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True to form, Whittingham, Sitake take Kidney Foundation charity on with gusto

Kyle Whittingham and Kalani Sitake became rescuers of sorts on Monday.

The BYU and Utah coaches teamed up with golf clubs in hand and injected energy and enthusiasm into the Liberty Mutual Invitational, a charity to benefit the National Kidney Foundation of Utah and Idaho.

The event was dying, in trouble, struggling to meet its lofty expectations forged by 28 years of tradition, the envy of every state Kidney Foundation charity around the country. It started with LaVell Edwards and Jim Fassel and the kidney charity folks using the rivalry to raise a ton of coin over the years.

But of late, it just didn’t have the same fire with Whittingham and Bronco Mendenhall. Nobody’s fault, it slid into a non-priority item with lots of no shows.

Not this time.

Whittingham, known more for his prowess in tennis than golf, rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt on one hole and chipped in for bridie on the par-3 ninth at Hidden Valley Country Club to lead his foursome comprised of assistants Morgan Scalley, Fred Whittingham and Aaron Roderick to a five-stroke scramble victory over the Cougar staff. The Utes finished 12 under.

BYU’s staff, comprised of Sitake, coordinators Ilaisa Tuiaki, Ty Detmer and graduate assistant JD Falslev, finished at seven under.

The format calls for the losing group to sing the others’ fight song in front of a multitude of cameras and TV crews.

This thing is supposed to ride the back of a heated, caustic, stormy rivalry.

Thing is, Whittingham and Sitake put it back on track with such a fury, it was something to behold; it was more like a reunion than a clash of rivals. Monday came with almost too much saccharine, a pillar of, well, love and respect.

Sitake gladly and boldly stood up and sang the Ute fight song. He and Tuiaki, both former Ute staffers, made it a breeze. When asked by the emcee if he’d use Ute pom poms as props for the moment, Sitake deadpanned, “I won’t go that far.”

Gone was tension. Gone was embarrassment. Heck, when both teams came to the clubhouse for lunch and the awards, Whittingham’s staff left their table, grabbed their chairs and joined Sitake and his guys. Kumbaya, fellows, Kumbaya.

“I hope Utah wins every game but one and goes 11-1,” said Sitake.

Whittingham, after chipping in on No. 9, said he was genuinely happy for Sitake and his new job in Provo.

“I’m exited for Kalani, I couldn’t be more happy for him. There isn’t a better guy to be in that position, and he’s going to do great,” said Whittingham.

“I’m the worst golfer on our team,” said Sitake. “I don’t golf. But this has been great fun to be out here and it is for a great cause which we all believe is worth it.”

At the camera moment, Sitake proclaimed,” I don’t mind losing to those guys because 65 percent of them are former Cougars.”

Sitake’s humility in losing made losing almost winning. And Whittingham got to enjoy it immensely as captain of the winning team.

The big winners are those in need of help who suffer from kidney failure. This event raises tens of thousands of dollars for the cause. Kidney failure affects more Americans than breast and prostate cancer combined.

In this regard, the person who most appreciates Whittingham and Sitake’s efforts is executive director Deen Vetterli, who has weathered the ups and down of this rivalry event for most of three decades.

“This is a riot,” said Vetterli. “Kyle didn’t even sit at his own table. I’ve talked to them both and they are stoked to be involved. They love each other. They are so great, it’s been wonderful.”

For many of us in the media who have watched this event since its inception, there’ve been a lot of fun times. But there’ve also been some stick in the mud moments, awkward moments. Edwards and Ron McBride made it a show, and everyone won.

Somehow you get the feeling this is what it will be like for Whittingham and Sitake. Right up until kickoff in Rice-Eccles. And when that’s done, they’ll be back to their buddyship.

There will be a passionate time for the blood to boil, to be on edge, but these two men will definitely take their roles as rivalry coaches to a level we have not seen before: A mutual brotherhood.

And that’s a good thing.

For more information about donating to the National Kidney Foundation's Utah-Idaho chapter, go to www.kidneyut.org.

EMAIL: dharmon@deseretnews.com.

TWITTER: Harmonwrites