Tempe, Ariz. — You can take the players out of the rivalry, but you can’t take the rivalry out of the players.
Arizona vs. Arizona State. The Duel in the Desert. The Territorial Cup.
Even though they are no longer wearing the Red and Blue or Maroon and Gold, once a part of the rivalry, you can never really leave.
It’s kind of like Hotel California, only with significantly more animosity.
“Umm, shoot, I can’t stand them,” former Wildcat and current Eagles quarterback Nick Foles said when asked for his thoughts on ASU and the rivalry.
“I hate anything that has to do with UofA,” Cardinals guard and former Sun Devil Paul Fanaika said.
“We call them the ‘Scum Devils’ and we don’t really like them at all, and it’s a big rivalry here,” Cardinals receiver Dan Buckner, a UA alum, added.
Foles admitted it’s “all on the field stuff,” because there are some guys who have donned Sun Devil colors that he likes, including current Eagles teammate Keelan Johnson.
But for most people, especially the week of the game, friendships are put aside and the rivalry takes center stage. No one wants to lose to the game. Period.
“Everybody talks all week about who’s going to win, who’s not going to win and everybody’s against you who goes to ASU and everybody who goes to Arizona is against ASU,” Cardinals cornerback and former Wildcat Antoine Cason said. “It’s a great week preparing for it, I really enjoyed it.”
Unfortunately (from Cason’s perspective, anyway), the games were not all that enjoyable. Arizona went just 1-3 against Arizona State during his time in the Old Pueblo. Things were better for Fanaika, as he went 3-1 against the ‘Cats. Buckner, on the other hand, played in two Territorial Cups, which the teams split. Foles’ Wildcats took two out of three meetings when he was under center.
“I wanted to be 3-0 but it didn’t work out that way,” Foles said. “It will be a fun game; I’m excited to watch it.”
As far as entertainment value goes, the game rarely disappoints. Each of the last four games have been decided by seven points or less, and the road team has triumphed in each one.
In 2009, the Wildcats were aided by a muffed punt by Kyle Williams in the waning moments, setting up a game-winning field goal. In 2010, ASU linebacker James Brooks blocked a potential game-winning extra point in the final seconds, sending the game to overtime where Arizona kicker Alex Zendejas missed a PAT that would have tied the game. The following season, the Wildcats went to Tempe and knocked off the Sun Devils, though an injury caused Foles to leave the game before it was over. And last year, Buckner’s senior year, he missed the majority of the battle due to an ankle injury suffered in the first quarter and could only watch as the Sun Devils rallied to overcome a fourth quarter deficit to win the game.
“It was hard for me because it was Senior Night on top of that last home game, and they kind of came in and spoiled us,” Buckner said. “But the thing is, two years ago we went up there and we beat them, and it seems like that’s been the tale of the game lately.”
And clearly, it’s not just any other game.
“Usually in the weight room there would be a countdown board for every opponent and also the countdown to the UofA game,” Fanaika said. “It’s that big.”
“You had to win the state,” Buckner said. “The Territorial Cup is big no matter what sport it is.”
This year is as big a game as it has been for a long time. Should the Sun Devils win, they would improve to 10-2 (8-1) and have the inside track on reaching the Rose Bowl. However, a win for the Wildcats would not only serve to play a little bit of spoiler for their rivals, but also see their record improve to 8-4 (5-4), likely improving their bowl situation as well as the perception of the program itself.
Needless to say, motivation is not likely to be a concern.
“That makes it even bigger,” Fanaika said. “The chance to host the Pac-12 Championship Game is on the line, so I’m pretty sure the Sun Devils are going to come out ready to play.”
“When you think of bowl game, knocking them off of a home Pac-12 Championship Game, that’s huge,” Cason said. “We have a lot to play for — Arizona has a lot to play for and it’s definitely going to be exciting and that extra boost of momentum and adrenaline to play.”
No one knows exactly how the game will go, but what everyone can say with certainty is that it will be an intense matchup between a pair of teams who have more than just bragging rights on the line. Of course, that is usually enough for the requisite animosity.
“You always want to see them lose, especially to Arizona,” Cason said. “So that’s how I feel.”