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As a fan, we've all experienced pregame anxiety, but with Utah's struggles lately, the formality of defeat is consuming our emotions more than nerves tied to big games.
There is certainly a love/hate relationship with pregame jitters. On one hand, the anticipation of such an event is so overwhelming that it leads to butterflies in your stomach and possibly even the sweats. On the other, though, being scared ... nervous ... it means you're alive. That rush moments before the start of an important game is worth all the pacing and worrying you experience during the lead up.
The night of the big TCU game in 2008 was intense. Like today's game, it also happened on a Thursday and there was a definitive buzz in the air. We knew this game was likely the final barrier between where Utah was and ultimate perfection. Sure, the BYU game loomed, and that certainly had its own flair, but I think we all knew the biggest obstacle that season was the Horned Frogs.
We were right.
The night before the game, I had difficulty sleeping. That Thursday, I had difficulty focusing. That night, I had difficulty not pacing. I'm sure we've all experienced similar feelings over the years prior to big games. You get worked up, you fight back nerves, you itch at getting to the stadium and watching the action. Like the team, really, you psyche yourself up. This is war and though you're not on the front line, the emotion is almost just as explosive and raw.
These are moments that define why we're a fan. Even in defeat, the atmosphere of a big game is well worth everything we invest in this sport as a fan. I hated the outcome in the 2010 TCU game, but GameDay and a packed house was still an amazing experience. Though the 2010 season ended badly, I still look back fondly on a great deal of those games because of how big and great things seemed to be at the time.
Every game was huge for their standing ... every outcome important to the overall narrative. When you're undefeated, or fighting for a conference championship, even games against bad opponents take on new meaning. That was the case in 2008 and 2004 as well.
Winning makes every game big ... even the lesser ones. You're more into it when your team wins. You're more invested when your team is fighting for something special. Playing a below .500 team takes on new meaning ... as instead of just maybe winning, we all expect the team to win big.
In 2010, we were unsatisfied with a 30-6 win over Wyoming.
Today's game was supposed to be like that. Don't take this as me saying I'm not excited or pumped for tonight, I am, but on the whole, I am not coming at this game nearly at the level I did last year because I think, deep down, I've conceded the outcome already. The anticipation, the anxiety, is just not as high as it would have been had Utah entered undefeated. But because they're 2-2, and coming off a bad loss, this game looks like more a chance at redemption than a continuation of what we've started.
Redemption is exciting ... and this game is definitely exciting, but it's not at the level it could have been, or maybe should have been. This is just another game on the schedule now, albeit against a team who hasn't played in Salt Lake in almost 100 years. We're amped because it's USC ... but not necessarily because of what a win can represent. Utah beating TCU was huge in 2008, but it wasn't just because it was TCU ... it was because it put them that much closer to an undefeated season and a BCS bowl than when they entered. When the Utes played Colorado, I was nervous and excited not because of who it was, but because of the potential outcome a victory might present. It didn't happen, but the beauty of those games, those contests, the overselling of each event, was tied to this idea that something bigger and better lay ahead.
Tonight, when Utah takes the field, I'll be cheering my vocal cords into a bloody pulp. But I also know that, in the entire scheme of things, this game's meaning is not near the level as I had hoped. No, Utah won't instantly become the favorites in the Pac-12 South if they're victorious and no, winning doesn't guarantee the program is perfectly fine. It just means there might be more uncertainty and unpredictability ahead.
While a win will be celebrated and salivated, it won't be at near the level as I had wished.
Instead, I'll have fallen asleep easily the night before and I'll head up to the stadium energized - but I'll also do so with no expectations and no worry. I just won't be anxious and nervous. And as odd as it might sound, I kind of like that feeling the most when it comes to these big games. Being anxious and nervous means there's something considerable on the line and, unfortunately, that isn't the case tonight.
Still, let's get fired up and go out and cheer ourselves crazy ... if for nothing else than the potential of pulling an upset.