Vol. 15 No. 4
Spring 2006

Utah fans vs. UTAH fans:
How to tell the difference.

The advertising slogan for Utah’s basketball teams last season was a catchy “There’s basketball … then there’s Utah basketball!” A similar catchphrase applies for Utah fans: “There are Utah fans … then there are UTAH fans!”

What makes a Utah fan a UTAH fan? In a recent Daily Utah Chronicle article, a U student alleged that not all students attending football games were true Utah fans. No specific qualifications or loyalty tests were mentioned, but the student felt that just attending games was not enough.

Perhaps the biggest indication of fans’ loyalty is what happens when their team is down.

College sports can bring euphoria, as Utah fans have recently witnessed.

In the last decade, U teams have won five consecutive bowl games including the BCS’s Fiesta Bowl, played in the men’s NCAA national basketball championship game, and made appearances in the Sweet Sixteen in men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. Utes Alex Smith and Andrew Bogut were the No. 1 picks in the NFL and NBA in 2005.

But college sports also have a frustrating downside. Players graduate,or may leave early for the pros. Others fall to injury or academic deficiencies. Some teams underachieve. But when teams start rebuilding, many fans take a hiatus. Those who stay the course, win or lose, rain or shine, are probably those who deserve to be called true “UTAH fans.”

Tens of thousands of these UTAH fans pour into athletic event venues each season, each with his or her own highlight reel of Ute memories. Here, we spotlight a select few true UTAH fans—never mind how the term is defined.

W. Rex Thornton BS’72 has made cheering the Utes a family-and-friends program for more than three decades. After graduating with an accounting degree in 1972, Thornton, his wife, Mary, and five other couples began purchasing football season tickets together. Despite the Utes’ rocky 5-28 record from 1974 to 1976, the Thorntons and friends persevered and continued to attend. Some of the other couples eventually moved or were affected by life circumstances, but replacementswere made. Now, 34 years later, the Thorntons still regularly trek to Utah home football games along with five other couples.

And they have passed along the loyalty. Rex and Mary have five children, including two Utah graduates (Greg BS’00 and Wendy BS’97). Daughter Kristy is also expected to graduate from the U, while daughter Heather graduated from Utah State.

And yes, it’s true that daughter Becca attended BYU, but Rex quickly points out that “she’s the truest Ute fan of all my children. She wore red to her BYU commencement, and her diploma is framed in red.”

Becca seems to be doing a good job with her children, too. Rex beams when telling of his grandson Andrew’s learning “Utah Man” as his first song. Thornton smiles even bigger as he relates the time then-5-year-old Andrew stood up and sang the Utah fight song at a talent show—in Provo.

And Thornton does more than just go to games. He has helped make it possible for student-athletes to attend the U. For more than 20 years he headed up an athletic scholarship fundraising team for the Crimson Club. He currently sits on the Alumni Association Board of Directors and has also served on the Crimson Club board.

An avid Utah basketball fan, Thornton underwent a period of attending Utah men’s NCAA tournament games. But one March brought the ultimate matchup: Utah in the NCAA vs. his daughter Wendy’s wedding. Ultimately, family prevailed over March Madness, but not without a struggle. To honor the Utes, Rex made a fashion statement.

“I wore a red cummerbund with my tuxedo and my red Utah cap. While we were taking photos,my daughter’s new father-in-law said to her, ‘Is he really going to wear that?’ Since I was paying for the wedding, I won out.”

Thornton’s office sports a family portrait with 15 members dressed according to university allegiance. He happily reports 13 red-dressed family members, and only two blue-clad members, both of them in-laws.


Vince and Beverly Stauffer are regular fixtures at women’s basketball games. Photos by Roger Tuttle.

Vince Stauffer was working in Kaysville, Utah, in 1978 when a coworker mentioned that local high school women’s basketball, volleyball, and track and field standout Lori Parrish was starting her U playing career. So impressive was the buildup of Parrish that Stauffer and his wife, Beverly BS’52, decided to see for themselves.

Vince and Beverly liked what they saw. Now, 27 years later, they watch Lori Parrish Salvo BS’81’s daughter Airial Salvo play for the Utah volleyball team. But their real love and commitment is to Utah women’s basketball.

