The new quarterback was wiping the sweat from his brow after
throwing three touchdown passes in BYU's spring game when the
reporters gathered around. So, Steve Sarkisian, what are your
goals for this season? "Well," said the next Jim McMahon or
Steve Young or Ty Detmer, "to be WAC champs and to beat Utah."
Beat Utah? The same Utah that the Cougars used to debase
annually on their way to the WAC title? The same Utes who in
more than a century of football (1892-1993) had been ranked in
the AP Top 20 only once (No. 18, for one week in 1947) and whose
defense was 106th--that's dead last--in the nation just six years
ago? Shoot, you don't have to be all that old to remember when
BYU's beating Utah was a given, not a goal.
But something weird has happened in the Wasatch Mountains. After
a 20-year stretch in which Utah victories against BYU stood out
like two lonely buttes in a vast salt flat, the Utes have now
won two in a row. Suddenly the BYU-Utah game really matters.
And this is not an isolated phenomenon. All around the country
there are matchups that were meaningless--or nonexistent--just a
few years ago but now loom as some of the most titillating tilts
of the season. Some even dare call them rivalries.
August 4, 1995
NOTRE DAME-BOSTON COLLEGE
October 28, 1995, at South Bend
Maybe not everybody looks forward to the Holy War with special
enthusiasm, but sportswriters do. At this very moment, some
scribe somewhere is considering what clever religious symbolism
to use when the only two Catholic schools playing Division I
football meet again this fall in South Bend. Will Jesuit BC
suffer an "inquisition" and have to "call for last rites" in the
midst of the Congregation of the Holy Cross-affiliated Notre
Dame's "redemption," as in 1992? Will BC experience a "miracle,"
as in 1993, or will it "defrock" the Irish, as in 1994? And what
fine tricks will one coach conjure up to humiliate the other?
Will there be a fake field goal? Another fake punt?
Like sportswriters, BC students eagerly anticipate the game.
Soon after the Eagles' win last year in Boston, a cop ticked off
the expected celebration casualties: "There will be calls to
take kids to the hospital for alcohol poisoning, there will be
And Notre Dame students, though more reluctant to admit it, also
relish the matchup. "For current students, BC is definitely the
big game," says Notre Dame junior Tim Sherman. "We've beaten USC
12 straight times, so that rivalry has lost its luster. BC is
the game my friends and I will come back to year after year."
So, does Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz look forward to the BC game
every year? "Southern Cal is the only game we look forward to in
the sense that it's a continuous rivalry," Holtz said last year.
"Is there anything else?"
Forgive Holtz for being slow to recognize the Eagle-Irish
rivalry. After all, it wasn't supposed to be like this. Back in
1986, when Notre Dame scheduled Boston College for a 14-year
series to begin in '92, do you think the Irish thought they
would be taking on a team that could wreck their national
championship hopes and steal their bragging rights at the
Vatican? Pardon the language, but hell no.
Notre Dame had beaten Boston College in each of their three
previous meetings (1975, '83 and '87), and the Eagles were
wallowing in mediocrity after a brief moment in the sun in the
early '80s when the team was led by Heisman Trophy-winning
quarterback Doug Flutie. Boston College, in other words, had
patsy written all over it. The fact that it was a Catholic patsy
only made Notre Dame look benevolently fraternal.
So picture the Irish on Nov. 20, 1993: They had just knocked off
Florida State in the so-called Game of the Century for the No. 1
ranking and were facing 17th-ranked BC, a team they had
humiliated 54-7 the year before, employing a fake punt with the
score 37-0. It was Senior Day, a time for preening and for
anticipating the glory of the national title the Irish were
expecting to win.
But when Boston College went up 38-17 early in the fourth
quarter--largely on the strength of an offensive line anchored
by tackle Pete Kendall, a prized recruit Holtz had lost to the
Eagles three years before--Golden Domers were not thinking about
what a lovely rivalry this had become. In the next nine minutes,
though, Notre Dame soothed the faithful by scoring 22 points to
go ahead 39-38, leaving BC just 61 seconds to try to do
something about it.
On their final drive, the Eagles reached the Irish 24-yard line
with five seconds left. Walk-on kicker David Gordon, the MVP of
his high school tennis and soccer teams, strolled onto the field
and faced Touchdown Jesus.
Now, we don't know what irked the Irish more: the fact that
Gordon made good on the 41-yard kick, snuffing out Notre Dame's
title hopes, or the fact that a picture of BC fans storming the
field--Notre Dame's field--while the scoreboard read NOTRE DAME
39, BOSTON COL 41 made it into a national magazine. But rumor
has it that the final score hung in the Irish locker room
throughout the next season. Still, no one in South Bend would
even whisper the word rivalry.
