His ankle aching, Utah running back Jamal Anderson hobbled toward the visitors’ locker room and glimpsed his father at the top of the ramp. “This can’t be it,” Anderson said to himself.
Anderson was not about to let his college football career prematurely, and not with another loss to rival Brigham Young University. So with his ankle heavily taped, he returned for the second half and scored a key touchdown. The Utes’ 34-31 victory ultimately was made possible by an unlikely kick and would be perpetuated by an advertising campaign, a memorable quote and a failed attempt to tear down the home team’s goalposts.
The teams will meet again Saturday in Provo, during a season that marks the 20th anniversary of the game that turned the series into a genuine rivalry.
“In the history of Utah football, that was probably one of the most important games we ever played,” said former Ute coach Ron McBride.
Kyle Whittingham, now Utah’s coach, stood on the Ute sideline that November day, having completed his season’s work as an Idaho State assistant. His father, the late Fred Whittingham, was Utah’s defensive coordinator. “It was an exciting day,” said Kyle Whittingham, a former BYU star. “As you look back, it was pivotal in the rivalry becoming more competitive.”
Before LaVell Edwards became BYU’s coach in 1972, the Utes held a 37-5-4 advantage. Edwards won 19 of his first 21 games against Utah. Beginning with that ’93 contest, Utah has claimed 13 victories in a 20-year period that has produced several dramatic finishes.
“Everybody knew what we were up against,” said Anderson, describing the perception of Utah’s program as “a second-class citizen” in the state. “No way could I be a part of just continuing the tradition.”
So with Anderson rushing for 146 yards and Mike McCoy passing for 434 yards, the Utes positioned themselves for a final drive in a tie game — a few years before college football’s overtime rules took effect. Winning would require a 55-yard field goal by a kicker whose career was marked by inconsistency.
Chris Yergensen already had missed an extra point and two field-goal attempts that afternoon. McBride, known for his disdain of kickers, now laughs about the field goal that “nobody expected him to make.”
Yergensen drilled it, with 25 seconds remaining.
“Right down the middle,” said Yergensen, who enjoys having his seventh-grade history students in California discover YouTube clips of his kick.
Before leaving the field, BYU freshman tight end Chad Lewis witnessed “the last indignity” in the north end zone. He buckled his chin strap and sprinted toward the goalpost that several Ute players were trying to tear down. Now a BYU associate athletic director, Lewis said, “That was my instant reaction. I’m grateful for that.”
Lewis pulled an opponent off the goalpost and was surrounded by other Utes. He remembers seeing his brother, Mike, a former Ute, standing in the end zone in a red jacket, ready to intervene and help him if necessary. But other BYU players arrived, and the Utes eventually halted their quest.
“I shouldn’t say this, but I still do not feel bad” about the attempt, said Anderson, who became an NFL star and is now a Pac-12 Networks analyst. “I don’t recommend it ... but it’s part of the folklore.”
Indeed, the postscripts of Utah-BYU ’93 are as good as the game itself. McBride and Edwards teamed up in a series of bank commercials with a “34-31” theme — and the Utes won by the same score the next year. Decrying the Utes’ antics, BYU defensive lineman Lenny Gomes said, “When I’m making $50-60,000 a year, they’ll be pumping my gas.”
He’s now an admired high school coach and teacher in Georgia, known as Lenny Gregory. In a Tribune interview in 2009, following ex-BYU quarterback Max Hall’s famous anti-Utah rant, Gregory observed, “Kids say things they probably didn’t think through, in emotion.”
He’d once inquired about a job opening at Utah and identified himself to McBride, who responded, “The pump-my-gas Lenny Gomes?”
As Anderson would say, it’s part of the folklore.
Then and now
Here’s how the lives of current and former key figures in the Utah-BYU rivalry have evolved since 1993:
Person Then Now
Lenny Gomes* BYU defensive lineman High school coach/teacher, Georgia
Jamal Anderson Utah running back Pac-12 Networks analyst
Chris Yergensen Utah kicker Seventh-grade history teacher, California
Mike McCoy Utah quarterback San Diego Chargers head coach
John Walsh BYU quarterback Sales, California
Chad Lewis BYU tight end BYU associate AD
Luther Elliss Utah defensive lineman Judge HS assistant coach
Robert Anae Ricks College line coach BYU offensive coordinator
Dennis Erickson Miami head coach Utah co-offensive coordinator
Tom Holmoe Stanford secondary coach BYU athletic director
Bronco Mendenhall Northern Arizona secondary coach BYU coach
Kyle Whittingham Idaho State defensive coordinator Utah coach
*Now known as Lenny Gregory