After attending a few games, Vince, a former student basketball manager at DePauw University, asked if he could take tickets, be an usher or whatever to help. Soon Vince and Beverly became the statisticians for women’s basketball;they are now a fixture at all women’s home games. “When we started keeping statistics, it was all manual” says Vince. “Now it’s all computerized, which makes it easier. We’ve developed great teamwork over the years. Beverly helps me identify the player who shot the ball or grabbed the rebound and I enter it in.”

As part of the game management staff for women’s hoops, the Stauffers are entitled to free admission, yet they still buy season tickets to support the program. In fact, if the U sells tickets to a sport, the Stauffers buy them. They proudly own season tickets to Utah men’s and women’s basketball, football, volleyball, soccer, and gymnastics. And they are staunch members of the “Crimson Crazies,” a group of loyal U of U women’s basketball fans.

Vince and Beverly love being close to the action. A favorite memory stems from a time when Fern Gardner ex ’49 was coaching.“There was a scramble under the basket and a Utah player grabbed the ball and shot it in the wrong basket,” Vince recalls. “Some coaches would have gone nuts, but Fern called time out and everyone was laughing in the huddle. The game went down to the wire. Fortunately, the same player who made the mistake came back and hit the winning basket at the buzzer.”

When the 2004 Utah football team made history by going to the Fiesta Bowl, Jeff Herring BA’98 was with them every step of the way, literally. He has a collage of photos taken of himself at the end of each game during Utah’s dream season. But Herring is no one-season wonder. He has appeared at every Utah football game, home and away, for the last three seasons. His attendance streak stands at 36 consecutive games.

“I went to see Utah play Michigan in 2002 and saw the great traditions involved with their program. The Michigan band played ‘Utah Man’ before the game. A men’s chorus came to the Utah tailgate and sang ‘Hail to the Victors.’ After that experience, I decided that I’d establish my own personal tradition by attending all Utah football games.”

Over the last three seasons Herring has visited Tucson, Tempe, Albuquerque, Las Vegas (twice), Laramie, San Diego, Fort Worth, Fort Collins (twice), Colorado Springs, Memphis, San Francisco, Logan, and of course, Provo (twice).

Family and friends frequently make the road trips with him. His cousin, Pace Nielson BS’97, lives in Howell, Mich., yet frequently flies in to attend Utah games. Herring’s wife, Deanna, is also a devoted Utah fan, and their son D.J., age 2 ½, is growing into the mold of a Utah fan. The toddler’s favorite songs are “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree” and “Utah Man.” For now, Deanna and D.J. miss most road trips, but Jeff looks forward to the day when the whole family will follow the Utes.

Herring recalls one evening when his parents offered to babysit D.J. on the condition that Jeff take Deanna to see the movie Fever Pitch, a love story involving an overly devout Boston Red Sox fan. It had an impact.

Afterwards, Deanna explained to Jeff that the show helped her to better understand his passion for the Utes, because “You are a part of something bigger than yourself.”

So, how devoted is he? Herring couldn’t find a travel partner for the Utes’ 2005 game at Colorado State, so he drove the approximately 1,000-mile roundtrip journey by himself to keep his streak intact. Even a minor traffic accident on the way back from Fort Collins could not curb his enthusiasm.

Herring also has an impressive basketball attendance streak. He has been present at the last nine conference basketball tournaments, and not just games involving the Utes. He and his cousin Pace watch every tournament game, both men’s and women’s. “We buy our tickets the day they go on sale,” Herring says. “The guys at the ticket office know exactly which seats we want.”

“I once missed about half of a women’s game to pick Pace up at the airport,” Herring admits. “I’m not sure if that means the streak is broken.”

Herring’s favorite conference basketball moment was watching Ute guard Nick Jacobson drill a three-pointer near the buzzer to beat UNLV in the 2004 tourney final. “I loved to watch Nick play, and for him to win the conference tournament like that in his senior year was incredible.”

Favorite football moment? Herring can’t make a clear decision. “The Fiesta Bowl was just amazing—the sea of red in the stadium, the magic of a BCS bowl, beating Pittsburgh 35-7… But I also rank this season’s win over BYU in Provo as right up there with, if not better than, the Fiesta Bowl. Our starting quarterback [Brian Johnson] and best wide receiver [John Madsen] were out and BYU was a big favorite to beat us. But [substitute quarterback] Brett Ratliff was fantastic, and we pulled off the upset. Nothing compares to celebrating a win in Provo.”

—John Fackler BS’89 BS’94 MprA’95 is director of business relations for the U’s Alumni Association.

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