GOD IS GOOD ... AND SO WAS GORDON'S KICK read one of the
T-shirts seen in Boston the following season when the Irish made
their first-ever visit to Alumni Stadium. The press, however,
was more respectful of the Irish. Local sportswriters predicted
that Notre Dame would blow out the 11-point underdogs by far
more--unless, sniped one, Holtz brings the jayvee.
Holtz didn't bring the jayvee, but BC beat the spread by 30
anyway, faking a field goal in the second quarter and trying a
two-point conversion while sitting on a 19-point lead in the
fourth. Says Kendall, recalling the fake punt of '92, "I hope we
gave Lou Holtz a thousand ulcers."
"It's always been a rivalry for BC," said Eagle coach Dan
Henning after that 30-11 win. "I think Notre Dame thinks it's a
Not necessarily. "We're very, very, very, very, very, very
disappointed," said Holtz after that game, "but life goes on."
That's it, Lou? You mean you're not going to fume over the hated
Eagles' behavior and vow vengeance upon BC's return to South
Bend? We're very, very, very, very, very, very disappointed.
Like life, though, the series goes on--at least through 2005--so
Holtz will have more opportunities to ponder the nature of
Boston College versus Notre Dame. But for now, as one grim
Fighting Irish fan noted after last year's game, "God is still a
October 28, 1995, at Boulder
If Nebraska's Tom Osborne and Colorado's Rick Neuheisel have
their way, the Cornhusker-Buffalo game this season just won't be
any fun at all. Each coach is saying that his team will not
reserve any special venom for the other this year, even after
Neuheisel's predecessor, Bill McCartney, spent years trying to
instill some healthy rancor into the matchup. But why should we
trust them? Neuheisel is a rookie coach. As for Osborne, he
never even acknowledged Oklahoma as a special foe, despite the
fact that the Huskers or the Sooners either won outright or
shared the Big Eight title in every season from 1962 to '88.
When asked the rivalry question for the umpteenth time last
October as the third-ranked Cornhuskers were preparing to meet
the second-ranked Buffaloes, Osborne got testy. "We just don't
have any rivals," said Osborne, sounding as if he were being
forced to discuss an imaginary creature everyone could see but
him. "We never have. We've never bought into that type of
thinking. So don't ask me about it."
"If the Huskers don't want to be our rival," says Neuheisel, "we
don't want to be their rival, either."
Hey, guys, get out from under your wet blankets and listen up.
Since 1989 the game that has decided the Big Eight champion has
been Nebraska-Colorado, and it is a matchup that is sure to loom
even larger after 1996. That's when the Big Eight morphs into
the Big 12 and Oklahoma becomes part of the South Division while
Colorado and Nebraska become part of the North. Remember when
Oklahoma-Nebraska used to play on TV the day after Thanksgiving?
From '96 forward, Tom and Rick, it's you two who will be
lighting the holiday ire.
Now, we realize your schools don't have a lot in common. You go
after different types of students: At Colorado the average SAT
score is 1150; at Nebraska, if you've graduated from high
school--a Nebraska high school--you're in. And the city of Boulder
doesn't have anything that can compare to the pleasure of
pulling off the Cornhusker Highway in Lincoln to shop at the
Cornhusker Flea Market before checking in at the Cornhusker Hotel.
We also know that this rivalry (our term, O.K., guys?) was once
just a figment of McCartney's imagination. He was hired in 1982
to take over a program that had gone 3-8 the year before, and he
decided to set his sights high by proclaiming Nebraska, coming
off a 9-3 season and an Orange Bowl appearance, Colorado's chief
rival. To make sure there was no mistaking his point, McCartney
had the Nebraska game printed in red on the Buffaloes'
schedules, banned red clothing from practice and even scolded
local reporters for using red pens. At the time, Colorado had no
natural rival, and Nebraska, as McCartney would later explain,
"seemed like the logical team. It was a bordering state. They
were a lot better than us, but we went through with it."
The Buffs wouldn't beat Nebraska until 1986, toppling the
third-ranked Huskers 20-10 in a game that would catapult
Colorado's program into the national spotlight for the first
time since the mid-1970s, prompting Colorado fans to embrace
McCartney's cause. They welcome Big Red fans to Boulder by
dousing them with beer and slashing tires on cars with Nebraska
plates. The Denver radio talk shows spark the airwaves with
jokes about Nebraskans (Why doesn't Nebraska have ice on the
sideline anymore? The guy with the recipe graduated) that became
such a rage before last year's game that rumors of retaliatory
Buffalo jokes reached some usually unreceptive ears. "I've heard
we are starting Colorado jokes," said an alarmed Tom Osborne in
a pregame teleconference.
