U's "red" bled even at CEU

Posted Tuesday, January 11, 2005 - 12:00am

It was a storybook ending to Utah's flagship university's football season. With a 35-7 victory over Pittsburgh in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, a perfect 12-0 record, Coach Urban Meyer receiving the Football Writers Association/Eddie Robinson coach of the year award, and quarterback Alex Smith named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, Utah "red" is running rampant throughout the state.

That Utah "red" bled through the state as merchants in both states along the Fiesta Bowl route saw not only red – and green – over the New Year's holiday weekend as thousands of Utah football fans hit the road to follow their team. The green was in the form of profits the throng of football fans spent in hotels, gas, restaurants and Fiesta Bowl memorabilia.

A veteran Utah Highway Patrol officer

reported that travel on U.S. 89 on Sunday night after the bowl game was the heaviest he had ever seen. McDonald's in Page, Ari., ran out of hamburger buns, chicken nuggets and strips. In small communities throughout southern Utah, it was a 20-minute wait many times to purchase gas for the thousands of SUVs and cars who traveled to and from the bowl game.

A University of Utah web site advertising its school flag, pennants, hats, rugs and mugs was barraged with hits as many sought to purchase the memorabilia to proudly symbolize their school pride and loyalty. It seemed like everyone, whether in Tuscon, Salt Lake City or even Price, wore red that day to signify their pride in Utah's football program.

Television cameras panned the 73,000 in attendance at the stadium on Jan. 1, and another sea of red was seen. It was definitely a proud moment for all of Utah to witness.

For the U of U's athletic program, it brought prestige and name recognition to its campus. It put the U of U on the map. Its profits from a major bowl game should help fund other sports or bolster the school's academic mission. It gave the school major bragging rights, something that has not been seen in Utah college sports since Brigham Young University football team won the national championship over two decades ago. A year before most of this year's undergraduate college students were even born.

Although it is impossible to quantify how that positive image translates into a better university, supporters of campus athletics believe the image attracts faculty and students who want to come to a winner, and increase donations from proud alumni. Even in these tough economic times, it was hard to find anyone in the state last week who would complain how much the university spent on its football program.

Winning brings a level of spirit and unity on the campus you do not get with academics. There's a real spirit of pride, tradition and motivation on campus that comes from a winning program.

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