Dick Harmon: Former Cougar/Ute dreams of returning respect to rivalry

Published: Monday, Nov. 22 2010 11:00 p.m. MST

A man who once raised $5 million for BYU's late president Ernest L. Wilkinson doesn't have enough clout? He humbly says he doesn't have a big enough stick.

Beckham played end for Utah in the early '40s. After serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, he enrolled at BYU and played for the Cougars.

"I was just a scrub, I didn't really do anything, but I was one of the fastest players on both teams," remembers Beckham, who was captured in a newspaper action photo of the Utah-Utah State game the day after Thanksgiving in 1944, wearing Ute jersey No. 11.

He served on the student council at BYU in 1948 and they created, operated and put into play the Honor Code before the administration took it over.

"It was run by student judges and prosecutors, primarily to prevent cheating," he said. "The dress code wasn't really anything because back then everybody basically dressed alike. "

Since then, Beckham has become an icon in fundraising. His name is one of only 10 on a plaque on the wall at the Marriott Center, honoring those who contributed the most to its creation. He was on the committee to raise money to build the Smith Fieldhouse back in the day. He has served in a myriad of leadership roles, including Council President of the Boy Scouts of America, Red Cross and March of Dimes. He co-founded the Cougar Club and has served as an LDS mission president in Calgary, Canada.

Beckham sees himself as only a piece of kindling, not the match, in trying to make changes to the rivalry and eliminate the nastiness and hatred that's taken over the last decade at a new level.

As an expert in advertising, he understands the power of messages told right and how issues can be managed.

"I remember as a student body officer at BYU, we were invited guests at Utah for the rivalry game. I remember sitting in the middle of the Utah student section, wearing my school jacket and I was treated with dignity, as a guest of honor. It was a good feeling.

"Now, it has become violent. People are being jostled at both places and it is ugly. It isn't a good thing and it seems to have reached a climax the past six years."

With print media, multiple sports talk radio stations in the market and the worldwide Internet using BYU-Utah as "red meat" to stir and give a voice to smack talk and hate speech, the ugliness of the rivalry game has reached a peak and a new generation is nurtured to feed upon its rancor.

"I don't know if we'll ever see a return to that day, that era, but both sides have a lot to do to become more civil and make this game more enjoyable for all. I'm getting up there (in years) and I don't know if I'll see it in my lifetime, but I am willing to do what I can to see it move that way."

Beckham says he hasn't had an audience with Utah president Michael Young or BYU's Cecil O. Samuelson because he wanted to take somebody with him who could make things change.

"If I were to meet with President Young, the first thing I'd do is thank him for all he's done to do something about it," he said. This includes a KUED documentary to air tonight at 7 on the rivalry — done in a civil and respective manner. Beckham is interviewed on the program.

He applauds the Deseret News and other media outlets who by policy refuse to call the BYU-Utah game "The Holy War," although he recognizes religion has become a part of the discussion, even making it unique in its own right.

Last week, from his front-row perch, Beckham cringed at the BYU-Utah State basketball game when Aggie Tai Wesley fouled out and BYU students chanted "right, left" to mimic his footsteps to the bench. It is a popular refrain in the Marriott Center, but Beckham is old school and it grates on his soul.

"What's happened to good sportsmanship? When I was at BYU, players went over to the opposing bench when somebody fouled out and shook his hand."

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