Passing on the BYU Tradition

Brett RichinsSenior Analyst IApril 12, 2010

Saturday’s youth clinic and open practice reminded me of just how great BYU football is and had me reminiscing about the many years of enjoyment I have received from this program as a fan.

The photo to the right is of my nine-year-old son Colin taken with Jake Heaps on Saturday. It’s amazing to me to think that Jake is younger than my two oldest kids. Yep, I’m old! And time really does fly.

In this day and age it’s a little harder to pass on the great tradition that is BYU football. Kids have so many other distractions these days. Plus, it’s harder to appreciate how BYU rose up out of football obscurity if you weren’t there to experience it.

I started following BYU football back in the days of Gary Sheide. In 1974, Sheide led BYU to its second conference crown in three years under the then-unknown coach LaVell Edwards. That year the Cougars put together a regular season-ending seven-game winning streak that landed them in the Fiesta Bowl.

I wasn’t much older than Colin at that time. I would have never believed that I would someday know Gary as a friend and broadcast BYU games with him.

Then came Gifford Nielson; he was Superman to me. I was crushed when a season-ending knee injury in Corvallis versus Oregon State ended what surely would have been a Heisman Trophy winning-season for Gif.

Then came Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, and Steve Young. I feel sorry for Cougars fans who are too young to have witnessed with their own eyes Wilson’s demolishing of SDSU on national TV, McMahon’s Miracle Bowl heave, and Young’s reception on a halfback pass to beat Mizzou in the Holiday Bowl.

Then in 1984, the unthinkable happened: Little ol' BYU from the WAC won the national title with Robbie Bosco at the helm. It was the Golden Age of BYU football. Provo became Mecca. Coaches from all around the country made the pilgrimage to Provo to study the passing game from LaVell and his staff—and it changed the face of college football.

Soon programs like Miami and Florida State were throwing the football with success. Today even the most ardent three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust programs like Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Michigan have been converted. Today’s wide-open offenses exist because of the pioneering influence of LaVell Edwards. The college game was blessed by the events, and I was blessed to have witnessed it all unfold.

Later Ty Detmer would cement BYU’s legacy by claiming the Heisman Trophy. I was present at both games that launched Ty into the national limelight.

I’ll never forget the look of exasperation on Joe Pa’s face in the 1989 Holiday Bowl as Ty and the Cougars rolled up nearly 600 yards passing on the Nittany Lion defense that night in San Diego. It’s still one of my all-time favorite games, despite the fact that the Cougars fell short 50-39.

Then in the season opener in 1990, Ty picked apart the Miami Hurricanes, knocking off the top-ranked, defending national champions 28-21. I was working in Texas at the time and drove 40 hours round-trip to be present for the three-and-a-half hours of what would become the greatest game ever played at what is now LaVell Edwards Stadium.

That game was surreal, the atmosphere electric. Those who were there know that the experience was unlike anything that’s happened in that stadium before or since.

Today, Bronco Mendenhall has successfully carried on the BYU tradition. The program is in excellent hands. Four straight 10-plus-win seasons—not even LaVell did that.

2010 will in many ways be a rebuilding year with the Cougars breaking in a green quarterback, tight end, and defensive front seven. Ten wins will be a stretch, but then again, it was a stretch in 2007 too, when a green Max Hall, who hadn’t played a down of D-I football or even taken a snap in a game in over three years, took the helm. The Cougars did pretty well that year.

Heck, in 1984 the Cougars were picked to finished third in the WAC by Sports Illustrated because the program was without graduated stars Steve Young and Gordon Hudson. It just goes to show you that you never know.

One thing we do know, though, is that the tradition and the memories will roll on. Someday my son Colin will pass on the BYU tradition and his many memories to his son.