Tough season saves rivalry: Struggling Utes throw BYU a lifeline

Before moving to Utah for my senior year of high school, I hadn’t had much exposure to the BYU/Utah rivalry. I’m not sure I even knew the rivalry existed, but I suppose I could have presumed that the only two major schools in this huge state would be pretty competitive.

Even so, I was just a bitter adolescent at Northridge High School (graduating class: 75,639), and I made it a point to shun everything Utah. I never had a reason to care before about anything that happened in this state, and I didn’t see any reason to change. I rooted for a tornado to descend and wreak havoc on LaVell Edwards Stadium in 2001. I left for college in New York with fewer memories of the BYU/Utah rivalry than I had of my graduation night.

Nonetheless, at least as far as local press was concerned at the time, BYU-Utah still drew my cursory interest as this all-encompassing event that consumed the whole attention of the state’s collegiate fans.

It seemed to mean something for more than just collegiate fans. Each Utahn’s stance on the game identified them in a heavily polarized state. Red or blue, Democrat or Republican, heathen or Mormon?almost every member of the state’s natural population had some reason, if only symbolic, to rally behind one side.

When I transferred to Utah the following year, everything had changed, both for the rivalry and myself. Urban Meyer’s new offensive system brought national attention to this new commuter school I was attending, and the football team’s success was at least something about my new school to be interested in.

Of course, BYU was rolling along nicely, too. Resigned to my fate as a permanent Utah resident, I made my allegiance and never looked back. I even yelled at my television a few times during the Mountain West Conference championship game.

Even so, my allegiance was never based on that much.

I quickly lost my interest in the rivalry when the Utes had their magnificent season in 2004. My team was national now; BYU was floundering. I wanted a Utah/USC rivalry to begin.

I know, that sounds pretty lame to me, too, but I was kidnapped onto this bandwagon. I never chose to be a fair-weather fan, but the Utes screwed with my expectations. Bad timing, I guess.

Now I’m trying to get into this BYU/Utah thing again, and I’ve noticed that a lot of Ute fans are doing the same. It feels a little forced to pretend that this weekend’s game will bestow any great glory upon the victor.

Both teams are at the tail end of disappointing seasons, and both sets of fans are clinging to their optimistic forecasts for 2006.

However, the second I step foot onto BYU’s campus this Saturday, I know that things will change for me. Admittedly, there is a lot about BYU’s student body that I don’t quite understand, but I can easily intuit from their curious looks that I’m an outsider there.

For people in Utah who have felt like outsiders all their lives, BYU/Utah represents so much more than any other college rivalry. The football field is a battleground, on which the immediate future of state’s divided factions is determined.

There may not be anything on the line Saturday, but that doesn’t mean anything to Ute fans. It matters.

A case if we win, a sixer if we lose. The same applies in Provo, except with coke instead of beer.

Consider, now, if Urban Meyer and Alex Smith had stuck around for one more year.

The celestial come-down this year was tough, but would BYU/Utah ignite the same feelings if the Utes had dominated again? I don’t know about you, but I was beginning to feel legitimately bad for BYU fans (after all, those poor people care so damned much).

Since there’s nothing else to look forward to this season, at least for casual fans like me, our full attention is drawn back to the big game.

At least mine will be.

(I just have to stop myself from yelling in the press box.)

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