Michael Shelton, BYU’s senior defensive back, sealed his BYU Football legacy on Tuesday.
The 5-foot-8 defensive back won’t be remembered for his work on special teams, where he has 43 punt returns for a 7.7 yard average without taking one back to the house. Memories of his 2 career interceptions won’t live on in the mind of Cougar fans. Neither will his 63 tackles and 8 pass break ups. Even the Cougars 7-11 Win-Loss record in games in which Shelton made his mark as an upperclassman will fade with time.
No, Shelton likely won’t be remembered predominately for what he accomplished on the field. It will be for what he said to the media following a Tuesday practice:
“I’m going to give you an honest opinion: I like playing on the road, because I think that the atmosphere is a lot better than our atmosphere at home. I like playing at home, but sometimes our fans can be a downer and it brings us down.”
While the above quote is getting the most attention, the bigger revelation came when Shelton added:
“When we’re home, we don’t get many cheers and we don’t get many boos. What are you really playing for?”
At the risk of being a perfect parody of being “a downer” and bringing the BYU Football team down — I’m going to continue on with a couple points that teach us about this moment of being a BYU Football fan.
Ever since last Saturday’s showcase for Rhett Almond’s punting ability which resulted in a 7-6 loss to the mighty Huskies of Northern Illinois, I’ve struggled to come up with a good way to describe the attitude, effort, and sideline emotion of the BYU Football team in that defeat. Thankfully, Michael Shelton helped pin it down for me. BYU played with “What are you really playing for?” energy.
Perhaps Shelton is correct here. Maybe fan created atmosphere is responsible for giving the BYU football team a reason to play hard in a nationally televised game of college football.
Shelton isn’t alone in his blasting of Cougar fans. Saturday’s game was so uninteresting that many fans themselves spent much of the game on twitter wondering where the fans were.
This, you see, is a talking point when your football team is boring.
It was a lovely October afternoon. The Cougars had a winning record. An “exciting” group of freshman players were carving out their place in the program. Literally, under those circumstances, isn’t it the entire population of Utah County’s manifest destiny to be in LaVell Edwards Stadium?
The empty bleachers indicate that it isn’t.
Even further, for those true blue loyalists that did attend the game, the experience and entertainment factor of Saturday’s exhibition caused the dyed in the wool fans to — as Shelton indicated — neither “Rise and Shout” or boo and pout. Instead, it was the hem and haw experience featuring an exciting 2 minutes where a Cougar popped and locked.
Astutely, Shelton did identify a big piece that explains the careless, lukewarm attitude of those that bothered attending when he wondered, “What are you really playing for?”
In the Cougar Fight Song, it says that the prime reason to “Rise and Shout” for the Cougars is because they are on “the trail to fame and glory.”
The sport of college football only truly legitimizes one half of the participating teams. UCF is a clear example of this. The Knights are going to go undefeated for 2 straight seasons and still aren’t going to get a chance to compete for a national championship. The Cougars, like UCF, are on the outside looking in.
So, glory simply isn’t possible in college football for BYU due to its competitive structure.
That leaves fame as the only component to rise and shout about.
BYU fans are actually really familiar with this line of thinking. The expressed purpose for BYU to compete in athletics is exposure. The Cougars play the game for fame. Fame, in its positive manifestation, is earned through inspiration and entertainment. The Cougar Football team will give the fans a reason to “Rise and Shout” when they are inspired and entertained. Inspiration and entertainment are the reason people watch sports.
Trust me, there wasn’t a palpable energy in the air as you walked to LaVell Edwards Stadium last Saturday with a vibration that exuded “We get to watch Rhett Almond punt today!” vitality.
It was more of a “Michael Shelton is serviceable and I hope he doesn’t fumble a punt” feeling. That premonition was basically equitable to what was viewed on the field.
Even for the members of the BYU Football team, there is no way they were psyched to watch the Northern Illinois game film — except for Rhett Almond. PUNTS BABY!
BYU fans “Rise and Shout” as you entertain and inspire. That’s what you are playing for. Entertain us. Make it fun. When adversity hits, inspire us.
There is a secondary reason mentioned in the Cougar Fight song for why BYU fans with “Rise and Shout.” It is sung to the athletes on the field. “Our cheers will ring out, as you unfold the vict’ry story.”
Against FBS teams, BYU is 2-7 at home over the past two years.
Ultimately, it is pretty simple. Shelton’s comment doesn’t come as a surprise. He is even speaking from a place of truth.
BYU fans may in fact be a downer right now. But, really, wouldn’t it be weird if BYU fans weren’t pessimistic?
It has, after all, been a long time since we’ve lost to Utah State in back-to-back seasons. It has been so long since we beat Utah that it seems stories of Andrew George’s heroics were recorded on papyrus. It has been consecutive years of an ineffective, boring offense and a defense that doesn’t make big plays. It isn’t exactly inspiring to wonder if you are going to get the “Jump Around” Cougars or the “What are your really playing for?” Cougars. Amazingly, in 2018, they are the same team.
If all that weren’t enough. a senior football player would rather be in an environment where he is antagonized and derided than try to entertain and inspire his fans.
No wonder fans are choosing to stay at home or deciding to stop caring and take a break from fandom.
For Michael Shelton, getting booed is preferable to playing in a setting where the lack of fans and sound serve as a painful reminder of the lowering the program bar and creation of dispassionate fans that has occurred over the course of his career.
Shelton’s full comments can be heard below.