ASU-UofA rivalry fueled by legislative debate over a half-century ago

Anyone who has experienced the Territorial Cup understands that it is especially vitriolic, but why is it that way?

As time goes by, a lot of younger fans are perhaps unaware that much of the acrimony stems not from something that happened on a playing field.

In 1958, Arizona State College received its long sought after name change to Arizona State University when Proposition 200 passed by a 2-1 margin, but not before the referendum was vigorously campaigned against by supporters of the University of Arizona, who wanted that school to remain the lone university in the state, just as it had been for 73 years.

When ASU opened Sun Devil Stadium in the fall of 1958 and the vote looming, vandals – presumably UA fans — broke into the venue before the team’s first game of the year and burned “No on 200” into the grass.

It was legendary Frank Kush’s first year as the head coach at ASU.

Prop 200 was passed overwhelmingly in large part to the regional visibility of head coach Dan Devine’s team the previous season, which went 10-0 and coincided with school president Dr. Grady Gammage’s public campaign to get the initiative on the state ballet the following year.

The measure was defeated in just one county, Pima, where Tucson is located. Historians say ASU and UA officials followed each other around the state waging battle for and against Prop 200, which significantly ramped up the animosity felt between the two schools.

ASU’s success in 1957 helped justify a $115,000 expenditure made late that year to purchase land north of the campus to build a stadium which would eventually replace 15,000 seat Goodwin Stadium, which was on campus.

In its final season at Goodwin Stadium before moving to the then-30,000 seat Sun Devil Stadium, the Devine-led squad not only went undefeated, but led the nation in total offense and scoring, with an average of 39.7 points per game.

ASU shut out four of the teams it faced in that campaign and held four others to seven points or fewer points. Its closest margin of victory was nine points in a 35-26 win over Hardin-Simmons of Abilene, Tex. The Sun Devils finished the season ranked No. 11 nationally, inside of the Top-20 for the first time in school history.

The season and the ensuing referendum battle ushered in Kush, ASU’s most celebrated coach, a new stadium, and for many, a true hatred of their rival in Tucson.