It's the week that we sports fans in the state of Utah wait all season for: Utah-BYU Week, Rivalry Week, The Holy War. Whatever you like to call it, it's simply the best week of sports annually here in Utah.
I've lived here for almost 10 years now, and I've been fortunate to be around this week and game for some of the best moments in its history.
I've been lucky enough in my life and career to have been around some of the great rivalries in college football. I grew up in the Border War, between Kansas and Missouri. A rivalry that has its' roots in the Civil War and the bordering free and slave states.
When I worked in Jacksonville, Florida I covered Florida and Georgia — the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party — plus Florida and Florida State on an annual basis for six years.
So I've seen some outstanding college football rivalry games up close. I can tell you that without a doubt the Utah-BYU rivalry game outshines those that I mentioned by a long shot. I would dare to say that there aren't many — if any — rivalry games in college football that are better or more intense than the game played here in the Beehive State.
The Michigan-Ohio State or Auburn-Alabama games may have more eyeballs on them or are played for higher stakes annually, but they don't have any more intensity or intangibles than the Utah-BYU game.
Three huge factors separate our game from theirs.
First, proximity — roughly 45 miles between the Utah and BYU Campuses.
The only other rivalry in college athletics I can think of with rivals this close would be the North Carolina and Duke Basketball rivalry, where the campuses are separated by just six miles. The second factor is family. There aren't many families in our state that aren't divided somewhere along the line by either Utah or BYU ties, which can make for interesting family gatherings, especially over Thanksgiving weekend.
The final factor that makes this one so unique and unlike any other is the religious aspects, hence the moniker "Holy War."
Some BYU fans love to paint themselves with a strong coats of righteousness because of their affiliation with their school and its ties to the state's predominant religion, while labeling Ute fans as the "heathens" from the school that likes to drink and have a good time.
But let's not kid ourselves here — more than half the alumni and students at the U. happen to practice the very same religion as those BYU fans. That said, this is what makes this week and this rivalry so much fun!
My favorite moment in this game came back in 2003, when Utah went into Lavell Edwards Stadium and did something that hadn't been done since 1975, shutout the Cougars.
On a day that saw bitter cold and a snowstorm while the sun was shining, Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham managed to beat BYU 3-0. While the game was interesting, my favorite part came afterward in the locker room.
At that time I was working for KSL Radio and doing sidelines on the broadcasts. My job after the game was to go into the other team's locker room and get comments from the opposing head coach. Well that day I was able to sneak my way into the Utes locker room and wait on Meyer.
What I witnessed next was truly remarkable and something that is rarely seen in sports today. The Utes had just sung "Utah Man" and Meyer was passing out the game ball.
The ball wasn't given to a player, but rather a coach. Whittingham, then defensive coordinator, was given the game ball for his team's defensive effort in shutting out the Cougars.
An extremely emotional Whittingham accepted the game ball, then thanked his guys for their efforts and paid tribute to his father, Fred, who had died just weeks before the game. It was one of the most moving scenes I've ever been around in my career.
And one that I think typifies the emotion and passion that is so ingrained in this game.10 comments on this story
Saturday will be the final matchup between these schools as conference rivals. There's been a lot of debate and talk of how the rivalry will be different or change.
That remains to be seen and is better left for next season. I'm looking forward to what I think will be another great chapter in this ongoing series. I look for Utah's athleticism and defensive pressure to be the difference in this game against young Jake Heaps.
I look forward to bringing this one to you from Rice-Eccles and on the radio Saturday afternoon.
Bill Riley can be heard as the radio voice of the University of Utah on game days and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.