For the last 10 years or so, he had the added trial of undergoing kidney dialysis several times a week, requiring tiring trips from American Fork to Provo where he was connected for hours to a machine that would perform the function his failing kidneys no longer could.
Diabetes ultimately took his sight, which meant he could no longer watch BYU games. But he never missed listening to the games on KSL radio over the past five years. Then, just before this new football season began, he fell and broke a hip, sending him to the hospital and intensive care with about a dozen tubes in his body.
By the time the Georgia Tech game occurred, he wasn't even allowed to listen, and had to rely on family and friends to report the results of the games.
Did these challenges diminish his interest and his excitement for the Cougars? No one close to him could detect any change. There is just no getting around it: he LOVED his Cougars and supported them through thick and thin. Whether trials came from his failing health or their losing to an opponent when they should have won, he loved the Cougars unconditionally.
Last week I visited him several times in intensive care. On our last visit, he had finally lost the tube that was helping him breathe and had graduated to a mask. He was heavily sedated to handle the pain and, although he could communicate with squeezes of your hand, he couldn't really do so verbally.
On that particular visit, we were chatting about the upcoming USC game (me with my voice and he with hand squeezes and eyes) and I could see the sparkle in his eyes representing his excitement about this challenge and opportunity for HIS team. I happened to mention that a lot of people weren't giving the Cougars any chance of even being in the game with the highly ranked Trojans. His eyes burned into me and he reached up and pulled the oxygen mask away. We tried to stop him, but he would not be denied. He blurted out, "Who said that?"
It was a little scary for him to remove that mask. But since I hadn't heard him speak since he got to the hospital, it was also very exciting to hear his voice and feel his passion for the Cougars again. Don obviously felt the Cougars could play with the men of Troy, and they proved him right! But I wasn't able to deliver that exciting news before he was gone.
I don't know what it was that made Don such a faithful Cougar fan, but I suspect it might have had something to do with his heavy involvement in Scouting. I think his love for those young men, and his coaching so many of them successfully to become Eagle Scouts, probably seemed very analogous to the relationship he saw between the Cougar coaches and teams. He attended National and World Scouting Jamborees with his boys. Over several decades, he saw at least a dozen each year achieve their Eagle Scout rank. Ultimately, he was honored with the Silver Beaver Award. He rejoiced in those experiences, and in the hard work and achievement of his boys, very much like he rejoiced in the dedication and achievement of the Cougar athletes.
I will really miss Don as a neighbor – and especially as an example of what Total Blue Cougars should really be like. But I suspect he is not going to be missing cheering on his Cougars. I believe he will now be back to both watching and supporting, like the good old days, before his challenges slowed him down.
Memo to the BYU Cougars: Win this one for Don Mills, one of your most loyal and diehard Cougar fan.
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