The Duel in the Desert’s 10 Most Controversial Moments (1-5)

Updated: March 17, 2013
Photo credit: Arizona

Continuing with the list of the most controversial events in ASU-UA football rivalry history. (Moments 6-10 can be found here.)

5. Color clash (1982)

Whether it was a simple misunderstanding or a form of gamesmanship on behalf of the Wildcats, ASU was forced to change its uniforms shortly before the 1982 Duel in the Desert in Tucson, in which UA would begin a nine-game unbeaten streak vs. the Devils.

The Wildcats decided to come out on the field in their white-colored jerseys, even though customary procedure is for the home team to wear their dark-colored uniforms at home. The frustrated Sun Devil team was forced to return to the locker room and change into its dark jerseys. Gamesmanship or not, it’s a bizarre moment that every Sun Devil who played in the ’82 game remembers three decades later.

4. Dancing on Sparky (2001)

It was to be the first-ever on-field presentation of the long-missing Territorial Cup, but it never happened.

In the game’s final seconds, UA running back Clarence Farmer led the Wildcats in celebration of their 34-21 victory in Tempe by running onto the middle of the field and dancing on the likeness of Sparky, ASU’s long-time mascot.

The incident led to punches being thrown in an altercation that lasted several minutes. The on-field trophy presentation had to be called off, and both schools scrapped any future plans for a public post-game ceremony.

3. The Ultimatum Bowl (1968)

The champion of the WAC (the conference to which both ASU and UA belonged in 1968) was yet to be determined, but Wildcat Coach Darrell Mudra wanted his team to be treated like a champion even before the 1968 Duel in the Desert.

The Sun Bowl was set to extend an invitation to the WAC champion that year. But before UA’s game vs. the Sun Devils, Mudra went to the Sun Bowl committee members and gave them an ultimatum: Invite the Cats to the bowl before they played ASU, or they wouldn’t go at all – even though ASU still had a chance to surpass the Wildcats for the conference lead.

The committee caved, and the furious Sun Devils took out their frustrations on the field a few days later, blowing out Arizona, 30-7, in Tucson. And as it turned out, due to a tiebreaker, neither ASU nor UA won the WAC that year – Wyoming did.

2. The Gable-Greer incident (1996)

With a commanding five-touchdown lead over the Wildcats in the fourth quarter, ASU quarterback Jake Plummer’s attempt to add to the lead led to the ugliest in-game incident in Territorial Cup history.

Plummer’s pass was intercepted in the end zone, and while it was being returned by UA’s Mikal Smith for a meaningless touchdown, ASU offensive lineman Glen Gable clipped Wildcat linebacker Daniel Greer from behind. The incident led to a sideline-clearing brawl that required the police to intervene and Gable’s family to be escorted from Arizona Stadium.

After the brawl, UA Coach Dick Tomey and ASU Coach Bruce Snyder took to the airwaves and pleaded for a more civil tone in the rivalry going forward.

1. Sun Devil Stadium vandalism (1958)

Photo credit: Arizona State University;

Photo credit: Arizona State University;

The most controversial moment in UA-ASU football history didn’t happen during a game – though it did occur on the field.

Proposition 200, a 1958 Arizona ballot measure with widespread support in the Phoenix area (including the supporters in the above photo), would officially change the name of then-Arizona State College to Arizona State University. But since UA was the only university in the state, and had been for 73 years, many people in Tucson wanted to keep it that way.

Weeks before Election Day, several Wildcat students or alumni (who were never apprehended) decided to express their opposition to the measure by burning “No 200” in the middle of the field of the brand-new Sun Devil Stadium, just days before the first-ever football game was to be played there.

Despite the vandalism, Prop 200 passed by a 2-to-1 margin, and in Frank Kush’s first year as ASU head coach, the Devils toppled the Cats, 47-0, in Tucson. But “No 200” was forever burned into ASU-UA history, and it made the rivalry more personal than ever.

(Feature photo credit: Arizona State University;

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