When local writer Shane Dale set out to chronicle the history of the Territorial Cup, he was met with a number of obstacles, but now two years later the book, “Territorial: The History of the Duel in the Desert,” is finished and set to go on sale this week.
The Territorial Cup, the football rivalry game between Arizona State and University of Arizona and the name of the accompanying trophy, has been played since 1899 and annually since 1946. Yet despite all the history in those 114 years, there had never been a detailed account of the rivalry’s history.
“That was a shame, I think,” Dale said. “It’s a shame for the players and coaches who have come before.”
Seeking to honor the rivalry and all the personalities that made it unique, Dale decided to write the book, but it wasn’t easy.
Actually, the first part was easy. Dale, 32, approached ASU and UA athletics officials about the project, and both sides enthusiastically offered their support. Both saw an opportunity to honor the rivalry and expand its profile. They helped Dale get in touch with former players and coaches.
Dale interviewed roughly 150 different people over the course of the year, from players and coaches to journalists and analysts. That was where things started to get tricky. Numerous key players were hard to get in touch with, and circumstances sometimes created hurdles to clear.
“I wanted to talk to (former UA coach) Mike Stoops and (former ASU coach) Dennis Erickson, but they were both fired (in 2011) before I was able to,” Dale said. “I figured ‘Well they’re not going to want to talk to me now.'”
It took some time, but Dale did end up speaking with both coaches. Dale had to get creative contacting certain players as well. When he would interview one player, he began asking if they were still in touch with another player, creating a web through which he eventually landed most of the major principals. Among the tougher gets were former ASU quarterback Jake Plummer and former UA safety Chuck Cecil.
There was also the fact that most anyone who could speak to the rivalry between its beginnings and World War II was no longer alive. Dale had to scour through old books and newspaper archives at libraries in Tucson and Phoenix to gather as much detail as possible about the rivalry’s roots.
After all the hard work of researching and learning every possible detail about the rivalry itself came a greater challenge: Getting the book published. Publishers balked at Dale’s pitch and the fact he was a first-time author. Dale got the sense that publishers saw the Territorial Cup as exactly that — too territorial and of little interest outside the state’s borders.
“They didn’t specifically come back and tell me ‘A book about this rivalry isn’t going to sell,’ but I’m pretty sure that’s probably what was on their minds,” Dale said. “I’ve got it out there finally, and I’m excited to prove them wrong.”
It’s true the Territorial Cup is has remained mostly relevant in Arizona, never garnering much national interest. Changing that is part of Dale’s goal.
“It’s been a very competitive rivalry, a very unusual rivalry,” Dale said. “It’s emotional and intense for on-field and personal reasons. I wanted to help spread that beyond Arizona.”
Without a publisher, Dale decided he would have to self-publish the book. That also required he do his own marketing and enlist the help of friends and acquaintances for design and editing purposes.
The greatest challenge of self-publishing was the cost. Dale had to put himself in the red to make the book happen.
“It’s not cheap to self-publish,” Dale said. “I’ve had to choose to look at it as an investment.”
As much effort and money as the project has required, though, Dale feels rewarded from the experience already. He has a newfound respect and appreciation for both schools, which is no small feat considering he’s a UA graduate.
Dale actually grew up in the East Valley rooting for both ASU and UA, though he rooted for ASU over UA when they played due to proximity.
“I was one of the like one percent of people who liked both teams,” Dale said. “I didn’t really have a connection to either one, and I just liked rooting for the Arizona teams.”
Dale ended up picking UA over ASU, and during his time in Tucson he was an assistant sports editor at The Daily Wildcat, UA’s campus newspaper. The choice turned Dale’s allegiance forever. He’s been to eight Territorial Cup games, including the past six.
So could a UA grad possibly pen a balanced account of the Territorial Cup rivalry? Dale understands the skepticism but insists he was able to step back from his rooting interests to tell both sides of the story fairly.
“Am I an ASU fan? No, I’m an Arizona Wildcat, but I don’t think you have to be a fan,” Dale said. “I think you just have to have respect and appreciation for both schools.”
Dale said he discovered over the last two years there is a similar respect between players and coaches in the rivalry, which derives most of its vitriol from the fans. Dale is hoping the fan feud will help him sell as many copies in Tempe as he does in Tucson.
“Territorial” begins shipping from Amazon on Friday, and Dale hopes it will be available in stores eventually. More information, including a list of players and coaches interviewed, is available at theterritorialcup.com.