Doug Robinson: Collie was right, even when wrong

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 28 2007 12:14 a.m. MST

I'm not even going to go there. I'm not going to discuss whether Austin Collin's infamous comment was correct or incorrect.

If, after BYU narrowly defeats Utah, he wants to say, "Obviously, if you do what's right on and off the field, I think the Lord steps in and plays a part in it. Magic happens," — who am I to say otherwise?

I'm not going to debate what the Lord does and doesn't do, or whether He has a hand in any ballgame or whether He takes sides, or whether there are Angels on the football field, as it were. It's pretty obvious we're not going to figure that one out in this life, and, frankly, it won't be among my first questions when I reach the next life.

We could bring up all the usual points that people immediately thought of after hearing the quote. It was natural to wonder where the Lord was when BYU (or for that matter Notre Dame or Southern Methodist) lost to their rivals and whether those teams just weren't living right. It was natural to note that Utah has 27 returned LDS missionaries (including my son), just like Collie, or that they have many kids of different faiths who are "living right."

Logic immediately took everyone to those points and then came the backlash.

Collie — who is, by all accounts, a first-rate young man — didn't back down when asked about the reaction to his comment.

"I just think it's absolutely ridiculous that people take something like that and blow it up," he said. "I really think it's because I'm a Mormon white kid from Brigham Young University. Anybody else says that from any other team and it's just how spiritual that guy is."

I agree with him. If he was a non-Mormon playing for, say, USC, and made that comment after a game, nobody would have paid attention — but he isn't and he wasn't and they did. He not only said it following a rivalry game that, unfortunately, has all kinds of religious undertones, but he said it following a bitter, narrow defeat for Utah, which was rubbing salt in the wound.

There is a time and place to say something and a time and a place not to say the same thing. Bringing religion into the BYU-Utah rivalry is just asking for trouble. It's pouring gas on the fire.

It's precisely these sorts of comments — whether by fans or players — that have helped create an ugly side to this rivalry, which unfortunately has become known as the Holy War. It's why a handful of Ute fans seem to revel in flaunting their "non-Mormonness," whether it's with language or alcohol or whatever. It's why the game takes on a bitterness that goes a step beyond what is common among rivalries.

I'm giving Collie the benefit of the doubt and betting he didn't intend to malign the Utes or anyone else. But in this situation, it's difficult for the Utes not to feel that it was a slight on their character — the implication being that because they lost they're not living right — even though Collie didn't intend it.

Collie made his second mistake when he called everyone's reaction to it "ridiculous." The religious undertones of this rivalry make it unique among rivalries and requires a certain sensitivity. What he should have said was, "I'm sorry anyone was offended. I certainly didn't intend it to be taken that way."

Other than that, it was difficult not to be impressed with Collie's response in Tuesday's Deseret Morning News.

"To tell you that I got here on my own," he said, "and that the Lord hasn't had a hand in my success and our team's success and every other athlete's success in this world, is just B.S. because he's had a hand in every person's life."

Such humility and devotion are rare in star athletes these days, and it's refreshing to find it evident in Collie.

I just wish he hadn't said what he said when he said it.


Doug Robinson's son plays for the University of Utah.

E-mail: drob@desnews.com

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