Tom Smart, Deseret News
"Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sports — the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat — the human drama of athletic competition."
Jim McKay could have been speaking of the Utah-BYU rivalry. More specifically, the last decade of games that were riveting, some simply breathtaking.
After Saturday, they'll play in Provo next September then it goes away for a couple years. But I'm not really optimistic it's coming back. Utah doesn't seem interested in continuing the rivalry, and I can't really blame the Utes. Conventional wisdom dictates that they focus their energies on their Pac-12 opponents. BYU requires more energy than they seem willing to expend. Heck, they weren't supposed to have any trouble with Utah State, but they did.
So BYU finds itself in the precarious position of needing the Utah game more than Utah needs it. Utah has already dictated terms of the relationship, moving their games to September to accommodate Utah's difficult conference schedule in November. Utah athletic director Chris Hill has already said next year's game has to be in the "fourth week" of September, but BYU already has Boise State that week. We'll know how badly BYU needs Utah by how they respond. Frankly, I'd tell Utah to go pound sand. If it was any other team, I'd consider it, but it's Boise State, with whom BYU has games scheduled through 2023. There's your new rivals, Cougar Nation. Get used to it. Utah is the homecoming queen who has a date every weekend and it's becoming unseemly to keep leaving messages for a night out with no response. Let's move on. Besides, now that Boise State is headed to the Big East, the Broncos may not have any use for BYU either in year three or four of that 10-year deal, so better to nurture that relationship while the ink is still drying.
Everything is in a state of flux. Notre Dame is headed to the ACC without football, or so it seems. But come on, who's kidding whom? As part of the deal, the Irish agreed to play five ACC opponents every year. Suddenly, BYU's future games with the Irish don't feel so certain, do they? All that's certain is that Notre Dame will keep its non-conference games with Stanford and USC, but other traditional regional foes like Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State — not so much. And if those teams with such a long and storied history with Notre Dame are on shaky ground, what think ye of BYU? Realistically, I don't see it.
Which brings me back to Utah.
I love the rivalry. Love the games. Loved playing in it, loved the hype, loved the excitement and anxiety of rivalry week.
However, over time, its slowly changed for me. I've grown increasingly uneasy about the nature of the rivalry. I'm sure it has always been heated, and heaven and talk radio in Utah knows I've stirred the pot with some good-natured banter over the years. But my perspective changed, and being older, I know both coaches, their staffs and many of the kids on both sides.
Kyle Whittingham asked me to speak to his team during fall camp. I've spoken to BYU's team on many occasions, and Joe DuPaix invited me to speak to his running backs this summer but it didn't work out because of my schedule, but I will. At his behest, I had an hourlong meeting with Bronco Mendenhall while in Provo in August, and while we don't see eye-to-eye on some things, we are good friends. He welcomes my presence and influence around the program, even if we don't always agree. I respect that. I visited my nephew who plays at the University of Washington in June, met with all of the Huskies' Polynesian kids and spoke to them. Former BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae invited me to speak to the University of Arizona players, who have a large contingent of LDS and Polynesian kids, but I haven't made it to Tucson. I'm an equal opportunity speaker — admittedly, I make a special effort if they're Polynesian and/or LDS. For obvious reasons, I have a vested interest in them.
It's no secret that it's our common history, proximity and LDS membership that pervades the BYU-Utah game. Which is why it seemed so fitting that last Sunday, as I watched via satellite Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of Twelve, speaking to young single adults in a worldwide televised fireside from the Dixie State College campus in St. George, he happened to share an illuminating story.
A young man playing basketball at a Utah university transferred to an out-of-state school for more playing time. He became a star at his new school and, later, he returned to face his old school at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City. Sadly, what happened to him was almost predictable.
"The vitriolic abuse that poured out of the stands on the head of this young man that night, a Latter-day Saint, returned missionary, newlywed, who paid his tithing, served in the elders quorum, gave charitable service to the youth in his community, and waited excitedly for a new baby to come to him and his wife" should not have happened to anyone, Elder Holland remarked.
"But here is the worst part. The coach of this visiting team, something of a legend in the profession, turned to him and said, 'What is going on here? You are the hometown boy who made good. These are your people. These are your friends. … Aren't most of these people members of your church?"
Rebuked for their boorish behavior, one young fan responded, "We pay good money to see these games. We can act the way we want. We check our religion at the door."
Elder Holland then taught: "Lesson number one for the establishment of Zion in the 21st century: You never 'check your religion at the door.' Not ever. My young friends, that kind of discipleship cannot be ?— it isn't discipleship at all."
If it's not too late, at my age, I'm more interested in being a disciple than a partisan fan.
And while I'm guilty of doing it before, I'm not checking my religion at the door.
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