Last week, on a hot summer day in Salt Lake City, I paid $4 for a round-trip ticket on the TRAX light-rail system and did a once-over on the University of Utah's athletic facilities.
This is what I found: Arizona has far superior facilities for softball and swimming. That figures. Softball and swimming are the UA's two most successful sports. The Utes don't have their own baseball stadium (they rent downtown), their track-and-field situation is dire, their soccer facility is lacking, and they play tennis indoors.
Utah has an indoor practice facility for football, the Eccles Field House, which is standard-issue in the 21st century. But at least it's built out of bricks and mortar and isn't the eyesore on the scale of the indoor bubble on ASU's campus.
Utah's basketball arena, the Huntsman Center is comparable to McKale Center, and its intimate volleyball facility, the Crimson Center, is superb. It is exactly what the UA should have built when, alas, it constructed Richard Jefferson Gymnasium minus bleachers.
Rice-Eccles Stadium, which seats 45,000 for football, is acceptable. Someday, when the Utes figure out how to compete with Pac-10 schools on a weekly basis, it'll probably grow to 60,000. Its press box and luxury suites are as good as any in the Pac-10, even those at Oregon and Oregon State. It makes the spartan facility at Arizona Stadium come off as something from the Sun Belt Conference.
But before I boarded the TRAX for my return trip downtown, I noticed something that the Utes have that can only make Arizona blush with envy: two huge banners draped on the backside of Rice-Eccles Stadium.
One is for Utah's 13-0 Sugar Bowl season of 2008. The other is for the Utes' 12-0 Fiesta Bowl season of 2004; two enormous, colorful, logo-laden banners celebrating seasons that made everyone forget that Utah was mostly a football puffball from 1965 to 1995.
On a clear day you can see them all the way to Nevada.
Two banners. One welcome-to-the-Pac-10 change in perception.
Except for the snow that clings to the tips of the Wasatch mountains, it is the one thing Utah has that Arizona's athletic department can't match.
I have long whined that Arizona doesn't celebrate its athletic history with sufficient pride. Yes, Jim Livengood was aggressive in launching on-site basketball, softball, baseball and swimming memorabilia (and a Hall of Champions) but the "Bear Down" legend remains mostly a secret to the rest of the nation, and Arizona Stadium needs a look-at-what-we've-done makeover in the worst way.
Now, in month three of Greg Byrne's reign as its athletic director, the UA is planning to celebrate its football history more than at any time.
It will move Art Luppino's retired jersey No. 22 from its embarrassing, almost unseen position on a TV camera platform in the south end zone to a prominent place on the top of the press box.
"After 12 years on display about 5feet from Sixth Street, it's exciting even at my age," said Luppino, 74, who lives in Kerrville, Texas. "The list is impressive and long overdue."
Luppino's number will be sandwiched in the middle of those belonging to No. 89 Ricky Hunley, No. 6 Chuck Cecil, No. 92 Rob Waldrop, No. 28 Steve McLaughlin, No. 5, Antoine Cason, No. 4 Darryll Lewis and No. 11 Chris McAlister.
In addition, the UA is going to improve its modest display of bowl games and conference championships. Rather than bunch Holiday Bowl appearances of 1998 and 2009 (and Sun Bowl games of 1968, 1985 and 1992) in the same bracket, it will now provide individual spaces for each bowl game.
"We've been working on this project for about four years," said associate athletic director Phoebe Chalk. "When we dedicate the new displays on Nov. 13 against USC, we hope to have as many of the players back as possible. Antoine Cason will be here. Art Luppino will be here. We're working on all of the others."
The Ring of Honor, those 29 ex-Wildcats recognized for posterity on the outer wall of the press box, was a good start. The numbers display will be even better. Arizona Stadium will look and feel more like a Pac-10 football facility.
"It is special because I grew up in Tucson and sold popcorn and peanuts at the UA during the Larry Smith years," said McLaughlin, who is a musician living in Atlanta. "To truly be part of something I have cherished and cared about is an amazing feeling."
After Nov. 13, the only thing lacking will be a Rose Bowl banner and a statue to the man who coaches them to that game.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org