I love YouTube. Before its existence, you could've probably gone the rest of your life without ever seeing another highlight of some of the best games in Utah football history.
No more. With the development of media oriented websites like YouTube, you can find a ton of highlight videos for past Ute games. Many are my own, some aren't. The ones that aren't are always more special because it's generally a game I do not have.
Cal 2003 is one of those games. I've never seen video of it, as I was there. I remember ESPN broadcasting live from Rice-Eccles Stadium (which was a big deal back then). I remember the Utes were coming off a tough, heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M the week before - a game where they lost their starting quarterback Brett Elliott with a minute left in their come-from-behind loss.
This was also the game Urban Meyer hyped to the point where it still stands (and will always stand until the stadium is expanded due to fire codes) as the most attended game in Utah football history.
Not bad for a team that entered the contest 1-1 and still living in the shadows of a losing campaign the season before.
As for the game, it was really the beginning of a new era for Utah football. Alex Smith was making his first start and Cal, who had rapidly rose to respectability under second-year coach Jeff Tedford, easily proved to be a more formidable foe than the time these two programs met in 2000 - when Utah lost 24-21 to a Golden Bears team that finished the year 3-8.
This was an up and down game for the Utes, as they jumped out to a 14-0 lead and then a 21-7 lead before a furious Cal rally put the Golden Bears up 24-21 heading into the fourth quarter.
That was an important development because, over the McBride years, we were so used to watching the Utes wilt when they blew big leads. It had happened a year before a few times, though most notably against Air Force at the start of the season.
Utah had entered that game 2-2 and were a week removed from an extremely difficult close loss to Michigan. This was prior to the bottom falling out on that season and a win here, over the always tough Falcons, could have salvaged the season and ultimately saved McBride's career. However, after building a 26-6 lead at the half, the Utes crumbled in the third and fourth quarters, allowing Air Force to score 24 unanswered points en route to a 30-26 victory.
I think most Ute fans left the stadium that day knowing the McBride era was pretty much over. There was no coming back from the ledge that season, as Utah would go on to lose twice more and finish with their second losing record in three years.
This game was different, though. The Utes were on the ledge, teetering entering that fourth quarter after blowing a huge lead at home. However, they managed to pull back with a Bryan Borreson field goal and then, most importantly, a Brandon Warfield touchdown with just a sliver over a minute left.
Utah's defense would force Aaron Rodgers (who replaced Reggie Robertson at quarterback for Cal) to fumble on their final drive, all but sealing the Utes' win.
Of course, we know what happened after this game. Utah would continue their winning ways for a few more weeks, eventually opening the season 6-1 (before an inexcusable loss to New Mexico) and then finishing the year with a 10-2 record and top-25 finish.
Cal is where it started, though. It was a huge win for a program needing to exorcise some major demons.
Utah has gone 68-18 since their loss to Texas A&M in 2003. Who knows if that happens if they lose to the Golden Bears that night.