ESPN loves the BYU-Utah football rivalry, and it’s easy to see why. Fifteen of the past games have been decided by a single score.
“We absolutely want games that are competitive,” said Ilan Ben-Hanan, ESPN’s vice president for programming and acquisitions. “Blowouts are not good for us.”
Because, of course, viewers don’t stay tuned to a game when the score gets out of hand. Unless it happens to be your team that’s winning.
So Utah’s 54-10 victory in 2011 wasn’t exactly what ESPN was looking for.
On the other hand, Utah’s 24-21 victory in 2012 was much more to ESPN’s liking. Not because it was a particularly well-played game, but because it was close and exciting.
Even weird, what with BYU’s two field goal attempts in the final second. One was blocked; the other clanged off the upright after a premature celebration penalty on Utah.
“That was a strange ending, wasn’t it?” said CBS sportscaster Ron Zook “But that’s why you have to love these rivalry games.”
James Bates called five Utah-BYU games for the Mtn. from 2006-10, and three of those were decided on the last play of the game. A fourth game was won on a TD with 38 seconds remaining.
“To have that once in five years would be amazing,” Bates said. “Four times was crazy. Like four Hollywood endings.”
What if BYU-Utah games were packaged like Hollwood blockbusters? How would the last 10 meetings have fared at the box office? Here’s a worst-to-first evaluation:
10. 2004 (Utah 54-20): This was like a thriller with no suspense. Everyone knew how it would turn out
9. 2011 (Utah 54-10): You would have walked out of this movie three-quarters of the way through. (It was only 14-10 at halftime.)
8. 2003 (Utah 3-0): One field goal? That’s a three-hour action movie with one minute of action.
7. 2008 (Utah 48-24): This would be a film that couldn’t decide what it was. Did BYU QB Max Hall’s five fumbles and one interception make it a comedy or a tragedy?
6. 2012 (Utah 24-21): It was close. It was exciting. But if you scripted it, nobody would believe that ridiculous ending.
5. 2009 (BYU 26-23): Utah, down two TDs in the fourth quarter, rallied to take it to OT. BYU won it on a 25-yard-pass play. But no Hollywood movie would have ended with one of the main characters (Hall) diverting attention from the main plotline with his postgame I-hate-Utah comments.
4. 2007 (BYU 17-10): This was a classic Hollywood sports film. Utah took the lead with 94 second remaining, and the fourth-and-18 play from Hall to Austin Collie led to the winning TD with 38 seconds left to play. Collie’s post-game comments (“When you’re doing what’s right, on and off the field, the Lord steps in and plays a part”) turned it into a religious epic, which hurt the box office.
3. 2010 (Utah 17-16): Utah rallied from a 13-0 deficit and blocked a 42-yard FG attempt on the last play of the game.
2. 2005 (Utah 41-34): Back-up QB Brett Ratliff leads Utah to an OT victory. He was “Rudy” only he actually contributed to the win.
1. 2006 (BYU 33-31): This is the stuff of “Remember the Titans.” John Beck scrambling before finding Jonny Harline in the end zone after the clock expired was like “Friday Night Lights” if Permian had won.
Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.