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While nicknames like ‘Civil War’ and ‘Holy War’ should go, there’s still plenty of fun in college sports rivalries

Utah fans Joseph Hallman, center, and his wife Jordan Wunderli, stand with Hallman’s cousin, Ben Young, prior to the start of the University of Utah at BYU football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.
Utah fans Joseph Hallman, center, and his wife Jordan Wunderli, stand with Hallman’s cousin, Ben Young, prior to the start of the University of Utah at BYU football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Friday’s big news out of the Pac-12 was that Oregon and Oregon State called a cease fire on their “Civil War” — or at least their use of that name for their sports rivalries. Leaders from both schools said the name change was long overdue and important.

Far more interesting than that “Civil War” nickname is the fact that the winner of their annual rivalry game earns the Platypus Trophy (when it wasn’t stolen, lost or forgotten about over the decades).

Wait. The Platypus Trophy? It’s not because they’re fans of that spy animal from the Phineas and Ferb cartoon. (Mom, Phineas and Ferb gave Perry the Platypus to the Oregon Ducks football team!) This trophy came about because that semiaquatic egg-laying, duck-bill-and-beaver-tail-sporting mammal from Australia sort of resembles a combo of the schools’ mascots. An Oregon art student was selected to create an awesome trophy depicting that in 1959.

Oregon sports columnist John Canzano asked for new rivalry name suggestions for the Ducks and the Beavers, so I petitioned for “The Platypus Power Struggle” after learning about the trophy. If that doesn’t catch on, maybe they can call it “The Trail Mix.” Get it? The Oregon Trail? And they’re mixed together on various playing surfaces? No? Maybe I’m just hungry for a snack.

“The Oregon Wins Again Bowl” might be the most accurate nickname.

Based on Twitter responses, it seems many Oregonians will continue calling the rivalry the “Civil War” regardless of the schools’ desire to distance themselves from the battle between the Confederacy and Union.

Locally, the topic brought up the question about whether the BYU-Utah rivalry should cut ties with the nickname that’s gained popularity the last couple of decades: “The Holy War.”

Having seen the way some fans and competitors act during the Utes-Cougars games in various sports, it might be more fitting to call it “The Unholy War” anyway. Neither school involved officially uses the “Holy War” name — the Deseret News is among media outlets that doesn’t call it that, either — so it’s unlikely you’ll ever see BYU and Utah disown a name they don’t actually own up to.

Ute fans might easily be convinced to call it “The Utah Wins Again Bowl” after nine straight football wins.

The “Holy War” nickname is appreciated elsewhere. Athlon Sports listed it as the best rivalry nickname in the nation. BannerSociety.com ranked it No. 20 while noting that it’s also been used for the Boston College-Notre Dame clash. (Sure, Cougar fans, if it makes you feel better, go ahead and use this factoid as proof that BYU is indeed the Notre Dame of the West.)

There are some other awesome rivalry nicknames around the college sports landscape. Some of my favorites:

  • The Backyard Brawl (Pitt vs. West Virginia — and what might happen at a house near me if our pugs don’t stop meandering).
  • The Chowder Bowl (Mass Maritime vs. SUNY Maritime — and would be even better if the winning trophy included thick soup).
  • The Biggest Little Game in America (Amherst vs. Williams — a Division III showdown between schools with about as many students as words in the rivalry nickname).
  • Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate (Georgia vs. Georgia Tech — a game that seems less hateful than the “100 Miles of Hate” rivalry between Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky).
  • The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (Florida vs. Georgia — and maybe some of the Georgia Tech hate comes from not being invited to the party).
  • The Border War (the Kansas vs. Missouri one — or New York vs. states with high COVID-19 numbers).
  • Iron Bowl (Auburn vs. Alabama — not a fancy nickname, but the simplicity has worked well for a man, a maiden, a county in Utah and these two teams from a state with steel industry ties).
  • Bedlam (Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State — but, unfortunately, the unique nickname is usually better than the actual game).
  • The Red Beans and Rice Bowl (Central Arkansas vs. McNeese State — and, yeah, told you I was hungry).
  • Red River Rivalry (Texas vs. Oklahoma — FYI: The Red River is also the squiggly line that separates the two states).
  • The Bill Walsh Legacy Game (Stanford vs. San Jose State — in honor of the late former Cardinal coach and Spartan alumnus).

Which brings up a possible new nickname for the BYU-Utah game.

So long, “Holy War.”

Introducing, The LaVell Edwards Legacy Game.

Not only did the legend Edwards coach both Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and BYU coach Kalani Sitake, but he also received degrees from both universities. (Yes, Aggies, we remember he went to USU, too.)