Utah-BYU rivalry: What makes the Utes-Cougars feud so intense?
PROVO, Utah — While coaches and players reminisce about time spent at the rival school and how well opposing fans treated them, there's no denying the passion of those around the BYU-Utah rivalry.
"We're so close, geographically, just down the road [50 miles]," BYU quarterback Taysom Hill says. "There are Utah fans and BYU fans throughout the entire region. Whoever wins that game, when you go into work the next day and for the rest of the year, you have bragging rights.
"As a player, I want to help people go into work the next day and be proud to be a supporter of BYU."
It's common on Sundays after the big game to see fans streaming out of local churches in their best attire, plus a Utah or BYU tie. Siblings and friends wager friendly bets, with losers having to wear gear from the other school, or sing the other school's fight song in public. Sometimes, in the spirit of competition, things get a little out of hand.
Take, for example, Lendio, an organization located in Jordan, Utah, a Salt Lake suburb. Lendio helps budding entrepreneurs acquire small business loans.
Lendio's CEO, Brock Blake, is a 2006 BYU grad and a diehard Cougars fan. "He won't even allow a red pen in his office," says Brenda Armstrong, Lendio's public relations director and a staunch Utes supporter (class of 1994). Blake enjoys coming up with new and creative ways to show off his Cougars devotion. Most of these are displayed at his office, where he says a healthy mix of BYU and Utah fans (with the occasional Utah State supporter thrown in) try to "liven up" the space during rivalry week.
On Sept. 1, he sent an email to all Lendio Salt Lake employees (the company also has an office in New York) explaining the ground rules of prank-pulling for the week: Clean up takes place Monday after the game, homes are off limits, making the news is the goal, have fun.
In the company's five years, Blake has witnessed—and orchestrated—some incredible stunts. A sampling: In 2009, on the Thursday before the game, Blake arrived at work to find his entire office covered in red paint, from floor to ceiling. It was so bright, he claims it gave him a headache and he had to call in sick. He felt better by Saturday night, when BYU had sealed a 26-23 overtime win.
Two years later, Blake kicked off the week by laying a "gorgeous BYU football field" (with real grass) in the lobby. Utah fans responded by setting up a small fence along the 30-foot by 10-foot perimeter and releasing baby goats—spray painted with a red "U" on the side—on the grass. Visitors could smell them before they saw them. Blake retaliated by posting an ad on a local classified website, offering tickets on the 50-yard line, five rows up, for $25 apiece. But instead of his own cell number, he posted his Utah co-worker's number, with a note that interested buyers should "only call between the hours of 11:30 p.m. and 6 a.m., because I work graveyard and I sleep all day."
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This week, Blake kicked off the fun by hanging a huge BYU "Y" flag on Lendio's five-story building, located just off Interstate-15. It measures 80 feet tall by 60 feet wide, weighs more than 600 pounds and was visible from almost three miles away on the freeway. Blake insists it's all done in love for his alma mater, not hate for that other school. He thinks most fans take his approach.
"I've got four brothers, and I'm the youngest," Blake says. "This game, it's kinda like sibling rivalry: When we go out and play, it's probably going to turn into a bloody mess. We all want to win and are beating each other up. But at the end of the day, that's your brother."
Sometimes literally: When current BYU coach Kalani Sitake played fullback for BYU from 1997–2000, he lined up across from his half-brother, Tevita Pela, a Utah defensive end.