The original BCS busters: Looking back at Utah's Fiesta Bowl championship season

Published: Tuesday, July 22 2014 11:30 p.m. MDT

A game-changer

Meyer recalled two moments that helped bring it all together. Both involved Fifita. Meyer explained that he and Fifita didn’t get along initially. They had issues. Meyer was constantly on him because he didn’t think Fifita was a good teammate and added that there were also classroom issues.

Things changed, however, following an emotional team meeting known as “the bleeding,” where players told their stories. Meyer remembers walking down the aisle afterwards and Fifita extending his hand. He looked at the coach and thanked him.

“That was a game-changer,” Meyer said before telling another story that he shares with his teams every year.

It took place in late June 2004 when Meyer was talking to Scalley while walking to his car. Scalley said he had to run to a team cookout that he had organized with Fifita. It was something they had been doing every week.

“That’s when I got in my car all choked up,” said Meyer, who then made a prediction to his wife, Shelley. “If we don’t screw this thing up, we’re going to win every game we play.”

And they did.

Beginning with a 41-21 win over Texas A&M, Utah rolled to victories over Arizona (23-6), Utah State (48-6), Air Force (49-35), New Mexico (28-7), North Carolina (46-16), UNLV (63-28), San Diego State (51-28). Wyoming (45-28) and BYU (52-21) to crack the BCS and earn a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

The Utes trailed only once — 14-0 to Air Force — en route to perfection.

Because there are so many variables involved in going undefeated — such as injuries and other issues that must be dealt with along the way — Meyer said he never felt comfortable until the final few seconds after the memorable hook-and-ladder play in the Fiesta Bowl win over Pitt.

As for the journey, Meyer’s favorite time came when the Utes locked up their BCS bid with a lopsided victory against BYU in the regular-season finale at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“Seeing people rush the field after we beat the Team Down South,” Meyer said. “That was the best moment.”

Smith sported a sombrero after the victory as the Utes and their fans celebrated in front of Fiesta Bowl officials. Smith went on to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft and now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.

“Every guy in that locker room played for each other and we played for the singular focus,” said Smith, who was the featured speaker at Utah’s commencement in May. “We wanted to be the school to break up the BCS. We wanted to be the school that proved we could play with anybody.”

The Utes, he continued, were determined to show that the BCS setup was not only unfair but kind of wrong.

“I think we all felt that way and that was our focus — that we could run the table and be the first school to do that,” Smith said at the press conference prior to his graduation address.

Because of that selflessness and everybody playing for each other and having one goal, he added, they were able to accomplish it.

A perfect finish

Smith noted that the Fiesta Bowl was like the perfect finish.

“I can still remember standing on that field down there in Arizona and looking around,” he said. “That stadium was 80 percent red and just how special it was, the support we had.”

Scalley remembers that the pregame festivities seemed to last forever. When the team returned to the field after ita initial warm-up, it saw a sea of red in the stands.

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