Commentary: Cougars, Aggies and collateral damage
BYU and Utah State announced this week that four future games between the two football programs would be cancelled as a result of the Cougars joining the Big 12 in 2023
It wasn’t too long ago when telephones were mounted onto the kitchen wall and BYU, Utah and Utah State were fighting over the Beehive Boot.
Phone calls were limited, rarely private and the device didn’t involve video games. When it came to football, in-state dominance was a top priority. The local team with the best record against each other won the Beehive Boot and bragged about it. There were no realistic dreams of national championships, Rose Bowls or multimillion-dollar television deals.
In 1984, everything changed.
The arrival of the cellular phone to U.S. consumers liberated mankind with mobility and eventually provided instant access to just about anything — sports, news, weather, video games, movies, etc.
Also, that year, BYU won all 13 of its games, including the Holiday Bowl against Michigan, to claim the program’s first national championship. The fact that a team from the Western Athletic Conference could do such a thing opened the eyes of college football’s less fortunate — those playing outside the walls of the power conferences.
Dreams were hatched that there really was something bigger and better out there to pursue. When the opportunities came, BYU and Utah were ready to pounce. On June 17, 2010, the Utes departed the Mountain West Conference to join the Pac-12. BYU went independent in football in 2011 and will join the Big 12 on July 1, 2023.
Progress, however, doesn’t always come without collateral damage. When the phone was pulled off the kitchen wall and placed into everyone’s pockets, parents lost control of the flow of information in and out of their homes. Adults and children lost self-control with video games (and much worse) and basic communication skills have been reduced to text messages that are void of emotion and personal responsibility.
BYU and Utah’s P5 futures are promising as they chase glory and bask in financial reward. But lost in their charge forward is the team from Logan and their annual football games that once occupied so much of everybody’s attention.
Battle of the Brothers
The Aggies and Utes met on Thanksgiving, Nov. 25, 1892, in the first game for both football programs. Utah Agriculture College defeated the University of Utah 12-0. The teams went on to play 112 games, including every season between 1944 and 2009. The rivalry was branded as the “Battle of the Brothers.”
When the invitation came for the Utes to join the Pac-12, which strengthened their schedule and reduced their availability for nonconference games, Utah State and all its history with the Utes became, well, history.
The teams did manage to play in 2012 in Logan, where the Aggies won 27-20 in overtime. Utah won close games at home in 2013 and 2015 and that was it. There are no future games scheduled between the two.
The Old Wagon Wheel
BYU and Utah State meet each year with the winner claiming possession of the Old Wagon Wheel. It’s a trophy made of an old pioneer wagon wheel that is much too big for a trophy case. The Cougars won it back from Utah State in 2019 and have maintained their ownership after winning last year in Logan.
The teams first played in 1922, with the Aggies winning, 42-3. The programs will meet for the 91st time Sept. 29 in Provo. After BYU canceled the four games slated for 2023-26, there are no future games scheduled. The winner of September’s game could own the Old Wagon Wheel for a long time.
The biggest piece of history BYU and Utah State share is the late LaVell Edwards. The Hall of Fame coach for the Cougars played football for the Aggies. It seems only fitting that the final scheduled meeting between the two will be at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
While the Cougars lead the series 50-37-3, including 21-5 over the last 26 meetings, the rivalry has grown in intensity both on and off the field.
With the invitation to the join the Big 12, BYU’s freedom to schedule nonconference games is expected to be limited to three per season, and with the Utes on the schedule from 2024-2028, the Aggies are being booted to the curb.
As BYU, Utah and Utah State were playing regularly in 1971, the Beehive Boot was established as the prize they were fighting for. At one point, the group also included Weber State. Sports Illustrated described the Boot as the oddest trophy in college football. It held its leather until 2016 after the Utes stopped scheduling the Aggies.
The Cougars beat both Utah and Utah State last season and retrieved the boot from the University of Utah, where it remains in BYU’s possession.
Utah State is 0-2 against progress and none of it is its fault. The Aggies are title contenders in the Mountain West Conference and fresh off an 11-3 season. But, in preparation for life in the Big 12, BYU just did to the Aggies what Utah did to them in 2010 when the Utes joined the Pac-12.
They broke up.
Oh, as severing relationships seems to go, both athletic directors promised on Thursday to keep in touch and maybe even get together somewhere down the road. But this is a separation that could stick and, in some ways, that’s too bad. This is a fun series that fans enjoy.
Not only is BYU’s new life in the Big 12 a game-changer, it is a schedule-changer, and while uncertainty surrounds the newness of it all, one thing is for certain, that old phone is not going back up on the kitchen wall and the Beehive Boot is history.
Progress is about moving on, despite the collateral damage. For BYU, there is no time to look back because there is too much to see up ahead.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “After Further Review,” co-host for “Countdown to Kickoff” and the “Postgame Show” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv.