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September 5, 2016

BYU, Utah, and The Curse of Max Hall

-- Spoiler: the rivalry has been weird lately

A lot of weird crap has happened to BYU the last five times they've played Utah.  Oh, you'd like a list?  My pleasure.

2010:  Utah recovers a crucial 'onside punt' late in the 4th quarter.11.  What is an onside punt?  A punt that is botched so horrendously that it travels only 10 yards but somehow manages to bounce right into an opposing player who is trying to dodge the ball, resulting in a live ball which the punting team recovers.  According to my research, Utah remains the only team in the NCAA to have successfully executed the play.

2010:  BYU intercepts an errant Utah pass, sealing the game as a win for the Cougars, but wait!! What's this? Yes .. I do believe ... Utah has stripped the ball after the play is dead and recovered possession! (I wish I was making this up)

2010:  BYU drives the length of the field on the final possession of the game before intentionally running out the clock on themselves. This leads to a game-winning field goal attempt and ...

2010:  Utah blocks the field goal for the win.

2011: Jake Heaps fumble results in Utah touchdown.

2011: Riley Nelson fumble results in Utah touchdown.

2011: JD Falslev fumble ON A KICKOFF results in Utah possession on the 1-yard line, and subsequent touchdown.22.  How do you fumble a kickoff and not recover it? It was as if Utah did an onside kick but booted it all the way down the field.

2011: BYU fumbles three more times in addition to those already mentioned.3

 3. By comparison, BYU fumbled 6 times in this game ... and 7 times total in 2013.

2012: Bad snap results in Utah touchdown.

2012: Bad snap results in safety against BYU. 4 4. Erased by penalty but still. Come on.

2012:  Utah's backup tight end, Westlee Tonga, snags a one-handed touchdown catch while being defended by the best BYU defender of the last 15 years.  Why is this weird?  Because Tonga isn't good at catching footballs. Following this catch he records 5 receptions for 50 yards and 0 touchdowns ... in his next 21 games combined.

2012:  BYU attempts a game-winning field goal with a kicker who by his own declaration is 4,800 kicks shy of being ready for the season.

2012:  Utah blocks the field goal for the win.

2012:  BYU attempts a second game-winning field goal this time WITH A PUNTER.

2012: Utah's crossbar blocks the field goal for the win.

2013:  Utah's punt returner muffs a punt yet somehow avoids touching the ball and giving BYU a game-changing fumble.  Contrast this with the aforementioned 'onside punt' of 2010: on one hand you have a BYU player desperately trying to dodge the football -- which of course like a magnet bounces right into him -- and on the other you have a Utah player who is trying desperately to contact the ball and wiffs entirely.

2013:  BYU misses yet another field goal (though this time not a game-winner -- yay, progress!), making the kicking unit a scorching six for eleven on field goals attempted against the Utes during the last four contests. 

2015: BYU misses yet another field goal, bringing them to 6 of 12 against Utah in their last 5 contests.

2015: BYU turns it over five times in a row, a feat that has occurred only twice in college football in the last seven thousand games.55.  Imagine how incredible this is. You could play a football game every day and not see this happen for over 10 years.

So ... in case you're not familiar with football, allow me to reiterate this is a lot of funky shit.66.  I'm allowing myself to swear here because that's really the best word to describe these happenings. And because once these happenings caused me to say this word in real life. Yeah, I'm looking at you JD Falslev. Multiple fumbles for touchdowns aren't normal, multiple failed field goals aren't normal, losing 12 fumbles in five games while your opponent loses 1 is not normal. So perhaps you'll forgive us BYU fans if we feel like there is a higher power, a curse, some voodoo that is crippling our team when they play their rival.

Curses have of course long been a part of sports, ever since Babe Ruth got sold and a goat got denied stadium access in Chicago. BYU fans chalk this string of outlandish luck to the Curse of Max Hall. The origin of the curse is simple. In 2009, following an overtime victory against Utah, Max Hall took to the podium and unleashed.

"I hate Utah. I hate everything about them."

