He never saw you coming. Never heard a thing, never had a chance!
With the entire Utah bench shouting a warning drowned out by 40,000 Ute fans screaming at the top of their lungs, you close the gap in a heartbeat and BURY your face mask into the back of his sweat-soaked, grass-stained red-trimmed white road jersey.
Seemingly all at once, his head snaps back and his arms drop helplessly to his side in your crushing embrace -- as your 225 pounds and his 185 pounds become one, tangled mass. You feel his entire body go limp at the same time you hear the wind being knocked from his lungs, a tortured scream escaping from behind his face mask as the football-physics of this instant bring to mind a sledge-hammer coming down full-force on a ripe summer melon with a sickening SPLAT!
The football flies out of his grasp and falls enticingly to the turf, in full-view of 40,000 crazed fans, both sidelines and tens of thousands of television viewers to see.
Time literally stands still as the ball tumbles slowly, end-over-end on the green and brown carpet, taunting you as it rolls toward the end zone. Somehow, you have the presence of mind to discard the limp, worthless body in your grasp and claw your way through the human avalanche of blue and red flying all around you. You cradle the ball in your arms a nano-second before 2,000 pounds of flesh and blood smashes into you from all directions.
The pressure and pain is indescribable, and yet, all you feel is supreme exhilaration.
The noise reaches a thundering crescendo as you rise slowly to your feet, raising the prize above your head, clutched in a vise-grip for all to see. A split-second later you are mobbed by your blue-clad teammates, pounding you on your back, your helmet and your chest.
And then you HEAR it...
A slow chant, surrounding you from all sides, building into a deafening roar: ".....ku-GR...ku-GR...ku-GR...ku-GR"
Your entire LIFE comes down to this one, indescribable moment of sheer ecstacy, as you singlehandedly seal the fate of the hated Utes.
And then, a lone female voice pierces the thunderous ovation: "...Hey, don't forget it's YOUR night for dishes..."
In a flash, 1979 becomes 2003 and fantasy turns into reality as I'm dragged, kicking and screaming out of my reverie, from Cougar Stadium back to dreary, frozen, wind-blown Idaho Falls which, at this writing, still refuses to release it's grip on winter and yield to spring time.
A true-blue, bona-fide BYU football LEGEND! In my own mind.
Such are the thoughts of this one-time obscure walk-on who, in truth, only set foot on the playing field of then "Cougar" Stadium with a press-pass dangling from his belt-loop.
Ah, such were the good old days as a 23-year-old returned missionary, chasing a dream as a lowly walk-on linebacker on what is officially known as the "prep-D" (sounds suspiciously like something you'd buy at the drug store and smear on....ah, let's not go there).
So just HOW did I find myself wearing a helmet, pads and a jockstrap five years after my high school football career ended? Chalk it up to friendship, fantasy and temporary insanity.
One of my best friends from the old hometown needed a workout companion for the summer of 1979 as he was trying to get back into playing shape after serving a mission to England. He was gearing-up to make a run at the starting quarterback job for the 1979 edition of the Cougars.
It was going to be a tall order.
He was trying to match spirals with a tall, skinny guy from Seattle, and this smart-alec punk redshirt freshman from some little bump in the road in northern Utah named, uh, Mc, Mc, Mc-something-or-other (the name escapes me at the moment - my "Sometimer's Disease" rearing it's ugly head again).
But I digress.
My "bud" and I found ourselves back home in OUR little bump in the road just off the San Bernardino Freeway in Los Angeles. A place named Alhambra. It's biggest claim-to-fame was a beat-up Toro self-propelled mower which went around forever in circles in front of a repair shack on Garfield Avenue. Oh yeah, and a supermodel named Cheryl Tiegs - the very first Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition covergirl for you youngsters out there (Y'zGuy, I'm talking about you again!).
Anyway, this friend needed someone to jog with, lift with and throw to in the heat and smog of Southern California. It seemed like a good way to spend the summer compared to, say, knocking on doors 10-12 hours a day in a shirt and tie a couple of thousand miles across the ocean. I went along for the ride.
