BYU, Utah Utes football: Is the rivalry getting out of hand?

By Ty Robbins

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, Sept. 16 2011 9:54 a.m. MDT

Utahns love their college football. We have seen some fantastic games and cutting quotes and have had an opportunity to see coaches with wit and self-deprecating humor. We have seen commercials, videos and billboards all telling us which way we should cheer. Neighbors declare their allegiance with flags and painting the street. Statues are covered and mountain sides patrolled. The fact is, college football fans statewide have a real passion for this game, and that’s what makes it great.

Growing up in Utah, I have had a front-row seat to this rivalry figuratively and literally. Other than 2010, I’ve been to every game since 2001. During Utah’s 2004 magical season, I watched my brother-in-law charge the field from the front row. I’ve seen John Beck miss a pass in the end zone to lose, only to find his target the following season with no time on the clock.

I’ve seen Utah win with three points, and I’ve seen sure Utah wins grabbed by BYU in the closing seconds. The past 10 years have been an emotional roller coaster for both teams.

My family is not much different from many across the state. My mom and dad met at BYU. My wife’s parents met at the U. One brother-in-law played for BYU, while another graduated from both, choosing to don the crimson on game day.

I've seen passion, fueled by family, friends, great competition and hype. And yet with everything this rivalry has going for it, I’ve seen it regress during that same time period. Many fans confuse their passion and love for their team as a hatred for those wearing a different color. I’m quite certain that almost anyone who has attended the game at either Rice-Eccles or LaVell Edwards stadiums knows what I’m talking about.

In 2002, I sat in the middle of hard-core Utah fans. I enjoyed the game, cheered for my team, and found myself enjoying the conversation from the Utah fans sitting just in front of me. Late in the game, one Cougar fan down a few rows made it a point to not sit down. This started getting on the nerves of everyone in the section, including myself. At one point a Utah fan had had enough, and voiced his frustration. I won’t repeat what was yelled, only note that it wasn’t received well. And it was promptly followed by another Utah fan standing and saying, “I won’t stand for that kind of talk, that’s my religion too. And I’m sure quite a few others that support your team.”

It was very uncomfortable, however the point was given. The Cougar fan standing sat down and apologized, the Utah fan that made the comment said nothing more. The game continued without incident. I’m sure it wasn’t an easy thing for the Utah fan to do, but he had my respect and that of the rest of the people in the section.

It was four years later that I came to the realization of just how bad it was getting. I attended the game at Rice-Eccles with my brother-in-law (the one who had played football at BYU). We arrived at the game early and had received some minor jeers and teases from walking through an area set up for tailgating for Utah fans. It was nothing too bad, just good fun from fans getting ready for the game. As we approached the gate, though, it got much worse and the taunts from younger Utah fans became much more personal. It was a relief when we made it into the gates.

I had seen a young couple with two kids coming through the gates at the same time. They looked under stress from the crowd. We both were headed in the same direction, climbing the stairs on the south side of the east stands. The couple had brought two children, the boy had a football uniform and the girl was wearing a cheerleader outfit. It reminded me of my own kids.

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