How exactly does a team go about making up for a 44-point loss to their rival? Is it even possible? How do you erase the embarrassment of losing by six touchdowns to a team that would later in the season go on to lose to that mightiest of juggernauts, the Colorado Buffaloes, the same team that's earned one road win in the last four years?
To regain some semblance of pride, to deliver something in the category of revenge, to make up for that ultimate beating, BYU will have to rip out Utah's heart today. It is the only way.
Last year's pain wasn't about the score. 2011 was BYU's first opportunity to send a message to Utah, to the PAC-12 and to everyone else who wondered why a team with a National Championship, a Heisman Trophy winner, a Doak Walker winner, a national following and three decades of football prominence was passed over when the BCS invites were being handed out. Utah got picked - BYU didn't. This was BYU's chance to say how they felt about that. They lost. Message failed to deliver.
"It is a remarkable thing to see when people decide to stop disgracing themselves. Not disgracing oneself can be contagious. First, one guy decides to not disgrace himself any further, then another guy does, and, pretty soon, an entire team is not disgracing itself, and that can be a wonder to behold."
Charles P. Pierce was talking about the Miami Heat when he wrote those words, but he certainly could have been referring to the BYU team I desperately want to love. By now you've probably heard the popular stat of the week: in BYU's last three losses to Utah, the Cougars have turned the ball over 17 times. That is how you disgrace yourself. To put that number in perspective, consider that in the last three losses to Utah, BYU has possessed the ball for 43 drives. Do the math and you'll see that BYU is turning the ball over to Utah on 39.5% of their offensive possessions. That is how you disgrace yourself.
The failure to show up for last year's statement game actually wasn't even the worst offense of the 2011 rivalry game. Imagine for a second that the results of the 2010 and 2011 BYU-Utah games were reversed, that Utah was trying to rebound from a 44-point shellacking, that BYU had won 5 of the last 6 rivalry games including the last 3 in a row. Were that the case, do you see any possible scenario wherein Utah could announce that they were cancelling games against BYU for two years and not signing any contracts beyond 2016? There is no possible way!
Chris Hill: "Well, you see, things haven't really been going our way in the rivalry lately, so we've decided to cancel games against BYU in 2014 and 2015 so that we can schedule an easier game against Tulsa."
Gordon Monson: "Do you see yourself scheduling any games with BYU after 2015?"
Chris Hill: "Depends on whether or not we can beat them."
Like I said, impossible. For Utah to have canceled games after getting smacked around would've been the ultimate puss-out the rivalry had ever seen, which is why it never would have happened. The Utah fan base would have sooner revolted. But because Utah made BYU look like pee-wee football players last year, because they've won seven of the last ten meetings, because they have the upper hand they can put a hold on the series without being accused of running away from the competition. That's just the way things work. Michael Scott wouldn't have ended the office's pickup game against the warehouse if his team hadn't been winning.
This is why I may never get over last year - because it made the idea of cancelling rivalry games a reality. Will these scheduling changes kill the rivalry? Of course not. A rivalry that began with fisticuffs in 1897 and progressed to fans attacking cheerleaders to beer being dumped on players' families isn't just going to go away. Colorado is not going to become the big rivalry game for Utah, no matter what thoughtless media members might think. Ute fans: have you ever even met a Colorado fan? Then how are you going to start a rivalry with them?
No, the absence of games in 2014 and 2015 will not kill the rivalry, but it will rob us twice of the best sporting day our state offers in a given year.
How exactly does a team go about making up for a 44-point loss to their rival? How do you make up for being left out while your rival is picked to join the BCS elite? And more importantly, how do you ever pay back an enemy that is so confident in having the rivalry's upper hand that they choose to no longer schedule games in the future?
You have to rip out their heart. This means winning on the final play of the game. It means converting on a do or die 4th and 18. It means coming back from two scores down with 3 minutes to play. Blowouts hurt a little, but the pain of losing a close contest where just one play could have made the difference, doesn't go away.
To achieve anything like that tonight, BYU will have to do a lot more than simply stop disgracing themselves.