona State College was trying to become Arizona State University, which was inevitable because Phoenix was growing by thousands, UA didn’t want it. UA was the only university in the state for decades and they wanted to keep it that way, and what happened is that in 1958 there was a proposition on the ballot, Proposition 200, that would change ASC’s name to ASU. The day of their first game at Sun Devil Stadium, there were UA fans who broke into the stadium and burned into the grass “No on 200.” Based on the interviews I did, that really started making it a personal rivalry. Proposition 200 passed easily and ASU went to Tucson that year and blew out UA 47-0. There were some other things that came up as well, but that really set the nastiness of the rivalry since then.

Not only do these schools want bragging rights, but they also want the cup, the Territorial Cup.

Dale told the State Press that the nation's oldest existing rivalry trophy is one asset that makes this rivalry unique:

The Territorial Cup is unique because it is the oldest existing rivalry trophy in the country, but also I can’t imagine another trophy that has gone missing for 80 years. It was actually given to Tempe Normal College for going 3-0 in the first ever Arizona Territorial Football League. Sooner after it gone missing, it was found in a church basement in the early 80s, and it wasn’t given to the winner until 2001. I think that makes that trophy unique because not only is it the oldest one in the country, but it had an interesting destination as far as getting it there. 

The history surrounding this rivalry is so complex with so many moving parts it truly is fascinating and helps make it one of the best in the country.

Arizona State head coach Todd Graham says, in the video on the right, that these games are rich in history and extend beyond the field of play.

While all great rivalries have a history that makes them what they are today, ASU-Arizona's history is one of the more interesting and complex.

The Names that Participated in the Battle

All rivalries are born from great moments and players.

ASU-Arizona is no different.

Both schools have their share of Olympians, baseball stars and NFL Hall of Famers, each athlete contributing to the rivalry in their own unique way.

On the gridiron, plenty of NFL stars have participated in the battle for the Territorial Cup.

NFL Hall of Famers Curley Culp, Mike Haynes, Randall McDaniel and Charley Taylor all wore the Maroon and Gold and fought for ASU in this bitter rivalry.

Nick Foles, LaMonte Hunley and Chuck Cecil all took part in the rivalry when they played for U of A.

While the ASU-Arizona rivalry has star power, most times the games come down to someone unexpectedly stepping up and making a play.

In 2010, James Brooks was the hero for Arizona State.

Up until that game, not many fans knew who Brooks was, but they soon found out.

In double overtime, as the video shows, Brooks blocked a game-tying extra point attempt that clinched the win for ASU resulting in hysteria in Tempe.

Brooks would go down in the history of this great rivalry, alongside all those Hall of Famers and All-Americans before him.

The names that make up this rivalry aren't all in the past though.

Today Will Sutton, Taylor Kelly and Ka'deem Carey carry on the traditions and history for their respective schools.

It Makes or Breaks Football Season

Yes, all football rivalries make or break seasons.

The rivalry between ASU and U of A is so intense however, a team could only win one game all year, and as long as it's against their desert counterpart the season would be deemed a success.

ASU's Todd Graham echoed that sentiment in a press conference before their meeting with U of A last season:

You can be 11-0 but if you don’t win this game, you have an unsuccessful season. This is what college football is all about are rivalry games and none that has more passion than this one.

The Sun Devils got the better of the Wildcats last season and U of A head coach Rich Rodriguez made a point at Pac-12 Media Day to show his team didn't dwell on the loss.

While Rich Rod says his team doesn't think about the loss, it's hard to believe him. The loss dropped U of A to 7-5 on the year and also dropped them to fourth in the Pac-12 South.

Each year these teams compete in every sport to claim the Territorial Cup. Whether it's in the gym, pool, on the diamond or field, any time these two teams meet, hatred is in the air.

The battle for the Territorial Cup is not only the nation's oldest rivalry trophy, but also one most fans don't know about.

Just watch a few minutes of "The Big Game" between ASU and U of A at the end of football season and you will see how much is on the line.


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