Jake Fischer grew up in Southern Arizona, and committed to the UA without much of a thought.
It wasn’t until he played his first Territorial Cup game, though, that Fischer truly understood the decision he made.
Permit the Arizona Wildcats’ linebacker a brief story.
Fischer and his teammates were walking down the visitor’s tunnel and onto the field to start the 2009 game at Sun Devil Stadium when a group of 60-and-70-year-old ASU fans — guys their grandfathers’ ages — leaned over the rail and, with some salty language and a few hand gestures, ripped into the visiting Cats.
In a flash, Fischer felt the hatred and hostility that accompanies the Southwest’s premier football rivalry.
“Things get heated, but that’s what the rivalry is,” he said. “It just shows that no matter how old you are, you’re going to ‘rep’ your colors.”
Tonight’s Territorial Cup showdown at Arizona Stadium pits, on paper, two teams trying to improve their postseason destinations from Albuquerque to somewhere sexier — say, Las Vegas.
For the teams’ returning players and their new coaches, it’s about more. The 8 p.m. game at Arizona Stadium will define one team’s year — and ruin the other’s.
“It adds on to a good season,” UA linebacker Marquis Flowers said. “It makes it a great season.”
The winner of tonight’s game between the Wildcats (7-4 overall, 4-4 Pac-12) and Sun Devils (6-5, 4-4) will have in-state bragging rights, an edge in in-state recruiting and, most importantly, a place in the newest chapter of one of the West’s oldest football rivalries.
Both teams have reinvented themselves over the last three months with new schemes. The UA is thought to have the better offense, and the Sun Devils the better defensive attack.
The homefield advantage goes the Wildcats. But it comes with a caveat.
Arizona’s best sporting event traditionally brings out the worst in all involved. The Sun Devils are still angry about Arizona’s postgame celebration in Tempe a year ago, and the Wildcats — when pressed — would say the same about the way ASU players paraded around after winning in 2010.
For every perceived slight on the field, there are hundreds of real ones in the stands.
UA athletic director Greg Byrne asked for sportsmanship between the teams’ fans in his weekly email blast. Rodriguez encouraged the Arizona Stadium supporters to be loud but civil. Tonight’s late kickoff, and the hours of tailgating that precede it, likely won’t help when it comes to civility.
“I know in rivalry games, there’s a little more intensity,” Rodriguez said with a grin. “We want (fans) to make noise and make it tougher on their team. That’s where the focus should be. It should be, ‘How can our fans help our team win the game?’”
Arizona is 6-1 at home this season, the team’s best mark since 1993; a win tonight would set a new school record for home victories in a season. Over the past six years, Arizona is 27-12 at home — but just 1-1 against the Devils.
The last three games of the rivalry series have come down to the last play. Arizona won the 2009 game, Fischer’s first, with a last-minute field goal.
“My first experience was incredible, and every year has been down to the very last play,” Fischer said.
“The rivalry is one of the best in the country.
“I think it’s going to be another close one.”㤰