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Top 10 2008: Utes' Sugar Bowl run is year's top local sports story

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 4:13 p.m. MDT

Utah receivers Brent Casteel (5) and Freddie Brown (88) celebrate beating BYU, clinching the Mountain West Conference and busting the BCS for the second time in five years. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Utah receivers Brent Casteel (5) and Freddie Brown (88) celebrate beating BYU, clinching the Mountain West Conference and busting the BCS for the second time in five years. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)
The Utah sports scene in 2008 was unpredictable, unbelievable and unforgettable (as much as some might try). Here are 10 local stories — OK, 11 — our staff thinks stood out the most:
1. Utah football: Pour some Sugar Bowl on me
From the Big House to the Bayou — with a bashing of BYU and a whole lotta wins in between — now that, sir, is a football season a Utah man can be proud of. No ifs ands or fuss in the muss about it.
While many people call the 12-0 Utes "BCS Busters" for earning a Sugar Bowl invitation to play Alabama on Jan. 2, that's kind of a misnomer. After all, Utah — the Gonzaga of the gridiron — has now earned two BCS bowl berths in five seasons, which is more than the vast majority of teams in the six supposedly super-duper conferences can claim. Right, Miami? Indiana? Baylor?
Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams and forward Carlos Boozer enjoyed similar paths in 2008, but they were also far apart in some instances. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Utah Jazz guard Deron Williams and forward Carlos Boozer enjoyed similar paths in 2008, but they were also far apart in some instances. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)
To sum up the season, the Utes were clutch when they needed to be and downright dominant when other teams tried/failed to be clutch; unanimous All-American Louie Sakoda and the stingy U. defense kicked some serious behind; Brian Johnson did more winning and grinning than running and gunning in his, what?, ninth season as the Utah quarterback; Coach Kyle Whittingham put on a dang good Urban Meyer impersonation while losing and getting flipped off an equal number of times; and the Utes avoided the seemingly annual "What-the-heck-happened-at-New-Mexico-or-UNLV-or-Air-Force?" letdown losses.
Keeping Paul Kruger and other defensive players open in the regular-season finale was helpful, too.
And to think it all started with that down-to-the-wire win at Ann Arbor, which wasn't the first time in this state's football history an undefeated Beehive State squad was thrust into the national spotlight after eking by a subpar Michigan team. Right, 1984 BYU Cougars?
It was a year like no other for Real Salt Lake as the team opened a new stadium and reached the postseason for the first time. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) It was a year like no other for Real Salt Lake as the team opened a new stadium and reached the postseason for the first time. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)
The exciting thing for the jolliest of Utah fans is that the best part of this dream-come-true-again story may still be yet to come.
Winning the Sugar Bowl would certainly be a sweet way to end this year and kick off a new one.
2. Utah Jazz: Where stars sizzle, fizzle and get raises while going similar yet so-separate ways
It was quite a year for the Jazz's talented point guard/power forward combination — and just to make sure we're on the same page, we're talking about Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer here, not D-Will and Paul Millsap.
Though their paths were similar for the basketball stars, they were often oh-so-far apart, too. Consider:
Boozer was named an All-Star sub again; Williams made a statement by winning the Skills Challenge after being snubbed again.
Jerry Sloan earned his 1,000th Jazz win and celebrated 20 years with Utah. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Jerry Sloan earned his 1,000th Jazz win and celebrated 20 years with Utah. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)
Williams earned a spot on the All-NBA second team; Boozer was on the third team.
Williams went on a tear in the playoffs; Boozer went on a slump.
Williams came off the bench and chipped in productive minutes for the gold-medal-winning U.S. Olympic basketball team; Boozer stayed on the bench but remained chipper and cheered on Team USA.
Both players also made headlines for their long-term contracts — Williams signed his with an opt-out clause in 2012; Boozer talked about opting out so he could sign up for his raise, but will it be in Utah? Miami? Indiana? Baylor?
And, finally, both players suffered injuries this fall — Williams was out 13 games with a sprained ankle; Boozer has missed 18 games (and counting) with a strained quad, a bruised knee cap and a foot-in-the-mouth ailment.
What kind of quest? BYU's Michael Reed walks off the field at the close of a season of Cougar football that didn't live up to expectations. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) What kind of quest? BYU's Michael Reed walks off the field at the close of a season of Cougar football that didn't live up to expectations. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)
Good news for Jazz fans: The last time Boozer sat on the bench this much, his team won the championship.
3. BYU football: Quest for perplexing season achieved
The preseason talk was about a "Quest for Perfection," on and off the field preferably. A pummeling of a football powerhouse — mighty Northern Iowa of Division I-FCS-AA, or something like that — did nothing to quell the on-the-field quest. Neither did two straight victories over Pac-10 teams — one thanks to a controversial celebration penalty that led to a blocked 73-or-so-yard PAT attempt in the 28-27 win over Washington, and the other thanks to UCLA sending its tackling dummies and Norm Chow-coached waterboys to face BYU in a 59-0 rout at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
There was even some early season talk about a national championship — and not of the mocking-the-1984-schedule variety, either. BYU soared to No. 8 in the coaches poll, had a 6-0 record and held its BCS destiny in its own hands.