Nebraska fans, ordinarily such good sports that they have been
known to give standing ovations to teams that beat the Huskers,
have never taken the Buff guff sitting down. Anyone who doubts
that the Colorado conflict has brought out a dark side in
Nebraska boosters should compare the sentiments expressed in a
banner displayed during the Oklahoma-Nebraska game in 1971--DEAR
SOONERS: ROSES ARE RED, VIOLETS ARE BLUE, WE'RE NUMBER ONE AND
YOU'RE NUMBER TWO--to this one seen on the road to Lincoln in
1990, referring to former Colorado quarterback Sal Aunese, who
died of stomach cancer in 1989: SAL IS DEAD. GO BIG RED.
Though Nebraska players tend to take Osborne's view on the
game--"Colorado is just Kansas State to me," tight end Johnny
Miller said before the game in 1991--at least some students pay
it meaningful tribute. On Nebraska's campus last year, several
Buff players were hanged or buried in effigy before the game.
"They decided they didn't like us," student Greg Metschke told
The Sporting News, "so we don't like them."
"After Oklahoma died out, we needed to pick someone else up,"
added another Nebraska student, Jason Newport. "And Colorado is
the best team out there."
Even the best team out there has bad days, and Colorado has had
many against Nebraska. The Buffs were beaten 24-7 last
year--their third straight loss to the Huskers--and went 3-9-1
during the McCartney era despite, or maybe because of, the
Neuheisel's plan to de-emphasize the matchup "will take away
some of the jitters," says Buff quarterback Koy Detmer. "But
we'll still be gunning for them. It'll be a good, clean,
Fine. Maybe now we'll finally get to hear some good, clean
November 18, 1995, at State College
On the third Saturday in November, Division I's dullest helmets
will knock against its funkiest, and it's not going to be
pretty. "We've threatened their turf, and they're very hungry,"
says Penn State junior Freddie Scott, sounding more like a
wildlife ecologist tracking wolves than a wide receiver scouting
Wolverines. "This game will be huge for them. We're going to
have a lot to deal with."
Scott should know. Even before last year, when he and his team
had the poor manners to beat Michigan and win the Big Ten title
in only their second season in the conference, Scott had to deal
with a lot from Michigan people. A Wolverine fan as a child
growing up in Detroit, he nevertheless spurned Michigan for Penn
State. His decision came even after a showy recruiting weekend
that saw his high school friend Chris Webber and fellow Fabs
play national champion Duke in Ann Arbor, and Wolverine Desmond
Howard win the Heisman Trophy in New York City.
Scott's friends, of course, couldn't understand what had gotten
into him. Those who knew anything about Pennsylvania's land
grant institution quickly pointed out its deficiencies to him.
Didn't he know it was off in the hills in the middle of nowhere?
Didn't he know that they're the ones who wear those uncool
uniforms? Scott, who says he "just felt comfortable" during his
recruiting visit to State College, had some explaining to do.
"Some friends," he says, "didn't even know what Penn State was."
Well, they know now. It's the monochromatic team from nowhere
that has the Big Ten title Michigan once monopolized. And that,
of course, has led the Michigan players to treat the Nittany
Lions with special regard. "This year," says Michigan junior
tight end Pierre Cooper, "we gotta go back and treat them like
the stepchild they are."
This year's family drama will be played out at Penn State's
Beaver Stadium, the scene of Michigan's celebrated goal-line
stand two years ago. Late in the third quarter of that game,
Penn State had the ball on the one-yard line and ran not once,
not twice, but four times up the middle, to no avail. Michigan
went on to win the game 21-13 as the visiting Wolverine fans
chanted, "Welcome to the Big Ten."
Last season in Ann Arbor, Penn State kicked up its feet and made
itself right at home. The Lions not only beat Michigan 31-24 in
Michigan Stadium--thereby inspiring thrilled fans in State
College to storm Beaver Stadium and tear out chunks of turf as
souvenirs--but they also went through their entire schedule
undefeated and broke the Wolverines' Big Ten scoring record by
averaging 48 points a game.
