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And Finally...

Being There

By M. John Ashton

Sugar Bowl

Many Utah fans who were not able to attend the Sugar Bowl have asked me what it was like and “Did I miss much by not being there?” Which begs the question: Is it possible to get a flavor of the host city, all the pre-game events, and the real excitement of the game, attended by 14,000 Utah fans, by watching television or talking to those who were there? Based on my experience, the answer clearly has to be no.

Nor is it possible for the last page of this or any other magazine to fully express the camaraderie felt by the thousands of Ute fans mingling on Bourbon Street on New Year’s Eve and exchanging the mantra “Go Utes!” You simply can’t get a real sense of the electricity and excitement generated by all the activities surrounding the 2009 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans if you weren’t there.

And how to explain the challenges presented to the Alumni Association staff when more than 5,000 people showed up at the pep rally the night before the game, when less than half that number was expected? Or how, even though it resulted in standing-room only for the crowd, Marching Band, cheerleaders, Crimson Line, players, and coaches, it ultimately didn’t matter? The energy and excitement generated by the mass of people lasted more than 45 minutes, culminating in total “U-phoria” when the team took its “Ute Walk” down the middle of the crowd, parting the sea of red.

The hubbub continued the next day, when some 2,200 fans showed up at the pre-game tailgate, with most arriving more than half an hour before the event started to make sure they got in to mingle with other fans and cheer along with the Marching Band, Crimson Line, and cheerleaders.

Those not there on game day couldn’t possibly imagine that all the roads leading to the Superdome would be jammed with red (Utah) and crimson (Alabama) fans exchanging (mostly) friendly comments about the outcome of the game. Fans who squeezed into the Superdome are no doubt unable to adequately describe its size and presence to someone who has only seen it on television. And how about the thrill of watching “your” football team warming up on the same artificial turf on which hundreds of NFL stars have played?

It was spine-tingling to listen to the band blast out “Utah Man” over and over again while the cheerleaders egged on the crowd to out-yell the Bama fans, and to hear spontaneous outbursts of “overrated,” “Urban Meyer,” and “We’re number one!” Who would have believed that before you could settle into your seat and choke down a lukewarm hotdog, the underdogs would have already scored three touchdowns in a row? The No. 4 team in the country sat stunned and utterly surprised. How incredible is it that, other than a fumble on Utah’s 30-yard line and a punt return by Alabama, our beloved Utes would totally dominate the game?

Those who weren’t there couldn’t possibly have appreciated the stunned look on the faces of the Alabama coaches and team, or the wave of Tide fans who left during the fourth quarter.

And how to describe the sense of accomplishment and pride we felt when Coach Whit was presented with the Sugar Bowl trophy and Brian Johnson BS’08 was chosen the game’s MVP, making history in one of the biggest BCS game upsets ever?

John Ashton

Did the television audience get to observe Utah fans remain standing for 45 minutes after the game ended before finally being “invited” to leave? What about virtually floating in a red sea back to Canal Street while gracious Bama fans offered sincere congratulations? Or waiting for the team to return to the hotel so that hoarse fans could start cheering all over again? Or being part of the Bourbon Street celebration that night when ecstatic Utes intermingled with Tide fans drowning their sorrows?

All of us may have followed Utah’s football team through 12 glorious, victorious games and felt the elation build when the Sugar Bowl invitation was extended. But nothing compares to witnessing history—in person—along with 14,000 other die-hard fans, as the Utes quelled the Crimson Tide.

You just had to be there.

— M. John Ashton BS’66 JD’69 is executive director of the University of Utah Alumni Association.

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