Fired Utah State coach Brent Guy hugs quarterback Diondre Borel in the closing minutes of his final game as the Aggies' coach. He was replaced by Utes assistant Gary Andersen (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Fired Utah State coach Brent Guy hugs quarterback Diondre Borel in the closing minutes of his final game as the Aggies' coach. He was replaced by Utes assistant Gary Andersen (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
Ah, life was good — until, of course, speedy, revenge-seeking TCU grabbed the football, fame and fortune from BYU, and left the Cougars wondering what race car had just hit them and raced away with their happily-ever-after ending.
BYU bounced back with four wins in a row to set up "The Greatest BYU-Utah Match-up EVER!!!"
You might not want to ask BYU quarterback Max Hall what happened after that. (To sum it up: five passes to the guys in red, one fumble and a humiliating 48-24 loss).
That, however, didn't keep the Cougs from their annual week-before- Christmas tradition of playing in the Las Vegas Bowl. You might not want to ask kicker Mitch Payne, the defense or the rest of the Cougars what happened after that. They're still hoping what happens in Vegas — memories of a 31-21 loss to Arizona — stays in Vegas.
Gary Andersen, current defensive coordinator at the University of Utah poses on the balcony of the Jim and Carol Laub practice facility after speaking at a news conference where he is named the new head football coach of Utah State University, Dec. 4, 2008. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Gary Andersen, current defensive coordinator at the University of Utah poses on the balcony of the Jim and Carol Laub practice facility after speaking at a news conference where he is named the new head football coach of Utah State University, Dec. 4, 2008. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
Still, you know things are good in Provo when a 10-3 record is considered a disappointment.
4. Real Salt Lake: Much ado (but not the Freddie kind) about new pad and playoffs
Media outlets did large specials and sections with big photos, nice graphics, feature stories and tons of info all aimed at accomplishing the same — pardon the soccer pun — goal. Which was, of course, trying to figure out and then explain to sports fans and still-confused taxpayers just exactly what in the world a "Rio Tinto" was, why its name was being put up on the fancy, new stadium for Real Sandy, er, Salt Lake, and just what is offsides again?
(FYI, Rio Tinto, turns out, apparently is Spanish for "Owners of that big hole in the Oquirrh Mountains and other global ventures.")
There will be no Blaze touchdowns to celebrate anytime soon, as the Arena Football League pulled the plug on the 2009 season. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) There will be no Blaze touchdowns to celebrate anytime soon, as the Arena Football League pulled the plug on the 2009 season. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)
After years of political turmoil, public debate and oodles of cash, RSL finally got a palace to call home. As a bonus to their sparkling new pitch, Real even managed to not finish in a tie in just enough games to make its first playoff appearance. As a bonus to the bonus, RSL won the first postseason game in the franchise's four-year history in dramatic fashion and eventually made it to the Western (Sorta) Conference Finals. That's when a team that has had more success at Rio Tinto Stadium than RSL — that'd be the New York Red Bulls — beat them there for the second time in a month.
5. Larry H. Miller: Fights for life, hands CEO keys over to son
In June, Larry H. Miller was hospitalized. Two months later, the Jazz owner revealed just how serious his health issues were.
During a 59-day stay in the hospital, Miller almost died four times from what he described as a "serious heart attack" and other type 2 diabetes-related ailments. He called it "the most physically challenging time of my life," even hinting that he was the recipient of a miracle after his damaged kidneys suddenly healed.
Jazz owner Larry Miller (left), overcame serious health issues and handed over the responsibilities of running the team to his son, Greg (right). (Michael Brandy, Deseret News) Jazz owner Larry Miller (left), overcame serious health issues and handed over the responsibilities of running the team to his son, Greg (right). (Michael Brandy, Deseret News)
In order to focus on his health, his family and a happy future, the 64-year-old Miller passed on the responsibilities of the Jazz and his business empire to his oldest son, Greg.
The elder Miller's presence has been limited at Jazz games this season. The fresh-faced new boss on the block, meanwhile, has been much more visible around EnergySolutions Arena while he learns the tricks of his recuperating father's trade.
6. Jerry Sloan: Greatest NBA coach to ever win 1,000 games with one team since 1988
Jerry Sloan probably isn't too terribly sad to see 2008 hit his tractor's rearview mirror.
That's because while he loves hustle and hard work, he doesn't love being honored or hullabaloo about himself. And the latter happened way too much for his liking this past fall when the media, the Jazz organization and fans had a heyday with the anniversary of his two-decade tenure and the millennium milestone in wins as Utah's bench boss.
