A quarter-century of Pac-12 football rivalries
Sorting the fact from fiction during the past 25 years of Pac-12 rivalry games (sorry Utah and Colorado, you don’t count yet).
Seattle Times college football reporter
Hard to say exactly how torrid Pac-12 rivalries were more than a century ago. But we do know that way before they ever conceived of being in the league, Arizona and Arizona State had something called the Territorial Cup in 1899.
So coveted was it, that it got lost for 80 years, until somebody found it gathering dust in a church basement.
Ah, rivalries and the lore that surrounds them. In what other arena do neighbors coexist, laugh and cry together, and then try to gouge each other’s eyes out?
The fabric of them tends to dwarf the games themselves and fog recent context. Who’s winning most of the time? Are the games close? How frequently are there surprises?
In search of undisputed truth, I waded through the last quarter-century of football results from the five Pac-12 rivalries (sorry, Utah and Colorado, you’ll have to develop your enmity a while longer), looking at scores and point spreads. By no means is 25 years meant to describe the depth of each rivalry, but it does provide a convenient window through which to glimpse them.
Some calculations, along with some color:
Loathing index: Medium low.
Tenor: I asked Jon Wilner of The San Jose Mercury News, who has worked in three Pac-12 regions, how Cal and Stanford co-workers might talk trash to each other in this high-minded rivalry. “There’d be some ribbing,” he said. “Then they’d sit down and try to design a driverless car.”
Good, clean fun: After The Play of 1982, Stanford students published a bogus newspaper edition distributed on the Cal campus, saying the call had been reversed and the Cardinal awarded the victory. Then in 1998, Cal students broke into Stanford’s band “shack,” pilfered the “Tree” mascot, bound and blindfolded it and sent a photo to the Stanford Daily.
Not-so-proud moment: In 1991, receiver Brian Treggs of the No. 6, 9-1 Bears promised he’d move to Palo Alto if Cal lost at Stanford. The Bears did, Cal committed 11 penalties for 140 yards and fans were critical. Miffed at the overreaction, coach Bruce Snyder bolted for Arizona State.
The numbers crunched: Stanford has 15 wins in the past 25 years (not counting last week’s gun-jumping Big Game win). In that time, there have been seven upsets, only two by Cal.
Loathing index: High.
Tenor: This one has some genuine antipathy, much of it built around the perception of the two cities. ASU people say UA fans have “Phoenix envy.” ’Zona faithful call ASU “Tempe Normal,” its name long ago.
Good clean, fun: In 1937, an ASU graduate infiltrated the Arizona campus and wooed three football recruits to leave school and enroll at ASU.
Not-so-proud moment: In 1958, when a state ballot measure sought to change the name of Arizona State College to ASU, some UA fans trying to protect their “state” turf broke into Sun Devil Stadium and burned “No on 200” onto the grass.
The numbers crunched: You can make a case for this being the wildest, most unpredictable series. Not only does it have the most close games (1-7 point margins) in 25 years with 12, it has a dozen upsets, five by a touchdown point spread or more.
Loathing index: Medium.
Tenor: There are lots of ties to both schools within many families. And because so much of the football talent is homegrown, players know each other well. There’s respect, if distrust.
Good, clean fun: In 1958, UCLA students plotted to fly a helicopter over USC’s Tommy Trojan statue and drop a load of manure. Alas, the aerodynamics sucked the stuff back into the ’copter.
Not-so-proud moment: Three years ago, 40 fans tailgating at Brookside Golf Course adjoining the Rose Bowl got into a brawl, complete with three arrests and two stabbings.
The numbers crunched: UCLA won eight straight from 1991-98, USC 12 of 13 from 1999-2011. Remarkably, five straight Bruins wins (1992-96) were upsets.
Loathing index: Medium high.
Tenor: Beavers fans look at Ducks and see front-running opportunists who rarely meet expectations. Oregon is apt to view OSU people as out-of-date hicks.
Good, clean fun: The Platypus Trophy was created by an Oregon art student in the late ’50s and given to the winner. Like the Territorial Cup, it went missing for years until found in a closet at McArthur Court in 2005.
Not-so-proud moment: The two played to a scoreless tie in 1983.
The numbers crunched: It’s been tame compared to the rest of the league, with the fewest close games (eight of a touchdown or less margin) since 1988, and just five upsets in that period. Oregon has dominated each end of the 25-year cycle.
Loathing index: Medium high.
Tenor: Cougars see Huskies as hopelessly arrogant. Huskies say Cougars have a well-deserved inferiority complex.
Good, clean fun: The late Don James once said he was “a 2,000-word underdog” to his loquacious counterpart, Jim Walden.
Not-so-proud moments: Washington security maced UW students for mounting the goal posts after a 1989 victory in the Apple Cup. In 2002, after a Husky upset of third-ranked WSU in Pullman, some students tossed bottles at the UW entourage leaving the field, causing UW AD Barbara Hedges to say, “I feared for my life.”
The numbers crunched: The Huskies have won 16 of 25, but the series has been vastly interesting recently. In the past 11 meetings, there are five upsets when the betting line was a touchdown or more. Suspense? There have been as many overtime games (four) as the rest of the Pac-12 rivalries combined — all in Pullman.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
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