“Be careful when you fight the monsters, lest you become one.”
Growing up in South Philadelphia, the rules were fairly simple. In the realm of college football, if you were Italian you rooted for Penn State. If you were Irish you rooted for Notre Dame. Penn State’s coach was Joe Paterno; a paisano who always had a noticeable cache of Italian kids playing for him. And Notre Dame? Well, their name is the Fightin’ Irish. I guess that counts.
What a rivalry that was! No one scheduled their wedding on the day of that game. Everyone took sides. And while there were years when one or both teams were mediocre, there were many years when that game had major bowl game implications on the line.
That rivalry is dead. But, I no longer live in South Philly. So the memories of those great games are carefully stored away in the cavern of my brain where nostalgia reigns supreme. Luckily for me, it has been replaced in my heart by another game. A game that I view with a much more heated passion.
USU vs. BYU.
I have a confession to make. Growing up 2,000 miles away from Utah, I always liked BYU. They were a high scoring team from a state I knew nothing about that had a bunch of white guys playing for them. They came on late at night on UHF channels, playing schools with weird helmets. Watching those games, I had no idea what a Mormon was. BYU was a novelty.
In 1985, I went to see BYU when they came to Philly to play the Temple Owls—a football team that can match humiliating stories of woeful losing seasons with my beloved Aggies. BYU won a close game. I stayed a fan for a long time.
In the mid-1990’s I started having the Mormon missionaries come over for dinner at least twice a month. During football season, the mission president allowed the boys to watch BYU games at my house. Half of those missionaries hated BYU…but they got to watch a football game; which for missionaries is a big deal.
I liked BYU. But then something happened that changed my mind, my heart and my philosophy irrevocably and with extreme malice. I moved to Utah.
Within months of living in Cache Valley, I got to see a side of BYU that was much more profound living close to the hive. And on becoming an Aggie I got the perception that USU fans, students and alumni were somehow thought of as inferior by the Provo oligarchs.
I doubted this premise at first. But it grew more intense with time. BYU and their fans thought of USU as a non-entity. Utah State was a motley crew of nobodies who must walk into the building using the servant’s entrance. An unwashed assembly of misfit wannabes. The unworthy.
It was not immediate, but my feelings of acrimony festered. And then one day, I said those liberating words with all the passion and fury that was within my being.
I hate BYU! I hate them with the heat of a thousand suns.
I hate their pomposity. I hate their piety. I hate and openly scoff at their self-importance. I ridicule them for their belief in being a “brand.”
A brand, you say? Football partners with ESPN? Do football partners get shuttled off to ESPN’s third channel for a Friday night game against Middle Tennessee State? And ESPN’s flagship station game that night? Utah State, baby! Oh! And do brands pull a 0.2 rating for such games? More people watched paint dry than the nationally renowned “brand” known as BYU.
BYU is as much partners with ESPN as gazelles are partners to lions. BYU is a commodity. BYU is filler.
Now, some of you might think my hatred for BYU is more “Mormon bashing” on my part. False to a fault. I just love my Aggies. I defend them against those who disrespect and belittle them.
What makes that assertion more implausible is one salient fact. Do you know what I see when I walk around the campus of my alma mater? Mormons! Tons of them. I can’t walk 5 feet on campus without tripping over a gaggle of them. USU is packed with Mormons. I do not see them as Mormons. I see them as Aggies.
Mind you, I do understand the logic behind rooting for BYU if you are a member of the LDS Church. I made the same argument for Mormons who were voting for Mitt Romney this past year because he was Mormon. It is OK to root for “our boy.” Identity matters.
I just do not know if that should be a given. My unshakeable loyalty to USU is based on living in Cache Valley for nearly a quarter of my life, coupled with being an alumnus. The fact that USU is off the beaten path and is treated like a red-headed stepchild by the rest of the state makes my devotion to this beautiful school even more fanatical.
But that is my mentality. I am a contrarian. I root for underdogs. I take the side of the oppressed. I would rather fight with the few trapped in the corner then rule with the many from on high.
That is Utah State. My school. My identity.
I hate BYU. And this Friday, when their football team comes to Logan to play the Aggies, I will be there. I will tailgate and enjoy the company of like-minded Aggies. I will drink beer and wear my beard proudly…knowing both of those things would get me kicked out of BYU. And, hopefully, the Aggies will beat the Cougars.
If that happens I will walk from Romney Stadium to my house. Proudly strutting through the heart of Logan. My town! Knowing that for one night in October all the hubris and pugnacity that has been the watermark of BYU’s attitude towards USU have been smeared on to their faces in undeniable defeat.
We are the Utah State Aggies. We are inferior to no one.