PROVO — The 2014 college football season was a wonderful one for University of Utah football fan Joshua Clarke of Centerville, and not just because his beloved Utes went 9-4, crushed Colorado State 45-10 in the Las Vegas Bowl and compiled their first winning record, 5-4, in their fourth season in the Pac-12.
“It was because we didn’t play BYU that year,” Clarke says. “I honestly can’t stand the rivalry. Stresses me out. It’s not fun. I hate it. I want to like BYU, but because we play them every year, it can never happen. The one year we didn’t play was glorious.”
Clarke isn’t alone, if a totally non-scientific survey conducted by the Deseret News on Twitter is any indication. Turns out, hundreds of BYU and Utah fans across the country abhor the game that captures the attention of the entire state, can’t stand to watch it, and say they won’t be tuning in on Thursday when BYU hosts No. 14 Utah at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Of course, far more BYU fans seem to hate the game, which isn’t surprising considering their much-adored Cougars have lost eight straight rivalry games to the men in red, often by some of the most excruciating ways possible.
“Too stressful,” says Marilee Gardner of Aurora, Colorado, one of the few women who weighed in on the survey. “My heart just can’t handle it.”
Jeff Smith, a self-described “huge BYU fan” from Clovis, California, says he hasn’t watched a rivalry game for three years, but plans to overcome his fears and fly to Utah to watch the game in person this week.
“The Utah game gives me so much anxiety it’s no longer even fun for me to watch,” Smith said. “I just care too much. … All that said, I’m going to watch this year. For whatever reason, it is not quite as bad of an anxious experience in person as it is on TV.”
Kickoff is at 8:15 p.m. and the game will be televised by ESPN.
Clarke doesn’t just despise the game because of how it makes him feel inside. Like a lot of Utah fans, he questions what good comes out of the annual showdown for Utah’s program now that it plays in the Pac-12 and has league championship aspirations.
“I hate to sound elitist, or arrogant, but I feel like the Utes have very little to gain from this game,” Clarke said, while also acknowledging a “valid” argument made by many that the game is good for the state and college football as a whole.
Aaron Walker, a BYU fan from Logandale, Nevada, also wonders if the rivalry is really a net positive.
“I hate the rivalry game. I honestly could not care less if BYU ever played Utah again in any sport,” Walker said. “There’s so much hatred between the two fan bases, so it’s not fun anymore. I try to avoid the rivalry games; they are my least favorite.”
Clearly, losing every game this decade to a team that the Cougars routinely walloped in the 1980s has taken its toll on longtime BYU fans.
“I despise the rivalry game so much,” said Eric Robinson, a BYU fan who grew up in Salt Lake City but now lives in Arizona. “My wife and I got married during the 2011 game (the only blowout in Utah’s eight-game streak). It probably would be different if BYU ever won one. But they don’t, so it sucks.”
Clint Cunningham, a Utah fan in South Jordan where school allegiances seem to be split evenly, seconds what Centerville’s Clarke says.
“I absolutely hate the rivalry game,” said Cunningham, who hasn’t decided whether he will watch Thursday. “For me, it has become about not losing rather than winning. Utah doesn’t need the game or aggravation. There’s no benefit to the game for Utah.”
Some fans will go to extreme lengths to avoid the game. Brandon Stewart of Vernal will head to the mountains where he can’t get cell service so he’s not tempted to even check the score. A woman in Utah County who didn’t want her name published has had BYU season tickets for more than 15 years but never goes to the BYU-Utah game.
“Too loud, too much vitriol and way too rude of fans on both sides,” she said. “Go and cheer your team on, but no need to be a jerk to fans from the opposing team.”
A.J. Rich, a BYU employee and season ticket-holder from Mapleton, says he has sold or given away his tickets to the Utah game for more than 10 years, and will do so again this year.
“I loathe the atmosphere around the game, as it brings out the worst in most everyone, including me,” Rich said. “My tickets for next Thursday’s game have already been given away, and I will avoid it on TV, possibly by watching a ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie. I will be doing something productive.”
Some Utah fans also find the boorish fan behavior too much, said Ian Lyman of Anaheim, California.
“I’ve seen in person that both fan bases take it too personally,” Lyman said. “I don’t like the religious factor in it. … Wayne Howard, the former Utah coach, said he didn’t like how much religion was involved in the rivalry.”
“I’m much happier going to bed early and glancing at the score the next morning. Last year I woke up and saw that BYU lost and thought, ‘Looks about right.’ I had no idea that BYU had a huge halftime lead (20-0) and choked in the second half. If I had actually watched that game I would have been in a mad mood for a week.” — Christian Markanich
Christian Markanich of Maple Valley, Washington, says he “can’t watch” the rivalry games because his team hasn’t won since 2009 when Andrew George caught a touchdown pass from Max Hall to give BYU a 26-23 overtime victory at LES.
“I’m much happier going to bed early and glancing at the score the next morning,” Markanich said. “Last year I woke up and saw that BYU lost and thought, ‘Looks about right.’ I had no idea that BYU had a huge halftime lead (20-0) and choked in the second half. If I had actually watched that game I would have been in a mad mood for a week.”
Provo’s Taran Pew has only watched two rivalry games since 2010.
“Fans of both teams drive me insane, especially when the rivalry is going on,” Pew said. “The whole week leading up to it and the weekend after people are just unbearable. … Utah fans’ relentless taunting and BYU fans’ relentless excuse-making are too much for me.”
Pew said he hates that the game has become much more than just football to some fans.
“I hate that it’s called the Holy War,” he said. “I hate that it’s seen as an opportunity for members of (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) to assert their dominance, or for opponents of the church to assert theirs. I don’t want to be a part of that, so I don’t watch the game.”
Then there are those who profess to be fans of both teams, fans such as Jesse Shaw of Temecula, California, and Jake Cowden of Scottsdale, Arizona, who grew up in Holladay.
“I absolutely dread the rivalry game,” said Shaw, who grew up in Sandy as a BYU fan, but went to work for the University of Utah Credit Union as an adult and got so close to U. coaches and players that he often traveled with them to away games. “My mind doesn’t know who to root for. I’ve attended many rivalry games in neutral colors, in silence. No cheers. I usually end up rooting for whoever can make more of a national splash. But not outwardly.”
Cowden was the opposite. His mother was a professor at the U., and he attended dozens of Utah home games during his high school years before getting accepted to BYU and becoming a Cougars fan.
“But man, I hated when they played Utah,” Cowden said. “Now I watch almost every game for both schools. I go to the Utah game against whatever Arizona school they are playing, and whatever the closest BYU game is to me. But I hate the rivalry game and don’t want any part of it.”
Yes, most or all of the aforementioned fans freely admit that they are in the minority and that the majority of college football fans in the state and throughout the country look forward to what many call one of the top 10 rivalries in the country.
With that caveat, we will leave you with a message from Jason Ford, a Cougar fan in Eugene, Oregon.
“Are you kidding me?” Ford asks. “Nothing, and I mean nothing, will keep me from watching the rivalry game. Win or lose, it’s finally football season.”
And that’s something every college football fan can agree on.