This post is sponsored by NCAA Football 2011 and is part of a week-long series that will further introduce Utah football.
I'm a lucky Ute. I've grown up during an era of amazing football. I don't remember long stretches of losing seasons. I don't remember ever being humiliated by BYU (though 1996 comes close). I don't remember failing to qualify for bowl games on a consistent basis. Yes, I am a lucky Ute. Those of us who grew up in the 90s and 00s have witnessed the best stretch of this program's history.
Which is awesome from a fan's point of view, but can be hell if you're trying to list your favorite memories. The games and moments that define why you're a Ute. There are so many memories, I honestly don't know where to begin. But I'll try. My favorite moments after the jump...
2004 Holy War
This is a two-parter because I think GameDay needs its own mention as one of my favorite moments as a Ute.
There are rare moments in life where you know exactly what you're getting. It's even rarer in college football against your rival. I had that feeling on the morning of November 20th. I went to Rice-Eccles Stadium convinced the Utes would not only knock off Brigham Young - but bust the BCS along the way. It was inevitable. The game itself just a formality to the big celebration after and it was.
That's what made it an exceptional moment. There was no worry and concern. I was so totally ready for 11-0, not much thought was left for BYU. I think that was the case all around the University. The moment was more about what Utah was doing and less about it happening against our bitter instate rival. We had more time to relax and soak up the moment instead of pacing nervously around waiting to see if that moment would ever transpire.
Sure, the game was close in the first half and I'll admit a tinge of concern rolled over me when the score was tied at 14-14. But once things settled down and Utah started rolling, the Fiesta started. There were chants and tortillas and Tostitos. People were tossing their sombreros in the air and then with about two minutes left, we did something I've never seen before - a good chunk of the fans began to line the side of the stadium.
When the final seconds ticked off the clock, the lasting image of that night was the fans storming the field.
It certainly was an epic moment for the program.
As I mentioned, this is separate because it does need its own mention.
I remember the night before the 2004 Holy War. I tried my hardest to sleep and couldn't. It was the closest I've come since becoming an adult at capturing that night before Christmas feeling. You know, where you can't sleep because you're just too damn excited.
For the entire day, I tried talking my friends into getting up early with me and going down to the stadium for GameDay. But no one would. They knew it was supposed to snow and they knew GameDay would be going live at eight in the morning. Too early for them. Especially after they had spent much of Friday night drinking.
So for a bit, I was unsure if I would even go. I remember laying in bed at around five thirty that morning wondering if I should just give in and go by myself. It didn't take long for convincing and about an hour later, I was heading on down to the stadium with my sombrero.
I parked at the Unitarian Church on 13th East, just north of the stadium, and walked down. I'm glad I did. It was an amazing moment. You can't beat GameDay because if it's coming to your town for your school (and they weren't there for BYU), it means you've officially arrived.
That's exactly what Utah did in 2004. They officially arrived.
2004 Holy War GameDay (via JazzyUte)
2004 Texas A&M game
This game kicked off the 2004 season in more ways than one. I still remember the big hoopla about ESPN being there and how much attention the school and Urban Meyer was getting. As fans, we all knew this team had the potential to be special. We just didn't know how special until about only the second play of the game.
Then Alex Smith found Steve Savoy for the 78-yard touchdown and I think every Ute fan knew we were going to be damn good.
And we were.
Utah scorin early against Texas A&M. (via JazzyUte)
2004 Fiesta Bowl
This was a bit bittersweet for me. I hated seeing Urban Meyer go. Especially when so many in the media tried to make it about him. You felt the Utes were an afterthought in all of this and I guess, in some ways, they were. Of course, now we can look at this as just the beginning of it all and not the end, like I think many of us feared when it happened.
Really, how many of you thought Utah would be in another BCS bowl only four years after this one? I didn't. Hell, how many of you thought Utah would be invited to join the Pac-10 in a few years back in 2004?
It was, though, a fun game to watch. The Utes destroyed the Pitt Panthers (here's to that happening this season) and reestablished a college football play popularized by another BCS buster.
Utes run the hook and ladder. (via JazzyUte)
2003 Holy War
This was a tough Holy War for me because I was losing my grandma. She was my buddy, more specifically, she was my Ute buddy. We watched a ton of Utah games together and never missed a Holy War played in Provo. It was tradition to watch those away games together.
Well in 2003, I was actually given tickets to the game down in Provo. When they were given to me, grandma had yet to really take a turn for the worse. We thought she had more time. But as game-week rolled around, and she returned to the hospital, I knew we didn't have much time at all.
So my decision was an easy one. Instead of heading down to Provo to watch the Cougars and Utes live, I decided to watch the game with her instead.
That game was great on so many levels. The Utes not only won, of course, but they also shut out the Cougars and finally achieved something they hadn't since the 1950s - an outright conference championship. Grandma was so happy. She hated BYU something fierce and beating them was the perfect end to a very long and difficult week.
That next Tuesday, she died. It devastated me. But I'm glad we got to at least watch one final Holy War together. Especially that one.
2008 Oregon State game
This was a pretty big game. The Beavers had just knocked off SC and were coming into Salt Lake as one of the most talked about teams that week. The Utes were slowly establishing their bid for the BCS and a win over Oregon State would've added to that.
But the Beavers were tough. They weren't just going to waltz into Salt Lake and roll over.
This game was both great and infuriating at the same time. Great because of how it ended and infuriating because of how poor Brian Johnson and the Utes looked for a great deal of it. It was not a perfect performance and outside of the final two minutes, Utah looked nothing like a team capable of going 13-0.
But that's the beauty of sports. You've got time to redeem yourself and the Utes did that and more in a big way.
Facing the prospects of their first loss of the season, Johnson rallied his troops and led 'em down the field for a must-score. Then, still facing long odds, he converted two points and left the game in the hands of the defense. They did their job and the Utes got the ball back with just enough time to get into field goal range.
Utes score 11 points in 90 seconds to beat Oregon State (via JazzyUte)
2008 TCU game
Billed as the biggest game in Mountain West history, this match pitted top-ten Utah against eleventh-ranked TCU. It proved worthy of its title as the Utes would stun the Frogs in the final seconds. But getting to that point was not easy.
The Frogs had about as good of a start as anyone could ever hope to have on the road in a huge game. They easily moved the ball down field and after their first two drives, held a 10-0 lead. I think most Ute fans were in awe of how easy TCU made it look. At that point, I was not sure if the game would even be close.
Of course, the Utes settled in and kept the Frogs scoreless the remainder of the game. But it wasn't easy getting back into things. TCU's defense swarmed Utah's offense and though it was only a 10-3 hole at the half, it might as well had been a 28-0 hole - because that's what it felt like.
Even at 10-6, I wasn't that optimistic the Utes would get it done. They just could not move the ball at all. It felt like nearly every drive was a three and out and those that started promising, almost always stalled.
Then with about two minutes left, Brian Johnson did what he obviously does best. He took the game over.
Just when it looked like all hope was lost, Johnson began carving away at the TCU defense. Something he couldn't do earlier in the game. Each play netted more and more yards and finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the Utes found their way deep into TCU territory.
There was a moment, on third down, where Johnson lobbed a long pass into the end zone. I was sitting in the student section that game, so it happened right in front of me. I swear I thought that pass was going to make it. It was overthrown and that's when Utah faced the biggest fourth down in school history.
Cool as ice, Johnson converted it rather easily and the drive continued. A play later, Utah took the lead for good and the celebration began.
That was the loudest I've ever heard RES. The whole place was shaking. It's up there with Louie Sakoda's kick as one of the greatest moments I've experienced live. I still get goosebumps thinking about it!
Utes defeat #11 TCU in the final minute (via JazzyUte)
2008 Holy War
This wasn't like 2004's Holy War. Whereas that one was a formality, this wasn't a given. I don't think many Ute fans even expected the blowout that actually occurred. I know I didn't. So there was some doubt and concern and fear heading into this game. The Cougars had only lost once before that season and had proven two years earlier they were capable of winning at Rice-Eccles.
This was no rivalry game between an undefeated Utah team and a BYU team fighting to stay above .500. No, the Cougars were good and with the historic closeness of this rivalry, I thought it would be a very tight, down to the wire game.
It was...for about three quarters.
Then the Utes bulldozed Max Hall and BYU in the fourth. It was the best of both worlds. We got our gripping three quarters and then a fourth quarter left to just sit back and take in the whole experience. I did. You did. We all did.
2008's Holy War ended exactly like 2004's - with fans lining the field and then storming it with chants of BCS! History does repeat itself...
Utes crush BYU, earn second BCS bid in five seasons! (via JazzyUte)
2009 Sugar Bowl
My all-time favorite memory due to just how unexpected the result was. No, I didn't think the Utes were doomed for a loss. I just could not imagine them beating Alabama the way they did. I admit, I still get tears in my eyes thinking back to this game. It is, without question, the biggest win in program history and probably the biggest win any non-BCS team has seen since the BCS era began.
The only drawback is that I wasn't there. I've attended every game listed above. Not this one. I still kick myself for that. But oh well. The win kind of makes up for that disappointment.
Utah vs. Alabama, 2009 Sugar Bowl (via darrenvc71)
2005 Holy War
I love this game. Not many people gave Utah a chance. The week before they had lost Brian Johnson and John Madsen to injury. BYU was probably the hottest team in the conference heading in and the Utes looked doomed to return to their pre-Meyer days.
I went down to Provo feeling good. I could not tell you why I felt good. I really didn't know if Utah would win, make it a game or get blown out. I just felt good.
I felt great after the Utes scored three quick touchdowns.
But this game was a roller coaster. Utah looked scary good in the first half and disastrous for great stretches in the second. They allowed BYU to crawl all the way back from a 21-point deficit and it looked like things were falling apart for the Utes.
Then, in overtime, they clicked and won their fourth straight against the Cougars. It was a monumental win because it offered Utah a chance to play in a bowl game, beat their rival and finish with a winning record. It really saved 2005 and I'm not sure how the program looks today had they lost that game and finished Kyle Whittingham's inaugural season 5-6.
Thankfully, that did not happen.
Utah vs. BYU 2005 Highlight Video (via newmanscott22)
1993 Holy War
Lots of Holy Wars on here, right? Well none of the above would have happened hadn't it been for this one. This changed the course of the rivalry forever and officially put BYU on notice that their dominance was over.
I don't remember much of this game. I remember watching it in my grandpa's den and celebrating after the fact. But that's about it. I think this was the year I really started following the Utes (my first game had come earlier in the season against Idaho - they lost). But this game helped make me a fan for life.
It's funny how it ended. You know, with a kick. Ron McBride was constantly terrorized by poor special teams play. Yet one of his biggest wins was thanks to a kicker. Weird how things like that work out.
Chris Yergensen nails a 55-yard FG to beat the Cougars in Provo! (via JazzyUte)
Those are some of my many, many great memories. What are yours?