SALT LAKE CITY - Unbeaten Utah celebrated like champions.
Salt Lake City honored the Utes with a parade on Friday, giving fans one last chance to cheer the Sugar Bowl winners for a perfect season that wasn’t good enough to earn a national title.
The Utes paraded along State Street to a downtown rally, where they were greeted by a throng of red-clad fans who chanted “We’re No. 1!”
Utah went 13-0 and was the only unbeaten team in the country, but finished No. 2 behind Florida in the AP Top 25. In the final USA Today Coaches’ poll, the Utes were fourth.
“To see the entire city rally behind us like this is unbelievable,” All-American kicker Louie Sakoda told the crowd that packed the lawn at Washington Square.
The players stood beneath a giant, red banner that read “Utah Football 2009 Sugar Bowl Champions 13-0” during a series of brief speeches.
Coach Kyle Whittingham, named Thursday as winner of the Paul “Bear” Bryant coach of the year award, received one of the loudest ovations when he was introduced, then fueled the fervor with one final statement at the end of the rally.
“Utes-Gators. Neutral site. Winner take all,” Whittingham said.
It sounded good, but it isn’t going to happen. The 2008 season is over and the Utes will have to settle for being a self-proclaimed national title.
Utah fans launched an e-mail campaign to AP poll voters before Florida played Oklahoma in the BCS championship game on Jan. 8, hoping to convince the media voters that the Utes were worthy of being No. 1. It didn’t work, but Utah still got 16 votes for No. 1 and finished with the highest ranking in school history.
Utah’s previous high was No. 5 in 2004, when the Utes were the first “BCS Busters” with a 12-0 season and win over Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.
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