SALT LAKE CITY — The rivalry is 123 years old, so whenever BYU and Utah meet in a football game, history weighs heavily. Kyle Whittingham understands that better than most.
If you want to get on his good side, bust a game-winning play in Thursday’s contest.
He might invite you to marry into the family.
This week brings another round of education. Out-of-state players come to Salt Lake thinking it’s the home of the Utes. But it’s also home to a large number of what Utah fans consider (sorry, Beatles) Blue Meanies. On Sunday, someone tweeted a picture of a sacrament meeting program with Brigham Young on the front — wearing a BYU hat.
That sort of thing moves the trash talking from intense to irrational.
What other kind of rivalry is there?
In some ways, the game has lost steam since BYU went independent and Utah went west. But it’s still highly anticipated. The schools have been playing since the 1890s.
Meeting for the 100th time will have a historic feel — and a confusing one. BYU lists this as only the 94th meeting in rivalry history.
Whittingham, who starred for the Cougars when they owned the Utes, allegedly tells players in the locker room that Utah does not lose to BYU. Current players confirm that.
“Well, that’s what he does,” said return specialist/receiver Britain Covey. “So we usually have a couple ‘testimonies’ from some previous players. Basically we educate them in the locker room. We tell them about the intensity and just the simple fact that we don’t lose much.”
Utah has won eight consecutive games against BYU. It ran up one big score (54-10), but mostly they were small margins, by an average of six points. Yet for all its intensity, the series has historically been lopsided. Utah won 41 of the first 49 games. BYU then won 19 of 21.
The only time it was hard deciding the better program was just prior to the current run, when Utah won 10 and BYU seven. Nowadays the game remains an important instate recruiting tool. But every year the teams also recruit players from out of state or — in the case of Utah punter Ben Lennon — out of the country. Most have little or no awareness of the rivalry.
Jaylen Dixon, a Texas native, was introduced to the series two years ago in Provo. How much did he know about Utah-BYU?
“To be honest, not much,” he said.
Now he’s on the education committee. He helps acclimate newcomers to conditions surrounding the game.
“Basically that’s our mantra. Like, we don’t lose to those guys,” Dixon said.
During Dixon’s freshman season, the game was in Provo. He admiringly calls it a “ridiculous” atmosphere.
“It was something that I had probably never seen, something that crazy or that wild.”
That didn’t approach the bedlam that occurred when he saw the game at Rice-Eccles Stadium last year.
He called the rivalry game “a different type of mood.”
“They’re probably madder than most teams that play against us, just because of who we are,” Dixon said. “That’s what makes it great.”
In reality, it probably takes two years of Utah-BYU for newcomers to get into the spirit of the conflict.
“As I started to look into it more,” said sophomore linebacker Devin Lloyd, a Californian, “I realized how serious it was. So I understand the severity of it now and how intense the game is.”
He understands that there are bigger and more important games, and better talent ahead. But he also understands that life after a rivalry loss is a life with the volume down.
“What happens is they (newcomers) always try to play it off like it’s going to be just like any old game,” Covey said. “And then they get into it and they see that it’s really intense.”
It’s been a 100-game warmup. No wonder.