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Rivalry Roots

Yellowed newsprint reveals details of first football game between Utes and Apostles.


Historians all over the world are excited about a recent find in the storeroom of a Manti, Utah, dry-cleaning establishment, particularly because it sheds new light on the intense football rivalry between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. Workers razing the limestone building that housed Exceeding Cleaners for nearly 160 years found an old suit, still wrapped in plastic, whose owner apparently forgot to pick up on the appointed day, which the still legible ticket indicated was Nov. 30, 1852.

According to Nephi Pratt, who found the suit, said it was partially hidden by a yellowing wedding dress. “I was surprised what good shape the suit was in,” said Mr. Pratt. “Even more surprising was a page from the Manti Messenger telling all about the football game between Brigham Young’s Twelve Apostles and Chief Wakara and 12 of his finest Ute warriors.”

At the moment, the article about the game is in the hands of the Historical Division of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where forensic specialists are performing various tests to determine the authenticity of the document. The article was penned by someone named Woody Woodruff, whom scholars speculate is none other than future church president and prophet Wilford Woodruff, famous for his manifesto suspending the practice of polygamy among the Saints.

“It’s pretty well-written,” said Pratt, who is a self-confessed sports junkie. “I got pretty worked up just reading the thing, which is a lot more dramatic and colorful than a lot of the sports writing you see nowadays.” Pratt handed the article almost immediately to his stake president, who happened to be on the premises, mistakenly thinking that Exceeding Cleaners was still open for business.

Because Mr. Pratt is the only person who has publicly spoken about the Manti Messenger article, all accounts of the content of the article have been based on his memory, which, according to Pratt’s wife, Minerva, “is pretty damned good.” Minerva told reporters that Nephi can remember what he had for breakfast three weeks earlier, “which is actually not all that impressive, considering he usually has oatmeal or a breakfast burrito from McDonald’s.”

In any event, Mr. Pratt’s account of the sports article has the ring of truth, beginning with the headline: “Utes Massacre Brigham’s Boys.” Instead of opening with the modern anecdotal lead, Woody Woodruff does a beautiful job, according to Pratt, of setting the scene: “On a crisp fall day, with a breeze that smelled of sweet cider and turkey droppings, Brigham’s rugged apostles went head to head with Wakara’s sneaky redskins.”

Pratt went on to describe how Woodruff, being the skilled scribe he must have been, painted a vivid word picture of fans on both sides of the field, and how the cheerleaders worked the spectators into a frenzy. “I can’t remember the exact words,” said Pratt, “but Woody really did a fine job of describing the outfits of the cheerleaders. Brigham had brought several of his wives down from Salt Lake, and though they gave it the old college try, their heavy skirts and high-necked blouses kind of restricted their kicks and cartwheels. Some of the gals couldn’t make it all the way over.

“The Ute squaws, on the other hand, apparently did some amazing stuff, sort of like what you see at the Utah Jazz games with the Jazz dancers. Woody reported that in a post-game interview, Brigham Young blamed the loss on the Indian maidens distracting his apostles with some of their moves. In addition, despite the cool autumn temperatures, the Ute gals were wearing these skimpy loincloth deals, and though he kind of beats around the bush, Woody gives the distinct impression that the cheerleaders were topless—I think the phrase he uses is ‘cheering proudly and innocently as God so wonderfully formed them.’ ”

Though Woodruff is at pains to minimize the loss, it seems Wakara’s Ute warriors won in a rout. The final score was 93 to 13, despite the partisan refereeing of Orrin Porter Rockwell. One senses Woody’s frustration as he describes the continual blitzing of the Ute defenders, their chop blocks, their head-to-head tackles, and their slippery backs evading tackles by virtue of “their slippery skins adorned with war paint and buffalo grease.”

There is no word when church historians will release the article to the general public, though some insiders say they are hoping to find evidence of forgery by the hand of Mark Hoffman.