After so many years, it becomes ingrained. You never get it out of your system. In fact, I almost was going to the game a day early.
I am not talking about the Braves, Yankees, Mariners or Diamondbacks in the baseball playoffs.
This is heart and soul of college football that began when the railroads hooked up. This is the series between the University of Wyoming and Utah. Saturday, the two teams play in Salt Lake City.
This was always the game of the year when played in Utah. If they could get decent tickets, UW folks flocked to the game, especially from the western side of the state. But not this Saturday - unless the Cowboys can architect the miracle of the year against a 15-point favorite in Utah. The Utes arguably could win the Mountain West Conference and may be the most underrated team in the Mountain West Conference.
Until changing times and the Utah Jazz, the UW-Utah game was the season's focus, along with BYU, year after year to those in Salt Lake and the entire region. This old duet first became a top tune in the days of UW coach Bowden Wyatt and the colorful Jack Curtice of Utah. They manufactured heroics before the game started. Bowden said he didn't like "Cactus Jack" and Curtice knew how to needle Bowden.
One Friday - the day before the game - the Union Pacific streamliner pulled into Salt Lake with the team. Curtice, in all his splendor, was there to meet Wyatt and the grim Cowboys. Wyatt didn't get out of his car until Curtice and his big grin left the premise.
Phil Dickens, a UW coach after Wyatt with rare humor, came up with a memorable fake telegram on the night before the game. It was delivered to the team's dining room and shown to the players. "Beat Utah or you are through in Wyoming," Dickens wrote to himself. It was signed, "Fans in Kemmerer." The next day, UW came storming out and won the game and Phantom Phil became a big hero. But days later he was morose. "I am just wondering what those alumni over near Kemmerer think of me now," he said.
To our information, this was the first admitted use of the fake telegram to whip up a team. Hundreds followed in later years. It will take more than a telegram or other emotional ploy for UW to win at Utah this year. Two of UW's all-time favorites, Jerry Hill and Jim Kiick, had great days as running backs at Utah. So did Ryan Christopherson and Myron Hardeman. Do you remember any of them? Quarterbacks? Craig Burnett, Randy Welniak and Jay Stoner must have rolled up half of their career yardage against Utah.
Yes sir, the Cowboy faithful wait for the next star to emerge out of the Salt Flats and make a little history. There are some playing for this battered UW club who have a good start. And so it has to be the history, old tales and old stars that make this one of America's most underplayed, least ballyhooed rivalries in college football. Everyone, it seems, has his or her favorite Utah story here in Wyoming. Maybe this game will produce another one.
© 2001 Wyoming Tribune-Eagle