Q&A with author Shane Dale about Arizona-ASU Territorial Cup football rivalry
University of Arizona and ASU football fans may both appreciate the rivalry, but few have researched it deeply. Shane Dale, an Arizona alumnus and former Arizona Daily Wildcat editor who grew up and lives in the Phoenix area, explored the rivalry in his new book Territorial: The History of the Duel in the Desert.
Summer Wildcat: What was the biggest thing you learned about the rivalry that you didn’t already know?
Shane Dale: The off-field issues specifically. The big one was the “university fight” when Arizona State College was trying to become Arizona State University in the 1950s. U of A didn’t want any part of that — they wanted to be only university in the state to keep all the funding to themselves. It was kind of an uphill battle because the Phoenix area was growing.
They had several colleges already, but they were still called Arizona State College. There was a proposition issue on the ballet, proposition 200, that would change ASC’s [Arizona State College] name to Arizona State University and of course the ASU people were all for it the U of A people were all against it.
A month or two before the vote in November, Sun Devil Stadium had just opened that year. Right before its first ever game was going to be played, there were a handful of people who were thought to be U of A students or associates with the University in some way. They broke into the Stadium and burned into the grass “No 200.”
A few weeks after the vote, ASU went down to Tucson and played U of A and ASU won 47-0. One ASU player I talked to said that was one way we could get back to them was on the football field.
Was it hard to be unbiased when you wrote this book?
No, my goal was to be. First of all I’m a U of A fan and a U of A grad, but I have plenty of respect for both schools. I grew up closer to Phoenix; I grew up in Chandler and Mesa.
I got to talk to a lot of players and coaches from both teams. They talked to me and didn’t care about the fact I was a U of A grad.
I was certainly motivated by wanting to sell as many [books] in Tempe as I hoped to in Tucson. So it really wasn’t hard for me to take my “Bear Down” hat off long enough to make what I think is a fair book.
What about the rivalry really stood out to you?
The fact that it really seems like — and I know it sounds like a cliché — but it really seems like the records don’t matter and no matter which team is playing at home and on the road, each team really has a chance to win. The road team has won the last four games in the rivalry, and 16 of the last 21 overall.
Each of the last three years, the team with the worst record has gone on the road and beat the team with the better record. It really doesn’t seem to matter what the records are, it’s just which coach emphasizes it more.
Ryan Finley, who had covered UA football at the Arizona Daily Star for years, would tell you the same thing, it really just doesn’t matter. Each team every year has a chance to win and when you look at other rivalry games, it’s not the same.
If you look at Ohio State vs. Michigan, Ohio State has been the better team in recent years and Ohio State has won just about every time. In this rivalry it doesn’t matter whether you’re on the road or at home. In fact, being on the road almost seems like an advantage.
Why do you think this rivalry doesn’t get much attention nationally?
I think a lot of it is there is some East Coast bias, there’s some of that sure. You know we’re in the southwest not as much media attention as in the east and in the west as the LA area like UCLA and USC.
I think just a lot of people don’t pay attention to Arizona and neither team has really been a great contender. Very rarely have both teams been ranked in the top 25 when they play each other. 1975 was an expectation. ASU was ranked No. 8 and the UA was ranked No. 12 nationally. That was a great game and ASU won that game 24-21, but that really was the exception to the rule.
What is your way too early prediction for the game this season?
The road team has won the past four games, but I kind of think that streak is going to end this year.
My early prediction is that ASU will win, not only because they are more talented — which I think they are — but because I got the impression from my limited experience with both coaches that [ASU’s] Todd Graham places a little more emphasizes on this rivalry than [UA’s] Rich Rodriguez does.
Territorial: The History of the Duel in the Desert is on sale now.