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Dick Harmon: Former Cougar/Ute dreams of returning respect to rivalry

Published: Sunday, Aug. 2 2015 9:14 a.m. MDT

Utah fans Derek Jensen, right, and Travis Card celebrate the win against Air Force. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah fans Derek Jensen, right, and Travis Card celebrate the win against Air Force. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

He may be the only living man to have played football at both Utah and BYU.

And that gives him the right and credibility to make this call.

Provo's Ray Beckham wants civility and respect returned to the rivalry. He cringes over the depth of hatred that has pooled in both fan bases. He recoils over the rant by Max Hall a year ago. He is disheartened when he reviews actions of fans in the stands on both sides, hears of physical altercations, and sees emotional midgets losing control.

He is pained by the depth of insults hurled by the vocal minority on both sides who have hijacked the BYU-Utah rivalry game.

Beckham's dismay is for both sides. He is not blaming one over the other. He just wants it cleaned up and reasonable. At age 83, he's seen acts of incivility reach new depths and it sickens him.

Ray Beckham (No. 11) in 1944 on the Utah football team (Photo courtesy of Ray Beckham) Ray Beckham (No. 11) in 1944 on the Utah football team (Photo courtesy of Ray Beckham)

Beckham has a dream, albeit its chances of working are like a feather in a hurricane. He is a believer that goodness trumps bad. Pollyanna? Absolutely.

Beckham, whose background is in advertising, has an idea to help set things in the right direction. It's not a fix, but an event that he believes could start a movement. It may not turn the tide of hatred but it might help make fans stop and think and act with more intelligence and grace.

Beckham proposes an annual dinner at Thanksgiving Point. It could be held in August or rivalry week. Invited guests would be both teams, coaches, staff members, administrations, city leaders, Crimson and Cougar club leadership, presidents of both alumni associations, student body officers and the media.

He'd like to invite religious leaders and interfaith councils, a few former All-American players from both sides, the publishers of The Salt Lake Tribune, Deseret News and Daily Herald, congressional leaders, the Utah Board of Regents, commissioner of education and the wives or companions of all.

Ray Beckham, who played for Utah and BYU, wants to restore civility to the schools' rivalry.   (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Ray Beckham, who played for Utah and BYU, wants to restore civility to the schools' rivalry. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

The master of ceremonies would be Gov. Gary Herbert and there would be brief talks by France Davis, Steve Young and Eric Weddle, or another appropriate set. He'd bring in a major speaker, perhaps even LDS President Thomas S. Monson or maybe a Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

The players wouldn't sit in their respective corners, on divided sides of the room. Instead, they'd be mixed among the tables, getting to know one another, being civil.

In time, the event would be sponsored by a corporation or two. Putting his money where his mouth is, Beckham says he would pay for the first event out of his own pocket. He estimates the cost could be as much as $10,000.

Why?

It matters that much to him.

Beckham came up with this idea more than a year ago. He shared his thoughts with me at a lunch last winter, just for an opinion.

Two BYU fans, Brandon Judd, left, and Phillip Morgan, show their support at last month's BYU-San Diego State game.    (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News) Two BYU fans, Brandon Judd, left, and Phillip Morgan, show their support at last month's BYU-San Diego State game. (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)

I told Beckham it was a great idea, a start, but those who needed it the most wouldn't be at the event — the fans.

But it would be a start, and if opinion leaders took the lead, to change to civility by example, he might be onto something.

Beckham's been looking for somebody with enough clout to put it together and he thought he had it with Jim Wall, former publisher of the Deseret News, who is very well connected and respected by both administrations and athletic departments. But Wall said he couldn't spearhead it because of changes at the newspaper. Wall is no longer with the Deseret News.

"I'm still willing to do it, to put up the money," said Beckham, "But it has to be on a magnitude so people recognize what it is for. Nobody's willing to grasp it. I know I couldn't put it together, I don't have enough clout."

A man who once raised $5 million for BYU's late president Ernest L. Wilkinson doesn't have enough clout? He humbly says he doesn't have a big enough stick.

Beckham played end for Utah in the early '40s. After serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, he enrolled at BYU and played for the Cougars.

"I was just a scrub, I didn't really do anything, but I was one of the fastest players on both teams," remembers Beckham, who was captured in a newspaper action photo of the Utah-Utah State game the day after Thanksgiving in 1944, wearing Ute jersey No. 11.

He served on the student council at BYU in 1948 and they created, operated and put into play the Honor Code before the administration took it over.

"It was run by student judges and prosecutors, primarily to prevent cheating," he said. "The dress code wasn't really anything because back then everybody basically dressed alike. "

Since then, Beckham has become an icon in fundraising. His name is one of only 10 on a plaque on the wall at the Marriott Center, honoring those who contributed the most to its creation. He was on the committee to raise money to build the Smith Fieldhouse back in the day. He has served in a myriad of leadership roles, including Council President of the Boy Scouts of America, Red Cross and March of Dimes. He co-founded the Cougar Club and has served as an LDS mission president in Calgary, Canada.

