Certainly, this is not unique to me, but from the columns I write here, I receive a lot of responses, some of which are beyond nice and thoughtful and thought-provoking and some of which could never be reprinted in a respectable space like The Tribune’s on account of the exuberant, colorful, descriptive words sprinkled through them; words that rhyme with bass-pole and hick-bed and brother-trucker. And that’s just from family members.
Let me share with you a few fricks and fracks of what I received from a most recent column about whether Utah, BYU and Utah State could ever reach and match the football powers and pinnacles that are found in the SEC.
The first was from a gentleman who lives in Florida.
He wrote the following, which I’ve edited a bit:
“I live in Tallahassee, but as the parent of a Utah student, I’ve become a fan of Ute sports while continuing to maintain my Seminole booster status at FSU. Living in the southeast, I’ve been to many SEC and ACC games.
“I agree with your assessment. The Utes have power in the trenches, speed running between the tackles, and excellent skill players running routes … that along with a tough, blue-collar kid slinging the ball and frequently laying his body on the line. How can one not get excited about that?
“The Utes have shown me that they have the tools to compete with the big boys. They would have cleaned FSU’s clock this year, along with probably the last five years. I marvel at what the Utes do with a bunch of 2- and 3-star recruits.
“Believe me, the SEC guys are noticing this as well. I was in a wedding reception in north Alabama this past season when Utah beat Oregon the first time. Enjoying a few cold ones with some Alabama, Auburn, and Georgia alums while watching the game (which I had to beg — with a big tip — the bartender to put on), they remarked numerous times how tough Utah played. Indeed, the Alabama boys recalled the Utah victory over the Tide in the Sugar Bowl several years ago. These SEC guys were genuinely impressed and parked their usual SEC arrogance while we cheered the Utes on as they embarrassed the Ducks.”
He signed his name, but I’ll keep that between him and me.
There you go, Utah fans. Apparently, some folks are noticing what the Utes are doing, what they’re building, what they’ve already done and built.
Maybe Utah really can grow into the kind of powerhouse that is seen so often on the top shelf of Southern football. Maybe it can and does recruit and develop in proper number the athletes necessary to battle with Georgia and Alabama and Auburn and LSU. Maybe it has the coaches with the acumen and vision to float its boat to the level of the rising Tide.
Maybe BYU and Utah State can edge in that direction, too. Maybe all the schools here will haul in and further commit the required resources to make Utah a bastion of football, a place where the fans breathe it in and blow it out as one of the most meaningful aspects of existence. Maybe a head coach here will someday make $10 million a year, and other schools will have it written into their constitutions that the other head coaches have to be within five percent of what the highest-paid guy is making. Maybe the football coach, as long as he’s winning, will be more powerful than the school president, than the governor. Maybe there will be nearly half as many people tailgating outside the stadium during a Saturday game as there are occupying the seats inside. Maybe folks will go berserk for Bear Bryant’s houndstoothy game.
Another response came from a graduate-degree holder from an SEC school who has season tickets there, a fan of the program who also happened to attend both USU and BYU, who once had season tickets at BYU, and whose kids have degrees from Utah and Utah State.
“With that background, let me point out a slight error in your column. You said, ‘The game is as important to those folks down there as any other aspect of living.’ That is a huge understatement. It’s MORE important to them. … It is everything.”
At one game, between Alabama and Auburn, he said the police estimate was that there were more people gathered outside the building than there were seated inside it.
He pointed out that the SEC’s tagline is, “It just means more.” And he said because of the huge budgets, the sweet facilities and the massive interest, it’s “more fun.”
Yet another response was from a former longtime professor at an SEC school, a response that was followed up with a detailed phone conversation that included an insider’s look at what Southeastern football is really like, the behemoth, the monster that it is.
He wrote, quoting a line from the column, and then followed it up with his own line:
“‘Salt Lake, Provo, Logan are not Tuscaloosa, Athens and Baton Rouge.’”
“And thank God for that.”
He added: “There is a dark side that goes with these college football gridtropolises.”
That darkness can underscore how hypocritical the notion of academics ruled by athletics can be. The more propped up something becomes, the more power it gains, the more money it generates, the more room there is for distortion, abuse, corruption, even.
But, man, it can be fun.
The subsequent question, the one that follows, “Can Utah, BYU, Utah State become like SEC schools?” is “Should they?”