"They're as good now as they've ever been," said U. alumnus Larry Kershaw. He hopes the acclaimed victory serves as a "wake-up call" to the Bowl Championship Series, which rarely selects schools of the U.'s size to compete.
Kershaw and his wife were among the thousands of season-ticket-holders, tailgaters, students, casual fans and aspiring Utes who flanked the police-escorted caravan of cars and buses carrying the 13-0 team down State Street. Sounds of familiar fight songs were played by the band, and the atmosphere was a familiar remnant of a regular game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, where Ute Coach Kyle Whittingham said the team hosted an average of "above-sell-out crowds" all season.
"We're No. 1" echoed through Washington Square as the marching band led the Sugar Bowl champions to the steps of the Salt Lake City-County Building, where they were honored by local dignitaries and state leaders.
"Not only is our team No. 1, but we also have the coach of the year, we have the player of the year, we have the all-American kicker and we have the No. 1 fans," Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said as he rallied the crowd in support of "Utah's team."
Even Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, a longtime Brigham Young University fan, traded in his blue tie for a red one, and a Utah sweatshirt he promised to wear nearly every day of the upcoming legislative session.
Whittingham noted the "loss of a member of the Ute family" this year, and the Utes donned a sticker on their uniforms noting support for the late Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, a big U. fan.
"To see the entire city rally behind us is unbelievable," he said.
U. President Michael K. Young commended the team's "extraordinary character" and winning spirit.
"They showed nothing but confidence, like they were just going to pick up their lunch pails, go on their way and win," Young said of the team's attitude following a pep rally earlier in the season. "And they did it all season long."
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. relegated not only a day for celebration of the Utes, but the entire month of January, saying they are "America's new No. 1." He called on the Florida Gators, challenging them to a new game of champions.
"We're so super proud," said U. medical student Kristen Steenerson. "It's about time we get national coverage for a really great team." She tore herself away from gruelling studies to attend the parade, but admits she rarely watched a game real-time, but got updates via the refresh button on her computer.
Other members of the crowd treated Friday just like another game day, painting their faces, sporting big red wigs and other red and white paraphernalia, rallying the Utes for another undefeated season, which Whittingham said begins Sept. 6.
"The size of the crowd really shows the Utes they deserved it," said Ben Floyd, who revelled particularly in the Utes' recent Sugar Bowl win. "The team really showed a determination to come through in the end."
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