Standing in the rain in an all but silent Rice-Eccles Stadium last week, my stomach turned. For four quarters my 8-year old daughter and I withstood an onslaught of rain, wind, and the horror of watching Utah squander a 21 point first quarter lead to a 1-3 Washington State. It was hard to stomach, and frustrating in every way. It was unbelievable that my feelings changed from, "This weather isn't so bad," after Eric Rowe's pick-six, to "Why am I here, and why do I have my daughter out here in this rain?"
As a fan of the Utes, I have been through it all. The glory of 2008, and the disbelief of the 2007 loss to UNLV. Not to mention everything in between, being a fan is hard work. I find the ability to be fiscally responsible so that I can purchase those season tickets every spring. I spend hundreds of dollars on merchandise, food, parking, and whatever else that will enhance my football viewing experience. So when Utah goes out and loses the way they did last Saturday night, naturally I am pissed. The fact is losing sucks. It sucks to think that I, as a fan, invested so much and I deserve so much better. It's fair, to an extent I guess.
When I woke up Sunday morning, I didn't feel any better. As I fired up Twitter to join in the melee, I was stifled by something my 6 year old son, a huge Ute fan himself, said to me. He looked me in the eye and said, "The Utes lost last night, I bet Isaac's upset." The Isaac he was referring to is right guard Isaac Asiata. Through the last 3 years, my son has grown an affinity for Isaac and a few other players. He looks up to them and wants to play football just like them. In that moment, I realized something; sure I have invested a lot, but what about the players and coaches on this staff? What have they sacrificed? Sure they get the limelight and celebrity-like status, but they also have given up so very much to be there. For coaches, it's long nights and time away from their families. For players, it's practice all week on top of school work, study work and missing friends and family at home. It's all for a game, a game that yields very little outside of a degree for most.
This Wednesday I went to Utah football practice. The team was in good spirits, intense, focused and set on correcting the mistakes that showed up against WSU. When practice finished I got a chance to talk to Isaac Asiata. I asked him how the team was doing. He told me that the team had moved on, fully focused on UCLA and the challenges they will face in Pasadena. Isaac has been playing at the left guard spot this week, which is a change from his normal position on the right side.
"I haven't played on the left side since high school, but I am enjoying the change" he said with a smile.
When I asked Isaac about the fall out by fans after Saturday's loss, his smile faded a bit, "I mean, I don't speak for the whole team. Personally, myself, fans come to the game and they pay to watch the game, and they get upset when we let them down." Asiata shared, "But the only thing we can do is move forward. I especially appreciate the fans that stay loyal week in and week out. Those are the same fans that were there at Michigan who waited out the rain, and stayed with us through the highs and lows. Those are the same people that stayed last week and stayed through all four quarters to the last minute. So to those fans, we appreciate you. We'll keep moving forward, there's a lot of football to be played."
After talking to Isaac it all made sense to me. My disappointment was nothing compared to what Isaac and his teammates felt. The hours at practice, film study, lifting, personal sacrifice, and hours spent being the best they can be. When a let-down occurs, it's heartbreaking. It can damage the mental fortitude of even the strongest of individuals.
I, as a fan, have a right and a choice to be mad. To sling accusations and criticisms, that's my right as a fan. This article was not to tell you how to feel or act as a fan. It was only meant for some insight to one of your peers and fellow fans. That's what makes us fans, at times we are just that, fanatical. I just ask to remember that when you feel you have invested so much, the coaches and especially the players, have invested so much more, and they will continue to do so even if no one believes they can. That's what this Utah team is all about, belief in themselves, teammates and the fans that support them through the good and the bad.