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OLSEN, FIREWORKS CAN'T HELP AGS BREAK UTAH HEX

Considering Utah and Utah State have been playing organized football for 102 years, and the first game either team played was against the other, it was only fitting they meet in the first game of the 1994 season, Saturday night.

This is a rivalry that has been around longer than gossip. That's older than George Burns.In their long history of football, Utah and Utah State have played more games against one another than any other opponent . Even BYU - who many believe was the Utes' antithesis at the Dawn of Creation - has only played Utah 75 times. Colorado State and Wyoming aren't even close.

This is a rivalry so old the schools have no record of who coached the early games. It just says "Coach Unknown" in the Ute record book and "None" in the Aggie book. It's a rivalry so old that when they began the series, the teams didn't bus to games against one another, they went in wagons. They didn't wear helmets, they wore cowboy hats.

The first-ever game in Utah-USU history occurred in 1892. The Aggies escaped with a 12-0 victory. Soon after, The Utes went on to split two games with the local YMCA, while the Aggies, apparently satisfied with the results, ended their season after the Utah game.

Although the Aggies won the first game between the teams, things went downhill quickly in the series. There was one run in 1965-68 when the Aggies won four straight and three more wins in a row in 1974-76. But other than that, it has been mostly forgettable for the Aggies. Utah leads the all-time series 61-27-4. Utah State, a 32-17 loser on Saturday, hasn't beaten Utah since 1987 and only once in the last 11 years.

Given the Aggies' problems, it was understandable they would pull out all the stops to win on opening night. They shot off fireworks after each score. They shot off fireworks at halftime, too. An over-capacity crowd of 31,287 showed up to see if the Aggies' six-game win streak, dating back to last season, could help them overcome the hold the Utes have had on this series.

As if that weren't enough, the Aggies also called on some old magic from their glory days. Prior to kickoff, former Aggies Merlin Olsen and Elmer "Bear" Ward had their numbers retired. They waved, smiled for the photos and took their seats in the stands. But even that wasn't enough to ward off another loss to the Utes.

Even the legendary Olsen isn't entirely unfamiliar with losing to the Utes. When he was on his way to winning the Outland Trophy in the early 60s, Olsen lost two of three to Utah. As a junior he forgot his football shoes and had to practice in street shoes. It took until game time for someone to drive back to Logan to get his football shoes. The Aggies lost nonetheless.

But in his senior season, they beat Utah 17-6.

Lately, it has seemed at least 102 years since the Aggies beat the Utes. Last year the Utes eked out a 31-29 victory at Rice Stadium thanks to 14 third-quarter points. In 1991 it took a goofy lateral by the Utes at the end of the first half to decide the outcome. Saturday night in Logan the Aggies trailed by only eight points with 8:36 to go but were still unable to change their luck.

Certainly the Aggies have to wonder what hex the Utes put on the series. The schools are not only geogaphically, but philosophically similar. Both recruit heavily out of California. The Utes have 38 players and the Aggies 51 who either come from or played junior college football in California. Yet the Utes have controlled the series like Castro controls Cuba.

The Utes and Aggies are as familiar with one another as bagels and cream cheese, and end up being paired together almost as often. When Utah assistant Dan Henson - now at Arizona State - showed up in Glenwood, Minn., last year to recruit quarterback Ryan Shea, he was put in the school office to wait for Shea to arrive. A nearby telephone began ringing and, since nobody else was around, Henson finally reached over and answered. On the other end was an Aggie assistant Jim Zorn, trying to reach Shea himself.

"Hello," said Zorn. "This is Jim Zorn from Utah State.

"Hi, Jim," said Henson agreeably. "This is Dan Henson from Utah."

Thus, the two old rivals continue bumping into one another, both on and off the field.

Given the results over the last century, though, it wasn't especially surprising the Utes would win. That's the way the series has gone. When Edwin Garrette intercepted an Aggie pass with 4:05 left in the game, history had again taken its course.

When the 3 1/2-hour game had finally finished, the Aggies and their fans were left to wonder once again just why the Utes have such a hold on the series. And when they're ever going to see another Merlin Olsen or Bear Ward. And who the coach was in 1892 that got the Aggies ready for such a rousing sendoff in the first place.