1968. The death of an historic Vandal tradition. The annual football game in Boise, Southern Homecoming, died when Idaho welcomed Boise State College into the Big Sky Conference with open arms. Idaho, of course, would continue to play in Boise. But in the future it would be different. It would be against Boise State. It would no longer be an “Idaho” game. It would be a “Boise State” game. The death of this tradition marked the beginning of Idaho’s slow, painful, decline from prominence in the state of Idaho.
For many years Southern Homecoming featured Idaho hosting the Utah Utes. It’s not widely known today, but historically, southern Idaho fans viewed the nearly annual game against the Utes as the biggest game of the year. North Idaho fans, of course, rallied around the Battle of the Palouse. Southern homecoming offered southern Idaho alumni and fans the chance to connect with the university. The Sound of Idaho led the homecoming parade through downtown Boise. The university hosted parties and galas. The governors of Idaho and Utah attended the game. The game was the biggest fundraiser of the year. And that’s not to mention the publicity and goodwill generated by distributing tickets to elected officials and local football coaches.
Since the elevation of Boise Junior College to Boise State, though, the Vandals have voluntarily yielded Boise to the Broncos, content to play in Boise only as the visiting team. Now, that too, has come to an end. But, it didn’t have to be that way.
Being in a separate athletic conference from our in-state rival offered Idaho an unprecedented opportunity to reclaim some of its former glory. Cooperating with Boise State University to restore a long-dead Vandal tradition offered the opportunity to tone down some of the hateful rhetoric between fans (and sometimes even university presidents). Restoring the game would have provided an opportunity for some of the most dedicated supporters their only opportunity to see Vandal football. Restoring the game would have provided an opportunity reclaim a portion of the Treasure Valley for the University of Idaho.
Idaho is fortunate enough to have four historic football rivals in Washington State, Montana, Boise State, and Utah. But, as a result of bad luck and institutional stubbornness it no longer plays any of them regularly. Athletics in general and football in particular could have been fixed. Idaho needed only to regain the will to do it. The institution needed only to learn from Idaho’s rich history. Idaho’s presence in the Treasure Valley could have been restored. Idaho’s relevance in southern Idaho could have been restored. Vandal Football could have been saved.