Pagan Rites 

Recent events turned Saltas and the Utes into pariahs.

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Just two weeks ago, I was rolling merrily along life’s bumpy highway. Nothing unusual; we all have bumps in the road. Then, in short order, a Temptations-size Ball of Confusion rocked my cynical world. Things I once took for granted became scarce. Institutions I revered became pincushions. People I held in respect were revealed as mere flesh and blood—or less than. Friends who once shook my hand or at least returned my emails began averting their eyes at the mere hint of me walking toward them. Geez, was it something I said?

I wrote a column a couple weeks ago noting that miracles just aren’t front-page news anymore—except when the Utah Jazz beat the Miami Heat on the road Nov. 9, that is. (Did you see the giant headline touting “Milsap’s Miracle” in the next day’s Salt Lake Tribune?) I also pointed out that there was a sense among some people that proclaiming a miracle at Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church in Holladay (due to an icon of the Archchrist said to be exuding oil) might have been premature, and that in any case, it was wrongly introduced to the public in a Tribune story about the troubled Greek Orthodox parish of Greater Salt Lake City. The column fairly asked what might be the outcome if a miracle really isn’t a miracle and wondered why a parish priest would politicize a miracle in the first place.

For that, and on the very spot where my father, grandfather and most of my family were given their Greek Orthodox funerals, the current priest of Prophet Elias, Father Michael Kouremetis, announced in a special service to his remaining faithful something to the effect that people such as I are nonbelievers, and the newspaper that printed my column is of pagan nature. Now I understand why people shy away from me. I mean, would you shake hands with a pagan nonbeliever? I’ll tell you what—I wouldn’t.

So, guess whose hands I will never shake again?

If you guessed Father Kouremetis … nah, wrong, that’s too easy. Actually, I’d never shake the hands of all those pagan nonbelievers who walked out of the Utah-TCU game a couple Saturdays back—yep, the same ones who also bailed on the Utes midway through the Notre Dame game this past weekend. You know who you are. What kind of fan turns his or her back on a consistently winning team just because they’re getting the snot beat out of them while being tossed across three time zones like a piece of cloth from Auntie Em’s Sunday wash?

It takes a real Ute fan—a real believer, like me—to sit through every last minute of two full games of the worst football impotency ever displayed. If it happens two more times this year, against San Diego State and BYU, I’m not going to renew my season tickets. Check that. I already lost my season tickets when the Ute ticket office, in a spate of “we don’t need you anymore,” cancelled the 12 seats that were held for years by City Weekly and sold them out from under us without even a courtesy call—bastards, but that’s OK. I’ve already told one prominent Ute football booster that, come pagan judgment day, my millions (if I ever get them) are going to the art department.

I remain a Ute football fan, though, just one the university no longer makes money on. Prior to the TCU game, I was comfortably settled into my television, watching Game Day, when a neighbor called and offered me two seats to the game. Just that fast, my son Mikey and I were off. It was a reunion of sorts, because ever since Mikey was old enough to walk, he would cart in quarts of Skye Vodka and Crown Royal to share with all the good folks in Section 36. He was never searched—best mule ever.

When we unloaded at Rice-Eccles and found our former tailgating friends, the first thing they did was start pouring drinks, since they thought I’d returned from the dead—which, yeah, would be a miracle. I returned the favor by offering some locally brewed Greek moonshine, called tsipouro or tsikouthia. My buddy Joe Caputo was there celebrating his birthday, as was the entire Marston clan, total-immersion Ute fans. Harold Marston, family patriarch, died a couple Ute seasons ago—it was his birthday, too. So, we had shots to remember and shots to forget.

We walked to the stadium, and it turned out our seats were in a west-side skybox. Talk about justice! Sen. Orrin Hatch—who I swear is bigger than Dave Kruger—was standing nearby. Peter Corroon was there shaking off his governor’s race loss—may the Utes have similar resilience. A couple of City Weekly infamous cover boys—whom I avoided—held court. The Cokes were free. The food was free. The chips were free.

Skybox users have their own living room with their own TV, but the room is filled with strangers. A glass wall mercifully separates football fans from the people eating free Doritos. As it turns out, it’s quite possible that the worst place to be part of a Ute football game is from a skybox. Sports bars have a better atmostphere.

Despite feeling that we weren’t really at the game, Mikey and I watched every second of the Ute ass-kicking. As the east side turned from blackout black to empty-seat red, I saw the future: A renewed advertising contract with City Weekly when it is again asked to drive fans to pay even higher prices for a lesser product against greater competition in a half-full stadium. I wouldn’t mock a prophet by calling the above proclamation prophetic, it’s just a simple sinner’s guess. Same as many such things. 

John Saltas

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