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Cecil O. Samuelson Jr.

The one went to the one place and is now in charge of the other place, as opposed to the other one who is in charge of the one place and went to the other place.

As if the BYU-Utah rivalry didn't have enough twists and turns, intriguing subplots and conflicted allegiances, throw this wrinkle into the mix as the No. 7-ranked football team in the country prepares to host No. 14 this Saturday at Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium:

Brigham Young University President Cecil O. Samuelson Jr. is a graduate of the University of Utah, and University of Utah President Michael K. Young is a graduate of Brigham Young University.

They were red before they were blue, and vice versa.

They sure weren't raised to turn out this way.

President Samuelson's Ute roots date back to the moment of his birth. His father, the original Cecil O. Samuelson, was a University of Utah professor. Samuelson got his bachelor's degree, master's degree and M.D. from the University of Utah, after which he went to work for the school that gave him all those degrees, eventually serving as dean of the school of medicine and finally as vice president of health sciences, the No. 2 position in the administration.

When Dr. Samuelson left the school in 1990 to take a job at Intermountain Healthcare (prior to coming to BYU in 2003), after spending the better part of half-a-century as a Utah student, professor and administrator, it was like the school lost a building.

President Young's ties to Brigham Young date back to the beginning of his high school years, when his parents, who resided in a small town in northern California, shipped him off to Provo to live with his grandparents and attend Brigham Young High School.

B.Y. High, as it was known, went out of business in 1968, a year after Young had already obtained his degree and moved on to the university across the street. He graduated from BYU with a bachelors degree in political science and Japanese before taking his seven years of "Brigham Young" education and earning his juris doctorate from Harvard Law School (a launching pad that kept him on the East Coast in various legal capacities until Utah hired him as its president in 2004).

Actually, you could make a case that Young's ties to Brigham Young go even deeper, since his family line traces back to Lorenzo Dow Young, Brigham Young's brother, which makes Brigham a distant uncle.

Plus, he has the same name as a former BYU quarterback (Steve Young's brother Mike).

Given all this prelude, the question to both of them as the latest reincarnation of the Big Game approaches is obvious:

Who will you root for?


Let's let President Samuelson go first.

"BYU," says the onetime longtime Ute without hesitation. "I've always been intensely loyal wherever I have been."

And President Young?

"Well, there are two ways of looking at it," he says, a lawyer's twinkle in his eye. "You can root for Brigham Young University or for Brigham Young's university. I choose the latter."

Brigham Young, as the history books attest, was the person responsible for establishing the University of Utah, long before there was a BYU. The Mormon prophet and colonizer ordered a university to be started barely two and a half years after the first Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. It was first called University of Deseret, and later the name was changed to University of Utah.

"I still love BYU, but I bleed as red as anybody can bleed red," adds Young, throwing in another of those double entendres that make you glad you're not debating him in court.

"I root for the Y. every game but one," he continues, a sentiment echoed by his Y. counterpart.

"I do root for the Utes when they are not playing BYU," Samuelsen says. "Just as I pulled for the Cougars when not playing the Utes in days of yore."

Neither future president, it seems, grew up throwing hexes on the rival school.

"The rivalry has always been mainly pleasurable (to me) because somehow I can remember it is just a football game without any longterm consequences I know of for world peace and the global economy," Samuelson says.

"I love the rivalry, as long as you keep it in perspective," Young says. "It's a fun thing, but I don't like it when they call it a holy war. It's just a great rivalry."

Given their star-crossed histories, among other factors, the presidents say they have declined to participate in a friendly wager on this year's clash.

"I always predict a Cougar win," Samuelson says, but quickly adds that "No," he hasn't placed any money on his Cougs.

"Bets? No, that would be illegal," deadpans Young, who adds of Samuelson's church-school ties, "I think of all people, he's least able to admit to a side bet."

Probably as close to smack talk as we're going to get.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.