by Buckley Jensen
We were in Albuquerque the last weekend in September for the BYU-New Mexico football game. It was the fifth time I have made that pilgrimage since l980.
You may remember 1980… Jim McMahon’s senior year… the underdog New Mexico Lobos beat BYU 27-23 in the season’s first game. It was one of the biggest upsets in Western Athletic Conference history.
The 1980 BYU team went on to a 12-1 season, including the “miracle” in the Holiday Bowl where BYU came back from being 25 points behind with less than four minutes to play to beat SMU 46-45.
Eddie and Doug Boyle, Steve Nielson and I hired Bill Christensen to fly us to San Diego for that game. The Cougars ended up ranked 11th in the nation in the final UPI poll and 12th in the AP poll. The Cougars would have had their first top 10 finish in history had they won the New Mexico game 27 years ago. My alma mater has won the other four most recent contests I attended in Lobo land, including the one last weekend.
We went down a day early and decided to go to a “fireside” featuring the BYU football team on Friday night. Expectations were not high. Frankly, the fireside almost lost out to a movie.
In a large stake center with standing room only, 41 members of the football team arrived dressed and looking like the returned missionaries most of them are. (There are 73 returned missionaries on the team this year.)
Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall and his wife Holly brought up the rear. I was surprised there were so many players in attendance.
The first speaker was back-up quarterback Brenden Gaskins, probably selected to speak because he grew up in Farmington, NM.
Six players, including starting quarterback Max Hall, sang Abide with Me. They were impressive. You don’t picture football players as talented musicians, but these guys were harmonizing as well as they throw, block and tackle.
Defensive lineman Brock Richardson was the second speaker. He said that Gaskins was his Zone Leader in the mission field in Uruguay and that he figured he could use a little defensive backup.
Both were excellent speakers. They had us laughing one minute and crying the next. Then all 41 players stood and sang. Impressive!
Holly Mendenhall spoke. It was the first time I had seen her. It was a treat to meet and listen to the person who shares the spotlight with her famous husband.
Bronco was the final speaker. Those of you who watch him on TV know that he speaks in a soft monotone. How does one so laid back inspire his players?
Well, the real Bronco stepped up to the podium in Albuquerque. Without notes. he delivered a powerful message from the heart which mesmerized everyone. Even the ubiquitous crying babies present at LDS gatherings fell quiet.
Coach Mendenhall said that early on he realized that to be successful, his first challenge was to find players who were good for BYU; and then secondly players who were also good football players.
Mendenhall talked about the character of the young men he is privileged to work with. Among other things he emphasized that success in life after football is more important than winning football games.
The closing prayer was given by Bryan Kehl. The next day he intercepted a Lobo pass and ran it back for a touchdown, which later proved the winning margin in the game. He played an outstanding defensive game and was named the defensive player of the week in the conference.
As we drove to our hotel that night, I wondered what other college football players do the night before a big game.
Years from now I am sure the details of the game we witnessed on Saturday, exciting as it was, will be mostly forgotten. I may not remember what was said by the speakers at that fireside in Albuquerque, but I will never forget the spirit that accompanied their remarks.
I doubt that I will remember how many yards or touchdowns Max Hall threw, but I will long remember him singing that song. I may forget that Bryan Kehl was instrumental in the victory, but I will long remember his prayer.
The day may come when I cannot remember the time and place of the fireside, but I will never forget how it made me feel.And I shudder to think we almost went to a movie.