May 21, 2009

The 2009 Utah Football Countdown

Welcome to the Utah Football Countdown blog, which lists the greatest University of Utah football games ever.

During the summer of 2007, I selected 35 great Utah games, ranked each from #35 to #1, and featured them on my blog, one per day, until the 2007 season began. I believe that this list was pretty thorough and included all of the obvious, as well as a few not-so-obvious, great games from Utah's football history.

However, over the last two years, Utah has played some pretty phenomenal games that will surely go down as some of their greatest ever. Furthermore, I also found some gems that I overlooked the first time around. In total, I have come up with an additional 15 games that need to be added.

Now, not all of these games deserve to be included in the Utah's Top-35, and maybe not even in the Top-50 (I'm sure there are still many deserving games I have overlooked). However, each one should still be considered great, and should never be forgotten or underestimated.

I have made a special effort to include great games from all eras of Utah football. Also, I have made every effort to include Utah's greatest victories against each of their historic rivals. Unfortunately, I was unable to identify any games involving UNLV, UTEP, or Colorado College that deserve "great" status.

So, beginning Monday, May 25th, and continuing until the Monday before Utah kicks off the 2009 season against Utah State, I will feature one game each week on this blog. Yet unlike in 2007, I have not ranked these games in any particular order, but instead hope to generate discussion and debate as to whether each of these games should be considered Top-50, Top-25, Top-10, etc. It's no secret that a couple of these games may even deserve to be remembered as the greatest ever.

And to give you all a taste of what to expect, I wish to now present one very important game from the annals of Utah Football history. This game is not one of the 15 I have chosen to feature this summer. In fact, it's not even a Utah game. Nevertheless, it still impacted Utah greatly. It is featured now to illustrate one of the many interesting stories in the history of Utah's football program:

November 21, 1940 - Colorado vs. Denver

HOW DID IT AFFECT UTAH? Before the 1940 season began, Utah was one of three teams expected to compete for the Big Seven Conference title. The other two were the Colorado Buffaloes and the Denver Pioneers.

But just four weeks into the season, Utah was only 2-2, and more importantly, was 1-1 in conference. And they had yet to face Denver or Colorado -- both of whom were still undefeated in conference.

In week 5, Utah hosted Denver (3-1, 2-0) in what was considered a "must-win" for the Utes. With this notion, and the loss to Utah State the week prior still fresh on their minds, Utah dominated the Pioneers right from the start - scoring the first 19 points, and cruising to a 25-14 win. With one loss each, Utah and Denver were now tied for second-place in the Big Seven.

The following week, Utah traveled to Boulder to play the first-place Colorado Buffaloes (4-1, 3-0). There, Utah overcame pre-game jitters (Utah's kicker completely missed the ball on the opening kickoff) and an easy Colorado touchdown on the first drive of the game, to win 21-13. And it wasn't as close as that score would seem to indicate.

At this point, Utah, Denver, and Colorado were all tied for first place with one loss each. And that's the way the standings stayed until the last week of the season. Utah finished their conference schedule 5-1 (7-2 overall), and had clinched a share of the league crown. They beat Idaho in a non-conference game played on Thanksgiving Day to end the season.

But meanwhile in Denver, the Pioneers (now 5-2, 4-1) and the Buffaloes (now 4-3, 4-1) played to determine who would share the conference title with Utah. As it turned out, Denver and Colorado tied, 3-3, meaning they both finished with a 4-1-1 conference record -- leaving Utah alone on top as the outright conference champions.

Colorado and Denver had a long and intense rivalry from 1892 to 1947. Most of the games were played on Thanksgiving Day.

From 1909 to 1960, Utah and Denver were always in the same conference, although they didn't necessarily play each other every year. Utah holds a 28-10-5 record all-time against the Pioneers. Denver discontinued their football program after the 1960 season.

Very interesting article by Brad Rock of the Deseret News about the defunct Utah-Denver rivalry, and the old rivalry trophy in particular.



By Louden Kelly
Associated Press
November 22, 1940

DENVER, Nov. 21 (AP) -- Sour breaks and gripping goal line stands blunted every touchdown charge, so Colorado and Denver both turned to a weapon as old as football, the field goal, and wound up their Thanksgiving day fixture in a 3 to 3 deadlock Thursday.

This may have been a stroke of gridiron justice because now the Big Seven title goes to Utah, the team that beat both of them. The Utes finished their league season Saturday, a half game in front, and Thursday's winner would have shared the championship with them.

These old rivals turned for help to their kickers when assorted ground plays and forward passes failed in the pinch.
. . .

Approximately 23,000 spectators sitting in sunny, nippy weather, watched in electrical suspense as little Hank Walsmith stepped back and kicked the tying field goal from Colorado's 18-yard line with less than a minute to play. The kick started as if too low, but cleared by two feet.
. . .

Colorado dug in for three downs, but couldn't smear Walsmith's place kick that sent the undisputed league title winging over the mountains to Utah.

Salt Lake Tribune
November 22, 1940

The Utah gridders were just as interested in the Colorado-Denver football game as they were in their own contest Thursday and as soon as they got into the dressing room after the game they wanted to know the Denver score.

Most of the boys had left when the news came in that Denver had tied the Buffs but the lads on hand put on a real celebration. There was cheering and laughing and back-pounding. It was the finish of a great Thanksgiving day for the Indians.

Coach Ike Armstrong beamed with happiness as he told his gridders: "Go out and have a good time, you've earned it. You've played some great football this year."

The Indians planned to elect a captain after the game but there was too much excitement so the selection was postponed until Tuesday evening.

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