As much fun as it might be to start a thread about the BYU football player (and returned missionary) who has been jetting into Vegas to party with a major donor and assorted women of loose morals, apparently, there are more serious things afoot.
That’s right: tomorrow is the latest chapter in the bitter, hate-filled feud that is the BYU-University of Utah rivalry in football. The Salt Lake Tribune has an interesting article about a family with divided loyalties.
Reading it, I was struck at how much genuine hatred there is among partisans of both universities.
The hatred between the two groups (a lot of partisans on either side have no real connection to the respective universities) is something I’ve heard a lot over the years, and it still puzzles me to some extent.
I grew up in Southern California, and until I arrived in Provo one fall morning in 1982, I’d never taken notice of the University of Utah, let alone had any idea they were BYU’s bitter rivals. In our home, the important rivalry was UCLA-USC, but because my dad has degrees from both universities, we cheered for USC football and UCLA basketball, unless of course they were playing BYU (my parents’ alma mater).
As nasty as that rivalry can be, nothing prepared me for the absolute hatred BYU and Utah fans have for each other. In those days, Utah’s football team was awful, so red-clad fans in the stadium would be content chanting “Fuck you, BYU!” and holding up posters informing us that church president Spencer W. Kimball was a homosexual (they used a derogatory word instead). BYU students like me mostly rolled our eyes and wondered what the big deal was.
Then, in 1988, a mediocre Ute team kicked the crap out of Sean Covey and BYU, 57-28, and suddenly it was a rivalry again, albeit briefly. The next year BYU scored 10 touchdowns against Utah. Since then it’s been back and forth, with Utah being the better team of late. I still don’t care about the stupid rivalry and personal animosity, but there are certain things I hear that I don’t quite understand.
1. BYU is arrogant: In the article I mentioned above, Trevor Reilly (returned missionary and active LDS) tells us that his wife hates BYU because of the arrogance and snobbery, presumably of the students. I’ve heard this many times from people in Utah, but I haven’t really seen that in my life. BYU is different from most universities in some ways, but the students are pretty much the same in that they go to class, study, date, have fun on weekends, and so on. Many of us worked at least part-time to make ends meet, so I guess I don’t equate the people with whom I cleaned the Wilkinson Center dining areas with arrogance.
Some people at BYU clearly came from wealthy families, and some of them did have an arrogant attitude, but then that attitude was directed at the rest of us, whether or not we attended BYU. I grew up in a wealthy community (now known principally as the hometown of the Kardashians), so we were the exception: the big Mormon family with the van. My roommate at BYU came from a much wealthier family from my hometown, but I don’t think anyone at BYU knew that. But there were people we knew who spent a lot of time talking about material things they had or wanted. Most students, however, were not wealthy. I can’t imagine things are much different at the U.
The only thing I can imagine they mean is a “holier-than-thou” attitude among BYU students. I’ve heard that from a lot of people, most of whom don’t go to BYU (just kidding). I have a good friend who attended BYU the same time I did. After his mission, he grew his hair out until it extended halfway down his back. When he was on campus, he put it in a ponytail and tucked it into a hat. He never said he thought BYU was self-righteous, but he did say he hadn’t realized how uncomfortable he was having religion in every aspect of his life, forcing him to “wear his religion on his sleeve.” Ironically, he said it was worse at the U (where he earned his MA) because he felt like he was constantly being challenged to defend his beliefs.
When I worked at the Church Office Building, they had a rivalry theme the entire work week of the game, and we were encouraged to wear our team colors–we still had to wear a tie–that Friday. On the bus to Salt Lake one rivalry week, the man sitting next to me (who also worked at the COB and with whom I’d had a lot of interesting and pleasant chats) began bitterly reciting the terrible things BYU fans were guilty of and telling me how much he hated my alma mater. What it boiled down to, I gathered, was that his wife had attended BYU her freshman year some 25 years earlier (so about 1965 or so). She was from out of state and had a more liberal perspective than most BYU students; according to the husband, she had been looked down on, berated, and pretty much shunned because she didn’t march in lockstep with the other students. Unhappy, she had transferred to Utah, where she met her husband. He was shocked to hear that I had chosen to attend BYU and that I would claim that my experience hadn’t been like that (though I was voted “ward punker” my freshman year, which tells you how well I fit in with the norm).
I’ve certainly seen a self-righteous attitude among some students and alumni, though it wasn’t pervasive, but again, maybe it’s just that other people perceive things differently than I do. I probably don’t notice as much as others, and my wife tells me I’m too willing to overlook faults. It doesn’t help that I have a mild form of Aspergers, so I miss social cues. Certainly, a lot of people believe that there’s something special and almost holy about the school because it is an extension of their religion, though the only time I hear people refer to “the Lord’s University” they are joking.
I went to BYU because of its religious affiliation in large part, mostly because I wanted to be around people who understood where I was coming from; we LDS were a tiny minority in my largely Jewish and mainstream Christian hometown, and at BYU I wasn’t an outsider anymore. Maybe that sense of solidarity translates into an attitude that BYU is sort of a gathering of the righteous; if so, I don’t think it’s conscious, as I never believed we were that. I’m sure people out there have been on the receiving end of BYU arrogance, so I doubt the perception has no foundation. I’m pretty sure there is something to the arrogance complaint, particularly if you live in Utah.
2. Evil Utah fans. A widespread perception among BYU students and alumni is that Utah students and fans are just plain nasty and, as Max Hall infamously said, have no class. When I arrived in Bolivia to begin my mission, my senior companion had Utah news clippings and a red banner tacked to the wall. If you believe some people I know from BYU, he must have been a nasty piece of work, but he was and is one of the kindest, gentlest, and humblest people I know–and he’s still active in the church, whereas I’m not really.
True, I’ve had unpleasant experiences with Utah fans. The one I remember in particular occurred as my father and I left the stadium after a BYU loss. A group of about 10 Ute fans, mostly male, went out of their way to loudly taunt my 75-year-old father as he slowly and painfully made his way down the steps to the exit (he would shortly have a hip replacement). It still boggles my mind that someone would do that.
Even so, I had worse experiences in Laramie and Logan, especially since BYU won both times I traveled there. And Wyoming fans have often brought religion into the equation. For a few years in the late 1980s, the Wyoming section in the Marriott Center made sure to begin chanting during the opening prayer (which they have at all BYU home sporting events). That’s classless and pretty nasty, if you ask me, but no one in Provo gets that worked up about Wyoming or Utah State, at least not like they do about Utah.
And of course, the big problem with this accusation is the sheer hypocrisy of it. I have seen BYU fans act in ways that have made me ashamed to be wearing the same color shirt. Vandalism has happened on both campuses during rivalry week, one year a BYU student jumped out of the stands to beat up a Utah cheerleader, and I’ve seen BYU students engage in the same kind of hateful taunting and berating that I’ve seen from Ute fans.
Apparently, things used to be worse. A good friend of mine tells me that when she was a Utah student in the 1970s, BYU fans regularly engaged in racial taunting, which is shameful. Particularly appalling is that she saw grown men teaching small children to use racial slurs. I never saw that, but then I’m younger than she is. And things tend to be uglier when your team is losing, which wasn’t the case when I was at BYU.
I’m probably giving this more attention than it deserves, but I find the whole thing rather tribal and, truth be told, kind of funny. Tomorrow night one school’s fans will be rejoicing, and the other’s will be miserable. Not me. From my perspective, these are two pretty mediocre teams this year, so not much is hanging on the outcome of the game, except maybe for bragging rights. And I’m not interested in those.
Oh, and Utah sucks! (Just kidding.)