SAN DIEGO The older gentlemen in the red jacket and red tie blended right into the large group of Ute fans sitting on the west side of Qualcomm Stadium for Saturday night's Utah-San Diego State game.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, came to San Diego at the invitation of Utah coach Urban Meyer. Not only was he in the stands cheering on the Utes and present for the pregame rally outside the stadium, but Elder Wirthlin also flew with on the team charter Friday afternoon.
Elder Wirthlin, 87, has been a lifelong Utah fan, after growing up near the U. and playing for Ike Armstrong's football team in the mid-1930s
"We've enjoyed attending the games over the years," he said as he sat with his wife, Elisa. "We live close to the university, we graduated from the university, and our children attended the university."
Since Meyer became coach in 2002, he and Elder Wirthlin have formed a special relationship. Last year Elder Wirthlin met with the team before a game and this year has attended every home game and even comes to practice. He's also gone out to lunch with Meyer and Ute players.
"We have become very good friends," Elder Wirthlin said. "I admire him as a coach, but most of all for qualities of character, leadership and example."
Elder Wirthlin grew up less than a mile from the university and after starring for East High School in football, basketball and track, he took his talents to the U.
He was a running back for Utah. His biggest highlight was running a kickoff back for a touchdown against Colorado at Boulder in 1936.
He enjoyed flying on the charter with the Ute players and coaches, even if he was a little concerned about arriving back home at 3 a.m. today."It's wonderful to get to know these young men, who represent the finest of our youth with high ideals and a lot of enthusiasm," he said.