SALT LAKE CITY — There were a lot of familiar faces at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday and a bunch of Utah football fans in the stands. Despite cool, wet weather, a crowd in excess of 8,600 was on hand for the Utes’ Red and White spring game.
“It’s really kind of a fun springtime gathering,” said Utah athletics director Chris Hill. “I have to admit it’s a pretty nice crowd for having a rainy day. So it’s good. People are really excited about it.”
Besides the game, Hill noted that folks look forward to the annual event because of the tailgating and the return of several alumni. This year’s returnees included NFL players Paul Kruger, Robert Johnson, Tony Bergstrom and Sione Pouha, as well retired quarterback Scott Mitchell.
“It’s good to be back in Utah,” said Bergstrom, who now plays for the Oakland Raiders. “It’s always fun to be back.”
Kruger also noted that it was great to return. He recently signed a multimillion dollar deal with the Cleveland Browns after helping the Baltimore Ravens win the Super Bowl.
“This will always be my home,” said Kruger, who also expressed his love and passion for the university. “I’m grateful to be back here. It’s great to see these guys running around.”
Johnson, a safety with the Tennessee Titans, returned for a “little vacation” with his family before getting back to work Monday in Nashville, Tenn.
“It’s beautiful here,” he said. “Even though the weather is a little bit shaky there’s still a whole lot of fans out here showing support and that’s a good thing.”
Johnson added that he was “enjoying every moment.”
Mitchell joked that the former players are so committed to the program that they willingly endured the rainy weather, especially during the alumni football game.
“There’s a commitment here to make this a real special program and a special place. Being in the Pac-12 is real exciting and embracing the history of Utah football is part of building that tradition,” Mitchell said. “We all bleed red and are proud of our school and our program and we’re also very supportive. So it’s good to be treated well and thought of in a good way.”
TAILGATE JUDGES: Former Utah defensive linemen Star Lotulelei and Pouha sampled 30-35 different entries in the Ultimate Tailgating Competition on Saturday morning. They were among the judges in the battle for the best barbecue appetizer.
“I definitely think all of it was pretty good,” Lotulelei said. “There wasn’t anything that was just nasty or disgusting.”
Lotulelei added that his first interaction with tailgating was a positive experience.
“I might have to go hit the gym later tonight,” he said. “But it was good.”
Pouha also noted that things went well.
“No Pepto-Bismol,” he explained. “So it was a great success.”
ALUMNI GAME: Prior to the spring game, former Utah players took the field for the annual alumni flag football contest. Mitchell led the Red squad to a decisive win over the White team in a game played in rainy weather.
“Today was a little bit easier than the other days,” said Mitchell, who enjoys playing in the game each year. “They’ve always been pretty close, but we kind of blew them out.”
Mitchell, who was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in 1990 and played in the NFL through 2001, plans to continue participating in the game.
“So far, I haven’t really embarrassed myself,” he said. “I think once I get to a point where I can’t function I think its time to call it a day.”
Mitchell, 45, noted that it hasn’t been bad to this point, so he’s had fun.
GONE GOLFING: On Friday, a group of 125 (mostly former players) braved 40-degree temperatures for a golf outing at Eaglewood Golf Course.
“It was excellent. It’s always good to have our guys back,” said Manny Hendrix, Utah’s director of athletic relations. “That’s really what it’s all about. Even though the weather conditions weren’t great, it just showed the camaraderie and how much guys want to be around each other and just have fun.”
SIZABLE DIFFERENCE: Bergstrom and Johnson took note of Utah’s increased size.
“Those offensive linemen are getting big,” said Bergstrom, who is 6 foot 5 and 310 pounds. “ ... They’re Pittsburgh Steelers big. There’s just some big boys out there, goodness.”
“These are bigger bodies out here,” he said. “They’re Pac-12.”
EXTRA POINTS: Utah basketball recruit Darryl Reynolds, a 6-foot-8, 210-pound power forward from Worcester (Mass.) Academy was in attendance. ... The Red and White game was broadcast live on the Pac-12 Networks. ... When the spring outing got started, the temperature was 44 degrees.