Rice Eccles Stadium, home of the University of Utah football team, has a designated student cheer section called the MUSS, which stands for Mighty Utah Student Section. The MUSS, established in 2003, is described and showcased during prospective student tours as an exciting benefit to students who choose to attend the University of Utah. The MUSS capacity is 6,000 energetic students at every game. This article will explore the scope of current student spirit at the University and the historical series of events that led to the current status of student fan support.
Lee Benson, a Utah student reporter, sensed the apathy of school spirit among classmates and brought attention to the gradual increase of student enthusiasm. A Deseret News article titled “All the Fuss is in the Muss” by Benson noted that an average of only 500 students attended football games in 2001. It was the spring of 2002 that Alumni Association member John Fackler came up with the Utah Football Fan Club in hopes of encouraging more students to attend games. The number of fans slowly improved to 800 with the promotion of a free T-shirt, a permanent seat, and a tailgate with food before every home game. (Benson)
It was the addition of Head Coach Urban Meyer in 2003 that changed the momentum and piqued student interest. After an undefeated season in 2004, registration for the MUSS rapidly increased to 5,000 students. (Benson) Utah’s entry into the prestigious Pac-12 football conference in 2011 elevated the viewership and exposure for the Utah football program. Their schedule was centered on Pacific 10 teams with huge alumni followings, including University of Southern California, Stanford, Washington, and Oregon. This shift in the conference improved student interest in the football program. (Benson) Today, the MUSS is ranked 7th in the nation for best student section.
The history of school spirit provides important background as to how the MUSS has evolved. It all started in the 1950s where student interest at football games was almost nonexistent. On November 19, 1951, the Salt Lake Telegram reported that the school spirit was at an all-time low following a loss to Wyoming. The football club took a turn for the worse when the Redskins lost to Oregon State, Brigham Young University, and Wyoming. The Redskins were called a “stumbling, fumbling, and uncoordinated club.”
Despite their success in the 1951 season, ticket sales were down for football games. An article published in the Salt Lake Telegram on November 20, 1951, reported a record low of 9,038 people, which was the smallest crowd in six years. It surprised many to see the low attendance even though they were the Skyline Conference Champions.
Two years later, the student spirit hadn’t improved. On February 12, 1953, the Daily Utah Chronicle encouraged suggestions on how to improve school spirit. Pierre Dubois in his “Sportslight” article emphasized the importance of holding a pep rally before the game. Dubois mentions how words of encouragement from the athletic director and the presence of the U marching band can help students get excited for games. Tradition should also be improved in order to increase student interest, such as a Cougar cage trophy between the Utah vs. BYU rivalry.
A natural rivalry was born because of the close proximity between Utah and BYU. Over the years, the rivalry game between Utah and Brigham Young University has always been a big game, with millions of viewers watching the match up on TV. The Daily Utah Chronicle reported on November 24, 1953, that school spirit was encouraged, but not vandalism. Reports stated that University of Utah students allegedly painted the BYU campus white, which was portrayed as childish and a bad reputation for Utah.
“School spirit and student attendance at games is one of the most important elements of a successful football program,” said Head Coach Ray Nagel in a Daily Utah Chronicle article published May 21, 1958. Nagel also emphasizes that having an enthusiastic student body would contribute to a winning football team. Nagel was a firm believer in having the coaching staff being aligned with the student body. For example, the coaches should be a part of student rallies and assemblies in order to feel better connected with the team.
The same mentality of students supporting the athletes holds true for the goal of the MUSS in 2019. “Student sections are crucial for athletes to feel supported and for students to gain a sense of camaraderie among each other through attending games together,” wrote Casey Overfield in a Daily Utah Chronicle article published on September 5, 2019. The energy that the students exert during the games is important to the team’s success.
The student section is made up not only of those in the stands, but those on the sidelines and on the field. The program for the November 27, 1958, Utah State University vs. Utah game reported both the marching band and cheerleaders contributed to school spirit. The exciting music and marching routines intrigue the student crowd. This article suggests that the cheerleaders’ energy and the marching band has a direct effect on the enthusiasm of the students.
In conclusion, history shows the low student attendance in the 1950s has shifted throughout the years. Students brought forth the cause and administrators saw the need to foster school spirit. The creation of the MUSS in 2003 propelled students to attend football games, with 6,000 students cheering on the Utes loud and proud. The success of the football program wouldn’t be possible without the enthusiasm of the MUSS. When Utah joined the Pac-12 in 2011, the Utes gained regional attention on the West Coast, and are now the Pac-12 South champions for the second straight year. Time will tell, but the increase in school spirit has proven to positively impact the University of Utah football program.
Gianna Cefalu is a junior at the University of Utah. She is majoring in communication, with an emphasis in journalism.
Jack Schroeder, “Utah’s Skyline Champs Await Thanksgiving Battle,” Salt Lake Telegram, November 19, 1951, 22.
Jack Schroeder, “Jack Straws,” Salt Lake Telegram, November 20, 1951, 24.
Pierre Dubois, “Sportslight,” Daily Utah Chronicle, February 12, 1953, 4.
“Rivalry: No Vandalism Just Spirit,” Daily Utah Chronicle, November 24, 1953, 2.
Program, Utah State University vs. Utah, November 27, 1958, Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah.
“Nagel Says School Spirit is Important,” Daily Utah Chronicle, May 21, 1958, 4.
Overfield, Casey. “Uniting Utes and Frightening Foes: The Legend of the Mighty Utah Student Section,” Daily Utah Chronicle, September 5, 2019.
Benson, Lee. “About Utah: All the Fuss is in the MUSS,” Deseret News, September 8, 2013.