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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Rivalry boot camp

By Tony Pizza

Church vs. State, Heathens vs. Mormons, Red vs. Blue, Utes vs. Cougars, Utah vs. BYU: The Holy War has grown to epic proportions–and to think it all started with a fight over a boot.

Obviously, BYU and Utah have been playing football games against each other since much earlier than 1971, but when an authentic pioneer boot became the symbol of Utah college football supremacy, the rivalry began to develop to the magnitude it has reached today.

The rivalry’s rise to today’s proportions also had a lot to do with the fact that LaVell Edwards turned the whole rivalry around the year after the Battle of the Boot commenced.

From the times BYU and Utah played football in leather helmets until the start of the Battle of the Boot, Utah football has reigned over the Beehive State.

Utah collected a 34-5-4 record during that time, and that isn’t including the six games before 1922, which BYU refuses to acknowledge because it was the Brigham Young Academy at that point.

Utah dominated the rivalry during the 1930s, ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, but the only people that can remember those days are now collecting Social Security checks, and everyone knows those memories can’t be trusted.

After Edwards took over the reins for BYU–a period many Ute fans refer to as “The Dark Ages”–BYU made the glory days of Utah’s dominance seem like fantasies.

The Cougars didn’t just beat the Utes 19 out of 21 times from 1972 to 1992–they destroyed them. To put it another way: If Utah had a proverbial clock, BYU cleaned it. Thoroughly.

Some of the scores to those games were downright embarrassing for Ute fans. Some of the Utah lowlights included a 51-20 thrashing in 1975, a 27-0 spanking in 1979, a 56-28 pummeling in 1981, and a 70-31 crushing to round out the ’80s in 1989.

For LaVell Edward’s first 21 years, every synonym for the word “defeat” was exasperated when trying to explain how the Cougars were beating the Utes.

Finally, in 1993–during Ron McBride’s third year as the U’s head football coach–the Utes restored balance to the Holy War (and the universe) when they finally beat BYU in Provo for the first time since the pioneer boot had been handed out.

It turned out that the 34-31 score was an omen for the changing tides, as the Utes went back and beat BYU at home by the very same score.

These back-to-back victories were monumental. Think the Mojave Desert getting Seattle’s rainfall big, snowstorms in hell big or a Mormon being elected mayor of Las Vegas big.

The Utes had been squirming in agony for two whole decades and it was not easy. Utah fans had to resort to claming the U’s coeds are better looking than BYU’s and other means of logic to compensate for their inferiority to BYU’s football program.

This BYU football beast had been fed well for so long, and the Utes’ program had practically been starving for so long that the two Utah victories could have satiated the Ute fans for another two decades if they had to.

But it didn’t come to that. Those two victories merely–and thankfully–leveled the playing field for both teams.

Yes, the Utes have won the majority of the games since 1994–four out of seven to be exact–but the games are better than they were before. Utah’s 37-17 loss in 1996 and 52-21 win in 2004 are the only two games in the span of 11 games that haven’t been decided by touchdown or less.

This spread of wealth has fueled both programs and has undoubtedly made the rivalry better than it has ever been before.

The battle over a boot may have shifted some of the much-needed power over to BYU’s side for a while, but now the games are virtually even, and nothing, not even home field advantage, means much when these two teams square off anymore.

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