Noah Parks played Tight End for BYU from '94 to '96. He played for LaVell. He was there for our first ever win of the WAC championship game and was at the Cotton bowl when we won it all against Kansas St., 19-15.
I first met Noah on the other side of my cubicle. He had just joined my workforce as a lead salesman. We made formal introductions, shot the breeze, and talked a bit about the best way to finish a basement (hint: hire someone else to do it). Our conversation ended after a few minutes and we went back to work, never guessing that he had spent time in a Cougar's uniform.
Once the cat was out of the bag though, I couldn't resist. I had to interview him. I had to know about his experiences and what he thought about BYU football. Here's how our conversation went:
Now you played under LaVell right? Yes.
What was he like? He was a no-nonsense kind of guy: poised, stoic, and even-keeled.
What did he say to motivate the team? LaVell didn't say much, but when he did, it was poignant. We took courage from statements like "we should've beaten them," knowing we have it within ourselves, we just didn't perform at our best that day. I remember in our game against New Mexico, the stoic mask came off. It was the first time I saw him really fired up. That change fired up the team.
Where did you draw your motivation from as a player? I used to listen to classical music in practice. Classical music focused my attention.
What do you think Bronco's strength as a coach is? I think that the players know he respects them. That gives them strength. As a player, I would much rather have a Bronco for a coach than a Bobby Knight.
What's it like watching the Cougars now? I love the little nuances of the game. I like explaining to my kids (he has 6) what's going on from a player's perspective. I become cooler in their eyes.
Can you give me an example? I'll give you two. First, you can tell who is more experienced on the team. They are less likely to fall to the momentum shifts of a normal game. They stay focused and play hard if things are going well or bad.
Second, You can tell when a game's lost by the way the players are acting. Helmets come off. Heads are down. There's little to no talking amongst the players and a lot of them are sitting.
What can fans do to help out in times like that? We draw motivation from the crowd. I don't think the fans know how much of an impact they have on the players. We can feel it, or feel the lack of it. There's nothing more depressing than looking up to the stands and seeing them half emptied.
What would you have them do to show more support? I would be happy if everyone showed up in blue. Have a sea of blue for our home games. Also, step it up when things are getting bad. Those are the times that they should be the most involved. It can make a difference.
Noah's comments got me thinking more about the power of mind over body in football, and more specifically how a crowd can influence the players.
A Strong Mind Wins Games
Greatness lies within each of us. We are all capable of great things. Opportunities are plentiful to do so. The only thing that keeps us back is our belief in ourselves.
The acclaimed Coach Lombardi once said that "mental toughness is essential to success....Teams do not go physically flat, they go mentally stale."
Physical performance is only restrained by the strength of will. You see it in all the greats. Michael Jordan played through a nasty flue in the 5th game of the '97 NBA finals. Steve Prefontaine ran himself to the Olympics even though he lacked the traditional runner's body. Even the '84 BYU football team found a way to work their way into a championship. All of these athletes had challenges come to them. They all had bad days, but they never gave up and that was what brought them to greatness.
With that in mind, not every player will be able to inspire themselves. There's a point where we just want to give up, and if no one's there to inspire us to further action, we will stop ourselves from performing beyond our expectations. The extra boost of a friend strengthens our resolve and pushes us to be better. It happens in life and it is particularly noticeable in sports.
That's where we, the fans, can come in. The 12th man on the field can inspire the rest of the team to push through exhaustion to win the game. If things start getting bad, we can either (1) assist the spirit of defeat and hang our heads low, sit down, and generally ignore the game, or (2) lift the spirits of those who have the power to bring us out of the hole. Whenever tempted to sit, stand. Whenever you feel to quiet down, get louder (when appropriate). Our encouragement can show the team that there's at least 60,000 people that believe in them. That could be all it takes to change the momentum of the game.
The Fans Have Been Great Before
I remember a time when a Jimmer-led BYU basketball team hosted Kawhi Leonard-led SDSU at home for one of the biggest games of the season. There was so much hype coming into the game. Expectations were so pressing that the Marriott Center instigated a wrist-band method of entry to control the sheer number of students that wanted to go.
The atmosphere was electric. You could feel the tension and the excitement. It was loud. Noah Hartsock was in my Psychology of Personality class at the time and when I asked him about the game, he said that it was so loud that he couldn't hear his teammate screaming from right behind him. The floor rattled with the movement and noise of the student section. This 24 second video should show you how crazy it was throughout the game.
It was invigorating to be in that crowd. It must have been incredibly inspiring to the players because we won that game, 71-58.
I felt a similar strength from our football fan base in 2008 against UCLA. In 2007, the Cougars received a disappointing loss from the Bruins and we wanted revenge--we wanted blood--and this time we had home field advantage.
UCLA stepped into LaVell Edwards stadium and was greeted with a roar of disapproval. That roar never died down as the game began. Our fans stayed unbeatable for the game, and so did the team. BYU shut them out: 59-0.
We have it in us to be the best 12th man in College football. We've done it before on the court and field. And we've always answered the call to our toughest opponents.
Today we face the Longhorns. The strength of their football tradition continues to grant them a strong presence in the media, and continues to draw talented players from around the country.
The only thing they can't bring to the field is a strong 12th man. It doesn't matter how many Texas fans show up today. A crowd of 60,000 BYU fans can drown them out without trying. We just need everyone's support.
So when you get to the game today, be loud. Be supportive. You didn't buy a ticket to sit casually on the sidelines. Get in the game, and make sure those around you are too. Spread the feeling amongst those around you. Lead and strengthen our Cougars to beat one of the hardest teams on our schedule this year.