January 7, 2009
We’ve been in orbit since Friday night and show no signs of returning to earth anytime soon. It’s nice up here. Refreshing, as it were. Lots of leg room. What a high! How ’bout them Utes?
Sports, usually back-burnered and inconsequential, can be like that. All it takes is for some underdog good guys to flat-out take it to some big-time program to bring us out of the doldrums. And when the victorious squad in question happens to hang out just down the road, well, then all bets are off. The sky’s the limit. It’s deep cosmos or bust!
And, with the University of Utah football team the only undefeated outfit in that relatively artistic community formerly known as "1-A," we’ve developed a "bring ’em on" mindset to go along with our swagger. We’re of the opinion that "our" Utes can match up against anyone. Yeah, we’re pretty full of ourselves! You’ll have that!
Even when we finally do alight on old terra firma, we’ll no doubt continue to flaunt Utah’s take-no-prisoners victory over the University of Alabama in last weekend’s Sugar Bowl down in the Big Easy. Just like their team, Ute fans are showing little sign of letting up. It’s become a landscape flush with fist-bumps and clanking beer mugs.
Even those of us who arrived in Utah as part of the ’60s and ’70s invasion have, over the years, become one with the Utes. A few, of course, including a quorum from over here in Hebertown, took up allegiance with that bunch from Provo. Go figure!
That isn’t to say that we "newcomers" didn’t bring along strong sporting affiliations from our previous stompin’ grounds, allegiances which remain intact to this day. As a USC fan, I’ve been flying rather high these past half-dozen years or so anyway.
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You could do a lot worse than be a Trojan football fan these days. Not that they don’t often find a way to drive a stake into the heart of their collective fan base. Of course, being from Los Angeles, they are flawed. Deeply flawed! It’s a different curse than the Chicago Cubs endure — more insidious, perhaps.
Most often with USC, it’s a letdown against a bottom-feeder from its own conference, the PAC-10. Visions of recent sub-par efforts against the likes of Oregon State (who the Utes beat, of course), Stanford, and UCLA continue to dance in our heads. Not that victories in the past three Rose Bowls haven’t delighted the Trojan expatriates. It’s just that, as a sports fan, how can you ever be totally satisfied?
Well, let me tell you. No sporting event outcome in recent years even comes close to the rapture experienced by the Ute faithful last Friday night as the clock ticked down in the Superdome. It was bliss, baby!
If one subscribes to, as I do, the formula that the emotional high of a victory never quite totally cancels out the emotional low of a defeat, the Utes’ Sugar Bowl clobbering of the Crimson Tide has proved to be the exception. In my mind, it certainly made up for any recent stumbles within my sports comfort zone.
Admittedly, my over-the-top reaction to Utah rolling over the Tide came as somewhat of a surprise. Of course I had my game face on and root-root-rooted for the home team, but the manner in which Alabama coach and Forbes Magazine cover boy Nick Saban underwent deconstruction in front of the whole world brought a tear to my eye.
How wonderful the misfortune of others. It’s what sports are all about! The $38-million-dollar man, the head coach from a "real BCS conference," as Saban had previously referred to the SEC, having his head handed to him on a platter by a bunch of hicks from, in the words of Utah Phillips, "way out West where the states are square." It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
But that doesn’t really account for the sheer amount of joy that continues to wash over me in the aftermath of the game. It shocked me in such a remarkable way. The ease with which the Utes went up first by seven points, then 14, then 21, I found astonishing, amazing, and finally, incredible.
No way I predicted, even in my quietest moments, such a delightful outcome. And that’s from one who regularly fantasizes the highly improbable. And it wasn’t just the score. It had a lot to do with watching Utah coach Kyle Whittingham’s sideline demeanor as opposed to that of Saban, whom Forbes had earlier anointed as "the most powerful coach in sports." The Alabama honcho appeared to have a "Nixon" inside him screaming to get out.
How sweet it is! And it doesn’t appear that the glow will diminish any time soon. We’re awash in red as never before. Only a few days into the New Year and, inexplicably, a sporting event has taken center stage. Of course, with the world continually tripping over its own feet, it’s an easily accessible form of denial. But as Miles Davis would say, "So what?"
How ’bout them Utes?
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and a free-lance writer with a background in commercial and community radio, among other pursuits. He has been a columnist and feature writer for various Park City publications going back to 1973.