The Territorial Cup is tonight, and apparently you have my family to thank for the greatest (and possibly most heated) rivalry in college football.
The most-repeated origin story of the rivalry goes back to Prop 200, which changed the name of Arizona State Teacher’s College to ASU. Right before Election Day, some University of Arizona (boooooo) alumni broke into Sun Devil Stadium (which was brand new back then) and BURNED “No on 200” into the field. The first ever game was set to be played there days later. Understandably, that made a lot of people very mad. But while that may have been the reason for the public to hate UofA, the reason the teams were feuding went back a lot further.
The rivalry between ASU and UofA started because of my grandfather, Wayne “Ripper” Pitts.
I’d heard this story before, but was never really able to find the sources to back it up. The story goes like this: In 1937, grandpa was committed to UofA and was heading to Tucson to play football with Walt Ruth and Rex Hopper, who played with him at Glendale High School. ASU was known as Arizona State Teacher’s College and the graduate manager took a trip to Tucson to visit the three of them, supposedly on the day they moved into the dorm at UofA. Tom Lillico convinced all three to leave Tucson and play for ASTC instead, and they moved out of the dorm the next day.
This was before the NCAA, so there was no such thing as recruiting violations, so this was fair game. But, UofA didn’t like the theft very much. So, they refused to play the Territorial Cup until all three left ASTC.
According to “They Fought Like Wildcats”, former UofA Coach Pop McKale (whom the McKale Center is named after) said that theft was the real reason the rivalry exists.
Grandpa Rip went on to play in the Sun Bowl and be a Little All American. He was actually drafted in the 13th Round by the then-Chicago Cardinals in 1940, but never accepted.
Strangely enough, before I eve knew this story, I was going to go to UofA for journalism. I’d even picked out a dorm. A few months before I had to figure it out for sure I changed my mind and ended up at the Cronkite School at ASU.