Well here we are, 11 games down and one to go. For the past three months, the Crimson and Blue have cheered on their teams and stayed with them through the best of times, and the worst of times (ok, so not EVERYONE stayed with their teams, but the real fans did!)
It all comes down to this. Saturday, November 27, 2010. Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah. BYU. If you don’t have tickets, don’t bother contacting either school’s ticket office, they have been sold out for months. Even the standing room only section is gone.
Throughout this week, you will hear and read hundreds of opinions about who will win this game. Spencer Checketts and Bill Riley will tell you that Utah is going to be victorious easily. Greg Wrubell and Dick Harmon will tell you why they are convinced that this is BYU’s game to lose.
The purpose of this article is not to tell you who will win and why. It is an attempt to show why this game and this rivalry will never be the same, and this Saturday’s game should be enjoyed by both sides, no matter who wins.
The history of this rivalry is rich, but most often is one sided. For the first 50-60 years, Utah laughed at the thought of playing BYU. I had a chance to meet a defensive lineman who had played at the U. during the late 1950’s. I asked him about the rivalry and he started laughing. He told me “BYU was a warm up game. We used them as a chance to get ready for real teams.”
Along came LaVell Edwards and fortunes flipped. Utah became a punching bag. The game became an annual tune up for BYU as they got ready for a bowl game after claiming yet another WAC championship. Enter Ron McBride.
So tired of losing to their rivals, the Utes invested in Ron McBride and he turned things around. The rivalry really became a rivalry. If you look at the last 20 meetings between Utah and BYU, you will notice something. Utah has won 10 of those meetings. BYU has won 10 of those meetings.
In the last several years alone, the rivalry game has meant more than bragging rights. In fact, in the last decade, 2002 was the only year when the teams had nothing on the line except bragging rights. Every other year, the rivalry has had conference championship, or bowl implications riding on the outcome.
Last season, a trip to the Vegas Bowl and second place were on the line. The year before, a Utah win gave them a trip to the BCS. Had BYU won, they would have entered into a three-way for the conference championship and denied the Utes a spot at college football’s most elite table. This year, second place is again up for grabs, with TCU likely going to the BCS, Vegas could be the destination for the winner and a much lesser bowl for the loser. (Though sources seem to indicate that Utah has solidified a Vegas invite, regardless of the outcome due to a better overall season).
Unfortunately, the game will never have these implications again. Never again will a conference championship be on the line. Never again will positioning for bowl games be up for grabs.
With Utah moving to the Pac-12, scheduling will prevent the game from being held during its typical end of November time slot, at least for the foreseeable future. Next year’s game is scheduled for the middle of September. For those around here, it will be different.
There will always be passion for this game. There will always be bragging rights. But it just won’t be the same. Utah now has a different set of fish to fry. The focus won’t be on BYU, it will be on taking down foes in the Pac-12 South. For BYU, it will be getting national exposure, travelling the country and playing teams from all over.
A common theme by fans of both schools is to refer to the other as their “little brother”. This phrase, whenever its used, by whomever, makes me laugh. It is such a load of baloney. A friend put it best when he said the schools are more like twins. Each has an impressive, nationally respected athletic program. But now, each is going on while pursuing different things.
My hope is that the rivalry can become what the rivalry between Utah and Utah State has become. When the two teams meet, they battle hard and compete. The fans are respectful to each other and when the game is over, they move on. There rarely is bad blood left over.
None of us who witnessed it will ever forget, 34-31, Ryan “Clank” Kaneshiro, Darnell Arceauneux, 3-0, Harline is still open, 4th and 18, Max Hall’s 6 TO’s, or George is still running. In the future, late game heroics will get the wins, but they won’t be part of our folklore the way that the games have been.
So far, I have just discussed football. In basketball, the rivalry has been just as great. Now, the teams will be reduced to playing each other once a year. That just isn’t enough for me. That will take some getting used to. We probably won’t see plays like Nathan Cooper taking a swing at Keith Van Horn, Chris Miles kicking Andrew Bogut in the back, or Marshall Henderson taking a swing at Jackson Emery. Now, the teams will meet once a year, and it won’t mean as much to the players.
Here is to a rivalry that has been great, that is great now, and will always be great, though different. Here is to a great game on Saturday, and here is to success for both teams in the years coming forward as they go their separate ways.