Beckham sees himself as only a piece of kindling, not the match, in trying to make changes to the rivalry and eliminate the nastiness and hatred that's taken over the last decade at a new level.

As an expert in advertising, he understands the power of messages told right and how issues can be managed.

"I remember as a student body officer at BYU, we were invited guests at Utah for the rivalry game. I remember sitting in the middle of the Utah student section, wearing my school jacket and I was treated with dignity, as a guest of honor. It was a good feeling.

"Now, it has become violent. People are being jostled at both places and it is ugly. It isn't a good thing and it seems to have reached a climax the past six years."

With print media, multiple sports talk radio stations in the market and the worldwide Internet using BYU-Utah as "red meat" to stir and give a voice to smack talk and hate speech, the ugliness of the rivalry game has reached a peak and a new generation is nurtured to feed upon its rancor.

"I don't know if we'll ever see a return to that day, that era, but both sides have a lot to do to become more civil and make this game more enjoyable for all. I'm getting up there (in years) and I don't know if I'll see it in my lifetime, but I am willing to do what I can to see it move that way."

Beckham says he hasn't had an audience with Utah president Michael Young or BYU's Cecil O. Samuelson because he wanted to take somebody with him who could make things change.

"If I were to meet with President Young, the first thing I'd do is thank him for all he's done to do something about it," he said. This includes a KUED documentary to air tonight at 7 on the rivalry — done in a civil and respective manner. Beckham is interviewed on the program.

He applauds the Deseret News and other media outlets who by policy refuse to call the BYU-Utah game "The Holy War," although he recognizes religion has become a part of the discussion, even making it unique in its own right.

Last week, from his front-row perch, Beckham cringed at the BYU-Utah State basketball game when Aggie Tai Wesley fouled out and BYU students chanted "right, left" to mimic his footsteps to the bench. It is a popular refrain in the Marriott Center, but Beckham is old school and it grates on his soul.

"What's happened to good sportsmanship? When I was at BYU, players went over to the opposing bench when somebody fouled out and shook his hand."

Some have suggested that now that Utah and BYU are headed in separate conference paths — Utah to the Pac-12 and BYU to independence — things may change.

"It will solve a lot of problems," he said. "We'll play earlier in the season in football and the intensity will naturally subside a bit."

Should there be a timeout, something along the lines of a five- or 10-year break in BYU and Utah playing football, as some have suggested?

"No, I don't think so," Beckham said.

"I think we're only 45 miles apart and it's a healthy relationship if we could just take out the violence and meanness. We are two great universities and it would be a shame if these two universities could not continue to meet. It would be a terrible thing if we didn't continue playing each other every year."

When shown incidents on YouTube and the Internet of outrageous fan behavior at BYU and Utah home games, Beckham said there will always be a few knuckleheads.

"They get so caught up in controversy and hatred, they'll do almost anything. I believe you just have to ignore it. To a large extent, the hosting schools can do more to police things and ask their fans to help bring civility, and I think they are.

"When I've gone to Notre Dame, I've never been treated better as a visitor. They are the absolute perfect hosts," said Beckham. "If any fan of Notre Dame were to act in that way, the school would condemn it and apologize and never let that fan buy another season ticket. That's Notre Dame."

Beckham says BYU and Utah fans can rise above what we're witnessing. This week, the spotlight is focusing on Rice-Eccles Stadium, but a year ago it was Provo where coach Kyle Whittingham's wife was involved in an incident with a BYU fan.

Beckham says Utah's president Michael Young, his vice presidents and his athletic director Chris Hill are all very good people who want good things.

"It is the same at BYU, with those in charge, they don't want bad things to happen," he said.

"The University of Utah is one of the greatest institutions in the country and it is made up of quality people. You have William Sederburg as commissioner and he's first class. It's unfortunate a few rabid fans bring disgrace upon both the 'U' and the 'Y.' …

"I have nothing against healthy, robust competition and enthusiasm by fans. But some feel if you buy a ticket to a game you have the right to do and say what you want. I guess that is true but you can take it too far," Beckham said. "We've become too rabid, too mean and too violent. Wholesome competition is a good thing."

Beckham says BYU and Utah do so many good things at so many levels.

"But you get down to the very lowest level of fan, you have this seething animosity and hatred and it's not just one, it's both sides who have embarrassing fans.

"We have two great universities who should be proud of their histories and their teams and their fan bases should be the type of fans who are supportive and not destructive. That's what's happening, it's destroying the game," he said.

"My life's ambition was to be a football coach. I love the game, but I think the actions of a few are destroying a very good thing."

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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