Monday, November 24, 2008

Losing and Not Worrying

Last Saturday was the annual BYU-Utah football game. Because both teams were highly ranked, there was an air of excitement that hadn't accompanied many of the past games. The Utes had the advantage of home field and the crowd was vocal and extremely supportive of their team. Sadly (at least for our family) the Cougars came out on the short end of things, losing 48-24. Ute fans are now glorying in the great defeat of their hated rival and the Y fans are licking their wounds and preparing for the next collision of the teams. But there were a couple of things I noticed from this year's fray that have given me a clue to the difference between the fan base of each University. Here are a few of my observations.

In past years my family has held season tickets to the Cougar games and we have enjoyed the trips to Provo to attend the contests. In all the years (15 or so) we attended games, there have rarely been encounters with fans who were obnoxious or difficult to handle. A few times we had to deal with people who were sitting in our seats and didn't want to move, but they usually relented when they saw we had the correct tickets. Once, we were near a young fan (high school age) who jumped onto the field and tackled a Ute (male) cheerleader but then was pummeled by said cheerleader. There have also been occasional fans who were rude to the other team and some even used foul language to express themselves (usually these were removed by security or other fans quickly encouraged them to change the tenor of their words). But we have never been subjected to drunk, disorderly, rowdy behavior such as can be seen at every (but especially the BYU/Utah game) contest that is held at Rice/Eccles Stadium (the Utes home field). For some reason, people at Ute football games feel it necessary to 1)consume large amounts of alcohol, and/or 2)try to act as stupidly as possible and 3)make as many 'anti-Mormon' comments as they can. It is sad to have to endure such abuse when it would be so much better to enjoy the games as just games.

Last season, when the Y narrowly eclipsed the score of the U, there was a gracious tone to the words spoken by most of the Y fans in my association. Oh, it was nice to remind those who chided Austin Collie for his "Magic Happens" comments that fourth and 18 was our new chant (after using "Harline is still open" the year before) but even those things were done with a sense of civility and jesting. But the rancor exhibited by the fans who stormed the field and began to exhibit unruly and demeaning behavior was just out of line. Here is a cut from an acquaintance who attended the game in person. Bob is a very mellow guy and has a knack for knowing what to say to put out the flames of rivalry. Yet, even he was unable to completely swallow the things that happened last weekend:

Perhaps the best way to start this post is as follows: Every BYU fan should
attend at least one game on the hill. It's an educational experience unlike any
other I've encountered, never more so than after a BYU loss.

In all of those visits, I've either led a charmed life or managed to defuse
confrontations before they exploded into crises. Maybe it's a combination of
both. I also need to add the following:

I know many quality Utah fans, both LDS and non-LDS, who are not only decent but
classy. They're the sort of people I consider it a privilege to have as

Unfortunately and to paraphrase John Dean, there's a cancer growing on Utah's
fan base, which is malignant and metastasizing. Perhaps the best way to
describe it is that I've had moments when I've wondered just how vile and
virulent the demonstrations are outside the Los Angeles Temple these days.
After Saturday, I no longer need to go to southern California. There's a
segment of Utah's fan base for whom the game is just another arena in which to
wage the same cultural war that's raging on Santa Monica Boulevard -- and with
the same fundamental target. Some may say that that's not so, that it's just
BYU, not its sponsoring organization that they despise. To that all I can say
is go see for yourself.

This year, my "education" went to the post graduate level because we approached
the stadium from the south. Whereas we've always parked to the north, about 2nd
South (near the Pie Pizzaria), this time we walked past the tailgating area. To
Utah's credit, their fans know how to tailgate, something I wish BYU was better
at doing (but know it will likely never happen). However, the comments flow as
freely as the alcohol. To the milder jabs, such as "the quest is over," I
smiled and said "not a chance." To be honest, that flummoxed most of them,
which allowed us to continue to the next verbal barrage.

Interestingly, things calmed way down inside the stadium, at least for me. At
one point, I ran into a neighbor, who's a quality Ute fan, with whom we spent
several minutes chatting amiably. Several other fans, seeing my Quest shirt,
laid into a barrage while we chatted, not quite shouting in my ear but clearly
trying to get my attention and goat. I just carried on, as if they were a
figment of one's imagination and didn't miss a beat with our conversation.
After about a minute, they went silent. When I wished our neighbor well and
turned around, as expected, they had vanished, tired of trying to egg on someone
with no results.

While waiting in the lengthy lines to use the restroom, someone behind me asked
if I realized that I could get mugged inside. I turned around, smiled and
responded that I was fully counting on him and the other good Ute fans to
protect me. That generated a healthy laugh, because I could instantly tell that
he was just tossing out some banter, the sort that's harmless and worth handling
in a humorous manner. We then spent a minute or two, enjoying a quality
conversation about the game, which made the wait go all the quicker.

Someone else in line then pointed out that I might not get mugged but could get
used as a urinal by those waiting behind me. I deliberately waited for a
moment, the better to allow the silence to build some anticipation, smiled and
replied, "can't I just get mugged instead?" Another shared chuckle and a
thankful reminder that the rivalry isn't all pathological hatred.

We sat in the southwest corner, almost directly above the band. There were a
few Utah fans near us, who were all decent and a credit to their school.
Towards the end of the game, I suddenly felt something wet on the back of my
neck and wondered if I was hallucinating. I ran my hand over it and discovered
that it was indeed a liquid of some sort, though devoid of any alcohol. A few
seconds later, it happened again. Where it originated, I know not, just that it
wasn't from the Utah fans who were near us.

