Ravell Call, Deseret News
Related list: Top 10 Utah-BYU games
SALT LAKE CITY — Some say the BYU-Utah football rivalry will die a natural death, an unintended victim of scheduling conflicts. Others swear it would be murder in the first degree, thanks to an unwillingness to help an old opponent.
Yet others say they really don't care about the cause, so long as the rivalry ends. Too much rancor, too much stress.
But one area the abolitionists won't get much support is from former Ute coach Urban Meyer and ex-quarterback Alex Smith. If you ask them, BYU-Utah should continue into Buzz Lightyear territory — to infinity and beyond.
"I don't know enough about the situation, but for me there's no question they should play," said Smith, now the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. "For me, it's BYU-Utah at the end of the season. That's when the rivalries are played."
Or at least when they're supposed to be played.
"As close as those schools are," he said, "you have to play that game."
The occasion was a conference call on Thursday to promote the American Century Championship golf tournament. Among the celebrity invitees to the Lake Tahoe event: Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan, Tony Romo, Ray Romano, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Jason Kidd and Shane Battier, as well as Smith and Meyer. When last united for anything this substantial, Meyer was leading Utah to an undefeated season in 2004 and, for that matter, so was Smith.
A lot of the questioning on Thursday centered around Meyer's influence on Smith — what he taught him, how they practiced, what was their approach, etc. Meyer called Smith a fine leader "a great player and even better person." Smith called Meyer a superb coach and a friend and mentor.
The usual coach-player stuff.
Meyer said he often told Smith's critics that if he knew anything about football, Smith was an NFL-talent. Smith spoke of Meyer pushing players to be their best, "at times to the point where you are a little bit uncomfortable."
Which is a good thing.
Besides, Meyer isn't a comfort guy himself.
A lot has occurred since 2004. Meyer moved from Utah to Florida and won two national championships. Smith went to the 49ers, where he was widely panned until last season, when he took them to the NFC title game. Meanwhile, Meyer became coach at Ohio State.
Meyer said he is in favor of the new playoff system, though he didn't sound nearly as committed (surprise!) as he was at Utah.
"I kind of liked the old one, the way it was," he said, adding that he's still unsure how the new format will affect the players' schoolwork and the coaches' schedules.
"It's great for college football," Meyer added. "The fans wanted it and I'm excited about it."
While Meyer seemed to have modest reservations about the new system, he didn't voice any hesitation regarding BYU-Utah. Asked if he thinks they should annually meet — despite scheduling complications — Meyer said he hadn't spent much time analyzing the situation, but continued, "BYU not playing Utah, to me that is a major mistake. You have a lot of former players, student bodies, alumni, that's part of their heritage. When those things get taken away, I don't like it at all."
Just as in college, Smith was on the same page as Meyer.
"It's weird enough that the game is not at the end of the season anymore," Smith said. "It's something you look forward to all year. As a player in college, there is so much pride on the line, especially Utah-BYU, and to not to play that would be a mistake."
So go ahead and have your playoff system. Meyer and Smith won't object. Have your Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Orange, Whozit and Whatchamacallit bowls, any way you like.
But don't kill off BYU-Utah, they say.
Death is still death, whether by murder or entirely by accident.
Related list: Top 10 Utah-BYU games
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