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BYU vs Utah: Why this game matters

Comparing the Holy War to other great rivalries, and an argument for why it is one of the most important games, not just for the two teams, but for college football.

Bronco is finally calling this more than, "just another game" you should too.
Bronco is finally calling this more than, "just another game" you should too.
George Frey

The other day I jumped into enemy territory, the Block U blog, to see what the Utes are saying about the rivalry (I didn't actually go to campus, but that proved very interesting for this Daily Universe reporter). I assumed that they were happy with the recently announced scheduling of two more meetings and that they were excited for the big game this weekend.

From what I read, the Ute fan base generally is not happy about this being a "big game." They believe that since they are now a BCS team, playing BYU is not an important game, and in a way it makes sense. If this (the Holy War) is their most important game of the year, then they aren't properly competing for their conference championship. I agree with that. I do however think that this should be an important game to them; for the sake of all that is great about college football, BYU and Utah should play every year. I believe that the Holy War (albeit a questionable name) is an important rivalry, not just for BYU or the state of Utah, but for college football.

I did some quick "research." I googled "best college football rivalries" and pulled up the first seven pages that were "list of." I compiled those lists to see what rivalries were mentioned the most often. Believe it or not, the Holy War was in the top 10.

Army-Navy was the only one to appear on all seven lists, followed by Michigan-Ohio State on six, and then 7 games appeared on five: Cal-Stanford, USC-Notre Dame, Alabama-Auburn, Oklahoma-Texas, BYU-Utah, Georgia-Florida, and Georgia-Georgia Tech. I drew the line at the "top 9" because after that there were six games that appeared on four lists each including great rivalries such as Oregon-Oregon State, South Carolina-Clemson, and Harvard-Yale, hopefully that I would like to address what makes this rivalry so great, and perhaps if there are any red-dressed readers I might sway them to support this game.

Length of Time:

A game against an opponent is just a game until it gets repeated. Once it is repeated it turns into revenge, and if it is repeated long enough it becomes a rivalry. The oldest college football rivalries extend back to 1890. The Holy War began in 1896 making it among the older games consistently played. All of the other 'great rivalries' started around the turn of the century except USC-Notre Dame (started in 1926).


With USC-Notre Dame again being the exception (1,820 miles), all of the top rivalries are between teams in relatively close geographic locations. The furthest is the Red River Rivalry who's teams are separated by 340 miles. (I measured these distances myself on Google Earth, as the crow flies, from stadium to stadium.) The closest is Cal-Stanford which are just 30 miles apart (half of that is crossing the bay). The second closest is BYU-Utah at just 36 miles apart, and you could argue that since there are no major bodies of water separating the two it makes it seem much, much closer. I would venture that 95% of fans of one team or the other, working in the state of Utah, have co-workers who are fans of the other team. I would say that most of you reading this blog see a flag, sticker, or shirt for both teams every week. The Salt Lake and Utah valleys mix together a lot more than most people would admit.

By way of note, other rivalries closer than BYU-Utah include UCLA-USC (12 miles), Lehigh-Lafayette (17 miles), and Oregon-Oregon State (35 miles).

Check out this map and article for more on the proximity and intermixing of fan bases. I'd like to note that I grew up in Elk Ridge, which boasts 88% BYU fandom, 2nd highest percentage after Provo.

Reciprocity :

BYU fans will remember when SDSU considered us their biggest rival. That rivalry never really blossomed (other than a bit through basketball) because BYU did not consider SDSU their rival. Although in recent years Utes have tried to downplay the importance of this game, there is no denying that Utah and BYU consider each other their primary rival.

And they should!

Let me recap why the Holy War needs to be continued:
- It is considered one of the top rivalries in college football
- It has been played nearly 100 times
- The two teams are closer geographically than all but two other FBS rivalries

- Everyone in the state of Utah cares (even the in-state recruits when deciding who to play for)

As for the case against the rivalry, many have said that the rivalry has gone too far, and I agree. There is some unnecessary classlessness from both sides, but there's a lot of good too. As for me, I don't hate the Utes, and I actually cheer for them sometimes. I have many neighbors and acquaintances who I respect and admire that support the U. Even during rivalry week I don't have any ill-will towards these people, or any other person representing Utah.

I do however like to joke about it. Like my old Sunday-school teacher who would wear his bright red sports coat after every Ute win, I like to show my school pride, and if that means a little bit of rubbing-it-in to nearby Utes, then that's okay, I would expect them to do the same and harbor no hard feelings. I enjoy sporting my "Max Hall Hates U" shirt, not because I hate the U, but because it's funny and sparks conversation (and it was a good excuse to finally buy a red shirt).

I think the hatred Holy War is largely a fabrication of stereotypes and baseless tradition. Even though I feel out of place and unwanted on the U of U campus, the reality is that I'm not about to be mugged, despite my ill preconceptions. (Also, former VTF writer Brett Hein has some good words on the fake hate of the rivalry).

If everyone can take some advice from KVN then we can loosen up and enjoy a great game on saturday, and hopefully many great rivalry games in the future.