Chuck Cecil heads out of his own end zone on a 106-yard interception return for a touchdown in UA's 34-17 win over ASU in 1986.


In celebration of Arizona's centennial, the Star will feature our picks for the 100 best athletes, moments and teams. Throughout the summer, we will showcase our list - with the first 90 in no particular order. Later this month, Greg Hansen will choose his top 10, with a column on each.

Territorial Cup


The Territorial Cup has been played 84 times, alternating year to year between Tucson and Tempe, a football series of such magnitude that it has been watched by more than 3 million people and taken to their graves by millions of fervent ASU and UA fans.

"I was from San Diego and had never been to Phoenix, never heard of ASU," said 1987 Arizona All-American safety Chuck Cecil. "I didn't know their school colors or anything. But even before we played them my first year, I hated them. I still hate them."

It is regarded by many as the most meaningful sporting event played in Arizona, year after year.

The landmark events of the Territorial Cup are often narrowed to the epic 1975 game in Tempe, forever identified as "The Catch," and the 1986 game in Tucson, keyed by Cecil's legendary 106-yard interception return.

In '75, ASU entered the Territorial Cup at 10-0. Arizona was 9-1. Both teams were ranked in the top 15.

In '86, ASU was 9-0-1, headed for its first Rose Bowl, still in range of the national championship. Arizona was 7-2.

In the modern history of the Territorial Cup, 1960-present, the Wildcats and Sun Devils combined for the fewest cumulative losses entering the '75 and '86 games. Both turned out to be worthy of the anticipation.

Frank Kush's Sun Devils were reeling just before halftime in '75, trailing 14-3, as Jim Young's Wildcats were on the brink of the greatest upset in Territorial Cup history, ready to claim the coveted Fiesta Bowl berth opposite Nebraska.

But on third down from Arizona's 8-yard line, ASU quarterback Dennis Sproul threw a touchdown pass to John Jefferson, who made a diving catch in the back of the end zone. Or did he?

In his memoirs, Young wrote that The Catch would today be reviewed by TV replays. "Replay would probably change the outcome of that game, but replay was not part of the game back then," Young wrote.

ASU rallied to win 24-21. It finished the season 12-0 and No. 2 in the nation after beating Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl. Jefferson's catch is regarded as the greatest play in ASU history. Arizona's season ended at an unhappy 9-2.

In 1986, the Sun Devils arrived in Tucson steaming from upset losses in the 1982 and 1985 Territorial Cups, shockers against Larry Smith teams that knocked them from the Rose Bowl. This time the Rose Bowl had been clinched. Pride, and a shot at the national title, were at stake.

Arizona rolled to a 24-10 lead but the Sun Devils moved to Arizona's 5-yard line in the fourth quarter. The game's momentum had changed. That's when Cecil stepped in front of a Jeff Van Raaphorst pass and sprinted 106 yards for a clinching touchdown.

CBS announcer Verne Lundquist said, simply, "The race is on. … this is Chuck Cecil. …" He did not say another word the final 80 yards of Cecil's sprint to the end zone.

Arizona won 34-17.

It is a rivalry that speaks for itself.


Smith completed his UA coaching career on a 5-0 streak against the Sun Devils, all in upset victories. Kush had the longest winning streak in the Territorial Cup, nine straight from 1965 to 1973. Arizona did not lose to ASU in nine games from 1982 to 1990, but tied the 1987 game during the 8-0-1 series known to UA fans as "The Streak."

Greg Hansen