'Jazzed' seniors: Older fans take back seat to no one

Published: Saturday, May 26 2007 12:16 a.m. MDT

Veteran Utah Jazz fans Jeri Leach, 75, and her husband, Jerry, 71, celebrate a slam dunk by Deron Williams in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against San Antonio. They hope the homecourt will give the Jazz an edge today.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret Morning News

Hey, Jazz fans. You know who you are. You paint your stomachs. You flock to sports bars. You know every player's stats.

But there's a cadre of Jazz devotees who can teach you whippersnappers what being a fan is all about.

These are people with history, people who remember when the Jazz left New Orleans for Utah, people who remember former Jazz owner Sam Battistone, people who remember Utah's American Basketball Association team, the Utah Stars.

They're the senior class. Many of you know them as Grandma and Grandpa.

And between talking about grandkids, visiting doctors and going to school uphill both ways, they talk about the Jazz everywhere: the local convenience store, during bridge games. The team even gets a mention or two while people wait for church services to start.

So take a seat and listen to your elders.

There's Nelda Adams of Roy. During Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs Sunday, Adams, 69, proudly displayed every piece of Jazz memorabilia she owns, complete with the T-shirt she was wearing that stated, "I'm Jazzed."

Jazzed is right.

Who wouldn't be jazzed to have Karl Malone in the living room, even if he is a cardboard cutout? Then there are the Jazz drinking glasses, Jazz Christmas ornaments, Jazz blankets, towels, pins, jerseys, stationery, team photos over the past decade, a calendar, stickers, mirror, posters and a scrapbook that is more like an archive of Adams' favorite moments of Jazz history.

During games, she keeps two televisions on so she can go between rooms without missing the action.

"These guys are not hitting," she said during Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, which the Jazz eventually lost to the Spurs 108-100. "If you're not hitting, you're getting killed."

Spoken like a true aficionado.

Like any Jazz fan, Adams knows the team needs to stop Spurs forward Tim Duncan during Game 3 tonight. And like any Jazz fan, she has something in common with the team.

Adams retired from the First Security Bank branch in Layton in 2003, the same year Jazz point guard John Stockton retired.

"He waited until I did," she likes to joke.

Adams' retirement was what you'd expect for a true fan, thanks to her co-workers. It was complete with announcer's voice and an ascending jersey with her name and No. 21 1/2 for the years she worked there.

Adams' style contrasts with those of Jerry and Jeri Leach, of Layton.

"I don't dig into the whys or wherefores," Adams says. "I just enjoy."

But if you're at the Leach home, you're likely to hear Jeri Leach, 75, yelling at the radio or television, interspersed with applause for great plays and gasps for the tense moments.

If it turns out she has to miss a game, such as Tuesday's Game 2 (bridge night,) it gets recorded. Then, if the Jazz win, she watches the game.

But you can bet the Leaches are going to watch at least the next two games with interest. Sunday's loss to the Spurs was the 17th time in a row the Jazz have lost in San Antonio. Tuesday's loss made 18.

"They're about due to win," Jeri Leach says.

It could happen today, and the law of averages would agree.

"We're gonna wipe that smirk off your face next game, (Duncan,)" Jeri said after Sunday's final buzzer.

That's a tough-talking grandmother. And maybe the team should pay attention.

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