SALT LAKE CITY — While public discourse seems to be more toxic than ever, the Utah-BYU rivalry is becoming increasingly civil.
For college football fans, this is as much about Saturday’s 99th meeting of Utah and BYU as it is about family dinners on Thanksgiving Day.
And in an unprecedented move, the athletic directors from both schools sent an email to fans asking them to enjoy the rivalry game, but to do so with respect for each other. It was the sports equivalent of starting the annual family gathering with a lecture from both patriarchs.
The email, sent from athletic departments to fans, said Utah’s Mark Harlan and BYU’s Tom Holmoe are “teaming up to ask our fans to treat each other and this game with the respect it deserves as one of the longest rivalry series in the country.”
It goes on to note that both universities are “great.”
“Families and fans on both sides deserve a positive experience within and around Rice-Eccles Stadium. There is incredible tradition, passion and excitement surrounding the Utah-BYU rivalry, so let’s make it fun for all as we cheer on our respective teams.”
The message asks fans to behave responsibly, to be considerate of those who live near the stadium, and to remember safety should be everyone’s top priority.
“Two great football programs will battle it out on the turf on Saturday in a rivalry that has spanned nearly 100 years. Let’s all join together to keep the battle on the field where it belongs and celebrate just how special the rivalry is!”
There are several moments that mark the return of civility and even sportsmanship, starting with BYU’s decision to hire former Utah assistant Kalani Sitake, who maintains a close relationship with Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and the Ute staff.
In addition to the coaches' talk of affection and respect for each other, they changed the tone of the clash that had been marred by harsh comments from players and fans from both camps.38 comments on this story
Another major emotional shift occurred when former players like Utah’s Steve Tate and BYU’s Reno Mahe reached out to each other after losing children — Tate’s to cancer and Mahe’s to an accident — and then joined together for charitable endeavors. Others supported each other in NFL pursuits, and fans joined the positive shift with fundraising efforts for charities from each school.
Most recently, BYU’s athletic staff dressed in red and tweeted out words of comfort and support after Utah track athlete Lauren McCluskey was shot and killed on campus. Fans have reached out through social media often in the last few years, taking a cue from the head coaches and now the school’s athletic directors.
The rivalry game is scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday. Utah is on a seven-game win streak, but the most recent game was a thriller — a 19-13 win at LaVell Edwards Stadium.