Pac-12 football fans eagerly anticipate the first season of an historic new era. The expanded conference welcomes the addition of Colorado and Utah and is putting the finishing touches on an amazingly rich television contract.
Amid all the positive news, however, one minor criticism refuses to fade: The Pac-12 is often accused of fabricating a rivalry between its new members.
A brief history
The Buffaloes and Utes actually have a long tradition as rivals in football, spanning 57 games, but it was a long, long time ago. Both schools were members of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) for 38 years, beginning in 1910, and both then joined the Mountain States Conference. In their 38 seasons together in the RMAC, one of the two was league champion 27 times.
Colorado joined the Big Six (later Big 8) in 1947, but the schools continued to play one another almost every year until 1962.
When Utah and Colorado tee it up on the day after Thanksgiving, 2011, it will be their first gridiron meeting in 49 years. To provide a little perspective on how long ago that was, on Sunday evening following the September 22, 1962 game, ABC premiered its first color television series, The Jetsons.
In the interest of assisting Colorado and Utah fans in renewing their animosity, here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind while forging your annual football game, as illustrated through the experience of your new conference mates.
DO: Give it a decent name
In their purest form, great rivalry games are named organically. The opponents either choose or stumble onto some sort of trophy to play for, or a coach says something, a media person writes about it and it sticks.
It might seem cheesy to simply create a name for rivalry game, but the alternative is often worse. Most often, the rivalry never develops a popular nickname, or worse, it ends up with a really stupid one.
USC and UCLA have played for the Victory Bell for 80 years, and many writers and PR specialists have attempted to name their annual game, but with little success. “The Battle for LA” is probably the closest thing to a colloquial name for the annual contest, but “The Battle for the Bell” and “The Crosstown Showdown” also have been promoted, and largely ignored. The USC-UCLA football game remains the only one in the Pac-12 without a commonly used name.
The other likely outcome to not selecting a nickname is the eventual adoption of a bad nickname, like “The Big Game” or “The Apple Cup.” Don’t wait for some blogger to stick you with “The Cute Game” (see what I did there?) or something equally horrible.
Some nickname suggestions for the Colorado-Utah rivalry:
“The Rocky Mountain Rumble”—No, it isn’t very original, but it is appropriate enough, and it rolls off the tongue nicely.
“The Great Divide”—Another take on the Rockies, but it plays on the fact that Boulder and Salt Lake City each lie near the foot of the range, but on opposite sides of the Continental Divide.
“The Connecting Flight Classic”—Who on the West Coast hasn’t had to lay over in SLC or DEN when traveling anywhere east of Reno?
“The Battle of Iconic Western Mascots Nearly Wiped Out by the White Man”—Probably not the best choice, but it is factual.
DON’T: Contrive a trophy
Making up a good nickname is one thing, but if you can’t find a tangible symbol of victory that actually has some significance, don’t bother with it.
The Stanford Axe (Stanford-Cal), the Territorial Cup (UA-ASU) and The Victory Bell each boast long and storied histories, but other trophies have been less successful.
The actual “Apple Cup” (which replaced the Governor’s Cup in 1962) is a terribly pedestrian oversized bowling trophy with a misshapen orb perched on top. It’s bad, but it’s not the worst.
That dubious distinction belongs to the infamous Platypus Trophy (part duck, part beaver, get it?) It was foisted upon the Civil War game participants (UO-OSU) in the early 1960s but was quickly—and thankfully—misplaced. The rather surreal wooden sculpture disappeared for more than 40 years. When it finally resurfaced in 2005, neither school had an interest in reinstating it.
The Platypus Trophy is now quietly exchanged when necessary between the two schools’ alumni associations—late at night, at an abandoned warehouse, down by the river.
DO: Play the game late in the season
Obviously the Pac-12 controls scheduling, and league officials realize the importance of playing rivalry games later in the season. With all due respect to the CU-CSU game and other early-season rivalries like Oklahoma-Texas or Tennessee-Florida, the most compelling rivalry games occur when at least one of the teams involved either A) has the world to play for, or B) has nothing to lose.
Despite a half-century of dormancy, the Colorado-Utah series has all of the ingredients for a great rivalry. So if it’s a rivalry in need of revival, perhaps all that it requires is a bit of defibrillation.