Brad Rock: Utah-BYU rivalry needed a timeout

Published: Monday, Oct. 5 2015 6:54 a.m. MDT

Utah Utes defensive end Trevor Reilly (9) tackles BYU's Nate Carter as the University of Utah and Brigham Young University play football Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Provo. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah Utes defensive end Trevor Reilly (9) tackles BYU's Nate Carter as the University of Utah and Brigham Young University play football Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, in Provo. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Ute football team has a bye this week, and not a minute too soon. It will give everyone a chance to rest and recover from last week’s savagery. This has little to do with the actual Utah-BYU game but everything to do with the buildup. That part was exhausting for everyone, non-football fans included.

They have to live here too.

The good news is that the rivalry is now on mute. No more games for two years. Think of the sleep people will reclaim. Imagine the peace of mind and sense of security. Neighbors can start talking again.

The 117- or 91-year-old series (the sides can’t even decide on that) screeched to its temporary stop on Saturday, after a week of the usual stuff. The game was close, as it should have been. Utah held on for a 20-13 win.

To the teams’ credit, it was tough but not dirty. There were a few shoves and some talk, but otherwise as clean as a hospital. The same can’t be said for the preceding week. It included the requisite radio trash talk and analysis, the usual message board name-calling, too. The newspapers added their normal retrospectives and series highlights. TV stations aired standard pieces about quirky fans and the need to plastic-wrap the campus monuments to avoid vandalism.

But this year there was a particular edge. First came the release of a month-old YouTube video of Utah players pretending to do baptisms in a training room pool. Some felt it was a shot at BYU and/or the LDS Church. But with 27 returned missionaries and 49 Utahns on the team, it was hard to picture anyone mocking the state’s predominant religion — especially since the coach is LDS.

Still, it was enough to inflame message board dwellers.

Also during the week, a self-described Ute fan e-mailed the University of Utah compliance office a picture alleged to be Cougar linebacker Spencer Hadley, partying at a club. If not an NCAA violation, it’s certainly an honor code no-no. The e-mail was forwarded to BYU, and Hadley was immediately suspended — apparently just what the mysterious e-mailer hoped.

By Sunday a YouTube video of fans at LaVell Edwards Stadium raining debris on the game officials had surfaced. In some ways that’s not a big deal. It is a rivalry. At the same time, it was unexpected at LES. The blending of football, families and religion complicates things. Most rivalries have only one of the three. Families don’t usually cross loyalty lines and religion is seldom a factor.

The Mountain West Conference split, which was supposed to tone down the rivalry, has only made things worse. The game is less important than it was, yet more personal.

Yes, both sides need to come up for air.

For now it appears the Max Hall Manifesto is still in force. The ex-BYU quarterback’s anti-Utah rant continues to resonate, four years after the fact. As for the Utes, they haven’t changed their minds since coach Wayne Howard’s 1970s “hatred” affirmation.

Some say the schools are brothers, more alike than different. In that case, they’re just too darned much alike to get along.

Much of the blame for the rivalry’s tone can be traced to the Utes. Twenty years ago they were docile and compliant — and had been for at least that long. Then they surprised BYU on back-to-back years. Now Utah has won nine of the last 12. In the process, extremists on both sides have been energized.

Fortunately, the series doesn’t resume again until 2016, when a three-year agreement kicks in. If Utahns are lucky, there won’t be more furtive pictures sent by unknown fans or tattletale videos before then. Both sides can go about their business relatively unmolested. Meanwhile, this seems as good a time as any to do what anyone should when a disagreement gets too heated: Go take a walk.

Email: rock@desnews.com; Twitter: @therockmonster; Blog: Rockmonster Unplugged

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