With how deep the rivalry runs between the neighboring universities, it’s no wonder ESPN ranked the BYU-Utah game the No. 7 most interesting bowl game to watch.
“Who wouldn’t want to watch the Holy War being played in Sin City?” ESPN wrote. “The bitter instate rivals haven’t played since 2013, and the Las Vegas Bowl will be the first time they’ve played in the postseason and on a neutral field.”
But people outside of Utah can’t grasp how important the rivalry, especially in football, is to Utah residents. The BYU-Utah rivalry sometimes seems like more than competing neighboring universities. It is more like two fighting siblings — which is actually fairly close to the truth.
Here are four ways the game is more like a brother-against-brother brawl:
Both BYU and the University of Utah have the same founding father — Brigham Young. Young led the effort to establish a university in the Salt Lake Valley in 1850 and later established Brigham Young Academy in 1875, making BYU and Utah closer than neighbors.
Tied together by founders and sharing the same state, the heated rivalry often grows to an unhealthy level with harsh words being used by both sides.
No love lost
The hate involved in this rivalry is palpable, as made clear by Utah’s Alex Smith and BYU’s Max Hall.
“I really hate them,” said Alex Smith to ESPN’s Ivan Maisel in 2004. “Playing in the game helped me understand. They are the most arrogant people. It’s the whole church and state thing. They’re the ‘good kids.’ We’re the ‘bad kids.'”
And BYU’s Max Hall echoed that sentiment when he said the following in 2009 following a Cougar victory: “I don’t like Utah. In fact, I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate their program, their fans.”
It’s not a lover’s quarrel, but it is definitely something you would hear between two tantrum-throwing brothers who both want to be right.
A handful of times over the past 12 months, BYU football and basketball players have proved themselves hard-hitting fighters — an image BYU administrators do not embrace.
BYU has earned a “thug Mormon” image in sports media with some physical fights breaking out in games. The most recent incident was in a basketball game when BYU guard Nick Emery punched Utah’s Brandon Taylor on Dec. 2 just years after his older brother Jackson Emery was punched during a game by a Ute. Those are heat-of-the-moment cases, but the fight between blue and red runs deeper.
Stepping on toes
Adding to the rivalry is these brothers can’t stop fishing from the same small pond.
Not only does BYU and Utah recruit the same standout athletes in Utah, but the schools go after the same coaches. When the head football coach position opened 11 years ago, BYU went after Utah’s head coach Kyle Whittingham. Whittingham turned down the job and BYU chose Bronco Mendenhall instead.
Now Mendenhall, who was hired as Virginia’s new head coach, will take on the Utes in his final game as BYU’s head coach. The Utes lead the all-time series 57–34–4 and have won the last four games.
The rivalry between the two brothers continues in Las Vegas at the Sam Boyd Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 19, at 12:30 p.m. PT (1:30 p.m. MT). The game will be broadcast live nationally on ABC.