Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How are Ute doing? Ute look like you're having a good time.

Posted By on Wed, Dec 31, 2008 at 8:11 PM

 

click to enlarge Ute in the light

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 Photo by Jonathan Bachman

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Aside from the ever-present, but relatively small Utah media contingent that follows the University of Utah football team everywhere they have an open event, the Utes have mostly flown under the media radar this week. Of course, that's no fault of theirs, New Orleans is in the middle of South Eastern Conference country and that's amplified just by Nick Saban's presence.

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So it's no surprise that, given a full media hoard with bright lights, photo and video cameras, the Utes were glowing in the spotlight. Brian and Robert Johnson (no relation) were getting most of the attention, with Brian Johnson (the Utes' soft-spoken quarterback) answer questions quietly and graciously and with Robert Johnson (the Ute's out-spoken cornerback) beaming a million-dollar smile and hamming it up for everyone around — at one point, Robert Johnson talked to a TV reporter while simultaneously holding up his cleats for our photographer. This came shortly after he mugged for a Utah cameraman with his cleats (more on the shoes in a later post).

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Even the punter, Louie Sakoda, was getting his fair share of attention from the media members in attendance — though, I'm not ashamed to admit I didn't know who he was until after I talked to him. And therein lies the funniest part of the whole encounter. While New Orleans and national media members have had plenty of exposure to Alabama and their players, Utah is a pretty unknown program. Aside from the Utah beat reporters that have been with the team all season, I don't think a single person in the media room could pull Utes out of line up.

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To wit: at one point I went up and talked to a tall Utah player that had a couple of TV cameras on him. After asking him about his teams' new cleats — all the while only knowing that he wore #4 — I walked off to look over my notes. I spotted a colleague who also had been talking to the mystery player and was about to ask him who it was we were talking to when he spoke up wanting to know the same thing.

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It's dobutful that the players realized that half the people they were talking to didn't know who they were. But it was hard no to notice Dana Green, of Salt Lake City's ABC affiliate, asking every player what they felt like playing "in the biggest game in Utah football history" and if they were feeling nervous now that the game was just two days away. Most players shrugged the question off — wide receiver Brent Casteel said he was actually pretty "calm", Robert Johnson said he's been pumped up since they got into town — and none gave any answer that revealed whether or not they were truly nervous about the game.

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And yet, for all the fun this team is having (and really, they truly are having a ball every time I've been around them) it doesn't seem they will be getting to rowdy tonight for the New Year. That was revealed about a 100 times as "What are you plans for tonight?" was by and far the most-often asked question. All the players noted that their curfew tonight is at midnight. Sakoda mentioned that he asked coach Kyle Whittingham (or coach Whit, as Sakoda called him) about whether the team could at least have a little ceremony in the lobby of the hotel.

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"He basically said, 'New Year's is over-rated,'" Sakoda said. "He said that we have New Year's every year but this game may come only once."

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The idea that they may never again be surrounded by engrossed media members from across the country eating up their every word was certainly not lost on any of these players.

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