Now that Penn State has a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl victory,
the Nittany Lions are eyeing other things that once were the
domain of the Wolverines. Like 100,000-plus crowds. According to
coach Joe Paterno, Beaver Stadium, which has an official
capacity of 93,967, could hold more fans than 102,501-seat
Michigan Stadium if the 18-inch-wide seats were narrowed by half
an inch or so. "We could have 106,000 seats by reducing the
seats to the same size as Michigan's," Paterno joked last fall.
"Some of our fans wouldn't look forward to that."
It wouldn't be pretty, Joe, but keeping up with Michigan should
be worth any sacrifice.
November 18, 1995, at Provo
When Utah senior defensive linemen Jeff and Henry Kaufusi walk
into BYU's Cougar Stadium in November, the Brigham Young
coaching staff will be looking at two very big reasons to feel
regret. The Kaufusis, natives of Tonga who made up one fourth of
the defensive line rotation on the nation's 18th-best defense
last year, might have been Cougars just like their older
brothers, Rich and Steve, had BYU come up with a scholarship for
Henry two years ago. You hurt one Kaufusi, you hurt them all--and
there are a lot of them.
Younger brother Doug, another defensive lineman, will join the
Utes in 1997, after his Mormon mission is finished. Jason, a
talented junior tight end and defensive end in high school in
Salt Lake City, is leaning toward playing for Utah. Perhaps most
painful of all for BYU, former Cougar Steve Kaufusi is now
coaching the Utah defensive line and making huge recruiting
gains for the Utes among Polynesian-Americans in Utah,
California and Hawaii.
"I definitely hold a grudge in my heart for BYU because they
hurt Henry," says Jeff, a 6'7", 255-pound end. "And of course
Henry feels that way too."
The Kaufusis are not the only reason BYU must now pay attention
to Utah. Led by sixth-year coach Ron McBride, Utah finished last
season ranked No. 10 and played in its third consecutive bowl
game. BYU had the further horror of seeing a Ute, defensive
lineman Luther Elliss, go in the first round of the NFL draft
while BYU's top gun, quarterback John Walsh, lingered until the
seventh round. But it's the consecutive losses to Utah that
really rankle BYU.
Last summer, the nationwide Bank One aired TV commercials
featuring both McBride and BYU coach Lavell Edwards, who happen
to be close friends. In it, Edwards is haunted by the final
score of the first of those two losses, 34-31. Measuring Edwards
for pants, the tailor (McBride) announces his waist and inseam:
34-31. When Edwards goes to Bank One to set up an account, the
manager (McBride) gives him the account number 34-31. So how
weird was it last fall when Utah beat BYU again 34-31? "Talk
about cruel irony," says Edwards. "It was bad enough to lose,
but by that score again?"
A popular bumper sticker in Salt Lake City reads: 34-31. GET
USED TO IT. You have to forgive the Utes their smugness. They
have suffered long in the shadow of what they see as a bastion
of athletic success, religious righteousness and social
conservatism. BYU students, about 98% of whom are Mormon, sign
an honor code prohibiting drugs, alcohol, caffeine and
premarital sex. Utah students, about 50% of whom are Mormon, do
not take any such oath.
The contempt is mutual, as it has been throughout the 73-year
history of this matchup. Until recently the series could be
broken down into two epochs: the pre-Edwardian (1922-71),
characterized by the national obscurity of both teams; and the
Edwardian (1972-92), marked by BYU's rise to national prominence
under Edwards. In the first, Utah usually won, often by huge
margins. In the second, BYU usually won, often by huge margins.
A typical game of the latter-day era was one that occurred in
1977, a 38-8 blowout in which Marc Wilson returned to the field
in the fourth quarter to set a then NCAA single-game record with
571 yards passing. After that game, Ute coach Wayne Howard spoke
for Utah players, students and alums--and for every other member
of the WAC--when he said, "The hatred between BYU and Utah is
nothing compared to what it will be."
Meanwhile, BYU expects the worst whenever Utah pays a visit to
Provo. The week before the game, BYU carefully plastic-bags the
campus monuments to protect against an attack of red paint, and
in the stadium it posts a large security force to contain the
small number of Utah fans who actually attend. (With the 900
seats BYU allocates to Utah in 65,000-seat Cougar Stadium, Ute
fans make up about 1.4% of the spectators. Their red attire in
the sea of blue has the visual effect, as Salt Lake Tribune
columnist Dick Rosetta puts it, of "an ink spot on a shirt.")
"Ute fans are violent," BYU student Andy Armstrong explained to
the Tribune last year. "BYU fans, generally speaking, are
Generally speaking. But there is at least one bellicose cry that
will be heard often in Provo this fall: Beat Utah! Beat Utah!