Utes vs. Tide: A thin red line

Published December 22, 2008 9:09 am
Crimson pride » Alabama, Utah sport long football traditions
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

At first blush, Alabama football fans might dominate a debate over whether they or Utah supporters bleed the deepest shade of crimson red as the schools prepare for the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

After all, this is the storied Alabama football program, the school with 12 national championships, the legendary Bear Bryant, Big Al the elephant, the Crimson Tide and one of the NCAA's greatest winning traditions.

And what does Utah offer?

No national titles, a reputation as a great basketball, gymnastics and skiing school, fewer All-Americans and 13 bowl appearances compared with 51.

What's more, Alabama's version of crimson appears to at least one expert artist as a truer version than Utah's, even though both schools boast crimson and white as their official colors.

Spring City artist Kathy Peterson examined colors on the two schools' Web sites closely and said the Tide wins.

"Alabama looks more crimson, which is cherry and blood," she said. "It is a close call, but from the Web sites it appears the U.'s is more fire engine red."

That said, the tradition battle between the Crimson Tide and Utes might be closer than many think.

The schools both began playing football in 1892 and their association with crimson dates back to the late 1800s.

According to Cathy Andreen, director of media relations for the University of Alabama, that school chose crimson and white as its colors after its cadet class wore them while winning the 1885 New Orleans Exposition competitive drill.

Utah officials struggled to find just why the school adopted crimson. Coralie Alder, the school's executive director in public and media relations, guessed that it was because red stands for courage and valor.

Roy Webb and Paul Mogren, who work at the Utah's Marriott Library Special Collections, found this passage in a history book on the University's first 100 years written by Ralph V. Chamberlain:

"In the 1890s there developed an espirit de corps, a more complete homogeneousness, among the students. On occasions of public contests and meetings it manifested itself in the form of enthusiastic display of the Silver and Crimson, the newly adopted school colors, and of the first organized cheering by a 'yelling brigade.'?"

In a footnote, the author said the colors were adopted by the faculty on April 7, 1892, which means Utah's tradition with crimson dates almost as far back as Alabama's.

Pat Whetstone, the director of alumni affairs at the University of Alabama, while offering respect to Utah, remains convinced his school owns the "true" crimson.

"We could make the argument that we are the Crimson Tide so crimson has been in our name for the ages," he said, adding that "ours may have started as fire engine red but it has faded through time as we have prevailed over the years in football. Maybe we are more weathered and have made it come back to a true crimson color."

John Ashton of the Utah Alumni Association offered a different take:

"One story I read about Alabama was that the Crimson Tide came up because of the color of mud. [Indeed, Alabama's first nickname was the The Thin Red Line. A sportswriter coined the term Crimson Tide after a 1907 Auburn-Alabama game that was played in red mud.]. My argument would be that we have used crimson since 1850 and they picked it up later so we had a longer claim to it."

University of Alabama student Miller Smith, who works at a sports bar near the Tuscaloosa campus, said she was certain that Alabama's version of crimson was more true than Utah's but admitted she really didn't know much about the Salt Lake school. She exclaimed "Nooo!!!" when told about Utah's drill team, the Crimson Line, and immediately mentioned Alabama's cheer squad, the Crimsonettes. The Tide also has a Crimson Cabaret dance team.

Longtime Utah Crimson Line director Lori Rupp, who came up with the name along with University Vice President Ted Capner and former band director Greg Hansen in 1986, said the team, which performs with the band as well and throughout the U.S., has often been referred to as the Crimson Tide.

"Alabama has nothing on Utah," said Rupp, who recently retired. "I have had the cheerleaders also for the past five years and they will also outshine 'Bama. I can't tell you how many times we were introduced as the Crimson Tide from the University of Utah. Sometimes it just comes out of people's mouths that are true football fans. But they don't own that crimson word."

While some might think that much of Utah's apparel appears more red than crimson, Utah bookstore director Earl Clegg said that when he first took the job the school was quite particular that only a dye called "crimson red" could be used on any official clothing or school spirit gear.

"As we went along, we put less importance as to the tone or shade," he said. "A bigger window was allowed."

Ute students remain convinced Utah is the true crimson.

"We bleed more red than Alabama's crimson would through the Muss program and student section," said Kenny Eltzroth. "Our pride is much stronger than Alabama."

"And they're going to be bleeding more," said Peter Hughes.

Thus, the debate over which school bleeds more crimson continues.

wharton@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">wharton@sltrib.com

Crimson vs. Crimson: Tale of the tape

CategoryUtah Alabama Winner

School Founded18501831Alabama
Football Began18921892Even
National ChampionshipsNone12Alabama
Number of Wins558799Alabama
Bowl Wins1031Alabama
NicknameUtesCrimson TideAlabama
School Fight Song Includes CrimsonYesYesUtah (Song is Older)
MascotSwoop (Red-tailed Hawk)Big Al (Elephant)Utah (Indigenous Species)
Coach With Cool NicknameCactus JackBearEven
ColorsCrimson and White (both)Even
Band NameMarching UtesMillion Dollar BandAlabama

Drill and Dance Teams Crimson Line Crimsonettes, Crimson CabaretAlabama

First Time on Television19531951Alabama
Stadium Capacity45,01792,238Alabama
Booster Club NameCrimson ClubBig AUtah
PoliticsRed StateRed StateUtah (redder)

Bottom Line » Alabama 9, Utah 5

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