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LARAMIE, Wyo. - Scores of desperadoes have spent time over the years in this former railroad outpost on the wind-swept plains of eastern Wyoming. But only a few - legendary outlaws like Butch Cassidy, Calamity Jane, Tom Horn and Big Nose George Parrott - have caused the type of uproar among townsfolk that Kyle Whittingham did last year.

Whittingham didn't rob a train, knock over a bank or rustle cattle.

His crime, according to those loyal to the Wyoming football program, was beating a dead horse.

Specifically, the Utah football coach ordered a third-quarter onside kick during last year's 50-0 victory over the Cowboys.

Talk about a hangin' offense.

Whittingham couldn't have more permanently entrenched himself as public enemy No. 1 in these parts if he had bolted the door at the Buckhorn Bar or badmouthed native son Dick Cheney.

An onside kick?

With a 43-0 lead?

Sitting with a group of 14 other Laramie residents and longtime Cowboy fans at their regular coffee clatch at the Village Inn on Friday morning, retired FBI agent Tom Reardon said Utah's onside kick was "bull----. Just bull----." His friends nodded in agreement.

Others were more diplomatic, but the level of dismay was palpable.

"My reaction, when it happened, was surprise," said Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman.

Randy Welniak, a former Wyoming quarterback who is now a banker in Laramie, said, "I was

disappointed to see any team do that, when they're up by that many points. I just don't feel it's sportsmanlike. I don't know what was going through Kyle's head at the time, but obviously I think he was trying to rub things in a little bit."

For 11 months, locals have waited for Saturday, when the Utes visit War Memorial Stadium for the first time since Whittingham onside-kicked the already-lifeless Cowboys.

"You hold it in your mind somewhat," said Wyoming defensive tackle John Fletcher. "But you can't be constantly thinking about that. You've got to be thinking about what your job is, what you're going to do."

Said teammate Kyle Howard: "We were all surprised by it. But new game, new year."

Welniak, who is also a sideline reporter on Wyoming football broadcasts and a volunteer assistant at Laramie High School, believes Fletcher and Howard are simply being politically correct.

"I'll be honest with you, I'd remember it - absolutely," Welniak said. "I think the players are all kind of downplaying what Kyle did. But I will guarantee you it's in the back of their mind. . . . Knowing Coach Glenn, I doubt if he's using it as motivation. But I will guarantee you, as a player, I would. Absolutely, I would remember that."

Burman agrees.

"We'd be kidding ourselves to think our kids won't be motivated a little by the onside kick," he said. "But I think they will also be motivated by the outcome of the game. The combination of the two - the onside kick and the final score - should motivate them. They are competitors [and] should be a little more fired up than normal."

Emotion aside, Utah is undefeated and heavily favored against the Cowboys, who are 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the Mountain West Conference.

Going back to last season, Wyoming is only 3-10 in its last 13 games, with the wins coming over UNLV (29-24), Ohio (20-19) and North Dakota State (16-13).

Clearly, the Cowboys enter their long-anticipated gunfight against Utah with few bullets.

"This team has so many other issues right now," said Robert Gagliardi, sports editor of the Cheyenne Tribune-Eagle. "If they were 4-2 instead of 2-4, I think we'd be hearing a lot more about [revenge]. But this team is struggling so much that it's taken some of the edge off it."

Said Burman: "Early on, this game was really important to our fan base. Unfortunately, when you are 0-3 in the league and struggling, as we are, I think that has tempered their emotions. But I also think there are some fans who are still very upset with Coach Whittingham. We'd be kidding ourselves to think they aren't."

Is Burman expecting trouble?

"I don't think there will be any kind of actions from the students or the fan base that will be disrespectful," he said. "I'm sure they are going to be yelling at him and be emotional and we might even be in the stands taking down some signs. That wouldn't surprise me. But I'm not worried about anybody's safety."

Glenn, who responded to Whittingham's onside kick with an obscene gesture, insists the incident is over.

"I'll make a statement, even though I might be speaking out of turn," Glenn said. "I don't think he gave it much thought and I don't think I gave it much thought. I don't think it defines either one of us. We're long-time friends and we've been in coaching a long time and certainly that moment should not define either one of us."

Wyoming fans are less ready to let it go.

At the Brown & Gold gift shop across the street from campus, Wyoming student Jamie Yellowtail of Wyola, Mont., said the onside kick was "kind of a shot in the face - kicking us while we were down. I was disappointed. It sucks losing by that much anyway, and just piling it on like that, it was frustrating to watch."

Asked if she thought Wyoming would use the onside kick as motivation today, Yellowtail said, "As a fan, I'm worried because Utah is good and we've been struggling. But hopefully the boys come out to play, because that was embarrassing last year."

Game day

Today, noon, mtn.

Matchup history

2007: Utah 50, Wyoming 0

With a crowd of 42,477 on hand at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Utes turn an early-week victory guarantee into a nightmare for Cowboy coach Joe Glenn. Utah limits the Wyoming offense to 112 yards of offense. The Pokes commit five turnovers. The Utes break the game open with 27 points in the final 11 minutes of the first half.

2006: Wyoming 31, Utah 15

The Cowboys dominate at War Memorial Stadium. Freshman QB Karsten Sween completes 17 of 24 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown. Utah manages 144 yards of offense and trails 24-0 at halftime. Then, on the opening possession of the second half, Wyoming's Julius Stinson returns an interception 42 yards for a TD.

2005: Utah 43, Wyoming 13

The Utes, under first-year head coach Kyle Whittingham, roll to their sixth straight win in their series with the Cowboys. Quarterback Brian Johnson throws four touchdown passes and runs for another score. Receiver John Madsen has 12 receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns as Utah overcomes an early 6-3 deficit.

2004: Utah 45, Wyoming 28

On its way to the Fiesta Bowl, seventh-ranked Utah visits Wyoming on a frigid November night. In a game delayed 99 minutes because of a power outage, Utah stays unbeaten with an easier-than-it looks win over the Cowboys. Quarterback Alex Smith throws for 244 yards and three touchdowns, while running for a game-high 105 yards.

2003: Utah 41, Wyoming 17

Quarterback Alex Smith completes 17 of 26 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns as the 25th-ranked Utes clinch at least a share of the Mountain West Conference title. Utah, which snaps a 17-17 tie with 30 unanswered points in the second half, rolls up 548 yards of offense for first-year coach Urban Meyer.