NEW ORLEANS -- Alabama's fans have given the Crescent City more houndstooth than the 1930s and "Roll Tide" has become the most uttered phrase on Bourbon Street that isn't rewarded with beads. But there are, in fact, Utah fans in the Big Easy.
Sticking out among a section of Crimson Tide tailgaters outside the Superdome were a pair of Utah flags perched atop a mobile home -- a rented mobile home that 10 Utes fans, including Spencer Toone and Justin Hansen (members of Utah's 2004 Fiesta Bowl team), drove 38 hours from Salt Lake City. They arrived at 10 a.m. on game day after a 38-hour drive (the trip itself is 36 hours, but they suffered a blown tire two hours into the trip).
"We had to come and see the Utes play," Trent Johnson said.
The Utah flags attracted the attention of Zach Hatch, Dan Owen, Kyle Thomas and Tyce Welling, who had painted "U-T-A-H" across their chests. The quartet traveled the 1,900 miles on a school-sponsored charter bus and Welling said it didn't take long for him to come to what could be the biggest understatement of the young New Year.
"It's a lot different than Salt Lake City," said Welling.
Despite their body art, the group said Alabama fans had been surprisingly tame. "We've been bigger d**** than them," Owen said.
Tame? Or are Alabama fans just not that threatened by the undefeated champions of the Mountain West? Toone, a former outside linebacker who now works in real estate, said that suits the Utes just fine.
"I think Utah thrives on the underdog role," he said.
It would likely take a perfect game from the Utes to knock off a team that was a game away from playing for the national title. Read into it what you will, but Utah's fans committed what could be a bad omen: as Hatch, Owen, Thomas and Welling posed for a picture, I paused for a minute, looking at the camera. They had spelled "H-A-U-T." After I alerted them of this, they rearranged and took the picture above. The Utes won't get any second chances tonight.