More than three decades after his final Territorial Cup, former Arizona State quarterback Jeff Van Raaphorst still smarts.
He had a fine college football career for the Sun Devils — capped off by a 1987 Rose Bowl MVP trophy — but with an 0-3 record against the Wildcats from 1984-86, something is still missing.
Now a radio football analyst for ASU, this version of the Territorial Cup might be his toughest yet. An old nemesis has rejoined the Wildcats, 33 years after picking off Van Raaphorst in the 1986 Territorial Cup, a 34-17 Arizona win.
“To throw a 109-yard interception to Chuck Cecil, who I played against in high school? Brutal,” he said. “My high school is one of the oldest in California, in El Cajon, right next to La Mesa. We didn’t have a field! They had a field. We didn’t play a home game until my senior year. We had to play at Helix, and it was awful. To then throw a pick to him — that’s why I say it’s still frustrating.”
The Star caught up with the former ASU quarterback on the eve of the Territorial Cup matchup.
What does the Territorial Cup mean for you?
A: “What it means to me is one of the boxes I left unchecked in my career. Having never beaten Arizona was something that was extremely frustrating. The Rose Bowl year, we got caught looking ahead to Pasadena. That’s the challenge every coach faces, trying to get the team ready for a game on Saturday. We’re all human, all have our emotions. A lot of the athletes are from Southern California. The first couple years, the rivalry for you is USC and UCLA. The coaches and team will say Arizona, but we had something like a dozen starters who were from SoCal. The Territorial Cup is a second season and this and that, but I remember I was going to show UCLA and USC they made a mistake, that being 6-foot-2 wasn’t a detriment, that I didn’t need to be 6-4 and a Hollywood actor to play for them. I don’t think I realized the magnitude of the game to the people in their state.”
It does seem to mean different things to different people …
A: “Who got into what med school, who is on the Board of Regents, who got funding for this or that. No disrespect to anybody, but I think the people in Tucson have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. It’s not the big city, there are not freeways all around it. There’s a pull between the two schools that is interesting.”
Does the game mean something different to the two teams? Is it more of “just a game” for Arizona State?
A: “Well, senior year, our goals were to win the Pac-10, win the Rose Bowl and on from there. If you look at your written goals, you don’t put beating Arizona No. 1. It’s a huge goal, but a player is going to tell you they want a shot at a championship.”
And yet, having never beaten Arizona, it stings worse?
A: “It’s a good lesson for all of us in life. We’d locked up the Rose Bowl by beating the dog out of Cal the week before. Stupid us, you start hearing you’re going to the Rose Bowl. Roses in the locker room. T-shirts and hats. As soon as you feel good, it knocks you on your butt. My personal take on it, it still festers. I’m a big ASU/UA junkie and I don’t like to be on the side I’m on.”
Winning a Rose Bowl, not a bad consolation prize, though?
A: “My father played for Ohio State and Woody Hayes. I grew up with Ohio State and Michigan as the big rivalry. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could consider anything else close. His junior year, the Buckeyes made the Rose Bowl for a second straight year, and the faculty voted down the team going back out to the Rose Bowl. They sent the band somewhere else. He never got to play in the Rose Bowl. For me, just to accomplish that on a personal level was like sweet revenge. For the California crew, when you see the Rose Bowl parade, people sleeping a day in advance, you know what it means, and finally to win and know we were going? We weren’t turning our eyes toward the Rose Bowl against Arizona, but toward the national championship?”
Does anything stand out from that Rose Bowl?
A: “Standing in the tunnel before we ran out on the field, there were a lot of people in gold and a lot of people in scarlet. I remember going, ‘Man, oh, man, we’re going to go play in this thing.’ Looking over, saying, ‘This is Michigan!’ We’d been with them all week, and they were a big team. You kind of get tired of each other. I didn’t want to hang around their players any more. I remember the crowd, the colors. Our practices, I remember as much about our practices as I do the game.”
Yet the game was pretty memorable…
A: “We were down 15-0 and they went for two, and I remember telling someone, ‘We’re good now.’ I said they just embarrassed the defense, and you watch, they’re not going to score again. They weren’t frustrated or mad — they were embarrassed. Pride and embarrassment are huge motivators. You can beat someone up, but you start taking away their pride — it was all out from that point on. We rolled. I remember we snuck back in after the game, threw a Nerf ball around. We were at a house party nearby and went back to the Bowl. All of a sudden the lights come on, ‘Get out of here you kids!’ We thought, we better leave now.”
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