How a pandemic may have helped spark the BYU-Utah football rivalry

The University of Utah football team played a game against Montana in 1905, when BYU banned the game. Football returned to BYU in 1919, a year after an attempted game against Utah. (History of the State of Utah)

Publisher’s Note:This article is part of a series that explores Utah and United States history for the historical section of

SALT LAKE CITY – Saturday will be the first football game between BYU and Utah since the COVID-19 pandemic ruined the rivalry last year.

While one pandemic put the big game on hold, another pandemic may have fueled the tradition. Here is how.

Revisiting the canceled 1918 season in Utah

First off, yes, the BYU-Utah rivalry includes six games that were played in the 1890s – if you look at the history of the University of Utah rivalry rather than BYU’s. The Cougars attribute a 1922 matchup as the first game between the two schools.

Part of the reason for this loophole is because BYU, which was the Brigham Young Academy at the time the first six games were played, banned football in 1903 after the sport was deemed too violent, as by the Deseret News noted. That was not an isolated case back then. Serious injuries and deaths reported nationwide prompted President Theodore Roosevelt to meet with some university presidents in 1905 to find ways to make the sport safer.

In 1918 there were only the University of Utah and the Agricultural College of Utah, now Utah State University, soccer teams. Neither school played in 1918 for two reasons: first, the end of World War I prolonged the start of the football season because the schools were forbidden from long journeys; Second, a pandemic flu hit Utah when the rule of war was lifted.

You can read more about this in a previous article on Time in College Football History. However, one of the more interesting stories from that year revolved around the University of Utah’s failed attempts to play games that season.

In October 1918 BYU announced that it would set up a soccer team for the first time as a university. When the US struggled to find opponents, it was announced that BYU and Utah would play against each other in a Thanksgiving Gridron showdown, according to Salt Lake Telegram.

A newspaper reported at the time that Provo companies raised about $ 400 (just over $ 7,000 in today’s money) so that a group of BYU students could afford the equipment they needed to play the game; however, the game never happened.

That’s because just before Thanksgiving, there was a surge in new cases of influenza and the state health department banned the game.

“The old Spanish influenza king stopped the soccer game at the University of Utah yesterday afternoon and the crimson soccer toys will be wrapped up by next fall when it is hoped the boys will be able to get back to good old college -Sports, “reported the Salt Lake Republican-Herald on December 1, 1918.

Football returns to Provo. return

While this game never came to fruition, it set the wheels in motion for the return of football to BYU, creating a rivalry. Again, BYU wouldn’t officially have a team until 1922, but the school relaxed its game ban not long after the attempted game in 1918.

That’s because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which banned football in all of its schools for over a decade, officially lifted its bans in August 1919, the Salt Lake Tribune wrote in a Jan. August 1919.

Thank you forwarding.

A day after the ban was lifted, the Salt Lake Telegram reported that BYU had sent its future soccer coach east so he could spend up to six weeks learning “the latest dope for training grid sports” from Yale University soccer coaches . The trip was said to be a dream situation for EL Roberts.

“Ever since the sport was abandoned, Coach Roberts has always hoped that the school would one day be restored,” the newspaper reported on August 29, 1919. “The coach, the school, and the entire city of Provo are delighted with the good news of the revival of the sport.”

According to historian Gordon Daines, this year football was first resumed as an intramural sport on the BYU campus. A year later, the school resumed the intercollegiate games and became an officially sponsored sport again in 1922.

The rivalry was born – or reborn

If you look at BYU’s history, BYU and Utah Football first met on October 14, 1922 – nearly four years after the attempted Thanksgiving game in 1918. It is also nearly 25 years since the last schools played if you look at the University of Utah rivalry history.

Newspaper reports from the time show that there was much excitement that led into the game – a game Utah won 49-0 fairly easily. Most of the goals came in the fourth quarter when Utah went all out.

“It’s fair to say to the BYU guys that they fought Utah to a standstill in the first three periods and only kept the Crimson at 19 points in the first three periods,” the Ogden Standard Examiner wrote in a 15th October 1922, recap of the game. “The Provo boys fought well and kept fighting, and with costly penalty shoot-outs against the Crimson, the ‘Y’ team looked like they had a chance through the fourth third when Utah beat them with their overhead play and startling Snowed in finals. “

The rivalry was either born or reborn on that day. Since then, the two schools have played 93 more games since then. Utah owns the 59-31-4 series on these games. Saturday’s game will be either the 95th or 101st meeting between the two schools, depending on which story you’re looking at.

It’s a rivalry that may have just started – or rekindled – when BYU students volunteered for Utah in 1918, which opened the door to football to return to BYU a year later, and eventually to one of the To become a school sponsored program.


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