They call it the Territorial Cup, or the “Duel in the “Desert.” But it ought to be the Frank Kush Cup.
More than anyone else, this tough old bird and Hall of Fame coach made the Arizona-Arizona State football game what it is.
Hostile . . . snarly . . . caustic . . . harsh . . . pick your poison.
Fans at both schools root all season for their favorite – and every week leading up to the finale – for whoever is playing the dreaded enemy.
The more Frank Kush improved Sun Devil football from 1958-79, the more he increased the resolve of the Wildcats to knock them off. He was brilliant at both.
Even at 78 and coming off knee replacement surgery, Kush still gets fired up during the week of the bitter rivalry.
It’s more than a football game, he said.
“ASU-Arizona is more like two separate states in some kind of border war,” said the man who contributed more than anybody to making it so.
“People don’t realize the level of intensity between these two institutions,” Kush said. “It’s not only in athletics, but business-wise, politically and every way you can think of, these schools compete against each other.
“I learned when I first came to Arizona in 1955 as an ASU assistant under Dan Devine how intense this game was,” Kush said. “I was just a young kid at the time and ‘rivalry’ to me meant Michigan State, where I played, vs. Michigan.
“But I didn’t know what I was in for. This thing out here on the desert was . . . chaotic in its intensity. And I think that’s great. I hope it never changes.”
It did change during Kush’s 21 years as head coach at Arizona State. It got even more intense.
Kush was a marvelous teacher and motivator, but his disposition could get crabbier than the grass. His teams were rugged and ferocious, but Kush never coached a player as tough as he was.
There’s a bronze statue of Kush on the ASU campus and it isn’t half as hard as this amazing man. There’s a hill at Camp Tontozona where the Sun Devils train, called “Mount Kush,” and its rocks and cactuses soften in comparison to the old coach.
Kush built a national power at Arizona State, and in the process gave the archrival Wildcats tremendous incentive to improve . . . and they did.
The Kush Devils were 16-6 against Arizona, including a nine-game winning streak from 1965-73.
Bob Crawford, who covered the Sun Devils for many years for the old Phoenix Gazette, recalled the genesis of that ASU dominance.
“In the late summer of 1963, just before the start of the next season,” Crawford said, “the Arizona Coaches Association staged its annual high school All-Star football and basketball games in Flagstaff at Northern Arizona University. Coaches from all the schools were invited to an annual luncheon a day or so before the game.
“Kush and Jim LaRue of Arizona were asked to say a few words. LaRue, who had beaten ASU three years in a row, said something on the order of ‘I want to thank the coaches association for inviting me up here, and I want to thank Frank Kush for helping to make the last three years enjoyable.’
“I sneaked a look at Kush,” Crawford said, “and he was absolutely furious . . . and silent.”
Many years later, Kush said, “I told myself that afternoon that I was never going to lose to that (!!##*%!) again.”
Kush still works for ASU in public relations, and maintains an office in the athletic department complex.
On one wall, there’s a photograph of John Jefferson’s amazing catch (UA fans recall it as a “noncatch”) that helped the Devils defeat Arizona 24-21 in 1975.
“My son Danny kicked three field goals in that game,” Kush said, “so it was very special to me. We went on to beat Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl and finished 12-0 and No. 2 in the country.
“I thought we should have been No. 1.”
Kush expects the usual intensity and fireworks in Saturday’s renewal of the rivalry.
“I think the two coaches are a lot alike,” he said of ASU’s Dennis Erickson and UA’s Mike Stoops. “They know what it takes to get the job done – recruit well and teach well.
“You can see the gradual progress at both schools. Dennis has been around longer and knows the necessary ingredients – although the Devils’ bubble was burst last week by Southern California.
“Stoops has done a commendable job at Arizona. I admire what they’ve done.”
He may be Mr. Sun Devil, but Kush must have a soft spot in his heart for UA’s Medical School.
A son, David, is a graduate and has worked as an anesthesiologist the past 12 years in Phoenix. He was in med school here at the time Mike Parseghian, son of former Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian, was in residency at UA.
So, Frank Kush was asked, you’ve got to appreciate UA for its medical school, right?
“Well, they need it more than we do,” he said in false grouchiness . . . before a big laugh.
Corky Simpson writes a column ever Saturday for the Citizen.