The day-after-Christmas date and the driving distance of the Heart of Dallas Bowl are big deterrents.

Those factors likely will result in Utah’s crowd Tuesday afternoon at the Cotton Bowl Stadium being among the lowest during the school’s modern era of bowl appearances, beginning 25 years ago. And that’s exactly why Terri Treat insisted on going to Dallas.

“The team needs fans more than my kids need me on Christmas,” she said.

So she and her husband, Terry, Taylorsville residents, booked the cheapest flight they could find — 6 a.m. Christmas Day. They’ll continue a Ute bowl tradition that usually includes several other family members, but their numbers are affected by this year’s circumstances.

Other fans planned to spend Christmas in Utah, then fly Tuesday morning to Dallas and hope they can make the 12:30 p.m. CST kickoff vs. West Virginia. The Utes also will be supported by players’ families from Texas and other fans scattered around the country who try to attend the team’s bowl games every year. The school has distributed about 1,500 tickets, counting the allotment to players and staff members.

Pat Condie of Salt Lake City caught a break with the Utes’ bowl draw in Dallas, where her brother, Paul, lives. “I wasn’t planning on going to the bowl game because of the expense,” she said. Yet as a season-ticket holder who has missed only two home games in 25-plus years and attended many road games, she wanted to be there. Her brother offered to house her and pay half her airfare, which helped.

(Courtesy of Jeremy Burgon) Utah alumnus Jeremy Burgon of Charlotte, N.C., is taking sons Jackson, 11, and Tyler, 9, to Dallas

Utah alumnus Jeremy Burgon of Charlotte, N.C., is taking sons Jackson, 11, and Tyler, 9, to Dallas. “The biggest motivation I have to make the sacrifice in money and time away from my wife [Jenn] and daughters is to create a bonding experience with my boys that I don’t think they’ll forget,” he said. “When they open their presents on Christmas with a new Utah shirt and a boarding pass to fly to Dallas, I expect the look on their faces to be priceless.”

Those are the kind of memories Terry and Terri Treat have created with their extended family since 1994, when a relative invited them to bring their trailer to the tailgate lot. They became such devoted fans that they attended the Freedom Bowl that year and have kept going, missing only the 2003 Liberty Bowl in Memphis Tenn.

“It’s been a great family activity that we have all loved,” Terri Treat said. “My daughter is passing on the tradition to our 9-year-old grandson and he loves coming to all the games and has been to a couple bowl games as well. … We have driven to most of the bowl games with our kids. We’ve gotten up very early the day after Christmas for some and got home Christmas Eve from one or two.”

Jennifer Smith, a former Ute tennis player, is making the trip to Dallas with her husband, Roger, and parents, Jeff and Cathy Jensen.

I just love what a family affair attending and watching football games has become for our family,” Smith said. “My parents have taught us well.”

Smith’s husband required some persuasion to attend the 2009 Sugar Bowl, due to the travel costs to New Orleans and fears that the Utes would be overwhelmed by Alabama. “Turned out to be the best night of our lives,” she said.

Burgon hopes his sons feel the same way about their afternoon in Dallas. “It really hit me this year, that I needed to make Utah games more accessible to them as they are growing up and getting more and more into sports, if I want to allow them to become big fans and enjoy it as much as I do,” he said. The Burgons try to provide experiences that “create strong memories and relationships,” Jeremy said. “So that’s where the Heart of Dallas Bowl comes in.”