For the first time in a few years, Utah and BYU are meeting during the regular season for a football game. They did play in last year’s Las Vegas Bowl, but nothing beats when they meet in the regular season, which used to be a staple of November when the teams shared a conference. But big time college athletics being what they are, Utah left the Mountain West for the Pac-12, while BYU opted to “spread the message” through their football team, forgoing a conference and deciding to become an independent in football.
Calling it the Holy War never really made a whole lot of sense to me; while BYU is the flagship school of the LDS Church, the University of Utah is just your standard, run of the mill, secular state institution. Holy War made sense when BYU played Notre Dame once upon a time — you know, Catholics vs. Mormons and all that — but they keep trying to force the name on the rivalry game. I’m perfectly content with #BYUvsUtah, but that’s just me.
On the eve of the game, my thoughts immediately turn to my dad. If not for him, I probably would have no real rooting interest in the game. I did not attend either school, and usually that is a factor in determining college allegiance. Failing that, the Church and I don’t really get along much, and I still have my issues with the things they stand for and support, so it would make much more sense from a football fan perspective to be a fan of Utah, wear red, and let my figurative Ute flag fly. But my dad led me to the Cougars, and they have been a part of my life.
My dad went to and graduated from BYU in the ’60s, where he met my mother and converted to Mormonism. Without his attendance at BYU 50+ years ago, I wouldn’t even be in existence. But it’s more than just that. BYU athletics, particularly football, was something that my father shared with me from a very young age. Though I don’t remember, my first birthday was spent in San Diego at the Holiday Bowl, a bowl game that BYU went to a lot during the ’80s. The 1981 Holiday Bowl was pretty standard fare, not nearly as exciting as the one in 1980 versus SMU, or 1984 against Michigan which clinched BYU’s only national championship in football, but BYU football has been a part of my life since the beginning.
Obviously, I was much too young to have any real recollection of these games happening in real time, but my true affection for BYU football probably had a lot more to do with Friday Night Football that aired on KBYU. During the offseason, a lot of Fridays were spent with my dad, watching some of the classic games that defined BYU football. He’d pop his popcorn in his dirty kettle, smother it with melted butter, and get mad as I picked through and ate only the buttered pieces. I can’t remember how many different games I watched with him in this way, and I’m sure I outgrew it at some point, but they are definitely fond memories of time spent 25 years ago.
During the football season, we’d spend Saturday afternoon watching the latest game, Western Athletic Conference games against the likes of Air Force — whose wishbone offense had me diagramming triple-option plays in a notebook — Wyoming, San Diego State, Colorado State, New Mexico, and everyone else. Dad would call the QBs dummies when they threw an interception, yell at the referee when they called stupid penalties, and just generally enjoy the game in a way that most people recognize as fandom.
Special “hate” was always reserved for the last game of the season, though, when the Utes and Cougars met each other, often with a WAC or Mountain West championship on the line. Those were my favorite games, and while time and quantity has dulled exact memories of specific games, those games just seemed to mean more, if only because of silly rivalry reasons. For most of my young life, BYU dominated the rivalry, at one point winning 19 of 21 games between 1972 and 1992. It swung back the other way, and Utah has won 15 of the last 22 games, including the last five games. But BYU ultimately leads the series during my lifetime, going 17–16 against the Utes since 1981.
The last conversation I had with my dad was about BYU football, and every time I watch a game I feel close to him again. When BYU pulled out a miracle win against Nebraska last season, I openly wept. Needless to say, I’m hoping for a win tomorrow, or at least a competitive game. If it comes down to the last minute, I hope that Pops is paying attention so he can help the Cougs along and snap the five game losing streak to the Utes.
Rise and shout, the Cougars are out.