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Time was, this was THE rivalry

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If the above headlines seem overcooked to you, one thing is obvious right up front: You were born after 1965.

By the time you were old enough to understand football, the rivalry was on its way downhill.

Once upon a time, Utah State and Utah had the fiercest rivalry of all. It was something to get worked up over. But in the years after the formation of the WAC (1962), and LaVell Edwards becoming head coach at BYU (1972), the focus shifted. Now there's no doubt which is the state's biggest conflict. BYU-Utah is far more important than any other. In part, that's because after decades of losing to the Utes, BYU finally got around to winning on a regular basis. Moreover, the schools have been in the same conference, lending special significance to their annual game.

Meanwhile, the USU-Utah rivalry gradually moved to the side stage.

Still, if you like tradition, today's game at Rice-Eccles Stadium is nothing to dismiss. Dr. John Worley, a longtime Aggie fan, notes that this one was going strong before BYU and Utah even considered becoming blood enemies.

On Worley's wall is a newspaper clipping of USU's 1946 Thanksgiving Day win over Utah — a game in which he suited up for the Aggies. The article notes the crowd of 23,166 was the largest sports gathering in the state's history.

Worley also has a photo of his father, the day he kicked three field goals for Utah State in a 9-3 win over Utah in 1920.

Aggie pride runs deep in the Worley family. As one who saw virtually every USU game for 40 years, as a player and later as team physician, Worley was an eyewitness to the rivalry.

"I always said I was not an outstanding player, but given a choice between being a bona fide All-American, or playing on a team that beat Utah on Thanksgiving Day, it would have been an easy choice," says Worley.

Today's game marks the 101st meeting between the teams, making it the 13th-longest rivalry in America. It's longer than Utah-BYU, sure. But it's also longer than Kansas-Kansas State, Michigan-Ohio State, Penn State-Pittsburgh, Texas-Oklahoma, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, Michigan-Michigan State, Washington-Washington State and Georgia-Georgia Tech.

Generations have come and gone watching this rivalry.

You want old? This one was going strong before Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne even dreamed of the forward pass. It began in 1892, 26 years before Rockne was even a head coach. In fact, Utah State and Utah were one another's first-ever opponent. The Agricultural College walked off with a 12-0 victory, and a rivalry was born.

Although this may be the state's oldest rivalry, that doesn't mean it's been terribly close. Utah leads the series with USU by a 68-28-4 margin. (No wonder the Aggies resorted to punching the Utes below the belt a few of years ago.) The annual game has produced its share of bad blood. There have been charges of dirty play, illegal uniform-tampering, unsportsmanlike behavior and, worst of all, blocking the Aggies' attempts to get in the WAC.

USU has never won more than four years in a row, while Utah has won eight straight on two separate occasions. Utah has won 11 of the last 13.

Nevertheless, there was a long period in which the USU-Utah game was the in-state game to watch. Before the mid-1960s, BYU was virtually unable to beat Utah. It wasn't a rivalry, it was a human sacrifice. USU-Utah, on the other hand, was a more intriguing match. Through the 1960s, USU won six of 10 against the Utes, including four in a row. The Aggies also won 44-16 in 1972 and 31-0 two years later.

Conversely, the Utes have collected wins by such scores as 34-0, 33-0 and 45-10.

It's safe to say that in none of the aforementioned games did either side apologize for running up the score.

For several years the teams played on Thanksgiving Day, lending a special air to the proceedings. It was a bona fide event. Win that game and you got to upstage Thanksgiving.

John Ralston, who coached the Aggies from 1959-62, was a strong motivator. He used an approach in 1961 that inspired his team to a win over Utah. "I remember Ralston saying to the team, 'Those guys think we play in a pasture,' " says Worley.

Those days are long gone. Logan isn't much of a farm town any more, and the rivalry isn't what it used to be. That is partly because there are no conference titles or national rankings at stake. Still, as anyone who plans to live a long life can attest, being the best or biggest is one thing, but being the oldest is in a class by itself.

E-mail: rock@desnews.com