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FLASHBACK: Inaugural Territorial Cup game was a 'friendly meeting' on Thanksgiving day

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Posted at 3:28 PM, Nov 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-21 17:30:15-05

From political fights off the field to actual fights on the field, the history of the football rivalry between the Arizona State Sun Devils and Arizona Wildcats is among the ugliest in the entire country.

The funny thing is, it hasn't always been that way. In fact, it didn't even start out that way.

ASU and UA are preparing to meet on the gridiron for the 91st time Saturday. The first of those meetings took place on Thanksgiving Day in 1899 -- and by all accounts, the foundations of the rivalry were as friendly as can be.

Football players from ASU -- which was known as the Territorial Normal School at Tempe back then -- took a train to Tucson and were greeted by UA players at the train station. Afterwards, the team was "royally entertained at the University dormitory" and "treated to a genuine Thanksgiving dinner," according to a Tempe News story written after the game.

Later that day, the Normals -- who went on to win the Arizona Territorial Foot Ball League that year -- defeated Arizona 11-2 in front of several hundred fans at Tucson's Carillo Gardens to win the first-ever meeting between the two schools. 

According to a writeup in the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, "quite a number of rooters came from Tempe" to cheer the Normals to victory, but said Arizona -- which had yet to be nicknamed the Wildcats -- "did well for football players of limited experience."

"The chaps from the Normal were generally sized up the heaviest weights, and this fact considered with (their season) record was sufficient to give them advantage," the story read. "After all was over the spectators and players walked through the dust ankle deep for two blocks."

Tempe News noted "the University" performed better than expected, but the Normals' size and talent eventually won out. The story also noted that the game was absent of any unsportsmanlike conduct that has often plagued more recent Territorial Cup games.

"The game throughout was characterized by gentlemanly conduct, clean and snappy playing and total absence of slugging, 'jawing' or other objectionable features," the Tempe News story read. "The spectators were enthusiastic and frequently applauded the work of the Normals as well as of the home team."

Tempe News also praised the way the visitors were treated during their time in Tucson.

"Too much can not be said in praise of the treatment our boys received at the hands of students, faculty and citizens," the story read. "It is to be hoped that this friendly meeting of the two institutions on the field of manly sport is the forerunner of a lasting friendship between them which will be of material assistance to both as well as to the interest of athletics in the west."