At the time Max spoke the famous words I was sitting in post-game traffic, nodding my head, dropping 'amens' and 'hallelujahs' after ever Max pause. I hated them too, especially the red winnebago in front of me that had a dry-erase board hanging on its rear displaying, in less than ideal penmanship I might add, the phrase "BYU sucks".

But turns out not all BYU fans were aligned with Max and I that day. Some felt he crossed a line. Some thought it was weak he saved his smack for the post-game comments.77. An odd complaint considering anyone who knows anything about Max Hall knows he was talking trash that whole game. Others were embarrassed that a representative of the Lord's university would dare speak mean words in a sport as pure and wholesome as football, a sport where paralysis, brain damage, and death only occurs some of the time. 

And that's where it all started. BYU hasn't just gone 0-for-5 against Utah since The Speech, they've gone 0-for-5 in a host of ways almost unimaginable and inimitable. Is it Max Hall's fault? A number of players from both sides of the rivalry have spouted off hate so it seems odd to me that Max's words would have such great repercussion. And hasn't a lot worse happened than players saying they hate each other? What about when that BYU fan fought the Utah cheerleader? What about when Utah fans smash the windows of visiting BYU fans every other year? What about when that BYU fan accosted Whittingham's wife? What about Utah fans booing during the opening prayer at BYU? What about when that Ute fan tried to jump Derik Stevenson's dad? Wouldn't one of those acts be more likely to bring down bad karma than saying I HATE YOU?

Still it's clear there is a curse of some kind, no doubt about that, and it's equally clear that it originated sometime during 2009 and 2010. And while I don't think it's due to The Speech, I do think it has to do with Max Hall. My theory?

I submit that Max Hall is the most under-appreciated star in BYU football history and that the sporting gods are punishing us for a lack of gratitude towards one of the greatest quarterbacks who donned the Cougar cloth. Allow me to explain.

In BYU lore the quarterback hierarchy is generally separated into two tiers. Tier I, aka the Best That Ever Were, is comprised of the four legends: McMahon, Young, Bosco, and Detmer. Tier II is reserved for everyone else who was great, but not all-time great: Beck, Hall, Doman, Sarkisian, Nielson, Wilson, Sheide, Walsh, and Taysom Hill (hopefully).88. If he wins 10-plus games this year he's in. I'm a believer. Now I have no empirical evidence but based on years of conversations, message board reading, Facebook chatter and the like I've found that most BYU fans think Hall was good but not great. I've talked with many who rank Sarkisian and Beck above Max Hall over in Tier II. Here's the thing: not only is it disrespectful to rank Hall below those two, he doesn't even belong in the same tier. When we rattle off the list of greatest Cougar quarterbacks the list should not stop at Detmer, it should read McMahon, Young, Bosco, Detmer, and Hall. Max Hall should be considered a legend. He had the talent of a McMahon yet we treat him like he was a Feterik.

I get it, Max doesn't have that magic claim to fame that the four all-timers have. He doesn't have a Heisman (Detmer), a National Championship (Bosco), a NFL MVP (Young), or one of the most famous bowl wins in college history (McMahon). But he has literally everything else you could ask for. The list of Hall accolades is long, impressive, and for some stupid reason dismissed by way too many BYU fans. Here, I'll show you.

Among BYU quarterbacks he ranks ...

#1 in wins (32)
#2 in career passing yards (11,365)99. This despite handing off to BYU's current all-time leading rusher non-stop. 

#7 in passing yards in a single season (3,957)
#8 in total yards in a single game (548)
#1 in touchdowns thrown in a single game (7 vs UCLA)1010. Tied with McMahon and Wilson.
#3 in touchdowns thrown in a single season (35 in 2008)
#2 in touchdowns thrown in a career (94)
#3 completion percentage in a single season (69.2% in 2008)
#2 completion percentage in a career (65.3%)
#1 in bowl wins (2)1111. Tied with McMahon.

You starting to capture the vision? Outside of the legends Hall is one of only two quarterbacks to beat Utah twice in the modern era. Hall led BYU to their 4th highest AP ranking of all-time (12th in 2009) and their 7th highest as well (14th in 2007). He led BYU to three wins against ranked opponents in 2009, a feat that by my count has only been accomplished one other time in BYU history (the mighty 1996 squad). He led BYU to their second-biggest upset of all-time against Oklahoma, including a game-winning drive in the final moments to do so. Game-winning drives in fact were a Hall specialty (see vs Utah in 2007, vs CSU in 2008, vs Utah in 2009). Or maybe I should say close games in general were a Hall specialty. During his career BYU was a perfect 11-0 in games decided by seven points or less. How is this guy not considered among the greatest of all-time?

