When they checked into the Anaheim Marriott Hotel a week ago, a lot of Ute players and coaches were carrying miniature artificial Christmas trees.

Because when you spend the week before Christmas getting ready for a bowl game, you need all the Christmas cheer you can get. Today for many of the Utes it will be just them and their trees as they try to have a Merry Christmas.At least they don't have to worry about practice. After practicing Saturday morning at Golden West Community College, the Utes were basically excused to do what they want until 6 o'clock tonight when meetings start again. Many of the Utah players spent Saturday afternoon at nearby Disneyland and others took off to be with their families.

For some Utes it will be Christmas as usual. Players who live in Southern California were free to go home for Christmas. One such player is Chris Rae, the Utes' starting right tackle.

Rae grew up in the same neighborhood where the Utes have been practicing all week, about a mile away from Golden West. He went to high school just down the street also attended Golden West before transferring to Utah two years ago.

He's getting the best of both worlds while awaiting the bowl game.

"I get to stay home and have a home-cooked meal and spend Christmas Eve with my family," said Rae with a smile. But despite being home this week, Rae is anxious to get on with the game.

"We want to play now," said Rae, echoing the feelings of many teammates. "We're tired of practicing. We can't wait for the game."

Rae is especially excited for the game. Last year as a redshirt he didn't get to play in the Freedom Bowl. By playing Tuesday night, he'll fulfill a lifelong dream.

"I grew up watching the Rams and Angels and now I get to play on that field. It's pretty exciting," he said.

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Rae said he expects to have between 100 and 125 fans - friends and family - rooting for him and the Utes Tuesday night.

Among the other Utes from the L.A. area who had the chance to go home are Mark Rexford (Ontario), Nick Petronis (Anaheim), Jamil Williams (Los Angeles), Jason Hooks (Claremont), Sione Mahi (Ingelwood), Curtis Marsh (Simi Valley), Dave Boghossian (Los Angeles) Chad Ventriglia (Claremont), Pouha Finau (Inglewood), and Cam Styles (Claremont).

Another bunch of Ute players who are from the San Diego area, a couple of hours down the freeway, include Charlie Brown, Deron Claiborne, David Cunningham, Edwin Garrette, Rob Hamilton, Keith Harrison, Chris Jahries, Tai Lepule, Dan Pulsipher and John Ballard.

BOWL NOTES: Coach Ron McBride took a couple of hours off the other afternoon and drove to Corona Del Mar, where he visited the wife of former Ute coach Ike Armstrong. Pearl Armstrong is now 93 and "as sharp as can be," according to McBride. "It was a wonderful afternoon. We had fun laughing about old stories. Ike left a real legacy at the U." said McBride . . . Utah compiled a 140-47-13 record under Armstrong from 1925-49, but played in just one bowl game, the 1938 Sun Bowl . . . Monday's schedule calls for a press conference for McBride and a couple of players at 1 p.m., a team picture at 4:30 p.m. and a "walk-through" at Anaheim Stadium from 5 to 6 . . . The Utes defeated two of the three teams that beat Arizona this year, Colorado State and Oregon. The other Arizona loss was to USC, which defeated Utah in last year's Freedom Bowl.

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