Four months, 30 pounds of new, chiseled muscle and two sprained thumbs later (my friend still had a CANNON for an arm and seemed to take sadistic pleasure in drilling me on 18-yard curl-routes), I found myself back in Provo, checking-out pants, pads and jerseys deep in the bowels of the Smith Field House and being assigned a locker. I was right next to the fella from Seattle, whom I soon learned was NOT a walk-on.
As I made my way across the parking lot toward the entrance to the practice field (now it's a big hole with a lot of steel sticking-up from it), I had this crazy notion of walking on as a wide receiver. I mean, I had ALL the pre-requisites for a classic BYU pass-catcher -- a slow, white guy with barely an ounce of athletic ability.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Sports page of the Provo Daily Herald and Deseret News.
My former high school coach, who was now the linebacker coach and defensive coordinator for the Cougars, suggested my football "skills" might be better suited to the linebacking corps. His name was Fred Whittingham, someone you didn't say "no" to. MY name was MUD, approximately 35 minutes later.
That's when I was introduced to "blitz drills," which happens to be coach-speak for an activity where dumb, aspiring dreamers whom nobody but their mothers have ever heard-of become the personal punching bags of 300-pound All-Conference and All-American offensive linemen. I had no idea a center could snap the ball and then in one swift motion, bring both fists up under my chin-strap without the coaches even noticing.
The concept of "blitz-drills" is actually quite simple: YOU pretend to be the star-linebacker of next week's opponent, and the offensive linemen (whom EVERYONE has heard-of) pretend to be civilized human beings.
Just close your eyes and visualize the movie "RUDY."
Now substitute Provo for South Bend, blue-and-white helmets for gold ones and Mormons for Catholics and you've pretty-much got the picture. I never knew flying through the air backward and landing in a heap five yards downfield could be so much fun.
But hey, there WERE some pretty cool perks to being a human tackling dummy -- a bruised, battered lump of human fodder known collectively by the inglorious group moniker of "hamburger squad."
I got a bunch of t-shirts, shorts and sweats emblazoned with "BYU FOOTBALL" for all the world (especially the COED's) to see. Oh yeah, there was this one time after the coaches let the scholarship guys beat on us especially hard when we were invited to join our tormentors for the sumptuous affair known as the "training table" at the Cannon Center. Close your eyes again, and imagine more meat and pasta than a dozen Rodezios and Olive Gardens combined. Then, replace families with a hundred or so guided-muscles whose size was equaled only by their appetites and you've pretty much got the picture.
That, my friends, basically sums-up my football "career" at BYU -- a proud, bruised, faceless and nameless member of that noble group known collectively as the walk-ons.
I eventually came to my senses and traded my pads for pens, retreating to the relative safety and comfort of the press box.
As for the tall, skinny kid from Seattle whose locker was right next to mine (or was it the other way around)? Well, he went-on to quarterback the Cougars to an 11-1 season, a trip to the Holiday Bowl and All-American honors. His name is Marc Wilson.
As for the smart-aleck, redshirt freshman quarterback from Roy, Utah, he went-on to re-write the NCAA record books for passing stats. Oh yeah. He also earned BYU football immortality one foggy December night in San Diego when he lofted a football 55-yards into the end zone on the last play of the game to beat Eric Dickerson, Craig James and the rest of the Southern Methodist University Mustangs in what has come to be known as the "Miracle Bowl." His name is Jim McMahon.
And my home-town friend, the one who got such a kick out of spraining both my thumbs with his Elway-esque death spirals? Well, he got to back-up the tall, skinny kid from Seattle and the funny, punky one from Roy for two seasons and did so with selfless grace and class. He went on to become a successful businessman in Provo, and most recently, a respected bishop of a BYU student ward. He also stopped-by my hospital room in Salt Lake City last year with a brand-new 2002-version BYU FOOTBALL t-shirt as a gift for a very sick former work-out partner. His name is Royce Bybee.
And now you know the story of the legendary "MAC-BYB Training Camp of 1979."
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael McQuain is an experienced former broadcast journalist who writes a satirical sports column for TotalBlueSport.com whenever he feels like it.)
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