Bleeding Red: Runnin’ Utes looking for ‘Eye of the Tiger’

Believe me, I am no one’s fool
The Utes have a long row to hoe
They can beat any given school
But can they win four in a row?

COMMENTARY – The Runnin’ Utes are basically Rocky Balboa – which can be either good or bad. Please allow me to explain.

In the original movie, Rocky is a relatively unknown boxer with a vast reserve of untapped talent and determination. He gets a shot at the World Heavyweight Title only when the leading contender withdraws from the bout, and the current champion – Apollo Creed – decides to give an unknown, local boxer a shot at the title.

Nobody, including, Rocky himself, expected him to win the fight. In fact, the night before the match, Rocky confides to his girlfriend that he just wants to go the distance.

At the outset of the bout, Apollo doesn’t take Rocky seriously. However, Rocky unexpectedly knocks Apollo to the floor, embarrassing him, and the fight turns into one of the most intense boxing matches ever. Both Rocky and Apollo batter and bruise each other throughout the bout.

Ultimately, Rocky does indeed go the distance and lasts all 15 rounds.  However, notwithstanding his gritty effort, Rocky loses the match on a split decision from the judges.

Even in defeat, Rocky scored a major moral victory. The really good news is that Rocky won the re-match against Apollo Creed in the movie sequel.

So how does this compare to the Runnin’ Utes?  While no comparisons are ever perfect in every respect, there are a number of similarities.

The primary reason that the University of Utah was invited to join the Pac-12 at all was because Texas – the leading contender if you will – declined the invitation first extended to it.

I truly believe this year’s Runnin’ Ute team still has a vast reserve of untapped talent and determination. For the better part of this season the Runnin’ Utes have underperformed as they have had to learn how to win.

Before his big break, Rocky was a small-time club boxer who made a living as a thug for a loan shark beating up ordinary Joes who had no chance of standing toe-to-toe with Rocky in a fight. The Runnin’ Utes beat up on a number of non-conference opponents early in the year, many of whom had no business being on the same court as a true Pac-12 basketball team.

For the better part of the last two seasons, precious few teams have taken the Runnin’ Utes seriously, and very few people have expected the Runnin’ Utes to win in conference play. In their first two conference games this season, on the road no less, the Runnin’ Utes knocked both Arizona State and then third-ranked Arizona to the floor. Utah then proceeded to have some very intense games with many of its Pac-12 opponents.

As the season wore on, the Runnin’ Utes were battered and bruised, but they refused to give up.  They finished the regular season with two big home wins, including a double-digit win over 19th-ranked Oregon in the season finale in a game in which Utah led from tip to buzzer. Those two wins were the first back-to-back conference wins for the Runnin’ Utes since they joined the Pac-12.

This is where the comparison becomes a little more problematic.  Rocky lost the fight, but won the rematch.  For the Runnin’ Utes, was the initial fight the regular conference schedule, with Utah finishing 10th out of 12 teams? That would make the upcoming Pac-12 Conference Tournament the Rocky-Apollo rematch. Or is the upcoming Pac-12 Conference Tournament just the climactic ending to the first match in which the Runnin’ Utes are still destined to lose, but with next season looming in the distance as the promising rematch that Utah will win?

Looking at the world through my crimson-colored glasses, I firmly believe that the Runnin’ Utes are more than capable of beating any given team in the Pac-12 in a one-game match-up on a neutral court. The problem is that it takes more than one win to run the table in the conference tournament, and Utah has already demonstrated it is also capable of losing to any team in the conference as well. If the Runnin’ Utes have only won back-to-back games once in their short tenure in the Pac-12, are they really in a position to reel off four straight wins for the first time ever?

Similar to Rocky, no one is giving Utah much of a chance in the Pac-12 Tournament.  Unlike Rocky, Utah believes it can win. I know it is an extreme long-shot, but similar to Rocky, I just can’t help but to cheer for these blue collar players and hope for the best.  Stranger things have happened – after all, isn’t that why they call it March Madness?


Dwayne Vance is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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  • Dwayne March 14, 2013 at 6:32 am

    One down and only three more to go! Go Utes!

  • Dwayne March 14, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    We’re halfway there baby! 2 down and 2 to go! Go Utes!

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