This post is sponsored by NCAA Football 2011 and is part of a week-long series that will further introduce Utah football.
Unless you're an older fan, you probably didn't experience near-greatness on the Hill until around 1994. The best teams prior to that were those who either beat BYU, or just made the annual Holy War competitive.
Then 1994 came and the entire program changed. That was the year Ute fans finally got a taste of greatness. Sure, it was a bit bitter toward the end with losses to New Mexico and Air Force - but it was the first real great season in the modern era of Utah football.
It established the Utes' potential and really laid the foundation for the two greatest seasons in program history - 2004 and 2008.
In my view, both seasons were great for two different reasons, even though their outcome was extremely similar.
2004 was a new experience for Utah fans. It was big-time football on a campus that had mostly experienced fairly decent football. When the Utes began jockeying for a BCS berth, the publicity and excitement that came with their success had never been reached by a non-BCS team in the BCS era. The Utes were the innovators. The forefathers to a movement that continues today.
So for us fans, it was an amazing ride. Each game topped the next because Utah was just so damn good.
But for a long time, 2004 was bittersweet for me as a Ute fan. I remember standing on the field after our dominating win over BYU in the Holy War. We were all watching the video board as Urban Meyer talked during the post-game press conference.
You could tell by his wording and manner that this would be his final game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. You didn't want to believe it. You kept waiting for him to say, "and this is just the beginning...we're really going to do something special at Utah in the years to come," but he never did.
When that press conference ended, I think everyone knew he was done at Utah.
Sure enough, that next week, he was officially gone.
That was hard for me because I still had doubt any coach could be capable of capturing lightning in a bottle again. I know I'm not the only Ute fan who told themselves to soak up the experience because it was unlikely to ever happen again.
That was 2004 in my mind. A great season that you never wanted to end. Kind of like your childhood. It's come and gone and you'll always look back at it fondly. Yet when you do, you can't help but get a little depressed for nostalgia's sake.
Then 2008 came along.
Like I said, 2008 was completely different than 2004. For starters, we had been here before. It wasn't new for us. Don't get me wrong, it didn't make things any less enjoyable. It was just not the same.
2008 was also dissimilar because going undefeated wasn't a foregone conclusion like it was in 2004. We didn't know if Utah was capable of going 13-0. There were an awful lot of scares along the way. And those scares did create doubt about the prospects of playing in a BCS bowl.
But it made every game that much more important because there was no sure-win on the schedule anymore like there had been in 2004. In 2004, the games weren't about whether Utah was going to win. No, the games were about how much Utah would win by and if they didn't win by enough, you wondered if it'd hurt them overall in the polls.
Sometimes it did.
But four years later, we could get by with a narrow win because of the reputation the program carried. And it was those narrow wins that often will be replayed in our minds as some of the greatest games in Utah football history.
In 2004, how many games would you consider classic in that season? As a whole, the season was certainly a classic and I'm sure many of those games could be considered enjoyable. But true classics? Games so good you'll tell your kids you witnessed them live?
Hell, 2003 had more of those games than 2004.
2008 certainly was the complete package in that regard.
We not only had great wins over Michigan and Alabama. We had heart-stopping, last second victories over Oregon State and TCU.
Just one of those games right there trump every single game from 2004 in terms of theatrics and emotional investment.
I still get goosebumps watching the final drive against TCU or the final seconds against the Beavers.
Beyond just great games, 2008 had the single biggest victory in program history. Nothing can come close to Utah's win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Especially when you consider, a year later, they went on to win the national championship. In fact, no other non-BCS team has produced a greater victory in the BCS era.
So while 1994 might've been our original flirtation with greatness and 2004 was when we finally got our first date with greatness. 2008 was when we realized greatness was never leaving us.
What's your favorite Utah team?