Brigham Young is the most-hated team in college football, which may be the best-kept dirty little secret in the game. That's because to criticize BYU openly is to risk becoming embroiled in a heated debate—or worse—involving not only football but also religion and race and attitudes about life.
That makes for a much more complicated discussion than one that focuses simply on blocking and tackling and third-down conversions. Make no mistake, it's an issue among players, coaches, athletic directors, college administrators and fans, especially in the West.
"I just hate them," says Pat Rabold, who played defensive tackle for Wyoming from 1984 to '88 and is one of the few people inside the game willing to give voice to his feelings about BYU. "Can't stand them. Nobody can." Randy Rich, a former New Mexico and NFL defensive back, says the ill feelings go back to "their basic attitude that blacks are inferior. Their players are always taunting black players." Even Cougar defensive back Derwin Gray, when asked if he feels that everybody hates BYU, replies, "Yeah, without a doubt."
Not long ago an obituary appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune that said the recently departed had "died doing what he enjoyed most—watching BYU lose."
The Cougars know where they stand with the public. And to their credit, they admit it. Truth be told, they revel in it. Rex Lee, the president of the 27,793-student, 98% Mormon university in Provo, Utah, says of the BYU football team: "People don't like us." There is a hint of pride in his voice. Former Cougar quarterback Ty Detmer, who won the 1990 Heisman Trophy, remembers the first time he saw the sign BRIGHAM DUNG UNIVERSITY hung in a stadium. Says Detmer, "That opened my eyes."
There are other teams that generate annoyance. For example, Michigan, Penn State and USC are knocked in some quarters for smugness, Miami for the misbehavior of its players, Oklahoma for its propensity for breaking NCAA rules. But when it comes to contempt, BYU has retired the trophy. The only reason this phenomenon hasn't gotten national attention is that the Cougars don't often take their act out of the West. But among those who know BYU well, the negative feelings are strong for a multitude of reasons.
•Success. The Cougars simply win too much. And, according to Dick Harmon, sports editor of The Daily Herald in Provo, "they gloat about it." One player recalls that after his team lost badly to BYU, a Cougar assistant walked up to one of the losing coaches and said, "Get your dogs off the field." Nice.
Former Utah tight end Steve Folsom, who played three years in the NFL, says, "What I hated the most about BYU was getting trounced." Former Colorado State fullback Steve Bartalo, who played last spring for Frankfurt in the WLAF, says of the Cougars, "They are two things. They are winners, and they are cocky."
It wasn't always so. In the 47 seasons before the arrival of La Veil Edwards as coach in 1972, Brigham Young averaged fewer than four wins a year. It had won the Western Athletic Conference title only once, in '65. Says Edwards, "Then we didn't have animosity—or respect." Over the past 20 years, BYU has either won or tied for first in the WAC 14 times. That's too much winning for the losers to stomach. Turnover among head coaches in the conference is brutally high: The coaches of the other eight WAC teams (excluding Fresno State, which was added to the conference this summer) have been on the job an average of only 3.1 years because their schools are always trying desperately to rebuild to whip BYU.
And while football is at the core of the enmity, BYU's winning ways are, unfortunately for others in the WAC, broad-based. The Cougars have won the WAC basketball title 11 times since '65 and almost certainly would be among the nation's preseason top 20 teams for '92-93 if all their stars who are serving two-year Mormon missions, especially 7'6" Shawn Bradley, were available.