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September 1, 2012

The AD Who Played with Fire

-- Karma challenged by a 'Doctor'

As far as the University of Utah football team is concerned, things have been going preeeetttttttty swimmingly as of late. When you consider that over the last eight years the team has won two BCS bowls, finished the 2008 season as the only undefeated team in the nation, sent the number one pick to the NFL in 2005 (and have a possible number one pick in Star Lotulelei this year) and was the first of its peers to be upgraded to a BCS conference you begin to realize that the Utes have put together one of the all-time great runs of any college team, let alone one that only two years ago had its games televised on the sandy-beach screens of the Mountain.

What exactly has to fall into place for a mid-major to make such strides? At least two of the following three things:

1) Good coaches
2) Good players
3) Good luck

In the case of the Utes, they've combined all three into a eight-year-and-counting dream run. If you've read this far you already know the names of the good players and coaches -- Smith, Meyer, Whittingham, Kreuger -- so let me remind you of what you may have forgotten: no team can pull off that great a run without a host of good karma on their side.

In the Utes case, there was the triple overtime victory over Air Force in 2003 which was won when Falcon quarterback Chance Harridge tripped on a ghost when he was two yards and zero defenders away from scoring a do-or-die two point conversion1. The failed conversion propelled Utah to victory and their first conference championship in longer than I can remember or care to look up and was the springboard for the next eight years of success. Then there was the Utah-TCU game in 2008. Take your pick of fluke happenings: TCU missing two chip-shot field goals in the fourth quarter, TCU receiver Jimmy Young dropping the game-clenching touchdown pass a mere few plays before, a completed TCU pass to the 5-yard line which was incorrectly called out of bounds ... and I'm sure there's some other bogus occurrence that came from outside the bounds of this physical world that I've drubbed from my memory. A made field goal, a caught pass, a correct call, any of those usually bankable actions would have stopped the Utes second run to the BCS in their tracks.

There was the victory over BYU from 2010, made possible thanks to an offense whose best play was a botched punt and the recovery of a fumble which never should have existed in the first place. Victory over SDSU in the same year, the result of which swung on Utah completing a hail mary for a touchdown at the end of the half. Even the promotion to the Pac-12 wouldn't have been possible if Texas hadn't turned down the Pac so that they could purse their own tv network that very year. I mean, really, what are the odds? The same year the Pac-10 decides to expand to 12 teams their preferred target (Texas) dumps them and opens the door for Utah based on the idea that, "Hey, the Yankees and the Red Sox have their own television network, why can't we?"

And then, in Utah's initiation into the Pac-12, the scheduling gods hand them games against Washington and Cal so they don't have to face the murderer's row of the Andrew Luck Cardinal and the Oregon Ducks? Any way you slice it the Utes have benefited from some major good karma over these past eight seasons.

The bad news for the U of U? That good karma just walked out the door.

Now before we go any further, understand their are two types of karma. The first is the balancing karma, that force which rewards the deserving and provides the "get" when someone "gets what's coming to them". The second type of karma can be trickier to understand: it's the aura of luck or good fortune which accompanies certain individuals, like your friend who always wins those Facebook entry challenges. (curse you, Malorye Eyre) Some people, or teams, just seem to have it. And unfortunately, I was the one who first gave it to the U of U.

You see, it all started back in 2003, when the U gave away thousands of free tickets to my high school so they could "sell out" their stadium for the first time since the Olympics. My most loyal Cougar associate of the time, Ryan Pearson, conferenced with me as we decided what to do with the tickets. The way we saw it there were three options:

1) Sell the tickets for a quick buck
2) Go to the game and cheer against the U
3) Tear up the tickets, put them in the second floor urinal, and piss on 'em.

I realize now that our choice (which ended up being to wizz on the tickets) was the worst of the three options, one that brought down bad karma on us as Cougar fans which translated to good karma for Ute fans. Why was peeing on the tickets so bad? Because in doing so we A) betrayed one of the pillars of my life which is to not waste money or anything that could be sold for money and we B) showed that we were too afraid to go into the lion's den and cheer for their opponent. Cowardice, is one of the most sure fire ways to invoke bad karma.

You don't believe me? Utah won that night, and won 21 of their next 22 games.

Skip ahead to 2008. I wrote the following words on my blog: "I want the Utah Utes to win a football game". I did it because I was confident. I did it because I wanted ultimate victory. I did it because I was a fool. Karma happened quickly. Utah won that year alright, they won every game, ending the season as the only undefeated team in the country. Because of me. Because a BYU fan who had cheered against the Utes his entire life had the gall to call for the Utes to win so that when BYU beat them it'd be that much sweeter. I learned then that you just don't play around with that stuff.

Unless your Chris Hill, I guess. Because if you're Chris Hill, apparently you feel fine about cancelling basketball games with one of your primary rivals, Utah State. And of course if you don't lose any sleep cancelling games with USU's basketball team, you feel equally fine quitting football games with them as well. And why stop at eliminating just one rivalry?

"We're the Utah Utes, we're in the Pac-12 now, why do we need to continue to schedule BYU? Let's kill the rivalry, end the best sporting contest that happens in the state of Utah and screw over the fans of both teams because how else are we going to fit Temple University into our schedule?"

If you don't think that cancelling games with your rivals, be it out of cockiness or fear2 is a petition for bad karma, then you don't know sports. You just don't mess with that stuff. You don't set aside century-long rivalries for any reason: not for money, not for increased chances at BCS glory, not for anything. And certainly not without consequence.

Which is why I'm calling it right now. Utah State 17, Utah 14.

Chris Hill, you've challenged karma. I know who I'm betting on.

1 The "ghost" upon which Harridge slipped was later rumored to be the spirit of Kyle Whittingham's dad, who had passed away earlier in the week.

2"I can’t expect us to play 11 really, really difficult games in a season," said Chris Hill in reference to the scheduling move. Take from that what you will.

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