In Arizona, you need to pick a side.
This isn't a political discussion, or one about race, though in this state it inevitably goes there no matter what you write. It's not even a debate regarding which Sonoran hot dog to align with.
Nope, in Arizona there's really only one true decision to make: Arizona or Arizona State (Sorry NAU alums, of which I am one, for my master's degree; you just don't belong in this discussion).
While not all of us went to the UA or ASU—yours truly is also a Wildcat alum, for the record—nearly every person you come across in Arizona has a preference for one school or the other. And by preference, I mean deep devotion toward one and a strong hatred of the other. It's why at bars, around office cubicles and even on Facebook you hear just as many mentions of Wildkitties or Scum Devils as you do the schools' actual mascots.
Anyone who has attended either school probably has some great stories to tell about the intense rivalry, whether it be positive for UA (nearly every men's basketball result in the past 20 years) or negative. I'll never be able to get rid of the image of ASU fans trying to tear down the goal posts at Arizona Stadium following the Sun Devils' shellacking of UA in 1996 en route to a Rose Bowl appearance. A little piece of the century-old conflict lives in all of us.
Those who say they like both schools instantly move up the "I'm not so sure about them" rankings, which was why I was surprised when I heard that statement from the author of a book detailing the rich and storied history of the Arizona-ASU football rivalry.
"It wasn't until I went to Arizona that things changed," said 32-year-old Shane Dale, whose book Territorial: The History of the Duel in the Desert was released about two weeks ago. "I grew up in the Chandler/Mesa area, but then moved to Casa Grande for high school, so I was right in between."
Dale, a 2004 UA grad who worked for the Arizona Daily Wildcat and briefly covered the Wildcat football team, said he set about chronicling the Territorial Cup and its legacy after realizing there wasn't any comprehensive volume on the rivalry.
"I thought at first that was unfortunate; then I thought of it as an opportunity," said Dale, a freelance writer and editor who lives in Queen Creek with his wife and dog. "I certainly had time to (write) it. People kept telling me I needed to write a book, so I asked myself, 'What am I passionate about?' "
The first step was putting out feelers to the sports information departments at both Arizona and ASU. Both schools were helpful, especially ASU, which Dale said surprised him, considering his alumnus status.
Over the course of several months Dale secured interviews with dozens of former players from the schools, and along the way also talked with all but two of the ASU and UA head coaches still living. Dirk Koetter was the lone miss on the ASU side, being much less accessible now that he's an NFL assistant coach. On the UA side, only John Mackovic declined the chance to discuss his contribution (or lack thereof) to the rivalry.
"You can probably guess why," said Dale, who covered the Wildcats in 2003, when Mackovic was fired midway through his third season.
Dale said he got a wealth of anecdotes and tidbits from the interviews, but the person who stood above all others was legendary ASU coach Frank Kush, one of the few people Dale was able to interview in person. He's just as intimidating in retirement as he was on the field, Dale said.
"I made sure to wear dark clothes," he said.
Dale said he tried hard to keep Territorial down the middle in terms of its slant, keeping his personal UA bias out of the text in order to convey the true depth of the rivalry. By doing so, he said, he was able to feel the love and hatred from those he interviewed, especially the ASU players and coaches.
"Granted, not all of them knew I was a UA grad before I talked to them ..." he said.
Dale also got a chance to gauge which side truly is more passionate, more into the rivalry. The verdict? Probably the UA fans, but just by a little, and mostly because of a lack of other interest options.
"It's something Frank Kush said to me, that in Tucson it's the only game in town," he said. "In Phoenix, ASU has to compete for media attention. I think (Tucson) is the biggest college town in the country."
Dale's book was self-published, taking advantage of Amazon's CreateSpace program. All told, including photography, copy editing and marketing costs, Dale spent between $3,500 and $4,000 on the project.
All that effort paid off with a strong debut when Territorial was released on Amazon on July 12. As of Sunday, July 21, the book, which retails for $13.36 in trade paperback and $9.99 on Kindle, was ranked just outside the top 4,000 in popularity (based on copies sold) in Amazon's hourly updated rankings. It was No. 9, though, in the niche category of books on American football.
Thanks to positive reviews and strong media coverage, the book was ranked as high as No. 270 overall, and second in its niche behind a book on fantasy football.
"I saved a little screen shot of my book being ahead of Phil Jackson's book, for the five minutes it was like that," said Dale, who noted his wife has tried to keep him from obsessively hitting the refresh button on the rankings page.
Dale isn't certain what he'll write about next. In the meantime, he continues to interact with this state's rabid college sports fans via a Twitter handle devoted to the book. Check him out at @territorialcup.