Why The Holy War Must Continue


I sat through the 3-0 barn burner in a blizzard as Utah shutout BYU for the first time in years. I watched John Beck throw against his body in the closing seconds of the game to find a wide open Jonny Harline in the end zone at Rice Eccles Stadium. I remember Luke Staley streaking down the sidelines to steal a Holy War win.

I saw the posters informing Ryan Kaneshiro that he’s kicking wrong and can’t count the times I’ve heard “54-10” in the last few years. I’ve seen images of Jake Heaps wildly throwing the ball above his head and watched YouTube videos of ‘Suspender Ute’ get the Bronco stare-down. I remember Greg Wrubell screaming “No!” because of a questionable replay decision and know how much Max Hall hates Utah. I have so many memories of the Holy War engraved in my mind and that is only over the 25 years of my lifetime. It truly has been a part of me as I’ve grown up in the state of Utah.

September 15, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Utes start a drive on their one yard line during the first half against the Brigham Young Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The older I get, however, the more I have grown to dislike the game. Utah made their way into the PAC-12 and BYU went Independent. The local sports media has found a way to compare the two teams in every way imaginable even though the comparisons are silly and pointless. Every year, on every radio station in Utah, we listen to radio hosts talk about which position group they’d take from which team. We’ve heard about what team would win if the game was played earlier in the year or later. We’ve listened to “9-of-12 and 4-in-a-row” for years and we’ve heard “PAC-12 doormats” more than I’ve heard anything else be said. It has grown extremely old.

The hatred and vitriol has reached a new level. Mormonism is constantly mocked by Utah fans looking to get under the skin of traditional BYU fans while intellect and personal lifestyles are criticized by BYU fans looking to answer to the Ute fans. It’s ugly, it’s sad and it’s worse than it has ever been.

In all honesty, I hate the Holy War. I hate everything about it. The person in me thinks, “If this game was never played again, it would be too soon.”

But let’s think about this for a minute. What would college football in Utah be like without a rivalry game?

Utah is coming off two straight 5-7 seasons. They have beat BYU in both of those seasons and even though they haven’t been bowl eligible, they still can hang their hat on the fact that they beat the rival Cougars. BYU is a team without a conference and plays new teams and faces every year; with the the exception of their local rivals. BYU has finished two straight seasons with an 8-5 record and can say to Ute fans, “Enjoy bowl season from your couch!”

Since 2008 when Utah went to the Sugar Bowl, neither team has made any noise at all in the national college football scene. Neither team has threatened to reach a BCS bowl. In recent years, neither team has even been ranked. You won’t hear Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit talk much about the Utes or the Cougars because nationally nobody cares. Over the course of the last few seasons, football in the state of Utah has been virtually irrelevant.

But, it doesn’t feel that way, does it?

The Holy War brings a sense of pride to the state of Utah. The Utes might be 5-7 and watching a bowl from home, but they still beat BYU. BYU might not be in a power conference, but they still stole Harvey Langi from the PAC-12. Taysom is better than Travis. Reilly is better than Van Noy. Whittingham is better than Bronco and Tom Holmoe is more likable than Chris Hill.

No matter how pointless those comparisons are, they’re still conversations and comparisons that we get to make. We will never know what BYU’s record would be if they played Utah’s schedule this year, but because of the Holy War, we get to speculate. Without the rivalry game, what else to college football fans in this state have?

Sep 21, 2013; Provo, UT, USA; Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Uani Unga (41) hits Utah Utes quarterback Travis Wilson (7) right after the pass at Lavell Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

The hate is hard to handle. The belittlement of religion and the judgment of lifestyle choices need to stop. But the rivalry must live on, right? If we can’t have a rivalry game, we’re stuck with a two teams hopelessly playing football with no chance of ever being Alabama or Florida State. Without the rivalry game, we have no choice but to face the fact that mediocrity is what we have to settle for.

I don’t like everything about the game, but the more I think about it, the more I hope that administrators make the right choice and keep this game alive. The state of Utah needs it… whether we like it or not.