Thursday’s With Raider: An Ode to the 2003 Utes


Sep 28, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer before the game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s Note: Today Raider tells the story of the 2003 Utes.  I fully believed that Urban Meyer essentially took this athletic program in 2 years and drug it kicking and screaming to show it what it’s potential really was.  This was the start of all that.  My favorite memory from that season was in the bowl game.  We beat the Southern Miss QB up so badly that he actually got a penalty for kicking a Utah Defensive Lineman.  Also crushing BYU 3-0.  That was the most amazing 3-0 beatdown ever.  There was no danger BYU might score in that game none.  In any event, enjoy Raider’s tale and think of your favorite memory from that season.

Just about ten years ago to the day, the Utes lost at home to New Mexico.  You may remember that game as the one where Lobo QB Casey Kelly threw all over the Ute defense and it appeared as though, just like the Lobos of 1994, UNM was about to ruin the dreams of every Ute fan that just wanted a conference championship all to ourselves.  Brandon Warfield ended up getting hurt in that game and I think even the most optimistic of Ute fans thought the worst.  And by “worst” I mean a crappy bowl game before Christmas (or on Christmas Day in the case of the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl) and another missed opportunity to make the football program at least somewhat relevant.

In retrospect, that might have been the most Ute defeat ever.  Ponder briefly how things went in the McBride era of Ute football.  Beat the Oregon’s and Stanford’s of the world?  No thing but a chicken wing.  New Mexico, not so much.  That darn wishbone of Air Force was kryptonite for a normally solid Ute defense.  So of course, this playing to the level of our opponent’s abilities would definitely happen to the n00b head coach we got from Bowling Green.  Basketball recruits transferring after a year or two and letting New Mexico celebrate beating a 2 win Ute team by tearing down the goal posts, it’s a tradition more storied than the block U, Bubbles and the one lady who took her top off two rows in front of me during the 2010 TCU game.

(In her defense, it was unseasonably warm that day from what I remember).

The loss on Saturday to Arizona did get me to thinking about the 2003 Utes and how under-appreciated I think that team and season really was:

–Brett Elliott started out the season as the starting QB, when, after being down 28-0 at half at Texas A&M, leads the Utes to a near come-from-behind victory.  It just so happens that Elliott suffers a season ending injury on the two point conversion attempt to try and tie the game and its a Ute fan “cry woe unto the MWC football gods” experience that certainly justified a good whine or two.

–Alex Smith starts against Cal the next week and beats them in a game that I wasn’t exactly going to go around thinking would end in a victory.  But seeing as how both schools are now in the same conference, I wonder if that win simply set me along with may other Ute fans up for future disappointment.

–The next week, its off to Colorado State, a team that had the Utes number for almost a decade. You may or may not remember a Ram QB named Bradlee Van Pelt, who many thought resembled Ronnie “Sunshine” Bass from “Remember the Titans”.  Late in the 4th, game is tied at 21 and Van Pelt is about to drive down and score when a fumble occurs and Arnold Parker–a scapegoat for a lot of the woes of the Ute secondary back in those days–runs it all the way back for a touchdown.  Utes finally find a way to beat CSU!

–Meanwhile, it’s hard not to notice the good work of the n00b from Bowling Green, Urban Meyer.  I am sitting here thinking as I write this how best to describe Ute football vis a vis Urban and I think this the best way to do it.  Urban Meyer was in essence everything Ute football was not.  Confident, intense, precise.  A “we’re going to whip you up and down this football field and there’s nothing you can do about it” mentality.  Maybe in your personal lives, a guy who seems like he’s read “The Art of War” a few too many times comes off as an insufferable jackass, but in the fall of 2003, the Utes needed that kind of mindset.  Remember this?

Keep in mind, this was the same football program that used the slogan “don’t make us come and get you” to get people to go to Ute games like an aunt or uncle that will always see you as a perpetual 6 year old.

–After the whole “Chris Keomeatu kicking” incident against UNLV and a few more victories, it was time for New Mexico to beat us and for the Lobos to torment us.  Its a bit of a shame both Urban and Rocky Long didn’t remain in the same conference, because I’m almost certain there would have been some kind of blood feud between the two.

–The very next week, Air Force and their stupid wishbone drain every single bit of agony and pain out of every single Ute fan when thanks to the legendary Ben Moa (and whoever it was that was under center for the Falcons tripping over the ghost of Fred Whittingham during one of the OTs), we all could breathe a little bit.

–As New Mexico proceeds to lose to UNLV, a Ute victory against Wyoming preserves at least a portion of the MWC title, but as our friends in Provo have told us, shared titles don’t coun’t.  Few people remember this, but this marked the first ever appearance of Joe Glenn to the MWC stage.  Joe got mad at anyone that would listen that the game was 20 minutes late kicking off, because it was Senior Night, and kids needed to be honored.  I still sort of miss the Howard Beale of coaching sometimes.

–Then…came BYU.  All that stood between the first outright conference title in nearly half a century was a trip to Provo against a not that great BYU team in a driving snowstorm during the first half.  Back in those days, BYU had this really insignificant streak going.  They held a continuous NCAA record of Most Games Without Being Shut Out.  That is, until the game plan was for the defense to not let BYU get anywhere near the 50 yard line and win the game, MWC title and end this stupid Beanie Baby collection of consecutive games without a shutout once and for all.  Of everything I remember about Utah football, good and bad, I will never forget Alex kneeling down in victory formation to clinch the Mountain West title.  After many, many years of futility and abject failure, the sun shined on us.

Odds are, I will revisit the 2003 Holy War in about a month or so, but I really think the 2003 Utes deserve some sort of honor.  Many will remember Alex.  But if you have forgotten Brandon Warfield, Chris Keomeatu, Brett Elliott, Josh Savage, Ben Moa, Steve Fifita, Bryan Borreson, and yes even Arnold Parker, consider this, the 10 year anniversary of quite possibly a watershed moment in Utah athletics, your reminder.  2004 and 2008, along with future teams and seasons may accomplish more, but everything changed forever with the 2003 Mountain West Champion Utah Utes.