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It was a beautiful, clear autumn day. 83 degrees Fahrenheit at kickoff. Seated in the North End Zone stands through Portal V in Section 44 of Cougar Stadium were a pair of alumni — Steve and Robin, Idaho natives — who met and married one another while they were tenets at the now discarded Deseret Towers student housing complex.
Life had taken these two on quite a journey since they left campus. Medical School at the University of Washington in Seattle. Internship and residency in the United States Army that took them all over the world. A daughter was born in El Paso, Texas. A son while stationed in Tehran, Iran. An evacuation from Tehran before the Shah was overthrown. A stay in Fort Rucker, Alabama before having another daughter in Denver, Colorado. Following a discharge as a Major, this family put in roots in South Jordan, Utah. Partially due to the chance to go to BYU sports.
Early in the 3rd quarter, Steve Young threw a dart to Mike Eddo for a 24-yard TD and a Lee Johnson PAT put BYU up 42-7 against the Bowling Green Falcons. I like to think this was the Bowling Green Massacre that Kellyanne Conway was referring to in February, but something tells me she wasn’t thinking about a college football game played in week 2 of 1983.
It was around this moment when I pulled my best Lee Johnson imitation — in my mother’s uterus. That’s right. My mom not only went to a football game while she was 9 months pregnant, she also went into labor.
I know. Too on the nose. But it is true, however trite it may seem. I wanted to watch BYU football in the womb. Can you blame me? The Cougars had a future Hall of Fame quarterback and would finish ranked #7 that season. In fact, BYU would win 25 straight games and a National Championship after I was born.
That being said, being born into it is nice, but it simply isn’t enough. You can’t live off your parents testimony. It must been gained through personal witness.
The tie between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Brigham Young University is, of course, profound. The Mormon church owns the institution. As such, there is a clear link between my church membership and my Cougar fandom. I recognize that this isn’t the case for every BYU fan or every Mormon, but it certainly is for a great deal of them.
As a kid, my family moved to Iowa. At that time, getting BYU sports broadcasts wasn’t very easy. However, my Dad would figure out a couple ways for us to still see games.
Dad made contact with friends back in Utah and would pay them to videotape and mail the games. We would try to avoid finding out the results and watch them as soon as they made their way into our mailbox. At times, there was the depressing news that the VHS recorder jammed up and ruined the recording. Even still, Dad would ask for the tape and we’d watch as far the recording allowed.
Another way to see the Cougars play was more unconventional.
LDS church houses all look pretty similar. Until recently, one of the features of an LDS chapel was a huge 10-foot satellite dish. These satellite dishes made it so that the worldwide LDS congregation could meet together to see and listen to General Conference talks by church leadership.
However, this network of church house satellites wouldn’t just broadcast messages of spiritual inspiration. It would carry a few of BYU’s home games that were broadcast locally on KBYU or KSL. In response, my father figured out not only how to get his hands on a set of key to the church, but how to set up and use the satellite dish. Which is, in retrospect, a miracle for my father who is hapless with technology. (I once spent over a hour on the phone trying to help my Dad reset his login password for Google.)
Saturday afternoons and evenings were frequently spent at a church in West Des Moines, Iowa with several other fans there to watch the BYU football game. A surreal scene in my memory. The TV from the church library with boxes of pizza and caffeine free soda stacked on foldable tables, Steve Sarkisian under center, and white-painted cinderblock walls with a painting Christ giving the Sermon on the Mount. At halftime, we’d play knock out on the basketball court — another classic LDS church feature. It actually was a pretty awesome.
Observers of the Mormon faith have frequently described the religion as ambitious and unlikely. The same could be asserted about BYU athletics. To me, this is what defines being a BYU fan.
It is true that the idea of a Mormon sponsored school in Provo, Utah achieving the ultimate collegiate crowns of athletic achievement while also adhering to its principles complete with interrupting athletic careers for 2 years of missionary service and a so-called “unrealistic and restricting” honor code seems unlikely. But, it is absolutely the ambition of the administration and fanbase to do just that.
This always was the expected standard. The most prominent figure of BYU Sports history, LaVell Edwards, demonstrated that it was possible. Edwards showed that it could be done despite the real and perceived disadvantages without sacrificing the core identities found on the BYU campus.
LaVell installed a culture of optimism and success that is found in his famous quote, “Rather than worry about what we couldn’t do, I set out to concentrate on what we could.”
It isn’t just winning. It is winning the right way. The BYU way. By the rules of the NCAA and with honor to the universities expectations. The only National Championship winner in football without NCAA rules sanctions in history? Brigham Young University.
There have been times in the past when BYU adherence to honorably following their standard has impeded athletic success. It will likely happen again in the future. That’s the price of integrity. And precisely why they have such a rabid and loyal fanbase that identifies so strongly with their brand.
BYU and its fans would rather lose with integrity than win with deceit. Unfortunately, that can’t be said of every other institution and fanbase in the country. Further stacking the odds against BYU.
It seems pious and hoity-toity. I know. But it really isn’t. It is what BYU chooses to be win or lose. That principled honesty should make Brigham Young University one of the easiest teams to cheer for, but in many cases it does not. That’s fine too. BYU is still going to be who they are whether you like them or not.
For me, this identity only adds meaning and satisfaction to the past and future successes of BYU sports. They were accomplished and will be accomplished in the unique and uncompromising BYU way.
My heritage with the school, my upbringing, my faith, and my belief in the ambitious and unlikely BYU way make it easy for me to devote my heart, mind, and energy to the BYU Cougars.
There is no question. I’m a BYU Cougars fan.
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