Those with ties to BYU or Utah like to think of their rivalry as one of the country's great hates.

It is, at least, one of the most unique, according to sports psychologist Dr. Keith Henschen, who works with Olympic teams, the Utah Jazz, many pro sports stars and athletes from both schools.

Henschen grew up in Indiana, schooled at Ball State and IU. He's been to an Ohio State-Michigan game and traveled the world in the name of sport. He took a professor's position at Utah in 1971 and is an LDS convert.

"It's just different," he says. "I've found that fascinating all the time I've been here.

"This is not a normal rivalry — from the fans. The players respect each other, but there's some bitterness with the fans. It gets a little out of hand at times. You wonder, do these people really have a life? It's just four hours of football in the fall."

There's no real secret to the root of it. It lies in the area's predominant religion and the U.'s pride at being the state's flagship university/medical school/research institution. Ute fans feel slighted by BYU fans, and Cougar fans "feel Utah fans are undisciplined," Henschen says.

"It's a fascinating social phenomenon to watch," he says. "Instead of good fun, jesting with each other, they're actually demeaning each other, which I find quite unusual, and I think it goes back to the religious aspect, which I feel is kind of sad."

Midwesterners, SEC fans and Pac-10 fans are different. If beaten by a rival, they hope the rival goes on to glory.

"There's no religious context to it, and most of the time, it's not as bitter," Henschen says. "They just go play and let it decide on the field, and we don't do that here. The rest of the world moves on, and we don't seem to be able to do that."

Known internationally for his expertise, Henschen is stumped by this.

"I just don't understand that mentality," he says.

The only way to study it would be by survey, which would likely come to the above conclusions.

"We live way too vicariously through our two schools," he says. "Instead of enjoying great performances — and I don't care which team does it — we're too ego-involved."

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Elsewhere, rivalries are "a great time to express your love for a particular school, and whoever wins wins," Henschen says. "We don't do that.

"It's unique — but it's us."


E-mail: lham@desnews.com