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A tradition like no other it's not, but Crazy Lady sure can make college football interesting. And like all good things, it may be coming to an end at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Between the third and fourth quarters of Ute home games, Terri Jackson performs a spirited dance that can rally thousands of fans. Now the University of Utah's sports marketing department is "evaluating" whether to replace Jackson's popular routine with something else in that time slot.
A story in the campus paper Tuesday about the possibility Jackson could be bounced from her stage of 10 years triggered an avalanche of calls and emails to the U. athletics department, but officials stress that no decision has been made.
Many Ute fans are aghast that the school would mess with the popular fan-grown tradition, while others want Utah to begin emulating some of the more stately traditions of its new Pac 12 rivals.
Marketing officials re-evaluate all "game atmosphere elements" at the end of every football season, and the Crazy Lady dance is undergoing such a routine review, said spokeswoman Liz Abel. In recent years, the pre-game Ute Walk came under review, but it was preserved in the face of student outcry.
Meanwhile, some fans find it hard to imagine how marketers could improve on the excitement generated by Crazy Lady, with the help of students and the Utah marching band. The third-quarter tradition began with another dancing fan, dubbed "Bubbles." A 1976 U. graduate and die-hard Ute fan, Jackson took over dancing duties in 2000 and ESPN featured her last year as one of college football's top "super fans."
The white-haired woman has long been revered by the U.'s nationally-notorious Mighty Utah Student Section, better known as the MUSS. The MUSS spontaneously came up with Jackson's moniker in 2003 and Jackson embraced it, emblazoning "Crazy Lady" across the back of her jersey.
The dynamic between the MUSS and Jackson was on vivid display on a November night three years ago. Utah and Texas Christian University were locked in a low-scoring contest when the third quarter wound down and the 5,000-strong MUSS began chanting. "Craa-zy!" Clap-clap. "Laa-dy!" The Utah marching band seated in the south end-zone bleachers struck up the Blues Brothers theme song, and Jackson appeared, wearing her red Utah jersey bearing No. 27, and shook her shoulders with the energy of a dancer half her age.
The MUSS erupted with enthusiasm and kept screaming, chopping and jumping through the final quarter to the clear detriment of the Horned Frogs. The Ute defense made critical third-down stops and the offense scored the game-winning touchdown in the closing minutes. It was a pivotal win that secured Utah's Sugar Bowl berth and an undefeated season.
While Jackson remains a beloved fixture at football games, some on the MUSS board are wondering whether the routine is getting stale, according to former board president Sean Davenport, a graduate student in sports psychology.
This year Jackson changed her dance routine and officials sometimes cut it short in favor of sponsor promotions, blared over the public address system and drowning out the marching band.
Earlier this week, Jackson, who could not be reached Thursday, told the Daily Utah Chronicle that she had heard nothing from the U. and affirmed her love for her alma mater.
"I'm very curious," said Jackson, who works as a hearing specialist for the Granite School District. "It's a big part of my life."
U. sports marketing officials attended the MUSS board's meeting Wednesday and brainstormed with students about how the inter-quarter slot might be better filled.
Davenport was pleased U. officials were receptive to MUSS members' ideas, which were diverse.
"Whatever they decide it will be in the interest of university football," Davenport said. "Students are mixed; a good chunk feels like they could do without [the Crazy Lady dance]."
Utah fans this season witnessed mid-game traditions in Pac 12 stadiums, and some wonder whether Utah's measure up, according to Davenport, who grew in Idaho as a Washington Huskies fan.
At the Utes' Notre Dame game in South Bend, Ind. last year, the Fighting Irish fans booed Crazy Lady and the Utah band because their performance interfered with Notre Dame's own third-quarter tradition, Davenport recalled. He noted University of Southern California ignited a cauldron, while California saluted past national champions.
"I thought it was cool they honored people who really represent their universities," Davenport said. "We have a long way to catch up. We are a 'young' football traditional school compared to how long these schools have been doing it."
U. athletics marketing director Ann Argust did not return a phone message.