I am a Utah man. I have been for eight years, a convert from true-blue-BYU roots. Actually, I was kind of a convert in that regard as well because I never really considered any college association for myself until my brothers got home from their missions and transferred to Brigham Young University.
That's when it all began for me. I remember listening to Paul James on the radio, broadcasting the games on Saturday afternoons as I played out in the yard. I remember the feeling of being outside in the autumn leaves, the sense of a new school year beginning, and the excitement of aligning myself to a team, an entity... an institution. The alignment was electric and powerful. And yet, the alignment was somehow distant. Something that had more to do with family and following in footsteps than it had to do with me.
I remember the day that all began to change. It was a warm September evening in 1980. Football season was just beginning at the University of Utah, but for me, a season was coming to an end. I had just spent the first of many adolescent summers playing in the Lagoon Show Band. The director of this band was Gregg I. Hanson, who by sheer coincidence also happened to be the director of bands at the University of Utah.
Now the Ute Marching Band had a little problem. The football season at the U. started toward the beginning of September, but band rehearsals were just beginning at that time. Consequently, the marching band was not ready to perform a half-time show that early in the season. In order to give the Ute band more time to prepare, Mr. Hanson decided to let the Lagoon band provide the music during the first football game. So Mr. Hanson invited us up to Rice Stadium the Saturday morning of the game. We learned the music to "Utah Man" and tightened up our choreography according to the specifications of the football field.
That night, we marched over to the stadium from the music hall. We stopped in the parking lot and played for the tailgaters, who were out in force, barbecuing away in their bright red-and-white attire. As we started to perform our routines, they all gathered around, clapping and cheering. I remember feeling the strong sense of tradition that surrounded these long-time fans. Here was a group of people who gathered to celebrate football at the U. They sat and told stories of years gone by, and reveled in the shared experience of "being there."
Finally we made our way into the stadium and took our seats in the middle of the students' section. I'll never forget the feeling I felt as we opened up with "Utah Man." All around us the people came to their feet, cheering and clapping to the beat as we played. The anticipation of awaiting the game, the thrills (and heartbreaks) of a thousand games before, all centered in the institution of which all these people were a part.
And in that moment, I became a Utah man. I had been accepted by all the people around me, and invited to come and celebrate the spirit of being at the U. And though this may not seem like much in the general scheme of things, it is an association that I enjoy to this day, and hope I always will.