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November 23, 2010

Rivalry Ruined

We are five days away from the best Saturday of 2010. Or the worst, depending on the final score of course. I don't need to tell you what's coming up, but I will anyway.

Poopsh-utes versus Zoobs.

Marmons versus state.

BYU versus Utah.

The day that makes or breaks the entire year.


With good reason has this match up been reserved as the last regular season game of the year for these two clubs. Not many rivalries (if any at all) can match the competitive closeness the Utes and Cougs have shared over the past two decades. Since 1990 each team has won ten of the twenty games played. Over the last decade the story's been the same, with BYU and Utah splitting the ten matches with five wins each. Eleven of the last thirteen games have been decided by a touchdown or less, with eight of the last ten being in doubt until the final minute of the fourth quarter. Closer still, three of the last five games have been decided on the final play of the game.

I rarely accept moments in sports that involve crying - the BYU-Utah game is one of them

There hasn't been anything to compare with it. Perhaps no other rivalry (at least over this 20-year span) has been so intense, so down-to-the-wire, kill-yourself if you lose, dance-in-the-streets-naked if you win suspenseful. The closeness of the games has reinforced what has long been claimed by fans, media, and players alike - that the BYU-Utah football rivalry is one of the best in all of sports.

Which is why it's so sad that it's about to die.

Oh, the game will continue to be played, no doubt about that. Regardless of conference differences, neither schools athletic director will ever let a year go by without scheduling the arch-rival. If one school chose not to schedule the other, they would be mocked eternally for being afraid to play their greatest enemy, and both of these programs are way too proud to let that happen.

No, the death I refer to is the end of this game being played in the final weeks of November, a tradition which has been in place since 1968. Due to changes in conference, the Cougs and Utes will now play in the middle of September every year instead of near Thanksgiving weekend. I find this situation to be, in the words of the incomparable Jackie Chiles, "... totally inappropriate. It's lewd, vesivius, salacious, outrageous!" The fourth Saturday in November was set apart in the councils of heaven as the date on which the Cougars and the Utes would wage war. The date in which families would be divided, friends would turn foes, and fans would become fanatics. We might as well change the date of Christmas while we're at it.

I guarantee the rivalry will decrease in quality if it is held in September. Here are the reasons why:

#1. Lower quality of play. Teams usually play their best football at the end of the season, after having had various weeks to identify playmakers, build chemistry, and master the team's system (the one exception to this rule - injuries). When BYU and Utah meet in September they won't be as fine-tuned as they would be playing in November. Just imagine if BYU would've played Utah in the third game of this season. BYU had yet to find the soul of their team and would have consequently been red-washed by the Utes. Ten weeks later? The Cougs have come together and stand an actual chance in the game.

#2. Less anticipation. Playing in the final weeks of November allows the anticipation and build-up to drag on for a longer period of time. Keep in mind this is one of the best elements of the rivalry. Being able to analyze results and standings throughout the season allows for comparison and trash talk. But play the game over Labor Day and you have a mere two weeks of measuring the teams. Plus, holding the game in September violates the principle of "saving the best for last". Our season finales next year? Utah versus Colorado and BYU vs New Mexico State! Does it get any more thrilling?

#3. Less hangover.  Battling at the beginning of the season instead of the end removes the extended hangover/happiness that the winners and losers of finales normally experience. Being the last game of the year, the sadness/joy that accompanies victory or loss lasts longer than that of a game played at the start of the year. Losses in week one or two can be made up for by wins in subsequent weeks. But if you lose your final game ... you may not get a chance to remove that bitter feeling for a long time. Additionally, the opportunity to make up for a crappy season by at least beating your rival in the final game is lost by scheduling the game at the first of the year.

#4. Less on the line. Remember the year 2008? Utah met BYU in late November where a victory would be the difference between a BCS bowl and a trip to the lower-class Las Vegas bowl. Everything was on the line for the Utes that game. The pressure would've killed me were I a Utah fan (heaven forbid). It all came down to the final 60 minutes of the season, with the only thing standing between Utah and perfection being their eternal nemesis. That scenario is not happening in September.

#5. No Thanksgiving element. A holiday dedicated to food, family, and lounging around goes hand in hand with rivalry football games. They need one another. The losing team in particular benefits from having this game played near Thanksgiving because the holiday effects offer peace and consolation to those who may consider hurting themselves after being beaten. I know for me it was a lot easier to swallow the 2008 loss to Utah when I was able to wash it down with six turkey sandwiches and half a pumpkin pie. However if my Cougs lose to the Utes in September, there's no holiday cheer to prevent me from committing hara-kiri (International Literacy day just isn't gonna cut it).
Debate the reasons if you desire. But I will bet anyone anything that the rivalry will not be as superb in the coming years as it has been over the past twenty. Which is why this year must be relished as much as possible. This will be the last time the game is played on the hallowed fourth Saturday of November until BYU and Utah become conference brothers again. I will enjoy the day to its fullest. I will revel in it. I will give thanks for it. And when next Thanksgiving comes around? 

Well, I think its obvious that I won't be nearly as thankful.

Post Script: If you've read this far you deserve a reward for your efforts. Click play for a movie documenting some of the greater moments of the rivalry. 

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