Afterwards, I chatted with the wife of one player, who was making her first
visit to the g&sb. She sat not far from us and asked if I had seen the fight
between a drunken and large Ute fan, who came wading into the BYU section and
was tackled by several BYU fans who held him there until the police could come
and remove him. Due to his size and limp behavior, it took several minutes to
physically carry him out of that section.

Time to lay aside diplomacy: I have lost all respect for Kyle Whittingham,
courtesy of what happened with BYU's team set up to do the haka -- in front of
BYU's fans. Utah's players came over into the area, looking for a confrontation
and nearly got it, ala the Oregon player in Las Vegas, when BYU did the haka the
night before the game on the strip. The officials were scrambling to keep it
from developing into a full-fledged fight, with the Ute coaches nowhere to be
seen. Simply put, that sort of behavior is either orchestrated by the coaches
or passively allowed to continue. I told those around me that we were likely to
see a fight occur, before the game was over. Had BYU won, I suspect that would
have been the case.

After the game, John Frank talked about how it was a good thing; that Utah
needed to keep the haka from happening in their house. I find it interesting
that BYU can go to any other stadium, perform the haka and have fans either
enjoy it or ignore it. I thought back to the statement, "he who takes offense
where none is intended is a fool while he who takes offense where offense is
intended is an even bigger fool." Then again, considering that Utah's head
coach took offense when Joe Glenn told a Wyoming student pep rally that he
guaranteed a win and found it necessary to execute an onside kick, while
blowing out the Cowboys, in order to teach Glenn a lesson, that speaks volumes
about him and his "little brother" mindset, as evidenced again on Saturday.

I have long said that I understood why Kyle stayed in Salt Lake: Money and a
comfortable, existing environment. I also think he's a good coach. After what
I saw on Saturday, I want nothing to do with him, ever. However, I have no
doubt but what he already did that to us a long time ago.

It's obvious that he's purged his Lavell protégé roots and gone the Urban Meyer
route, a modus operandi that Pat Reilly applied to Red Auerbach when he described
Boston's management as "the Klingons of the NBA." I want a coach who's
comfortable with who and what he is and doesn't need to act like a petty bully
or thug by sending or allowing his players to disrupt another team's pre-game
activities. If you're good, really good, you save it for the field. You don't
need to go around looking for offense in everything you see and hear. Kyle is a
good coach and has shown it. However, he's not good for BYU.

As the fourth quarter progressed and it became increasingly apparent that BYU
was going to lose, it was interesting to see the hand lettered signs that
appeared, some created in reaction to game events and many unrepeatable. One,
which caught my eye, was on the backside of a sign that someone had been waving
since before kickoff. That side had a message about how BYU fans needed to
follow their leaders, specifically listing the First Presidency and Quorum of
the Twelve who had gone to the U. The back side, written as the game neared an
end, had a message that was obviously cut from a different cloth and an
interesting contradiction of positions.

Did the TV show what happened when fans stormed the field, with about 45 seconds
to go? The grounds crews had to dismantle the goal posts before the fans could
finish tearing them down. It was quite interesting to see the uprights and
cross bars carried off the field, with time still on the clock. I had to wonder
what would have happened, had either team scored in that situation. I guess the
only option would have been to go for two.

The post game on-field melee was deserving of description. Since BYU rushed the
field in a similar manner after the Miami game, I will cut Ute fans slack for
going on the field after an undefeated season. What was inexcusable was how
they behaved, once on the field. There was so much happening that all I could
do was pick a given spot and watch as events unfolded. In my case, I saw one
BYU player fighting -- literally -- to get off the field and into the locker
room, surrounded by 3 Ute students who were pushing him in all directions, every
step of the way. At the time, he was at about the 10 yard line and showing
remarkable restraint, considering that he had a helmet, pads, weighed around 270
and could have easily decked all three combatants, had he desired.

I spoke with another player, who indicated that some players were hit with beer
as they exited the field, since there's no protective canopy for the entrance to
the visiting locker room.

Fortunately, I saw Fui get some genuine congratulations from some Polynesian Ute
fans and something of an "escort" as he made his way off the field so at least
there were some circles of sanity in an otherwise sordid celebration.

By that point, I figured it was time to leave and start digesting the loss, so
off we went. Not much happened thereafter, just some whooping and cheering by
Ute fans, all appropriate and confined to their success, rather than jabs at

To end where I started, everyone should experience a game on the hill, at least
once. It's a beautiful stadium -- albeit incredibly cramped in the concourses
and restrooms. Many who attend are decent and good people. It's a shame that
so many of them have turned a blind eye towards the segment that views the game
through a much different -- and distorted -- prism.

I know that some will consider my comments those of a bitter losing fan but I really am not that upset by the loss. In fact, I had a good idea that we might lose (though not by quite so much) before the game even began. And I have been remarkably calm in the aftermath of such a horrendous melt down. But the actions of the Ute underworld contingent has me worried about the status of this rivalry. My hope is that someone with a cooler head will see what is coming down the pike and make some changes to alleviate the situation. Nothing can be done for those who are hateful because of religious or moral differences, but much can be done to remove those things from the stadium and the television screen. As the title of the blog says, losing and not worrying about the loss is much easier than making it something that is full of vitriol and venom.

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