The Grand Lady was dressed out a bit differently on Saturday afternoon.
Yep, in blue. And it was OK. Nothing scintillating, but OK.
Rice-Eccles Stadium featured, in the place of crimson robes, along with its red end zones, sky blue on silver for the Salt Lake Stallions’ sixth game of the AAF season, their third home game. And this time, there was no white, in the form of snow, no frigid temperatures, no arctic blasts to dissuade fans from coming to watch a still-new kind of pro football.
However, come they did not.
You could have landed a couple of Goodyear blimps in the stands and not blocked anyone’s view. Attendance was announced at 8,150, which was not only more than actually showed up, but also something of a shame.
Spectators who bothered to buy a ticket were decently rewarded for their time and trouble, far beyond not freezing to death, in the sunshiny form of a 22-9 Stallions victory over the Memphis Express.
Cool it was to hear Express coach Mike Singletary, he of the gravelly voice, the impregnable ’85 Bears defense and baby-I’ll-be-here-all-day fame, say afterward: “This is football.”
And so, it is.
There is this to conclude: These AAF guys can play, and are worth watching, even as habits and the calendar require some adjusting on the part of fans.
It was nice to see some football, again, football that actually counts, in the middle of March, in the middle of watching all the Utah schools — other than Utah State — eliminated from qualification for the NCAA Tournament, giving the madness of the month a whole different connotation.
For those looking to get away from that anger, seeking a righteous sports buzz, this, along with the Jazz and Aggies in Vegas, and maybe Real Salt Lake, which was on the road on this day, would have to do.
It would do.
The Stallions, made up of a bunch of hungry young men, including some former Utes and Cougars and Aggies, caught between the hard edges of college ball and the NFL, searching for a chance to advance their skills and their professional opportunities, looked pretty good, at least at times.
It took all of one quarter to see that the AAF is no shoddy enterprise. On the whole, its products, its teams are better than many college outfits and just as entertaining to watch. Play wasn’t close to perfect, mistakes cropping up here and there, fumbles, penalties, dropped passes, but … it was satisfying.
Shake that skepticism out of your soul. It was.
The Stallions scored two touchdowns in the first quarter and converted a couple of two-point conversions, going up 16-zip over that span. They also got a field goal before the half. The Express fought back with nine first-half points.
The second half brought less offensive success — three points — for Salt Lake. The Stallions had a chance to extend their lead to 18 midway through the third quarter, but a fumble near the goal line cost them that.
The Stallions defense was mostly effective, yielding some yardage — 239 in total — but not enough to really threaten their win.
It was, all told, an adequate showing by Salt Lake, better than what you would see in spring ball at Utah or BYU or Utah State.
“We’re playing good on defense,” Stallions coach Dennis Erickson said. “And showing some sparks on offense.”
The only thing yet missing — besides the fans — is a proper branding, something, anything, that would attach a connection between football fans in the stands (or the potential ones not in the stands) and the team on the field.
The care factor.
Even on a 50-degree afternoon, those empty seats at Rice-Eccles demonstrated the difficulty in achieving that connection.
But the football, on the whole, deserved better. Your Stallions deserved better.
Consistent winning would most certainly help their cause.
The Stallions are now 2-4, having struggled at times in previous weeks to put enough scoring on the board, while they’ve established the best rush defense in the league.
Either way, nearly three months after the end of college ball and a month-and-a-half after the Super Bowl, you might have a hankering, again, for some football. If you do, the Stallions are a worthwhile scratch for that itch, a scratch worth seeking out, worth caring about — at least a little.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.