SALT LAKE CITY — Whether referred to as "The Holy War" or by some other name, the love-hate relationship between in-state rivals BYU and Utah runs deep.
Amid a brief hiatus, the negativity surrounding the game remains high as fans, friends, family and neighbors feel inclined to raise their banner in support of their respective team, often with negative comments on various social media platforms or in person.
One fan of the matchup, though, is hoping to change the rhetoric leading up to Saturday's rivalry clash in Las Vegas by asking fans of both universities to participate in a commitment to "bring about some kind of change."
"When I heard the announcement that BYU was going to play Utah in the bowl game, I kinda had mixed emotions a little bit," longtime BYU fan Seth Barrus said. "I was kinda excitedly sick. It's exciting and I like the game, but I really just hate the bad feelings that surround it. It's been that way for awhile now."
Barrus created a petition on change.org asking individuals of both fan bases to "take back the holy war" and be part of the change.
"While it's true that the hate and bitterness has reached new levels in the past decade, I believe the game can be saved," Barrus wrote on the petition's website. "Saved from the vitriol, the pettiness, the anger, the hate, the rudeness, the viciousness, the spitefulness, the nastiness, the maliciousness, and even the violence."
Barrus said the negativity has "ruined this game for many" and is hoping to see a change in how people talk about the game. He said he believes a majority of the fans feel the same way and are tired of being bogged down by all the negativity surrounding the rivalry.
"I bet there's a lot of people that feel the same way," he said. "It would be cool to put together a forum to get everybody that feels that way together and have their voice heard. The people that are nasty about it, it seems like they're the minority, but they're kinda the loudest and they have the largest effect."
As a fan of the Cougars and a transplant to the state of Utah, Barrus said he loved watching the rivalry game even though he wasn't able to experience it in person. He watched BYU games at his nearby stake center and as a diehard fan, he obviously rooted for the Cougars and every team that played Utah.
Barrus has since had a change of heart and has "matured" in his fandom and believes others can approach the rivalry with civility.
"I just want there to be a different feeling about it so people can look forward a little bit more to the game," he said.
"I think that Utah is an incredible program," he added. "I think they're headed in the right direction. I think there's been too much hype surrounding them and they still have a little ways to go, but I think they're a great program and a lot of the opinions that I used to have of them that were unsubstantiated, I've kinda lost those and I've gained a little bit more respect for them."
Although Barrus doesn't expect fans to embrace Utah the way he has over the years, he hopes more people will be conscious of what they say about the program, its players, coaching staff and fans.
"Sign the petition and commit to kindness, commit to civility, commit to treating others the way you want to be treated," Barrus says on the petition website. "Don't let the 5 percent drag us down to their level. Let's raise the voice of the majority. For the next week let's turn the rivalry positive.
"Post on social media about a good experience you've had with a person of the opposite fandom," he adds. "Share pictures of Utes and Cougars coexisting peacefully. Say something nice about the other side."
As for whether the rivalry should continue to be called "The Holy War" — a controversial phrase among the two fan bases — Barrus said he loves the name as long as it's taken in a playful tone and not meant to disrespect the programs.
"I think the name is great. I think it displays the uniqueness of our rivalry here in the state," he said. "I understand why some people don't like it and want to change it. And some people kinda say that's the root cause of the issues because BYU fans think they're the holy fans and so they use that against Utah fans. But that's kinda the fun part of it. When people are using it in a fun way — the phrase holy war is just tongue in cheek and not meant to be serious — it's very fitting and I think it's fun"