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History Archive Photo
© Arizona State University,
Hayden Library

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Marked Territory
The Territorial Cup, which is awarded to the winner of the annual skirmish between ASU and UA, is the oldest rivalry trophy in college football.

By Mark Crudup

Tempe Playing football in 100-degree weather is anything but normal. But that's exactly what the "Normals" of the Tempe Normal School — now Arizona State University — did more than 100 years ago.

The first game in Arizona college football history dates back to 1899, 13 years before Arizona became a state. The trophy that was awarded to the winning team was inscribed: "Arizona Football League 1899 Normal."

The Territorial Cup, as it's known today, is the oldest trophy of its kind in the country. It's a symbol of pride in a rivalry that pits Arizona State University against the University of Arizona. Like most rivalries around the country, this one generates a lot of chest-thumping among the fans and players, with the winning team holding on to bragging rights for an entire year. Arguably, the Territorial Cup is as important to the respective schools as going to a bowl game.

Interestingly, the trophy belonged solely to ASU for nearly a century. Then, in 2001, Lattie Coor, ASU's president at the time, ordered that the trophy be awarded to the winning team. The cup, which was produced by Reed & Barton in 1899 for $20, is now recognized by the NCAA as the oldest traditional rivalry trophy in the history of college football.

The Normals, which became the ASU Sun Devils, won the first game in what was called the Arizona Territorial Football League Championship — the "Duel in the Desert" — on Thanksgiving Day, 1899. In a show of good sportsmanship, UA students hosted a post-game Thanksgiving dinner for the ASU players.

Both schools were founded in 1885, though UA opened a few months before the Tempe Normal School. UA also holds a slight edge in head-to-head combat, with 45 wins to ASU's 37.

Over the years, the teams have hatched well-known football greats. Pat Tillman, who played four seasons for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, is a member of ASU's Football Hall of Fame, and UA's Art Luppino became a nationally known NCAA star. Tillman will long be remembered not only as a football hero, but as an American hero who died during a tour of duty with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

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