BYU-Utah rivalry hints of religious rift

As a BYU football player competing against Utah, Aaron Roderick remembers the derisive signs and religious taunts of fans -- likely the same fans who now support him as a Ute assistant coach.

Much of the passion involved in the rivalry stems from BYU's affiliation with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As the rivalry continues Saturday, the Utes are seen as the symbol of anti-Mormon sentiment and the Cougars, the target of it. Roderick believes such emotion is misdirected -- on both sides.

"That stuff's silly, because you've got all kinds of faiths represented on both sides of the rivalry," Roderick said. "That part of it, I never quite understood. There's some irony there. ... It doesn't make a lot of sense to call it the 'holy war.' "

Ute coach Kyle Whittingham, a Mormon who also played for BYU, is not inclined to use his position to call for any lessening of religion-based expression in the rivalry. "I'm sure it's out there," he said, "but I don't ever get into that aspect of it."

Others wish the presence of Whittingham and key figures in his program who are LDS would serve to encourage non-LDS Ute fans more tolerant and BYU fans more forgiving of their rivals. They also recognize that ingrained viewpoints make that prospect unlikely.

"For whatever reason," said Ute senior linebacker Mike Wright, a returned Mormon missionary, "that has never made a difference in this rivalry."

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