Weber State coach Ron McBride led the Wildcats to a co-championship in the Big Sky and an FCS playoff game victory. (Jason Olson, Deseret News) Weber State coach Ron McBride led the Wildcats to a co-championship in the Big Sky and an FCS playoff game victory. (Jason Olson, Deseret News)
In case you still need to send him a belated congratulations card, here are the two dates that mattered most for the longest-tenured coach in U.S. pro sports:
Nov. 7, 2008: Jazz beat Oklahoma City Thunder 104-97 to give Sloan his 1,000th win as the franchise's head coach — a feat no other NBA coach had ever accomplished.
To paraphrase Sloan's response: "(Grumble.) $#%#*!. I don't care. (Grumble.) It's about the players, not me. (Grumble.)"
Dec. 9, 2008: Jazz game — which happened to be a thrilling come-from-behind win at Minnesota — comes 20 years to the date after Sloan replaced Frank Layden as head coach of the Jazz in '88.
To paraphrase Sloan's response: "(Grumble.) $#%#*!. I don't care. (Grumble.) It's about the players, not me. (Grumble.)"
BYU's Lee Cummard declared for the NBA draft before changing his mind and returning to the school. His Cougars were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) BYU's Lee Cummard declared for the NBA draft before changing his mind and returning to the school. His Cougars were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)
7. Arena football: Season goes down in a Blaze
The coffers half-full news is that the Utah Blaze can't repeat their 0-9 start to the '08 season next year. The coffers half-empty news is that the Blaze and the rest of the Arena Football League will go oh-fer the entire season next year.
The nationwide economic recession resulted in a leaguewide operation secession of the '09 season by AFL owners, including Blaze owners/auto dealers John and Robert Garff. And that, despite the league's players agreeing to cut their salary caps from $2 million to $1.4 million per team.
At least that nine-game losing streak isn't the Blaze's last memory. Utah bounced back from that rough start and actually made its firstr trip to the postseason.
The Utah Jazz, dejected here after losing to the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals, won another division title and first-round series in 2008. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) The Utah Jazz, dejected here after losing to the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals, won another division title and first-round series in 2008. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
The Blaze can only hope it wasn't their last visit — or shot.
8. Utah State football: Guy's out, Gary's in
Eight children might've been enough, but eight wins in four years was not enough for Brent Guy to keep his job as Utah State's football coach. He was Donald Trumped by the Aggies in November. His players then gave him a nice parting gift by crushing New Mexico State 47-2 in the unofficial "Which Aggies Are The Worst Bowl."
Hand it to Guy, though. He did have the Aggies improving every year. They were well on their way to a 12-0 season in 2018 after going from 1-11 in 2006, to 2-10 in '07, to 3-9 this past year.
It'll be up to Gary Andersen, Utah's defensive coordinator, to try to keep that level of improvement up.
9a. BYU basketball: Cougar cagers conquer MWC (but postseason spoils fun)
In 2007, Dave Rose coached his team to a Top 25 ranking, an incredible homecourt advantage, a regular-season Mountain West title before losing in the Las Vegas Invitational/conference tournament and then (surprise) losing again in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Cougars did some lathering, rinsing and repeating with all of the aforementioned in '08, too — with Texas A&M delivering the March Sadness blow this time.
As a sign that they'd truly made it as a basketball program, BYU even lost an underclassmen to the NBA draft when Trent Plaisted decided to go pro. The Cougars almost lost another player to the D-League draft, but Lee Cummard decided to stay for his senior year after exploring his draftability.
Cummard has done nothing but improve his potential NBA draftability with a stellar fall, helping lead BYU to a 10-1 start.
9b. Jazz basketball: Utah conquers Northwest Division (but Lakers spoil fun)
Like BYU's basketball team, the Jazz had high hopes last year heading into the playoffs with a huge homecourt edge and another Northwest Division title banner to hang. Continuing their deja vu spring, the Jazz even had to meet and beat the Houston Rockets in the first round. Unfortunately for the Jazz, the Lakers waltzed into town in the second round — you might've noticed by all the booing of Public Enemy No. 1 and Derek Fisher's teammate, Kobe Bryant — and proved they were not the Golden State Warriors. Much to the chagrin of L.A.-hatin' Jazz fans, Phil Jackson's club ruined Utah's postseason celebrations again.
Andrei Kirilenko did, however, get his family's vacation paperwork taken care of, so the Jazz did have some lasting success during that series.
10. Weber State football: Coach McBride has 'Cats playing great
They not only chanted it, WSU faithful believed their cheer this past fall. Indeed, Weber State was "great, great, great!" OK, maybe not in the regular-season finale at home against Eastern Washington, but their march through the Big Sky Conference — including a win over Montana in the season — made the Wildcats and coach Ron McBride the toast of the town.
Weber State even — imagine this — had a chance to win a national championship by earning a spot in the 16-team playoffs. Seriously. No bowl about it. The Wildcats continued to captivate football fans statewide after beating Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo, Calif.
The fun run for the former Utah coach and his team ended in the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals at Montana earlier this month. Almost makes you forget about the program getting put on minor probation in the spring, doesn't it?

E-mail: jody@desnews.com

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