Arizona and Arizona State renew their heated rivalry Saturday in Tempe with the Territorial Cup again on the line.

Certified by the NCAA as the oldest rivalry trophy in college football, this is the 97th meeting. But this trophy is only part of the history between the two schools.

“If you’re going to win one game every year it needs to be this game,” said University of Arizona graduate and sports historian Shane Dale.

That one game to win is the Territorial Cup game each November.

“It’s one of the most intense rivalries in the country,” Dale said.

He should know, he wrote the book on itliterally. Dale is the author of Territorial: The History of the Duel in the Desert.

It might surprise you that surveys of fans nationally have shown this rivalry to be the most intense, ahead of Alabama-Auburn and Ohio State-Michigan.

“Arizona-ASU is kind of own an island out here,” said Dale. “There aren’t any other natural rivals. The rivalry goes back to 1899.”

That’s right, this all began on Thanksgiving Day in 1899.

“That first game was actually very cordial,” according to Dale.

ASU, then knows as Tempe Normal School, was a well-established football team. They traveled by train to Tucson to face the upstart team from the U of A. They even shared a Thanksgiving meal together.

Arizona State beat Arizona, in a game where the forward pass still wasn’t allowed, 11 to 2.

“That’s when ASU was presented with the Territorial Cup trophy for winning the Territorial Football League, which was an in-state league with a couple other local schools,” explained Dale.

On display at the U of A’s Hall of Champions, the Territorial Cup still has the faded engraving on the side marking that 1899 Title.

Like most great stories though, the Territorial Cup has some intrigue. The cup actually went missing after being presented 124 years ago.

“Disappeared for over 80 years,” said Dale. “Was found in a Tempe church basement in the early 80s. And it wasn’t until 2001 that it actually began to be used as the official trophy for the winner of that game.”

That 2001 game in Tempe turned ugly in the closing seconds. Arizona running back Clarence Farmer celebrated the Wildcat’s 34-21 victory by dancing on the likeness of Sparky, ASU’s mascot, at midfield.

“That led to an on field melee and the presentation on the field never happened,” recalled Dale. “Since then they just scrapped it and they don’t do a presentation.”

The bad blood between the rivals goes back much further. In 1958, ASU led an initiative to make them a state university. Most in Tucson were opposed, wanting the U of A to stay the only university in Arizona.

“Presumably U of A people, they were never caught, broke into the brand new Sun Devil Stadium and burned ‘No 200’ into the Sun Devil Stadium grass in protest,” said Dale.

The measure passed, and later that November, ASU shutout Arizona 47-0.

The Wildcats do have the edge in the series, winning 50 times; the Sun Devils, 45.

“ASU fans like to taunt Arizona about never having gone to the Rose Bowl,” Dale said. ASU’s only been twice and a big reason for that is Arizona’s prevented them from going multiple times.”

Arizona also has a couple of the most memorable moments in Territorial Cup history.

In 1986, Wildcat standout Chuck Cecil intercepted the Sun Devil pass 6 yards deep in his own end zone and returned it the length of the field for an Arizona touchdown.

“Chuck Cecil had the 100-yard interception return,” said Dale. “Chuck, by the way, wants 106 yards on that but they only count 100 in college football.”

In 1998, Arizona capped off its best season ever with a performance to remember. Trung Candidate running for 288 yards and broke the single-game Arizona record.

Shane Dale points out that the Territorial Cup rivalry goes beyond football. It is also Tucson vs. Phoenix, Maricopa County vs. Pima County.

“Historically, geographically, politically, there’s so much different reasons why this rivalry is so personal,” Dale said.

It’s why those who play in the rivalry, and those who show allegiance to Arizona or Arizona State, are so passionate about this Territorial Cup.

It is known as the Territorial Cup because Arizona was still a territory in 1899. It did not become a state until 1912.