"Some believe that sports build character. I believe that sports reveal character. I see too many players who are characters today. I like a player with character." — John Wooden, legendary UCLA basketball coach.
Perhaps the most endearing play in the long history of the Utah-BYU rivalry came moments after its greatest drama.
In the chaos that followed John Beck's 2006 game-winning touchdown pass to Jonny Harline on the last play of an epic battle, the senior quarterback found himself on the receiving end of a quick hug and congratulations from someone he didn't expect — Utah senior Eric Weddle. As these fierce competitors walked and talked, red No. 32 put his arm around the white shoulder pads of No. 12. They shared some friendly words, shook hands and parted ways.
A friendship was born.
Four years later, Beck is the third-string quarterback for the Washington Redskins and Weddle plays free safety for the San Diego Chargers. The two live a 15-minute drive from one another outside San Diego. Prior to fall training camp, the Becks and Weddles met for a barbecue and some boating at a friend's beach house. John invited Eric to play in his charity golf tournament. There are also plans to do some serious fishing in the coming offseason.
"It's funny," Beck said. "Neither of us knew each other until the rivalry. Neither of us is from Utah. But our paths crossed and now we live by each other. It's been interesting to see how it has all played out since then."
As the Cougars went crazy and the Utes watched in stunned silence, it was hard to describe how Beck was feeling when the '06 game ended.
BYU had not beaten Utah in four years. The 2004 game ended in a blowout loss in Salt Lake City; the Utes stole an overtime victory in the '05 game in Provo. The senior signal-caller had also endured years of criticism and abuse from his own fan base for failing to win the big games.
So when Beck orchestrated a 75-yard drive in the final 1:09, and scrambled to find teammate Jonny Harline open with an 11-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the game, his emotions overflowed.
"After the '04 game, after our coach spoke to the team, I walked back out on the field and watched all the people celebrate the fiesta," Beck said. "I wanted to take a mental picture. Before I left BYU, I wanted to have a moment like that for our team."
Beck continued: "When the game came down to the wire (in '06) and Utah scored to go ahead, I couldn't believe it. We had played so well, we worked so hard. I made the decision that we were going to win. I had this calm, it-is-going-to-happen feeling."
Beck didn't know it yet, but his resolve had won the respect of his arch nemesis.
When Eric Weddle reflects on the '06 game and the events that followed, he shrugs. "How did I even do that? I don't know," he says.
Losing on the final play to Beck and the Cougars in his final home game was a bitter pill to swallow for Utah's all-American. Weddle rarely came off the field. When he wasn't making tackles or matching up with BYU's biggest receiving threat defensively, he was running with the ball or playing special teams. He even threw an 18-yard touchdown pass in the first half. He had never lost to the Cougars and wasn't about to lose as a senior.
On the game's final play, the crimson captain was on the opposite side of the end zone when he saw Beck float his unforgettable pass to Harline. Suddenly it was all over. Utah had lost and Weddle was crushed.
"To lose like that … I didn't get over that loss for weeks … just thinking about it …" Weddle said. "But sometimes you got to be the bigger man."
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