The type of political, educational and social confrontation that can generically be described as U vs. State has enlivened the American scene ever since somebody decided it would do no harm to extend the blessings of higher education to residents west of the Atlantic coastal plain. Pennsylvanians, Mississippians, Michiganders, Iowans, Kansans, Oklahomans, Texans, Oregonians and Washingtonians, among others, have been entertained and/or enraged as these two classes of schools struggle for financial, academic and, especially, football supremacy. Though in some places the passion has cooled in recent decades, it is still a hot issue here and there. And in Arizona the U vs. State rivalry is very big at the moment.
To appreciate what has been shaping up in southern WACland, some mention must be made of the two communities that house the antagonists—Tucson (the University of Arizona) and Phoenix-Tempe ( Arizona State University). Tucson was established in 1776 as the Royal Presidio of Tucson by the Spanish. Even today, despite a fairly heavy overlay of mobile homes and fast-food joints, the city retains a certain feel of its antique and colonial past.
In contrast, nobody found reason to invent Phoenix until 1864 and when people did they initially gave it the fairly undistinguished name of Smith's Station. Phoenix (as it became known a few years later) has matured into a major commercial and industrial center of the Southwest, a busy place where a 10-year-old shopping center, comparatively speaking, has a lot of tradition. Generally, the relationship between Tucson and Phoenix is similar, both physically and emotionally, to that between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Both Arizona communities got institutions of higher learning in the 1880s. Tucson's was to become the University of Arizona, which began turning out lawyers, bankers, publishers and scientists, the kind of people who run a state. Phoenix, or its suburb Tempe, got the Territorial Normal School (later to become Arizona State), which began producing mostly teachers, the people who, figuratively, work for the state.
Around the turn of the century both schools began playing football, but again Tucson seemed to get the best of it and maintained the advantage for the next half century or so. From 1899, when the series began, to 1975 the U's were up on the States by a 28-20 count.
In 1958 the academic and athletic worlds of Arizona were turned upside down. First off, a lot of State graduates began to agitate to have their school also designated as a university. Regents, legislators and others of the power structure—mostly made up of University of Arizona lawyers—said it was a bad idea. Thus thwarted, the Phoenix crowd got its proposition on the general ballot and touched off what is still remembered as one of the bitterest and most expensive campaigns ever staged in Arizona.
Among those involved on the State side was a 28-year-old ex-Michigan State All-America guard by the name of Frank Kush, who in 1958 had taken over as the Arizona State head football coach. Kush recalls putting up pro-State posters in southern Arizona towns and having them immediately ripped down by irate U of A alumni.
Kush turned out to be much better as a coach than as a poster poster. In the crucial 1958 election-year game his charges zapped the University of Arizona 47-0. Says a still embittered U man, "State's real argument was that their football team had kicked hell out of us, so they deserved to be a university." This might not be the strongest of academic reasons but it may have carried some weight with the electorate, which subsequently voted 2 to 1 in favor of creating Arizona State University.
So certified, Kush and his Sun Devils commenced a football reign of terror, not only in Arizona but in the Western Athletic Conference as well. With a reputation as a ferocious disciplinarian and terrible loser, Kush in 17 years posted a 146-39-1 record (fourth-best among active major-college coaches), produced four bowl teams and enough professionals—including such notables as Charley Taylor, Curley Culp, J. D. Hill, and Woody Green—to stock a small NFL division. As for Arizona U, Kush is 12-5 against the school down in Tucson.
Perhaps in mulling over what could be done about the old Michigan State guard up in Tempe who was brutalizing them, the U people may have asked themselves, "Who beats Michigan State?" and come up with the answer, " University of Michigan beats Michigan State—at least since Bo Schembechler." In any event, in 1972 the U hired Dave Strack, the University of Michigan's associate athletic director, as their own AD. Shortly thereafter Strack hired Jim Young, a Schembechler assistant, as head coach of the Wildcats.