Okay, this is going to hurt. A lot. I am a college football fan. I am not a big watcher of other sports, but I live for college football season. "My" team is the BYU Cougars. I'm also a fan of Notre Dame, Purdue, Ohio State, USC and occasionally Texas (though anything from Texas doesn't really need any outside support, since Texans already believe God has a summer home there). I am, emphatically NOT a University of Utah fan. They are the enemy -- save your sportsmanship talk, this is rivalry.
I didn't always feel this way, in fact I grew up a Ute fan -- and I HATED BYU. This was during the hey day of LaVell Edwards at the Y. While BYU was winning conference championships, and a national championship, and going to bowl games every year, Utah's biggest game of the year was the BYU game at the end of the season, which they (the Utes) always lost. It was demorlalizing, but still I bled red. While my friends celebrated the deeds of McMahon, Young, Detmer and company, I doggedly wore my "Anywhere but BYU" shirt -- trying to feel superior and failing miserably. Then I saw the light. I had an epiphany. About 14 years ago, shortly after returning from my mission to Indiana (where I picked up a healthy respect for Purdue and Notre Dame) I realized that the only reason that I had been a Utah fan all those years was because my dad was. This meant that I was perfectly within my rights, as a fan of the game, to choose for myself the team to whom I devoted my Autumn Saturdays (at least this is how I justified what some purists might call treason). So, I was born again, as a cougar fan. Incidentally, this was about the time that Utah started to beat BYU on a regular basis.
Since that time, I have rooted for Utah only once. In 2004 the Utes busted into the BCS (Bowl Championship Series) heretofore an exclusive club for the privileged football conferences - which didn't include the Mountain West Conference. That year, the Utes were, hands down, the best team in the country, and when they went to the Fiesta Bowl, they carried on their backs all of non BCS football. I can honestly say I cheered for Utah on that amazing run. Bt that's it. The rest of the time, it's BYU and anyone who plays Utah.
Which brings us to this season. BYU started off great, with a dominating win over Arizona. Then the next week they had a good showing at the Rose Bowl, in a loss to the number 13 ranked UCLA Bruins. Utah, meanwhile, lost major players at an astonishing rate, some of them for the season. It was so pathetic, and I was feeling so good about my own team's prospects, that I found myself feeling sorry for the poor Utes. Their season seemed to be over before it began. No starting quaterback. The top running back out for the season, halfway through the first quarter of the first game. And the hits just kept coming. The players didn't even sound convincing when they tried to talk about plying for pride (who does?). And looming on the horizon for the Utes, after starting the season 0 and 2...the UCLA Bruins, recently moved to number 11 after defeating the BYU Cougars in a tougher than expected game the week before. Utah might as well have run up the white flag. Throw in the towel. Then coach Kyle Whittingham put out a call for heroes. And the heroes came with a vengence. Utah won the game.
Well, let me rephrase that. Utah destroyed, decimated, dissected and demolished Ben Olson and the UCLA Bruins: 44-6. UCLA didn't even score a touchdown. It's not a fluke when you knock off the number 11 team in the country with your second string quarterback and second and third string receivers and running backs. It happens because you have the bigger heart, and the bigger desire. Utah had no business winning that game, now I have to wonder if the rest of the season will be more of the same. It's hard to stop a team that plays like it has nothing to lose (just ask anyone who has a run in with Boise State).
Now for the disclaimer. I thought UCLA, even when they played BYU, was overrated. They hadn't done anything, as far as I could see, to justify their high ranking. Well, the Utes took care of that. As of this morning, UCLA is out of the top 25.
So... Congratulations to the University of Utah. They earned this one, and they deserve to be proud of this win. There is a lot of talk about character in sports. On Saturday, Utah showed what character really is.