FOR FOOTBALL teams still operational, this is a day of conflicting feelings.

On the one hand, you're happy to still be able to cinch up the pads, to adjust the knee brace, and to wake up knowing you're alive because every bone in your body feels like it just came from Guadalcanal. You're happy to watch hour after hour of videotape that isn't rated. You're happy you're hitting the sled and not riding one. You are because it's the bowl season and if you've been good, you're still playing football at this time of year.On the other hand, it's Christmas Day.

Everything shuts down for Christmas except you and clerks who sell batteries at 7-Elevens.

You can't stop practicing - because the bowl game's in two days. That's the dilemma facing the University of Utah this very morning. That's why the Utes are going to deck the halls with sounds of . . . football. If you're in the vicinity of the grand ballroom here at the Anaheim Marriott this afternoon, you can check it out for yourself. The team will go through a "walk through" in the hotel ballroom. Visions of demolishing Arizona in Freedom Bowl XI will dance through their heads.

Of course you won't check it out because you'll be out trying to find a 7-Eleven, or you'll be playing a rousing game of CandyLand, or you'll be attempting to back a remote-powered Ferrari through the dining room and into the hall.

You won't be spending Christmas with your offensive line. You won't be listening to your position coach tell you for the third hundred thousandth time to push with your legs. You won't be plotting ways to destroy nickel packages.

But the Utes will.

This is their third consecutive bowl game so the Utes are used to not being home for Christmas. They were in Tucson two Christmases ago. They were in Anaheim last year and now they find themselves in Anaheim again, so they're also used to those politically correct Californians who wish them "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" so as not to offend anyone - even though if it wasn't for Christmas no one would be doing any celebrating.

Utah coach Ron McBride says bowling at Christmas is great when you consider the alternative.

"It's a lot worse being home this time of year," he says. "This is what it's all about. To play well enough so you aren't home." "Sure, Christmas Day is a hassle," he says, "and having parents and family around just gets in the way so we discourage anything like that . . . " " . . . just kidding," says the coach, ho-ho-ho-ing.

"Actually, in a lot of ways it's great," says McBride. "Especially for our coaches. Almost all of them bring their families. It's a nice deal. The whole family gets a vacation. They look forward to it. They put pressure on us to make it." Bowls aren't played in dreary places, so that's a Christmas plus. If the Utes made a list, they could come up with many other pluses about being here on the Southern California road this Christmas.

Good things:

- The all-you-can steak dinner at Mr. Stox.

- Bowl gifts on Christmas Day, i.e. windbreakers, hats, yet another wristwatch.

- No snow to shovel.

- Provides excellent excuse for not getting people things for Christmas.

- Comp trips to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm.

- Christmas Day turkey dinner at the Marriott with all the trimmings.

- Somebody else does the dishes.

On the other hand, there are a few bad things:

- No leftovers.

- No trees in the room.

- No place to hang the stocking.

- Room service doesn't have eggnog.

- Probably no orange sticks, either.

View Comments

- No snow.

- Practice.

- What if Santa doesn't know you're staying at the Marriott? "What you want to do is focus on the positives of being here," says Ute defensive back Kareem Leary, who at today's brunch was due to pick up his third conseuctive bowl watch, thus giving him one for both wrists and the ankle of his choice. "Yeah, you could dwell on the fact that as a college student this is the one time of year you could go home. But it's better to dwell on the fact that you're a football player and this is where you want to be. In a way I grew up dreaming of spending Christmas like this, because going to a bowl is what you dream about if you're a football player."

That's pretty much the Utes' story and they're sticking to it. They're saying they love the present they've given themselves. They're not going to exchange it, no way. And they're not about to pout about a little thing like sleeping on a hotel bed while waiting for Santa. Or having somebody make it for them, either.

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.