'Holy War' may never be the same

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SALT LAKE CITY -- This year's rivalry football game between Utah and BYU will be a memorable one.

I'm not predicting a nail-biter or a double-overtime ending. I don't even know if it will be a close game.

I am certain, however, this is the final year of one of the country's oldest football rivalries. Only the most sentimental and naive would argue that point.

"Really, the bottom line is the rivalry will not be the same," BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said in an ESPN radio interview last week. "We're not in the same league anymore."

With nothing but bragging rights on the line, it will mean far less than when a conference championship, national rankings and bowl opportunities hung in the balance of that last game in November.

So if you love the emotional energy that accompanies a rivalry game, savor this final November afternoon.

If you look forward to putting on that BYU sweatshirt and trash-talking your clad-in-red brother-in-law, try to hold on to this memory — with both hands.

The two teams might find a way to play a game. And while a meeting between these schools will probably never be just any game, it won't be the game, either.

November 2011 will not be the same.

Not everyone, however, will mourn the loss of the rivalry game. Dubbed "the Holy War," it has brought out some very unholy traits in both fans and players in the last decade. The debate about what happened on the football field has on occasion turned into criminal behavior in the stands.

I can think of five reasons why we should mourn the rivalry and five reasons why it should die quietly.

Mourn it because it energized fans from both teams no matter how dismal and mediocre the rest of the season was for the Utes or Cougars.

Rejoice that the people who never pay attention to the rest of the season will have to find another reason to beat up strangers.

Mourn it because the emotion of a rivalry game indicates an underlying respect and affection for a competitor.

Rejoice because there will not be another reason to label each other red or blue.

Mourn it because there have been some great moments, great stories and great examples of hard work and sportsmanship that come from this contest.

Rejoice because there have also been some really embarrassing low points as the worst among us strut their stuff.

Mourn it because great college football rivalries can be a reprieve for the communities that support them. They give them hope, lift them up and bring them together. They offer a break from the harsh realities of life.

Rejoice because now when a fan throws beer on another fan, it will have nothing to do with religion.

Mourn because it really was one of the greatest, most enjoyable and storied rivalries in college football. I watched a documentary about the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, and someone described it as being around before them and existing long after them. It is a way to connect with people, players and experiences of the past. It was a little bit of extra motivation for players on game day, a little bit of joy for fans.

Rejoice because it had gotten out of hand. The people who take things too far, make things too personal and make us question our love of sports had taken center stage. The hatred had begun to define the rivalry.

And ultimately, when we look back on those November games, it won't be the hatred we remember. It will be the chill in the air, the good-natured trash-talking, the community and school pride, the heroes and broken-hearted, and the greatest plays in those highly charged, emotional, winner-take-all games.

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Amy Donaldson


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