By Jeff Munn
It may not seem this way to everyone, but this week, to me, is special.
Thanksgiving? Well, look at me. I like to eat. Of course that’s a big deal, but it’s not the subject of this column.
No, this week is something much bigger. It’s Territorial Cup week.
I’m probably going to write more than one column this week because the annual Arizona State-Arizona football game sparks so many memories for me that it’s hard to limit myself to just one weekly entry.
So, for starters, here are a few things that come to mind…
I love it when someone goes up to a sign on I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson and posts below it “Arizona 0”. Visualize that and you’ll get it.
I love the story of Danny White in 1996. Working as an analyst for Fox Sports’ telecast of the Territorial Cup in Tucson, he attended the production meeting the night before the game. After the meeting, the TV crew went back to their hotel. Not Danny. He went home to Mesa. The next day when he was asked why he didn’t go to the hotel, he said he was a Sun Devil and he had taken a vow never to spend a night in Tucson.
I’ll never forget 1991. It would turn out to be Larry Marmie’s last game as ASU Head Coach, and sensing the end was near, Larry, as honorable a man as I have ever met in sports, decided to leave a lasting impression. Leading 37-14 late in the game, in a punting situation deep in ASU territory, Marmie called a fake punt, with Jean Boyd taking in a pass and running the length of the field for a touchdown.
It was called back due to ineligible receiver downfield, but for my money, it’s still the greatest play in the history of the rivalry.
Dick Tomey always got what the rivalry meant. He was on the losing end of that game in 1991, with a roster nearly wiped out by injuries. At that time, I worked in Media Relations and one of my duties was to get quotes from the visiting coach. When I arrived at the Wildcats’ locker room, I realized I was alone – the late kickoff meant most of the writers were on deadline.
Arizona Sports Information Director Butch Henry, another man of immense integrity, assured me Coach Tomey would be out in a minute. Great, I thought, he’s going to bite my head off. Instead, Tomey gave me eight minutes of what the rivalry meant to him.
When I asked him what he said to his team, his simple response was “I told them I wanted them to remember how bad this feels.”
Just my two cents, but I don’t believe Arizona has had a coach really understand this rivalry since Tomey left.
Tomey’s predecessor, Larry Smith sure understood.
Every college football program has its goals posted on a board in its locker room or practice facility. When Smith coached at Arizona, he had the expected goals in mind – win the Pac-10, win the Rose Bowl, win a National Championship. However, they were all secondary to goal numero uno:
Since the dawn of the new millennium, there have been spurts of passion. Arizona players dancing on the midfield pitchfork at Sun Devil Stadium, attempts to change the paint colors on both fields the night before the game, and Arizona’s Mike Stoops referring to ASU as a “junior college” during recruiting.
When the game Is in Tempe, ASU students guard A Mountain to keep Wildcat fans from painting the “A” red and blue. In the 1980’s when the game would be in Tucson, some ASU fans would try to collect signatures petitioning the U of A to start a wrestling program. Why? The ASU fans figured Arizona could never build a wrestling program as strong as theirs, so it would be another sport the Devils could kick the Cats’ tails at.
The rivalry obviously extends to every sport the two schools compete in, and each sport has its own treasure trove of stories. But if you’re new to this part of the world and you want to know about what stirs our passions, just watch and listen this week. The game may be Friday, but the battle starts now.