Sports | Hell to Pay: A new college football season means new theological fuel for the BYU/Utah rivalry. | Sports | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Sports | Hell to Pay: A new college football season means new theological fuel for the BYU/Utah rivalry. 

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As local college football teams get ready to kick off the 2008 season on Saturday, hopes are high for both BYU and the University of Utah. Both teams are ranked in the top 30 in most national polls, and both are being mentioned as having a shot at being the non-BCS team that makes a BCS bowl game.

In the case of the U’s followers, they could use a little hope right about now. Ever since Nov. 24, 2007, they’ve been stuck in hell, in both a temporal and eternal sense. For U fans, it’s not a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t as much as damned here in the earthly 60,000-seat stadium as well as damned on the Grand Gridiron of the hereafter.

In the ephemeral arena, it was painful enough for fans of the Salt Lake City school to have to watch last year when they had the Cougars down 10-9 with little time left and had forced BYU into a seemingly impossible fourth-and-18 situation. BYU quarterback Max Hall somehow completed a pass to Austin Collie that resulted in a 49-yard gain. That was followed by a touchdown and 2-point conversion to leave the Utes on the losing end of an amazing BYU come-from-behind win for the second straight year.

But that secular slight was nothing compared to the downright sectarian dis that took place after the game. When interviewed about the miracle play, Collie said it was nothing less than a, ahem, miracle. “When you’re doing what’s right, on and off the field, the Lord steps in and plays a part,” was Collie’s tidy ontology. He might as well have added, “Get used to red, Ute fans; it’s a color you’re going to be seeing for all eternity.”

Collie never expanded into a full lecture on metaphysics, so it’s difficult to know just what part the Almighty played in “the play.” Suffice it to say, He had to have been confusing the minds of Utah defensive backs so they committed the unpardonable football sin of letting a guy get behind them on fourth-and-18.

The non-righteous naturally raised a righteous howl about Collie’s presumption, but their protests missed the point. Collie was simply stating one of those unofficial LDS doctrines that never gets stated from the pulpit, but the majority of Mormons nonetheless believe. Though they don’t like to admit it, that’s what hurts the feelings of Ute fans the most. Forget the whole “meek shall inherit the earth” thing from that hippie in the New Testament; when fall rolls around, BYU fans want their earthly reward as well. Just like the Knights Templar back in Crusade days, the BYU football team kicks—as any good seminary teacher would say—tushies, for what its supporters believe is a good cause.

College football fans across the country know that watching your team lose to its archrival is painful. In a number of rivalries, watching your team lose to its nemesis while knowing that the opposing fans are looking down on you because they consider themselves superior to you in some worldly sense (they have a better academic program, more financially successful graduates, a nicer campus, better parties, etc.) can be downright depressing. What makes the BYU-Utah rivalry unique in these United States is that when the blue team wins, it marks not only a defeat during this brief mortal existence—where Ute fans are supposed to be having more fun anyway while not having to worry about the consequences, it also reminds fans of the losing team that the winners claim to have the ultimate alumni connection.

It’s too bad it has to come off that way, because anyone who has ever actually attended a game in Provo can bear testimony that it can be a haven of friendliness and civility in the increasingly uncouth world of behavior at college football stadiums. Cougar fans in the stands can be downright nice and helpful even during the heat of battle, and you don’t have to worry about people spilling beer all over you, to say nothing of the general absence of vomit.

But that’s little consolation for Utah fans when they know that behind those pleasant faces, the Cougar faithful think Ute infidels are going to have hell to pay for their choice in teams. After a 2006 BYU comeback win, Cougar fans got to yell, “Harline’s still open,” anytime they saw a hapless Ute over the ensuing 12 months. After the final result in 2007, BYU fans have until Nov. 22, 2008 to yell, “Collie’s theology still works.” That’s when the archrivals meet again, and Ute fans are hoping their team can prove Collie wrong—for the love of God.

Geoff Griffin has been known to jump on the bandwagons of both football teams and religions that do well in national polls.

Saturday, Aug. 30
UTAH VS. MICHIGAN @ 1:30 p.m., ABC
BYU VS. NORTHERN IOWA @ 4 p.m., The Mtn

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