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My BYU Football Manifesto

October 10, 2012 Leave a comment

I am a BYU football fan.

I love going to games, getting sensory overload as I walk past the hot dog stands, smell the overload of cologne and perfume, sit by the band and hear Greg Wrubell’s analysis ringing out from speakers placed every thirty feet or so around the perimeter of LaVell Edwards stadium. I love the mutual angst, anxiety and celebration that I get to share with 60, 000 other people. I love yelling like a mad man just before the ball is snapped, trying to become a part of the game.

I have seen good days, home and away. Harline’s answered prayer in the end zone. Thrashing the Oregon Ducks in the Las Vegas bowl. Fourth and 18. The hand of Man(umaleuna) blocking a field goal, providing a win over UCLA we nearly threw away. Handing those same Bruins their worst loss in 79 years, 59-0. Upsetting Oklahoma in Jerry’s World. Andrew George breaking the Utes’ hearts in overtime. The Riley Nelson miracle against Utah State. Nelson’s fake spike that helped the Cougars reach ten wins in 2011. The defense stretching its touchdown shutout streak to 195 minutes, 57 seconds — and counting — and its overall shutout streak to 153 minutes, 23 seconds.

I’ve seen the bad, too. Blowing a big lead to TCU in 2005. Losing to an underdog Utah team in the same year. Blowing early season games against Arizona, Boston College, Tulsa and Texas. Being doubled up by Utah in 2008, then losing our bowl game. Getting blown away on College GameDay by Florida State. Losing all-everything Harvey Unga to the Honor Code. Starting 1-4 in 2010, including a then-shocking loss to the Aggies. A defensive coordinator axed. A record-breaking offensive coordinator axed in a more roundabout sort of way. The most highly touted recruit ever at the school leaving town with a sour taste in his mouth. 17-16. 54-10. Blowing two chances to tie the game against the unimpressive 2012 Utes. Scoring a combined six points in the first half of our last three games against legitimate opponents. Looking out onto the field and seeing that our offensive line are built like linebackers, only slow. Losing the quarterback of the future on a meaningless, thoughtless offensive snap.

Through the good and the bad, I’ve learned some things about myself as a fan, about the health of the football program and about why I cheer for BYU.

Not to get all Bronco Mendenhall on you, but I’ve learned what I believe about this program. This is what it means to me, in candid order:

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I’ve enjoyed the more intriguing schedule as an independent, but almost nothing else about the situation. I wait for the day that BYU becomes part of a conference again, but I sure don’t miss the Mountain West schedule. A fan base like BYU’s knows it’s meaningless to be the best in a meaningless conference. BYU culture, for all its flaws, pushes to be the best, not best in region.

Of course, it’s hard to bring up provincialism without mentioning the University of Utah. Zing!!!! However, I am not personally one to speak. I’ve convinced myself at times that I can cheer for Utah when they don’t play the Cougars. Other times, I’ve decided that it runs too deep for that kind of nonsense.

I’ve convinced myself that the Cougars are true rivals with Notre Dame, only to realize the two schools have met on the gridiron six times. Ever.

I believe Bronco Mendenhall is a perfect fit to coach at BYU, even if he is a mixed bag and even if some have soured on him. He’s won some very big games, lost his share of them too. He has a higher winning percentage — during the regular season and in bowl games — than LaVell Edwards. You can argue that he’s made personnel mistakes, or accuse him of mishandling Jake Heaps, but your case is pretty dry if you try to pin him on personal mistakes, which is more than can be said for most coaches.. He has also made monumental finds — bringing on unheralded players like a Preston Hadley, Joe Sampson or JD Falslev. He’s recruited the most talented secondary and most most accomplished receiving corps ever at BYU. But almost simultaneously, he disbanded an offensive staff that had raised John Beck, Max Hall, Curtis Brown, Harvey Unga, Austin Collie and Dennis Pitta to maturity.

He’s been under-appreciated and under-loved by Cougar fans during his entire tenure, especially considering how much he has won, and how consistently. The explanation for that is a two way street. His self-admitted weakness is approachability, with players, media and fans alike. While seeming as crusty as Kyle Van Noy’s used socks in person, however, he’s implemented the most overtly religious sports program the university has ever seen, and while many fans remain unsold on the idea, the players swear by it. Bronco Mendenhall is a conundrum.

And I maintain that this particular conundrum is one that we’re lucky to have on our hands. We might not always be so fortunate. Menenhall’s stock as a defensive mastermind is always rising. More on this in a later post.

In the end, being a BYU fan means accepting the imperfect, absorbing some blows, enduring some losses. Cougar faithful endure plenty of sports anxiety. But I maintain that winning feels better here than I could imagine anywhere else. The Cougars draw from a smaller pool of possible recruits than almost any other serious-about-winning Division I team in the country, and do a bang-up job of remaining relevant on the field. Finding a conference, finding an offense, and finding a way to beat Utah — these things will come. When? Well, that’s part of being a sports fan. We don’t know.

In the meantime, the Cougars will continue to regularly pull off 9-11 wins per year, providing a lion’s share of good memories and some very vivid painful ones. It’s college football; perfection is hard. Winning college football games is hard. Not a single team finished undefeated in 2011, and this with the shortest season in team sports above high school level. The proof of our fandom at BYU ought to be our loyalty and patience, even if we’re not on the short track to a national championship year in and year out.

This university, this culture we have here isn’t perfect. I don’t need to be convinced of that. But it’s unique, and it’s a world class education. Students from all over the country, and even the world, choose BYU because it is exceptional academically, robust socially, and reliable spiritually. As the largest private university in the United States, we enjoy a hybrid model of American higher education: combining the variety of a big-campus experience with the specialization of a private curriculum.

If that comes with losing a two or three football games per year, so be it. We still go to BYU. By most every measure, we win.

Yeah, I said it.

I am a BYU football fan. This, to me, is what it means to be one. This is my manifesto.

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Ben Lockhart | sportsanxiety.wordpress.com | ben.lockhart89@gmail.com | @benlockhart89

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