Schu Strings: Does the rivalry matter?

The players talk all vitriolic. The radio stations run rivalry promos. Brad Allis has a series history online. Every indication is that rivalry week remains a big deal. But are the teams really holding up their end of the bargain in the annual Arizona/ASU series?

As is the case with any long-running series, sweet and bitter memories are part of the running thread. John Jefferson preserved ASU's perfect season in 1975 with his now-legendary Parallel Reception. There was Arizona's nine-game non-losing streak that featured a couple upset victories that kept Arizona State from the Rose Bowl. That's just the tip of the iceberg.

But what was once a series of drama between competitive teams has, of late, turned into a sad comedy. To add fuel to the rivalry fire, at least one team has to be good, and neither of these programs has been able to lay claim to that since 1998. Since then, this rivalry has pitted mediocre programs in unfortunate situations. And the only thing they can lay claim to is "gearing up for that final in-state rivalry matchup, when you can throw records out the window."

Blah, blah, blah. Would somebody please win some football games to make this thing interesting again? In 1999, in the battle for the coveted Aloha Bowl, ASU managed a 42-27 victory before laying an offensive egg against Wake Forest. The 2000 game was marred by double coaching dismissals. Bruce Snyder got the boot prior to the in-state affair, and after Arizona State recorded a 30-17 triumph, Dick Tomey announced his resignation after 14 years on the Wildcat sidelines. No late-game heroics, no win-one-for-the-outgoing-coach theatrics. The UA just ran out of gas, and Tomey's final game was like his final season, sadly uninspiring. The win allowed ASU yet another shot at Aloha glory, where it promptly laid egg No. 2 at the hands of Boston College.

Last season, for the first time in modern history, neither team had bowl implications on the line. A 4-6 Arizona unit bounced a 4-5 ASU squad 34-21 in a game remembered for a ridiculous midfield postgame celebration at Sun Devil Stadium.

So here we are again. The in-state rivalry marred by mediocrity. A month ago, ASU looked like a darkhorse candidate for major bowl game possibilities. Three games and three straight losses later, it limps into Arizona Stadium hoping to somehow right a rapidly sinking ship.

Which is nothing when compared to Arizona, which has been mired in team strife all season and for the second time in three years finds itself wondering whether this will be the last game for the embattled head coach.

Despite the annual line of hype, fans have taken notice of the poor performances. The relative lack of turnstile activity has been evident as well. This used to be the hardest ticket in either town. A sellout guaranteed. Well, over the course of the last three years, that hasn't been the case. The game drew slightly more than 68,000 fans at Sun Devil Stadium in 1999. That's a good 7,000 below capacity. The 2000 game in Tucson drew 54,000, 4,000 below sellout figures. And last season, a paltry 55,831 were in attendance in Tempe, the lowest total since the 1978 expansion of Sun Devil Stadium.

For many fans, and for the players, this remains a do-or-die encounter, but both programs need to hold up their end of the bargain, and turn in better performances in the matchups away from the rivalry, before this series can return to its rightful place among the nation's most intense.

That said, at least there should be scoring. ASU has a strong quarterback prospect in Andrew Walter and good deep receiver threats. Arizona's secondary has been a sieve all season. The UA had a good deal of offensive success against California, and with two weeks to prepare, should have the opportunity to light up the scoreboard against a Sun Devil defense that yields more than 40 points per game on the road. However, the game's best defensive end, Terrell Suggs, could have a huge effort against the UA's much-beleaguered offensive line.

Prediction: ASU 54, Arizona 46.

Can you say whoring for the corporate dollar? How about d'oh-ing for the corporate dollar? What has happened to the Simpsons? The best and most consistently funny comedy in the history of American TV seemingly overnight decided it could sell anything vaguely related to the show. There's now a myriad of toy and clothing options available. I know friends with the Interactive Simpsons environments, where Simpsons collectible figures can be plugged into their little computer chip locations and say Simpsons-esque things. I know Simpsons fans searching for bargains on the hard-to-find versions, now naturally priced on ebay at four times their already inflated retail value.

At a recent closeout sale, my friend snagged me some Homer Simpson "Got Beer" T-shirts and a sweet, light-blue shirt with Blinky, the three-eyed fish corrupted by radiation from Mr. Burns' nuclear power plant.

I was driving through Quartzite en route to LA, and there on the bathroom door are caricatures of Bart and Lisa, indicating which is the men's room and which belongs to the women. I'm surfing the Internet and come across a beer opener that says Homer Simpson-isms. Homer is even pitching consumptives for Burger King.

I sport a couple Itchy and Scratchy shirts from a decade ago, when Itchy and Scratchy shirts were hard to find. I thought I was cool. Now if I deck myself out in Simpsons regalia, I fear coming off like one of the trendy masses. And oh how I fear trendiness.

Like many, I adore The Simpsons. At its worst it at least has some laughs. At its best, it's outstanding cultural satire that does a fabulous job skewering both sides of the political fence. Now I count the episodes when it again skewers itself. Christmas is coming. Here's hoping the Simpsons fan on your list doesn't lead you to the welfare line. But if that happens, maybe the government will accept Simpsons food stamps.

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