Glory of 2004 was as good as it can get

By Tony Pizza, Sports Editor

This is as hard a thing to debate as anything. It makes me realize how a lawyer could argue both sides of a case.

On one hand is 2004, which stands in history as a pinnacle in Utah achievement. It’s fermented like a fine wine and tastes sweeter every time we look back. But those who have been Utah fans for a long time know a good year when they see one. In fact, 2008 finally gives Utah fans something to compare 2004 to. In essence, Utah finally has its mirror and can stop using that ugly, broken, more reserved one down south as a reflection and measuring stick.

The line-by-line comparisons on which sport did better than the other is like asking an apple fan to make his case for best fruit to an orange connoisseur. Football was better in 2008, but men’s basketball was far better in 2004. Both teams produced a No. 1 draftee in the NFL and NBA drafts8212;the first time any NCAA institution has done that. Still, in 2008 the top women’s program at the U in gymnastics finished No. 2 in the country and gave eventual champ Georgia a run for its money. The most decorated and arguably the best gymnast in Utah history also finished her career in 2008. Volleyball made the NCAA tournament this year. Then you have softball and soccer being more successful in 2004 than they were in 2008.

For Utah athletics, 2004 wasn’t the better year because of its success; it was better because of its importance, particularly in a historical context.

I’m about to make myself sound kind of naïve, but it’s the best analogy I can think of. Me without an analogy is like Fred without his Barney, or Michael Jordan without the tongue.

Jackie Robinson doesn’t have his No. 42 retired baseball-wide simply because he was the first black baseball player in the MLB. His number is forever retired because of what he went through, and the significance of his struggle to be that first black baseball player. In a watered down way, 2004 works that same way for Utah.

According to the father of Taioism, Lao Tsu, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Utah’s rise to the national spectrum is at its pinnacle, but it wouldn’t be there without taking the step of 2004. Getting your name known is a lot like how kids memorize spelling words and times tables: repetition. In 2004, Utah’s name was repeated hundreds of times on the national landscape. Andrew Bogut of the Utah Utes wins National Player of the Year honors. Utah’s Bogut gets drafted No. 1 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks. Utah becomes the first team in a non-BCS conference to get invited to a BCS game. Utah has a coach in Urban Meyer who leaves to one of the best college football coaching jobs in the land. That’s before that same Utah football coach gets looked at by Notre Dame8212;the most famous college football team in the country8212;among other schools. Oh, and then Utah’s quarterback that season becomes the first Utah football player to be drafted No. 1, making Utah the first NCAA institution to accomplish that feat in the same year.

Notice how many times “Utah” is in those headlines. Suddenly the nation has Utah on the unconscious backburner of its brain. More money comes into the program, which means better facilities and better athletes. In 2004, football alone jump-started Utah apparel sales, and put Utah’s name out for any young man or woman to see.

Suddenly, more people have heard about Utah than ever. Anyone trying to sell Aflac to an unknowing customer can say, “You know, the talking duck.” Any Utah coach is suddenly able to use that success of 2004 in the same way.

Any way you try to split it, 2004 set the foundation for what should be a long history of success. It wasn’t Utah’s best individual year-to-date in anything but football, but with the combination of men’s and women’s basketball, football and the fact that every single other sport pulled its weight to make ripples in nationals, Utah hit the first of what has become the tale of two very good athletic years8212;the year Utah became elite (2008) and the year Utah made an extreme makeover department-wide.

No kid sits at a train stop and says, “Oh, look, there’s the boxcar.” The engine is still the driving interest of the locomotive.

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