Starting in 2005, my family and I would always look for seats in the North End Zone of Rice-Eccles Stadium when we would attend Utah football games. We loved the view when either team was driving toward our section, we loved having perfect viewing angles of field goals going through either upright, and we loved the atmosphere and the people who liked to sit in the north end bleachers.
So there’s my little speech on how neat the North End Zone is, or, at least, how it used to be. Back then, I never would have thought that it would evolve into a new "hardcore" supporters section. Sure it’s cool to see the Utes pirate guy in his Jack Sparrow hat and his cape, or the stickers and t-shirts that have the new "NEZ" (North End Zone) logo. But with apologies to all those who worked so hard to make the NEZ what it is today, it will never match the intensity, passion, and recognition of the greatest student section in the Western United States.
Since the founding of The MUSS in 2002, its numbers and reputation have sky rocketed to a level unimaginable for a school with an enrollment of what was then roughly 26,000 students. The MUSS has grown and evolved into something truly special since its inception, and it has seen and inspired some of the greatest moments in the history of Utah athletics. Here are just a few of the reasons why this riotous student section trumps its noisy neighbors to The North.
According to a May 8 post on one of the NEZ’s main twitter handles (@AreUinTheNorth), only 363 season ticket holders in North End Zone have joined their group. While this doesn’t mean that there are only 300+ NEZ season ticket holders, it’s important to point out the overall lack of membership in this growing community.
In contrast to the NEZ, the MUSS contains over 6,000 raucous Utah students whose sole purpose is to cause havoc, confusion, and pandemonium at their end of the field. It can be argued that the NEZ produces similar noise levels as their compatriots in The MUSS, but last I checked, the NEZ hasn’t been applauded by multiple sports media outlets for its intimidating and game altering persona.
Last year The MUSS was named the second best student section in the Pac-12 (behind Arizona’s "Zona-Zoo") by ESPN Pac-12 reporter/blogger Ted Miller. The MUSS has received shout outs and notoriety from a number of college football pundits and is a big reason why ESPN’s College Football Daily named Rice-Eccles Stadium as one of the nation’s most underrated home field advantages. Does the NEZ have something to do with that particular recognition? Yes, but I don’t hear the Rick Nuheisels of the world begging the NEZ for a shirt, and I don’t see coach Kyle Wittingham wearing a NEZ pullover during a practice.
One relatively common denominator amongst all the great supporters sections of the world is some kind of matching clothing. Barcelona soccer supporters coordinate the entire stadium to match their team’s uniforms. Students at University of Maryland basketball games color coordinate their student sections with matching shirts of red, yellow, and black. Pittsburgh Steelers fans wave and swing their Terrible Towels to create a swirling sea of black and yellow in Heinz Stadium; and each member of The MUSS sports their matching logo t-shirts to create an unmistakably crimson blur as they jump and scream at the opposing team.
I’ve heard rumors that the NEZ season ticket holders are working on creating shirts, hats, and other fan favorites with the "NEZ" or "The North" logos on them, but it’s undoubtedly going to take a few years before their section starts to look anything like The MUSS.
As far as I’ve seen, other than being very loud when the opposing team is near their end, fans in the NEZ have no notable traditions in their upstart supporter section. The MUSS on the other hand have numerous favorite traditions during games and are always working on creating new ones year in and year out.
The most famous of these traditions is the "3rd Down Jump" where MUSS members jump and scream with their three fingers up during a third down for the opposing offense. Every MUSS member looks forward to seeing that iconic sign rush down the section aisle and to hear the stadium speakers proclaim "We must protect this house!" as they begin their frenzied jumping. Pride is on the line when the jump begins and there’s nothing sweeter than knowing that you helped your fellow Utes shut down the other team on that play.
Along with the third down jump MUSS member have "Utah First Down" chant, the "U of U Chop", the "U-T-A-H Fight Fight Fight" cry, and the false start tally. Then of course there’s the singing of "Utah Man" with the team after a win or a loss.
Finally, there’s one of the newest additions to The MUSS traditions, storming the field. This controversial act (see Holy War 2012 edition) has become a favorite amongst the rowdy students of The MUSS and has given them no shortage of publicity. The MUSS made SportsCenter’s "Not Top 10" for their antics against BYU in 2012, but current MUSS members maintain a level of pride for that fateful night and love nothing more than rushing the field against their hated rival. In fact, The MUSS has rushed the field the last three times the Team Down South has visited Rice-Eccles Stadium (2008, 2010, and 2012). I believe I speak for all current MUSS members when I say that none of us will forget that night on October 12, 2013 when we rushed the field after the Utes chopped down the number five ranked Stanford Cardinal.
I hope that members of the NEZ continue to shape and grow their fledgling group. I truly believe that more raucous fan sections will add to the rowdy reputation of Rice-Eccles Stadium, but the NEZ has a long way to go before they can challenge The MUSS for RES dominance.