On October 26th, 2002, the Utah Utes recorded their sixth loss and every game from that point, outside the BYU one, ceased to mean anything. The Utes would manage to finish that season on a three-game win streak, but it wasn't enough to save Ron McBride's job and, after an ugly, and tough, 13-6 win over the Cougars to close out the season, McBride was handed his walking papers.
Just like that, 11 years of coaching was over and, even though we didn't know it, Utah was on the verge of opening up its greatest run in program history.
Anyway, when the Utes lost to New Mexico that year, guaranteeing the school its second losing season in three, there wasn't really much more to look forward to. The only thing left on the schedule, which was a pretty big deal, as I mentioned, had been the BYU game. That was it.
I guess that's what you get when you finish with a losing season so early. You don't deserve to have games mean much outside the finality of the overall record. In 2000 and 2002, both Utah and BYU were awful teams - the Cougars were finishing out LaVell Edwards' final season in '00 with a sputter and Gary Crowton had just started his tailspin in '02. The buzz surrounding the game was still high, of course, but outside bragging rights ... it was probably the least interesting rivalry games in the history of the rivalry (though, the 2000 game is meaningful for how it ended). This was a far cry from 1999 (MWC title on the line) and 2001 (BCS bid pretendedly on the line for BYU). When we think of great moments in rivalry history, I don't think anyone's mind instantly goes back to the 2002 game.
But a win over the Cougars was still something ... even when both teams were terrible. Utah fans could lord that victory over BYU, and the Cougars wouldn't get another win in the rivalry again until 2006 - after making a coaching change of their own.
So, even in the bad seasons, there was still the Holy War. Even if you expected Utah to get their butts handed to them, which was par for the course throughout the 70s and 80s, it was still, as Joe Biden likes to call it, a big f'n deal. Colorado, no matter how much we try, just can't reach that level of anticipation and hate - not yet, anyway. Yes, they ended our Pac-12 South chances last year and there will be certain revenge on our minds this Friday ... but then what?
Would any of you feel satisfied with a win over Colorado? Of course not. That's not to say you won't enjoy it, but at the end of the day, victory isn't going to change your outlook on the season and you're not likely to celebrate it outside maybe a loud sigh of relief ... but that's it. In 2002, while the season was disappointing, the win over the Cougars at least carried something with it and made some of the torture through September and October worth it.
Nothing Utah does Friday will make 5-7 worth it. It won't change my feelings on this season or even my mood. I'll still be just as disappointed Saturday as I was Thursday evening and worse, I won't have a victory to lord over any of my friends. In 2002, at school, I had friends who cheered for BYU, so, beating them was worth it in the sense I got to ham it up and that's something I did pretty well. Let's be honest, beating Colorado isn't going to make us all rush over to the Ralphie Report and taunt them about how awesome our 5-7 team really is!
There is still no emotion there for me. I don't hate Colorado. I actually feel sorry for them. I look at this program, which, like our more traditional rival, saw some pretty damn good highs, and now they're stuck in a perpetual losing cycle ... where this year's team is somehow worse than last year's. But damn, when BYU was stinkin' it up under Crowton and Utah was just starting to take off as a program, I loved it. There wasn't sympathy. It was enjoyable.
But with the Buffaloes, I see a program that I have no real reason to dislike and their struggle is disappointing. Just as I look at every Pac-12 team's struggle as disappointing. I am now in the mindset where I want almost every Pac-12 team to win ... or succeed ... because it bolsters the conference. Back in the Mountain West? I couldn't overcome my dislike of BYU to even care enough to cheer for them against out of conference teams.
I always rooted for them to lose. I don't root for Colorado to fail.
So, beating them will be nice in the sense that it's one final victory before we close up shop and head home for the winter and spring - but that's about it. That sucks. I was so jacked for that Arizona game last weekend because I knew what was on the line and when we lost, I felt completely deflated ... and I'm sure I wasn't the only one. Beating Colorado isn't going to change any of that.
If anything, winning is just going to make me more mad knowing we'll have come one game from a tenth-straight bowl bid. I'm not saying losing is the better option, because it absolutely is not, and I'll take victory over a loss Friday every single time, but the way this season has progressed, its inevitable end is going to be a disappointment - win or lose.
Hopefully the team remembers this feeling ... every player and coach that comes back remembers what it's like playing in a game that means so little to the overall balance of a season. There is no jockeying for bowl position like last year, or even a last-ditch effort at bowl eligibility. This game is solely about pride.
Remember that feeling and then use it next season as motivation so that we never get to this point again.