The largest crowd to ever watch a football game in Salt Lake City saw the University of Utah score the first-ever touchdown in Rice-Eccles Stadium just 56 seconds into the game Saturday night.
Well, at least half of the crowd of 44,112 saw the Utes' first score. Thousands of others were still making their way to the stadium or trying to find a place within the same ZIP code to park.The reviews of the renovated Rice Stadium were nearly all positive. Actually, to call it a "renovation" is misleading. The stadium is completely new with the exception of the south end zone. The reasons for the high praise were obvious. The concession lines were shorter, bathroom pit stops didn't take an entire quarter and splinters in fans' posteriors weren't a part of the general admission experience in the new facility.
But the parking situation wasn't exactly a hit.
"The parking was a problem before," said fan Bruce Smith, "and now there are 15,000 more people all trying to find places to park."
But most fans didn't let their parking difficulties dampen their high praise for the Utes' new home.
"This stadium is awesome," said U. psychology student Bryan Francis, although it should be noted that he may not be the most objective observer. Francis, like his buddy Ryan Anderson, opted to attend the game shirtless on a night threatening rain. Both wore red shorts and Utah socks and had red block `U's' painted on their faces and bare chests.
The stadium almost had a state fairlike atmosphere. Fireworks, face painters, clowns, thousands of balloons and even a football game were part of the festivities. Commemorative T-shirts featuring a picture of the new stadium and the date were selling like hot-cakes at $5 a pop.
"We had 10,000 of these shirts printed and they're selling like crazy. We're trying to sell all of them tonight, and I think we will" said Craig Mills, one of the people hawking the commemorative shirts.
But not everything went exactly as planned. Security was a bit lax, as eight partial streakers got loose to run around on the field unabated while the marching band played at halftime. The young men all had pants on, but were shirtless.
Folks trying to get up to their luxury suites or to the press box had to wait longer than they may have wanted. Two of the four new elevators on the west side of the stadium broke down.
But the problems weren't catastrophic. Ute administrators and longtime fans walked around like proud new fathers.
Even the student section was almost filled - a rarity for a home opener at the old stadium. While the student support may have been due to excitement for the new stadium and renewed school spirit, the reality is that it may have as much to do with classes being in session now that the U. now has a semester system. In years past fall quarter didn't begin until the end of September.
Alan Hensen, one of the many ushers decked out in fluorescent green jackets, said he heard nothing but positives from fans as he showed them to their seats.
Perhaps Hensen summed the feelings of most in attendance. "The Utes finally have the type of stadium they deserve," he said.