SALT LAKE CITY — There was that moment, last year, when Max went mad, saying he hated all things Ute, right down to the cleaning crew. But that was because of the previous year, when Max Hall's parents got harassed (abused?) in the stands at Rice-Eccles.
Almost every year, it seems to be something.
Understandably, there are renewed calls for civility in the Utah-BYU rivalry. People say it has become too mean. Interestingly, Rondo Fehlberg isn't among them.
Where others see bitterness, he sees cooperation.
He readily acknowledges change coming, once the teams go their separate ways. But for now, the former BYU athletics director sees the rivalry being as good at it has ever been — in quality but also in civility.
Utah-BYU, mutual respect.
Wow. What a concept.
"I think the rivalry is more healthy than it was when I first came in as A.D. (1995), and I think Chris (Hill, Utah A.D.) would agree," said Fehlberg.
He continued, "As I have known it, having been an athlete and a fan and an administrator down there for many years, I think it's as good as I've known it. Have there been some years or periods when it was better? I don't know. I know that there is a level of civility among many of the fans that didn't seem to exist when I first came."
Doesn't this man listen to talk radio?
Fehlberg has been removed from the midst of battle long enough to observe objectively. Since he was a student at BYU in the early 1970s, he has seen plenty of bad blood. Wayne Howard left Utah just when the program seemed to be progressing, bothered by what he saw as a religious divide. Several months ago, BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall hinted that the rivalry should be discontinued if the meanness didn't subside. And meanness there is. When you're doctoring an inflatable woman to look like your opponent's mother, it's mean. So is tackling a cheerleader as he runs past with the flag.
It doesn't take much to get people going. Remember when Austin Collie uttered his famous remark about living right on and off the field and "magic happens?" It was a general observation about priorities, but quickly became Exhibit A in the case against BYU's holier-than-thou reputation. When Howard said he hated BYU three decades ago, he didn't initially realize a ton of Cougar fans — and Mormons — would take it personally.
Civil or not, the rivalry will be changing. No longer conference colleagues, their games will be henceforth played in September, with no championship on the line.
"It's not going to be the same," said Weber State and former Ute coach Ron McBride.
McBride added that the BYU game will mean nothing to Utah's Pac-12 chances and that losing to Utah alone may not impact BYU's bowl prospects.
"It's a bad thing, because whether you're USC-UCLA or Arizona-Arizona State, you don't want to change the concept," McBride said. "That's why people set up their schedule for a year around that game. It's a fans' game, as well as a game for two teams."
Still, both agree there's no looking back.
"I don't think it can stay the same," Fehlberg said, noting the absence of conference affiliation. "You can't duplicate that, regardless of the intensity of feelings by the fans."26 comments on this story
He noted that even though the game "will be different in the future; it has to be," the dynamics (i.e. proximity, cross-loyalties, religious elements, etc.) will keep the rivalry viable.
"There may be certain elements that are better. I do believe it will add something to the rivalry," Fehlberg said, "but I do not believe it will replace what they'll lose."
Each agreed the intensity will wane a little, but it will remain worthwhile. I think I know what they mean.
Just like the aging process, it may not have the same energy, but life can still be good.