The thread of text messages among eight siblings started soon after Jonas Johnsen and two of his brothers returned home from the Pac-12 championship game: How about the Holiday Bowl?
University of Utah athletic administrators successfully persuaded Holiday Bowl organizers that Ute fans would respond to the opportunity to watch their team play in one of the Pac-12′s top-tier bowls. They’re being rewarded with a projected strong turnout, after roughly 10,000 fans invested financially and emotionally in the conference title game and were disappointed about missing the Rose Bowl.
The Johnsens (the siblings are cousins of former Ute basketball players Jeff and Britton Johnsen) certainly are doing their part. Rod and Sue Johnsen and their six sons and two daughters — Justin, Jason, Jared, Josh, Jessica, Jacob, Jillesha and Jonas — all hope to be in San Diego next Monday. The Johnsens may have three dozen family members in their section of SDCCU Stadium, counting one couple with eight children of their own.
The Johnsen siblings grew up near the Utah campus and “we are all die-hard Ute fans,” said Jonas Johnsen, who lives in Farmington. “So if the Utes went to the Rose or Holiday, we were going to go to the game.”
They will be among a lot of people wearing red. The school easily sold its 7,000-ticket allotment and asked for more tickets. Counting tickets sold via the bowl's website and the secondary market, Utah expects to have between 10,000 and 15,000 fans for the game vs. Northwestern.
“We're really pleased,” said deputy athletic director Scott Kull. “We're thankful we have a great commitment out there.”
Ute administrators were confident their fans would follow the team to San Diego, with the attractions of warm weather, a New Year’s Eve date, a drivable destination and the novelty of Utah’s playing for the first time in the Holiday Bowl. The bowl organizers deliberated about Oregon as a possible pick over the Utes, with the history of Utah’s mild support for Poinsettia Bowl appearances in the same venue in 2007 and 2009.
Questions persisted about how Ute fans would overcome the disappointment of the Pac-12 title game. Some had said they would make sacrifices only for the Rose Bowl. But the fan base apparently has regrouped.
Garet Hammond’s crew is teaming up to support the Utes, with a daughter on the cheerleading squad. “We had our hearts set on the Rose Bowl for a family trip to Pasadena,” said Hammond, of Bountiful. “I told the kids if the Holiday Bowl was our consolation prize, we’d still go and live it up in San Diego if they wanted to. … Being able to drive made a huge difference in the decision-making, especially financially.”
Jeff Dart, of Lehi, once was in the only-the-Rose-Bowl camp, having spent money to attend the Pac-12 title game and being in the process of buying a house. He couldn’t miss the Holiday Bowl, although his wife, Anna, will stay home with their son.
“San Diego is a great city,” said Dart, who's part of a group of six. “We only have to take one day off work and can travel the weekend before and come back on New Year's Day. Easy drive. Lots of affordable hotel options. Pac-12 and Big Ten division winners. This game is an awesome consolation prize, and the appeal of it was just something I couldn't pass up.”
Darren Marchant, of Layton, cited many of the same factors, notably the Holiday Bowl’s prestige. “Utah has been to a lot of mediocre bowls lately,” he said, “and while this doesn’t equate with the Rose, Fiesta or Sugar, it’s just a notch below.”
Utah vs. Northwestern
Kickoff: Monday, 5 p.m. MST