Vol. 12. No. 4
Spring 2003

Finding a few who bleed…uh, red.

I have a Gator watch on my wrist, a Gator flag in my office, Gator stickers on my car, and a dresser filled with three dozen T-shirts denigrating people and players from places like Tallahassee and Knoxville.

My three-year-old son knows how to do the Gator Chomp.

And don’t even mention Ron Zook. As an ardent (some would characterize it with a different adjective) Gator fan, I was given the task of finding Utah fans of a similar ilk. I was skeptical; I’d heard about the fairweather fans at the U.
Plus, here there are lots of things to do on game days besides drink bourbon and go to football games. And, frankly, Swoop frightens me.

Then I was tailgating at the Indiana game this fall and ran into Jyl Dickman, who, along with husband Lewis BS’75 and 20 of their closest tailgating friends, was passing around a red bowling ball. Unlike a normal ball, this one had but a single hole, perfectly sized to fit a shot glass. Above the hole it said, “Utah,” and below it, “Utes.”

“The idea was, ‘Let’s Go Bowling,’” Dickman explains. “You know, let’s go to a bowl game. Hence, the bowling ball.” No doubt they’re still looking for the matching U bowling shoes.

After obligingly throwing one back, I continued my research, now much more optimistic about my prospects of finding fanatical Ute fans.

While I could admire Dickman’s tailgating fervor (her group arrived lotside at 9 a.m. for the BYU game and didn’t leave until 6 p.m.), I found they had nothing on Jason Barlow. This senior political science major not only tailgates with other students before every Ute football game but also has season tickets for the Chicago Bears. Yes, you read that right.

Although raised in Salt Lake, Barlow has always been a huge Bears fan. “We went to the Monday night game in October and got to Champaign [the Bears are played in Champaign, Ill., this year due to stadium renovations] around 2 p.m., seven hours before the game,” he explains. “We could only get into the very outer lot. I think about 50,000 people were there 12 hours before the game. Now that’s tailgating.”

As a charter member of the Ute student fan clubs for football and basketball, Barlow is hoping to spread some of that “fan”-aticism to his fellow students. Let’s just say he has his work cut out for him. “We get there two hours before every game. There’s a barbecue exclusively for the club, Frisbees, footballs, all that,” Barlow says. “The first few games we’d have about five of us there two hours before the game. We had to explain that’s not how tailgating works.”

But it’s a start.

I ran into Manny Martinez ex’69, who was doing his own sort of tailgating proselytizing before the Colorado State game in a secluded campus lot just north of the Olpin Union. Martinez has been going to Ute football games since 1969. For TKE fraternity members like him, the games were a standard fixture of the fall term. “The fraternities were very competitive,” he says. “We’d get to games two hours early just to be sure to get seats.”

After leaving Utah for a few years, Martinez returned in 1986 and wanted to get back into Utah football and tailgating. But the spaces in the “official” tailgate lot were sold out. Undaunted, he and his friends packed up their coolers and barbecues and headed for the parking lots near the Union. They’ve been there ever since.

Such prime turf would be teeming with tailgaters in a town like Ann Arbor, but not here… yet. “I think it would be great if we had fans tailgating in all the lots on campus,” Martinez says. “You could have different kinds of crowds in different lots.”

To both Martinez and Barlow, the idea of simply attending a game needs to change. Barlow says, “The difference between here and, say, a Big Ten game is that here people try to work the game into their weekend. There they schedule their other stuff AROUND the game. The game IS the weekend.”

Hal Hansen can relate to that. “I gotta go. It’s an obsession,” he says proudly. “I don’t think I’ve missed 10 games in 40 years.” Hansen is a charter member of the pay tailgate lot, and his groups have ranged from just a few to 40 for this year’s Air Force game.

He drives a bright red Ford truck and shies away from “that other color” of a certain school to the south. He bemoans the fact that most of his neighbors are fans of “that other school.” It gives him great pleasure to open his garage door every day to give his blue-blooded neighbors a view of a giant red Utah flag.

Hansen, who attended the U in the late ’50s, really can’t relate to less-than-full-bore fans. At one point in his football tenure, his seats were in the northwest corner of the stadium, an area known as the “Oh Shit Section.” Why? Because after a particularly pathetic play (the Utes were pretty bad at the time), one member of the section would stand up, open an umbrella, and lead an “Oh shit” cheer. Still, despite the team’s foibles, the stadium was full, Hansen says. Why wouldn’t it be?

Wally BA’50 MD’55 and Lou BA’51 Jenkins wish today’s fans were more enthusiastic, too. This duo of U grads has had the same seats on Row 17 in the Huntsman Center since 1972. “When the season ends, it’s like somebody died,” Lou laments. “Now what are we going to do?” She’s been a Runnin’ Utes fanatic through thick and thin, not even missing games when undergoing chemotherapy to combat breast cancer.

When you sit that close (their seats are a few rows behind the Utah bench), things aren’t always pretty. “I can watch Majerus when he talks to the team,” Lou laughs. “I’m glad I can’t read lips.” But don’t mistake Lou for a generic basketball junkie. She’s a Runnin’ Utes basketball junkie. “There’s a real difference between the pros and college basketball,” she says. “These guys just play their guts out.”

Plus, Lou loves the scene in the Huntsman Center. “Compared to watching it on TV, there’s nothing like being there.”

It was Lou who led me to perhaps the ultimate Utah fans, Barbara ex’70 and Stan BS’68 Owen. The Owens have seven children, and thus far six have attended the U, with the last due to arrive on campus in the fall of 2003. The Owens sit in the front row at both Rice-Eccles Stadium and the Huntsman Center. (Look for them behind the“3s” that are hung on the rail after every Utah 3-pointer.)

The University is so ingrained in the Owen clan, it’s hard to see where one ends and the other begins. This family doesn’t need a scrapbook so much as a program. Stan played baseball for the U. His oldest son, Brandon BA’97, captained the Utah tennis team. Alison BA’99 and Ashlee BS’99 followed. Ashlee then married Utah tennis player Ryan Snow BA’99, who had played with Brandon (Ryan came to the Owen house to bring a wedding present to Brandon, Ashlee answered the door, and…). Next comes Utah baseball player Danny, set to graduate this spring in engineering. Danny was named after famed Runnin’ Ute Danny Vranes.

Did I mention David yet? Currently attending the U, David one day brought home a young woman named Danielle, as in Danielle Vranes. Now they’re married.

The last in line is Jordan, who was a state MVP in high school basketball last year. Stan says Jordan is the most ardent Ute fan of the clan, and his devotion got an early start. Jordan was being born as the kickoff of the 1984 Utah-BYU game blared on the TV overhead. Stan says he made it to the game by halftime.

This summer the Owens put a new fountain in their backyard. Stan likes to call it the Fountain of Utes.

No doubt the water runs red.

Randy Hanskat is half Gator/half copywriter for University Marketing & Communications.

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