The Salt Palace arena, as usual, was packed last night for the Utah Jazz's latest home appearance. Win and the state wins with you, or at least that part of the state that can fit into 12,444 seats.
The appearance of the semi-hapless Washington Bullets brought about, as expected, the season's eighthhome sellout and ninth consecutive home win - tying a franchise record.
Clearly, the Jazz remain a team on the rise; if this team doesn't live with high expectations these days, neither do the Buffalo Bills.
A random sampling of people in the seats - the real owners, as it were - provided an insight into the level of those expectations. They aren't low. The Jazz have people interested. Real interested.
Take Joe Belnap, for instance. Joe is a serious fan from Centerville who leaned back in his seat last night and said, "If they can't win there's something wrong. I think this is a very good team. An NBA championship is a very good possibility. The Lakers and Boston won't win it this year, so why not the Jazz?"
Paul and Nancy McKay, from Ogden, were sitting in the upper purple section, where they always sit. They wear their loyalty on their sleeve, and everywhere else. They had Jazz hats, Jazz sweatshirts, a Jazz bag, a stack of Darrell Griffith posters and a wad of all-star ballots that they were going to mark with Jazz players and stuff ballot boxes with later on.
"Here's what we're hoping," said Paul. "That they take the division, they go through the playoffs all the way, and then they bring the championship to Utah. You want odds? OK, how about 100 percent?"
Such unbridled optimism is running rampant these days in the Salt Palace.
No less an authority than Ross Bagshaw, a concessionaire for Western Foods who works the peanuts and beer stand on the northside concourse level, talked about the new excitement.
"You can just tell, the way people talk when they're standing in line," said Ross, who has moonlighted behind the Salt Palace concession counters since the Jazz came 10 years ago, "that people are excited. Oh, they're upset by how they're (the Jazz) doing on the road. But no question they're happier.
"And I don't think that's a surprise. Don't you believe that Utah is a state that backs winners like nowhere else?"
Ross personally thinks the Jazz need more from their bench if they're going to give him any overtime work next June. "You hear so much about Ortiz and Brown," he said, "But so far, they just haven't done much."
That lack of depth, and an occasional complaint about Frank Layden, the head coach, were the only discouraging words heard last night.
"I think the coach is prejudiced," said Dan Valdez of Salt Lake. "That's my only gripe. If he doesn't like you, you're out of town."
He was speaking of the Jazz players, not its fans.
The concensus of opinion was that the team will do something in 1988-89 never done before in franchise history - win 50 or more games.
"To be honest, I don't think they'll beat the Lakers in the playoffs," said Morgan King, an American Fork High School student who drives to every game. "But they will win 50, that's for sure."
At 11-6 to date, the Jazz are on pace for a 54-win season.
"If their bench hurries, 50 wins will come," said Randy Horiuchi, the retiring Democratic State Chairman. "Layden's got all the players he wants."
Horiuchi put in a positive plug for the coach.
"He's the Tommy Lasorda of basketball," he said, "And as far as I'm concerned, that's as good as you can get."
"Chemistry is everything in basketball, just like in politics," said Horiuchi. "Layden's got the right chemistry. If the bench gets going, you bet this team can win it all."
At least one fan last night could claim total objectivity. That was Bryan Deem, a businessman from Charleston, W.Va., who was sitting in Seat 1, Section U20, Row UU, otherwise known as the Worst Seat In the House. The seat is situated in the corner of the arena in the uppermost row.
Deem bought the seat at the box office an hour or so before game time - one of the few tickets remaining. "They told me it was the worst seat in the house, and now I believe them," said Deem, who is in Salt Lake for a series of meetings and gladly paid the $12.50 that will no doubt find itself onto his expense account.
Deem said, "Well, I think the Lakers are too tough, to be honest with you. I haven't really seen the Jazz that much."
He did, however, say he thinks West Virginia will upset Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
In that way he can relate to Jazz fans, who are already plotting a great finish to a season that has more than six months to run. The fans are plugged in and turned on in this town.