By Michael Barzee
In 1942, BYU was David and Utah was Goliath.
In the 20 previous games that BYU played Utah, the best they could muster was a tie. During that span, the Cougars were outscored 515-71. In their first meeting, BYU lost 49-0. To make matters worse, Utah refused to play BYU in Provo but only on their home field.
?They were the big boys,? said Vera Millet, widow of BYU head football coach Floyd Millet.
To prepare for 1942?s grueling battle against the Utes, the Cougars took time out of every practice to discuss their strengths and weaknesses. Telegrams sent by a former coach and football player also encouraged the Cougars to beat Utah.
On the day before the game, Eddie Kimball, former BYU head football coach who enlisted in the military after the 1941 season, sent the Cougars a telegram from where he was stationed in Coronado, Calif. The telegram read, ?It?s not the size of the dog in the fight, it?s the size of the fight in the dog that counts. Best of luck.?
Wayne Soffe, a former BYU football player from 1935-36, also sent a telegram from his home in Seattle directly to the University of Utah stadium. The telegram arrived at the stadium at 2 p.m., just a half-hour before kick-off. His telegram read, ?A team that won?t be beaten, can?t be beaten.?
From the beginning of the game, it seemed that the football gods were on the side of the Cougars. In the first period alone, Utah had three fumbles. One of the three fumbles was converted into six points for the Cougars. The touchdown came on a fourth down and goal play that was run into the end zone by BYU halfback Fred Whitney.
In the first half, the Utes never once got on BYU?s side of the field and compiled a dismal 22 yards of total offense. But the Utes would not be shutout. They scored their lone touchdown after blocking a Cougar punt and recovering at the BYU 21-yard line. However, BYU blocked a punt of their own, setting up their game-winning touchdown.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Cougars blocked a punt that tumbled out of bounds at the Utah 10-yard line. As with their first score, BYU scored on fourth and goal. BYU halfback Herman Longhurst ran to right and dodged three Utah players to dance into the end zone, putting the Cougars up 12-7.
Utah still had some fight left in them, but BYU had more. The Utes marched down the field to the BYU 10 -yard line. That was as close as Utah came. The Cougar defense stopped them on fourth and goal and sealed their fate?the first BYU football team ever to beat Utah.
?It had to happen some time,? BYU head football coach Floyd Millet said in the Salt Lake Tribune. ?I guess I was just as lucky to come along at the right time. I?m proud of the boys; they wanted this and they went out to get it.?
Utah head football coach Ike Armstrong, who had coached the Utes since 1925, told the Tribune, ?I guess the world won?t come to an end just because we lost,? he said. ?We?ve had our share of wins, and if we can?t take it we shouldn?t even be playing the game.?
Assistant football coach Paul Rose said at a postseason banquet, ?By hell, if you?re going to play-win! That?s Millet?s philosophy. It?s ours. It was the philosophy of Dempsey, of Helen Wills Moody, of Ty Cobb and everyone else who ever amounted to a darn.?
It was this philosophy to win, along with a handful of talented athletes, like preseason All-American Mike Mills, which helped BYU defeat Utah that year. Mills was nicknamed ?Iron Mike? because he played on both the defensive and offensive line. There were even some games that he played every down. In 1941, Mills scored the lone touchdown in a 6-6 tie between BYU and Utah. But it was the 1942 game that finally got Mills the victory he wanted.
?No matter who you play, you play to win,? Mills said. ?Of course, you always want to beat Utah.?
Following the winning touchdown by BYU captain Longhurst, players hoisted coach Millet onto their shoulders as they marched off the field to the locker room. Some 2,000 Cougar fans stormed the field and tore down the wooden goal posts. But the goal posts didn?t come down without a fight from Utah fans.
?As I came out of the showers after the game I saw more fights between BYU and Utah fans than I have ever seen before,? Mills said.
Tribune reporter Jimmy Hodgson wrote of the melee: ?Black eyes and bruised noggins were a dime a dozen, and BYU trainer Einar Nielsen had more repairing to do with the fans than he did with the football players.?
Finally, the BYU band marched off the field with the wooden goal posts and took them to Provo, where the wooden goal posts were broken into pieces for each band member to keep. One of these pieces rests in a trophy case at Legacy Hall. According to the Tribune, Utah officials disagree that the goal posts were stolen at all. They reported that Utah fans disguised as BYU fans took the goal posts, who took them to a maintenance shed to be put back up for their next game.
Storming the field and tearing down the goal posts was only the beginning of the celebration for Cougar fans. The Monday following the football game was declared a university holiday and school was canceled. Instead of classes, BYU students paraded around town and made their way to the steps of City Hall where a brief victory program was held. At the program, Provo Mayor Maurice Harding said, ?Henceforth time will be reckoned from last Saturday-the day BYU started beating Utah in football.?