Gordon Monson: BYU and Utah football are tethered, regardless of whatever pulls them apart

Even amid conference and scheduling changes, the state’s biggest rivalry game should go on, the Tribune columnist writes.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune)Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) runs the ball up the middle, in football action between the Utah Utes and the Brigham Young Cougars at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

In regard to the Utah-BYU football game, the shoe now is on — is about to be on — the other foot.

Actually, it will be on both feet.

And those feet have danced down this floor a thousand times before. Sometimes in a world inside and out of sports filled with crazy and constant change, it’s good to have a few tunes stay the same.

It’s obvious knowledge that when the Utes were invited into the Pac-12 a dozen years ago, that invitation put at risk one of the state of Utah’s most significant sports traditions — a football game between BYU and Utah that has been played for more than a century. It’s even more complicated now with BYU headed for the Big 12.

But as BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe seemed to confirm at the Cougars’ recent football media day, the two rivals will meet on the field in a majority of the next 10 seasons. Or at least he hopes they will.

Exactly as it should be.

Entire generations of sports fans here had and have looked forward to that game, the mixing of the red and the blue on the green expanse, not just to see who was and is the better of the two in that given year, but rather to have the privilege of holding that inferiority or superiority over the heads of the other folks.

While that privilege at times had or has blown past the boundaries of common sense — we’ve written about the OB ridiculousness time and again — it is mostly a healthy exercise in rivalry that makes any season a whole lot more interesting.

One of the first times I wrote about that rivalry still sticks in my mind for its indelibility. I was on the Utah campus, asking students how they felt about the Utah-BYU game, and one young man told me how much he loved to see the Cougars suffer in defeat.

“If we are up by seven, I want it to be 14. If we’re up by 21, I want it to be 28. If we’re up by 35, I want it to be 42. If we’re up by 49, I want it to be 56. If we’re up by 60, I’m yelling, ‘Go for 2, go for 2.”

Such is the nature of a football rivalry, particularly this one.

It should be noted that at the time that man-on-the-street interview took place, the fires of desperation in the Utah camp raged high and hot, the scores typically lopsided in favor of other guys.

It didn’t stay that way, at least not the last part.

The rise of Ute football has been one of the biggest sports stories of the past three decades around here. That program has grown from its relative nadir of the 1980s, as compared to BYU football, to a level of respect that has expanded from the intermountain region to a national one.

Remember when it was predicted by certain Pac-12 observers that it would take the Utes 25 years to get to the Rose Bowl? It was almost unimaginable that Utah football would with any consistency surpass USC football. I thought about that as the Utes were dueling with Ohio State in Pasadena on Jan. 1.

Through that ascent, as the Cougars tumbled into independence and the Utes tumbled into deep pools of new Pac-12 cash, one of the favorite ways for Utah fans, particularly those who were on the younger side, to verbally crush BYU fans, sometimes within the walls of a single family’s home, was to say that Utah no longer needed BYU, no longer needed to play BYU. There were too many other opportunities presented to the Utes, too many other, more important opponents to occupy their attention.

BYU was disposable, a piece of the Utes’ past that could be tossed into the dumpster and lit ablaze.

That disrespect was greeted by the Cougars with a snarl.

After having lost 10 straight games to Utah, plumbing the depths in regular defeat, BYU finally beat the Utes last fall, and as the realization came to the Cougars that the Big 12 was in their near future, suddenly some BYU fans who had complained so loudly about the aforementioned disrespect figured they no longer needed the Utes, no longer needed to play the Utes.

Funny stuff.

What was once so abominable flowing from one direction was now justified in flowing from the other.

All of which is utter nonsense.

True enough, this coming season, like occasional ones in the past, the red and the blue will not face each other.

But Holmoe said at media day that he hoped the Utes and Cougars would play all six of the games they have already scheduled over the next decade. That’s good news.

I’m on the record, always have been, that the two headlining college football teams in Utah should play each other as often as possible. I get it, they no longer must meet up, there is no conference title on the line, there’s other business for these programs to concern themselves with.

Who knows, maybe one of those bits of business will even include making it to the College Football Playoff. Cool. Cool. Cool. If some of the preseason rankings are correct, Utah might do that in 2022. And those rankings don’t have BYU all that far behind.

We’ll see.

Either way, what was truth 50 years ago, 40 years, 30 years, 20 years ago remains so in the years ahead.

Nobody should brush aside Utah-BYU.

There may be money to be had in other games, the idea fertilized that recruiting benefits can be found in gaining exposure and playing prominent programs elsewhere, and the notion that playing a supposedly difficult conference schedule calls for avoiding an emotional in-state rivalry affair that more often than not comes down to the final possessions.

To that, I would respond with the name of a card game that in polite company is known as “I Doubt It,” and that in impolite company goes by a different name, one that can be shortened to its familiar initials.


All you have to do is look at the interest created by the BYU-Utah game, feel the emotion stirred in your place of employment or your church or your grocery store or, as mentioned, around your own dinner table. It’s not just the media that benefits from the game, it’s everyone in Utah that cares about sports.

It’s been said those thousands of times, and it should go on being said: The Utah-BYU game should not only be preserved, it should be honored and revered. Come what may in the ever-evolving landscape of college football, regardless of what conference calls what school its own, BYU and Utah will always be a mere 45 miles apart. Their fans will always live next door to each other, will always be friends every other week of the year, will always talk smack at each other.

Even as their shoes are on both feet.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.