I'll say it again: I get it. I know the reason is because BYU never made a BCS game during his time as captain, while Boise, Utah, and TCU all did. He lost big in 2009 to TCU and FSU, and even bigger to Utah and TCU in 2008.  But do you know how many games he lost beside those listed? Just three, and two of them came in Hall's second and third career starts! And by the way the Utah team he lost to in 2008 finished the season as the #2 team in the nation. The TCU team he lost to in 2009 finished as the #6 team in the nation. Fans kill Max for those losses but that was some extreme competition BYU was going up against, and just as a reminder, Max didn't play on defense.

So yeah he didn't make a BCS bowl, but neither did Detmer or Young. Sure Hall embarrassed the university with drugs but so did McMahon with his antics. Somehow we still found a way to lionize them.


I remember well the first time I encountered the BYU fan apathy towards Max Hall's career. I was talking to a co-worker who loves BYU. I told him one of my favorite Max Hall stats, that he and Austin Collie formed the most prolific QB-WR combo in BYU history. The two connected for 22 touchdown passes, more than any quarterback and specific receiver at BYU had ever recorded. They were the most unstoppable duo BYU ever saw, I proclaimed.

My friend responded that this was his whole problem with Max Hall. "The guy didn't spread the ball, he was too focused on Collie. The offense was too predictable."

I then asked him if he knew which QB-WR combo had the second highest number of touchdown passes. He didn't so I responded. "Max Hall and Dennis Pitta with 19 touchdowns."

I didn't have a mic to drop so I just moonwalked out of his cubicle.

Look, I'm not saying that Hall is better than Detmer or Young or Bosco or McMahon. I'm just saying he belongs with them, and to think otherwise shows a massive misunderstanding of his contribution to BYU football. This level of ingratitude is the only explanation I can muster for why we've been cursed so much while playing Utah. Let's reverse it starting now. Let's start appreciating the player who brought us more wins than any other, who passed for more yards than all save Detmer, who gave us the fourth-greatest season in BYU history.

The university struck first by having Hall carry one of the flags against Arizona. You can start by promoting Hall to first class in your conversations with BYU fans, but if that's too much I'll be OK with you mixing your #15 jersey into your gameday rotation. And how 'bout we start giving The Speech a little more love while we're at it? Why aren't elementary schools in Utah County reciting this message alongside the pledge of allegiance? We all hate Utah, Max was just the one with the balls to say it. Give your son the middle name Hall. Dial up Madden 2010 and take Arizona to the Super Bowl with Max at QB. Watch 4th and 18 twenty times. Bring up Max the next time you give an Elders Quorum lesson on toughness because in case you forgot the guy never missed a single stinking game, whether his shoulder was connected to his body or not.

Do something, do anything, because the rivalry is coming and if we begin to appreciate Hall maybe the anger of the gods will be removed when we play the team he -- and all of us -- hate most.


  1. Man I lol'd through this whole thing. unfortunately I have suffered greatly through the great afflictions of the last 5 holy wars. Nevertheless I have great faith that the Cougars will layeth the smackethdown on all of those sons of perdition candyasses this weekend.

  2. Another glorious post. Those facts about the games are truly astonishing... I love the one about the tight end, you may as well have never caught another pass, that's hilarious. Well worded post, good usage of the word shit.

  3. Another glorious post. Those facts about the games are truly astonishing... I love the one about the tight end, you may as well have never caught another pass, that's hilarious. Well worded post, good usage of the word shit.

  4. I Love Love Love, continued Love MAX HALL

  5. We are forever indebted to Max for giving us some of the best seasons we have seen as fans the last 35 years as well as the best expressions of how I feel about that dirty red clad bastard team up north

  6. I don't know who you are but I love you and Max Hall!!

  7. I don't know who you are but I love you and Max Hall!!