Rarely before any big game had there been so much theorizing, so much back and forth, about whether a victory in that game was advantageous or disadvantageous, necessary or unnecessary, as there was before Saturday night’s Utah-Oregon matchup.
All the scenarios were hashed through — Should Utah give the third-ranked Ducks free passage to the College Football Playoff, so it presumably could have the Rose Bowl to itself? Or with Arizona State hanging around, was that too much of a risk? — as were the approaches that supposedly were or were not in the Utes’ best interests. Would it be better for them to show all their stuff, or to hold back and then throw down their full goods in the Pac-12 championship game, likely between these same teams?
Well. Screw all that.
Every last bit of it.
Hear, instead, the true message blowing in the wind: Just win, baby.
Win because it’s what you should always try to do.
Win because you owe it to yourselves.
Win because a couple of guys looking down from the heavens want you to.
Win because you can.
Win to reach your highest goal, to reach your highest potential.
Beat the Ducks now, beat them later.
The hell with the scenarios.
And so, that’s exactly what the Utes did, by the impressive count of 38-7.
The fact that Utah has an authentic shot at the Rose Bowl is both motivation and a pathway to real reward. The Utes discovered against Oregon on Saturday that they definitely have it in them.
Soaring to their goal is much preferred to bumping and skidding home. As great as the Rose Bowl game is, getting there by conquest instead of carom would forever be more satisfying.
Beat the Buffs, beat the Ducks, and … bam, what some predicted would take Utah a quarter-century to achieve way back as it entered the newly formed Pac-12 will have taken the Utes less than half that time.
Remember at the celebration in a large loge at Rice-Eccles Stadium all those years ago at the official announcement that the Utes were being invited into the conference, among all the dignitaries, all the politicians and officials, was a representative from the Tournament of Roses folks in Pasadena who brought with him, appropriately enough, a large bunch of roses.
I remember looking at that bouquet on that day and having lived in Pasadena for many years, having attended many Rose Bowl games, having witnessed many Tournament of Roses parades, having chipped golf balls into the Rose Bowl from the golf courses at Brookside, from the sign that read: “Do Not Chip Golf Balls Into the Rose Bowl,” knowing that my wife, Lisa, had had her high school graduation held inside that stadium, I knew the significance of the place. I knew what a trip to that spot on January 1 would mean for Utah football.
In spite of the fact that the Utes had played in the Fiesta Bowl and in the Sugar Bowl, and won both of them, there is something magical about the Rose Bowl, something different from all the other bowls.
The Utes would thrill at the glory and experience of it all, they would suit up for that game and feel something unique and important, that they could sense that difference and see the ghosts of Rose Bowls past, and hear the echoes of Keith Jackson’s voice out of the press box and across the field.
If that’s being a bit overly dramatic, so be it.
The Rose Bowl is the … well, the Grandaddy of Them All.
That’s what I thought when I looked at those roses that day.
But first, the Utes would have to get there.
It was up to them to do the work, to create the chance.
Now, they are so close. What kind of meaning would that have for them, especially on the heels of a season that has seen this group of coaches and players weather storms both competitive and unthinkable — from losing to BYU and San Diego State to losing a teammate to the shot of a gun, after losing another teammate to the shot of a gun. And bouncing back.
That’s why losing on purpose or discarding winning’s importance or going vanilla to play another day was and should have been so objectionable to all involved.
If these players believe their teammates — Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe — are pulling for them to win from the Great Beyond, who’s to argue with them?
This whole process, then, wasn’t just a matter of getting to the Rose Bowl, by hook or crook. It was a much more important matter of … yeah, Getting To The Freaking Rose Bowl.
All the Utes have to do now is … you know and they know.
Whether they can is no longer a question, but an answer.
You saw what happened against Oregon.
Utah going up, 7-zip in the first quarter, Tavion Thomas on a 10-yard run. Oregon trying to respond with a field goal … and blocked, with subsequent drives … and stumbled and bumbled around, with absences of success, another missed field goal. The Utes moving the ball, Cam Rising running for another TD. The Ducks unable to run the ball. Utah scoring again, Thomas bulldozing in to make it 21-0, and then, Britain Covey on a return to the house, 28-0, and from there … well, it was over.
Throughout, the Utes administered nasty piles of punishment. Especially along the offensive and defensive lines.
Here’s the deal about all of the above: The Utes didn’t just win, they were the superior team. Those two things don’t always jibe. But they certainly did on this occasion.
Will they align again at Allegiant Stadium in Vegas in a couple of weeks? If they do, the Utes will have their Rose Bowl invitation.
Advice to all Utah fans: Enjoy Vegas, and if you do and the Utes do, absolutely relish Pasadena.
It offers the kind of experience that’s hard to come by even in an endeavor as rich and tradition-laden as college football. Playing in that game is wondrous, completely separate and apart from playing in the CFB playoffs. Nobody thinks about what might have been when they’re playing in the big bowl in the Arroyo Seco.
It is enough, more than.
There is still work to do for the Utes. They’ve been close before and sailed into the rocks. But … this time, if the sailing is smooth, if it finally happens, do not miss it. Get to the City of Roses.