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Utah Utes football: Fan club a MUSS-do for U. students

Utah football's 12th man is now 5,000 strong

Back in 2002, the Utah football program was not in very good shape.

The Utes lost six consecutive games in the middle of the season and limped home with a 5-6 record. Season attendance was 10,000 below capacity at Rice-Eccles Stadium — and worse in terms of actual fannies in the seats.

At the end of that year, Ron McBride was fired, Urban Meyer was hired and the Ute program was transformed. Within two years, the Utes played in a BCS bowl game and repeated the feat four years later.

That was also the year the Ute student section was transformed, although it didn't necessarily have much to do with the aforementioned changes in the football program.

That was the year, the MUSS was born.

The MUSS is an energetic band of 5,000 U. students, who sit (actually stand) in the southeast part of Rice-Eccles Stadium and give their unbridled support to the Utah football team.

It all began early in 2002 with a group of nine Utah students who started what was first called the Utah Football Fan Club. The club was started in conjunction with the Alumni Association under the guidance of Director of Alumni Relations John Fackler, a.k.a. the Godfather of the MUSS.

"We thought we might get maybe 300 students," said Fackler of their first-year efforts.

Instead, 800 showed up.

The next year, the group nearly doubled to 1,400, and in 2004 it doubled again to 2,800. Of course it didn't hurt that the Utes were winning, going 10-2 in 2003 and 12-0 in 2004, but much of the credit goes to Fackler and the energetic group of U. students.

Now the MUSS has 5,000 members and so much support, its numbers have been capped in order to leave a few seats for students who don't belong to the group.

"It's grown beyond our wildest dreams," said Fackler.

Although Meyer didn't start the group, he was a big help in building it up. He made a concerted effort to visit the dorms and various campus groups. He came up with the idea to have the team stand and gather in front of the MUSS after every game and sing the school fight song, "Utah Man," while the band played.

"I give Urban a lot of credit," said Fackler. "We knew we'd get the diehard fans, but we also wanted to get the social fans."

That's why there's more to the MUSS than the three hours spent at the stadium on six Saturdays during the fall.

It costs $30 to join the MUSS, and besides getting a guaranteed reserved seat for every home game, members get a specially designed T-shirt and enjoy a MUSS tailgate before every home game, where free food is provided.

Every year, the MUSS sends a "MUSS bus" — actually several buses — to one away game. Usually it's the UNLV or San Diego State trip, but this year, the MUSS bus went to Oregon.

By 2006, the MUSS membership had increased to 4,700, then declined slightly the next year due to a new ticket policy that limited guests before climbing to 5,000, where it has been for the last couple of years.

This year, the MUSS tickets were all gone by the first of August. Fackler believes the club could easily grow by another thousand or two, but for now the number is capped to allow some tickets for students who choose not to join the MUSS.

By now, you're probably asking where exactly did the group get its odd name? While some say it stands for "Mighty Utah Student Section," Ute fans know the MUSS name originally comes from the school fight song, which includes the line, "No other gang of college men dare meet us in the muss" — muss meaning "a state of disorder, confusion or chaos."

The Utah MUSS is certainly not disorganized, with a student board of 38 students overseen by Fackler, but one of its main purposes is to cause confusion and disorder for opposing football teams at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Among the MUSS traditions are the First Down Chant, the U. of U. Chop and the Third Down Jump, where the students jump up and down and make as much noise as possible, trying to cause an illegal procedure penalty on opponents' third-down plays.

No one appreciates the MUSS more than Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham.

"The MUSS makes the atmosphere at Rice-Eccles Stadium what it is," he said. "They are as good of a student section as there is in the country. They're 5,000 strong, they're standing up from start to finish. Our team feeds off of their emotion."

When asked what effect that has on his team's success, Whittingham says, "Definitely it gives us a homefield advantage. The support that the student body has given this football team over the years is just tremendous. We're very appreciative of the support all of our fans have given us."

Fackler believes The MUSS has also made a difference in the overall attendance, which has been at capacity the last two years. Although there's no way of tracking it, Fackler believes a lot of former MUSS members have since become season-ticket holders, and that is part of the reason season tickets have increased from 15,000 to 31,000 over the past five years.

"Urban helped start it, but Kyle has made it better," said Fackler. "Kyle will do anything to help out. It's been great working with him."

The president of this year's MUSS is Mallory Hill, a young woman who grew up in Murray and runs the monthly meetings at the U. Alumni House.

"I joined the MUSS to go to the games, but I had so much fun at the games, I wanted to get more involved," Hill said. She said she loves the games and activities, but points out the MUSS is also involved in service projects, such as the annual food drive and Project Youth at the Bennion Center.

The MUSS has pretty much been a football-only deal, but Fackler is trying to get the same enthusiasm at the men's basketball games. With many games on weeknights and Saturday afternoons, it's been harder to commit students to 16 or 17 games a year, compared to a half-dozen football games.

However, things are improving. The basketball MUSS numbers were less than 100 just a year ago, but the number has already climbed above 300 for this season. Coach Jim Boylen is cooperating and doing all that he can to increase the support.

The athletic department agreed to move the student section from its longtime location on the southwest side of the arena around the basket to the northwest, closer to the team benches. Also, the home and visiting benches will be switched this year, with the students sitting right next to the opposing team.

"We are making great strides and haven't even started marketing for this year yet," Fackler said of the basketball MUSS.

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