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Amy Donaldson: Utah couple in can't-lose BCS title game situation with kids attending Oregon, Auburn

Published: Sunday, Jan. 9 2011 9:39 p.m. MST

Karen and Shawn Halladay were not college football fans until this fall.

No, they don't have a child playing football for a university.

But with a daughter attending Oregon and a son enrolled at Auburn, the Salt Lake couple suddenly found themselves immersed in college football fandom.

"We used to be productive on Saturday, but not anymore," said Shawn Halladay, who was headed to Scottsdale, Arizona, Sunday to watch No. 1 Auburn take on No. 2 Oregon in the BCS National Championship game. "I played in high school and we followed the Utes. But now we get up for game day. Over Thanksgiving we watched Oregon, Auburn, Utah and Boise State. It was crazy. We've just thoroughly enjoyed it, and it's gone way beyond watching the kids' schools play. It's just exciting."

Shawn and his wife, Karen, have a unique situation — when the two teams kickoff Monday night, the couple can't lose.

They'll be in the stands at the game with daughter, Anna, who is a Duck, and son, Patrick, who is a Tiger. While each of the Halladay children will wear the colors of their respective schools, Karen and Shawn received special shirts from another family member for just this occasion.

"My brother got me a yellow shirt with green letters that says 'Go Oregon (daughter) and Go Auburn (son)," said Karen. "My husband's shirt is Navy blue with orange letters and says the same thing. The kids will be in their school colors."

The family has never attended an event like Monday's title game.

"Certainly not with such a personal connection," said Karen of the magnitude of the championship matchup. "We went to some early Olympic events, and we went to the Fiesta Bowl when the Utes played."

Both Halladay children found their way to their respective universities thanks to a class at their high school alma mater, West High. Both International Baccalaureate students, they were asked by a teacher to research 20 university options.

"We just kind of stood back and let them make the decisions," said Karen. "We had no idea that this is what they would do. We just encouraged them to try something different, and they're both very happy with their choices."

Patrick said he never considered himself a football fan until he attended his first game as a student at Auburn last year.

"That first game in Jordan-Hare Stadium and I was sold on football," said Patrick, who played soccer. "I will be a fan — always."

He said attending a game in what is "arguably the loudest stadium in definitely the best football conference in the country" is an experience unlike any other.

"Being in the student section in the best stadium in the country, it's absolutely wild," he said. "It's always loud and always exciting."

Once the family found out both schools were playing in the championship game, Karen set out to buy tickets. They ended up getting them through the Oregon Parent Association, and they feel lucky to have done so.

"It's sort of a Christmas present to all of us," said Karen.

The holidays were sprinkled with some good-natured trash talking between the siblings, and now Patrick has suggested a wager. The losing Halladay has to wear his sibling's school colors on the first day back on campus.

While both are confident their teams will win, Patrick said he is unsure he could actually pay up — that is IF the Tigers lost Monday night.

"I'm the one who came up with that bet," he said with a little laugh. "And I'm pretty confident with my Tigers. I don't know that I'll be able to go through with it if they lose."

Karen and Shawn know the excited energy won't last once that final whistle sounds.

"Well, 75 percent of our family will be happy," she said. "We will probably have to do some consoling."

Shawn Halladay said he's just looking forward to sharing the experience with his family.

"This is amazing," he said. "I never imagined we'd be going to a national championship game, let alone one we're connected to. We're pretty excited."

As for the disappointment one child will surely face, Dad answers like a former athlete.

"That's part of it," he said. "You win and you lose. But it's been a thrilling fall, that's for sure."

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com

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