The good people who care about their football at Brigham Young University live by what Coach LaVell Edwards calls Mormon Standard Time. For the most part, those with tickets come to the stadium when they can -- sometimes as late as the middle of the first quarter -- and leave when they feel like it.
Because the majority of the crowds is Mormon, or members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, you hardly ever catch anybody cursing, drinking, smoking, taking drugs or indulging in wild carnal acts in the parking lot before the game. An honor code forbids such behavior, Saturday afternoon or not. Joseph Smith, founder of the church, once figured his people "would run and not be weary and shall walk and not faint."
But who ever figured they would play football games and not lose? And catch hell and not complain?
BYU won the national championship last year, won it despite an effort by several top teams to denigrate the Cougars' schedule and commitment to the Western Athletic Conference. After BYU beat a less-than-formidable Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl by one touchdown and ended the season 13-0, the Orange Bowl tried to sell its New Year's Day match-up between Oklahoma and Washington as a legitimate battle for the national title. Barry Switzer, the Oklahoma coach, went so far as to call BYU's opponents "puddins," and there were countless pre-poll polls predicting the final vote, many of which placed the Cougars well below teams with stronger national reputations.
Through the entire December ordeal, Edwards managed to hang onto his dignity and good humor, even while spending long hours on the telephone talking with sports writers and "trying to legitimize," as he put it, his team's title claim. Had Oklahoma beaten Washington by at least two touchdowns, it probably would have claimed No. 1 standing among the colleges. The Sooners lost, however, much to the embarrassment of Switzer, who on the morning after said BY-Who didn't deserve it. Washington Coach Don James enjoyed a victory ride on the shoulders of his players after the Huskies won, 28-17. But vindication belonged to Edwards, who was never the type of fellow to hold a grudge.
"Now people are telling me we have a great opportunity to win another national championship or go undefeated again and justify what happened last season," Edwards said on the phone the other day. "This great opportunity they're talking about, I just think it's a little unfair. This is a new team, a new season. It's a lot like starting all over again. Talk about justifying our success is a big load and an additional pressure I'd rather this team didn't have to deal with."
True to Mormon time, the national champs turned out the party lights shortly after landing the top spot in both the Associated Press and United Press International polls. In all of the preseason workouts, Edwards said, he didn't hear a word about winning the national championship. The players chose not to talk about it and concentrated their efforts preparing for what no doubt will prove to be a terrific challenge.
"Reality was not very long in setting in," Edwards said. "It used to be local people coming at us, those teams in the conference. Now everybody knows we'll be a target nationally, too, after all the good that happened to us last year."
Target practice already started when BYU opened the season Thursday against Boston College in the Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J. Edwards said he found it regrettable that Doug Flutie, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, graduated and could not compete against the Cougars' own quarterback sensation, senior Robbie Bosco, who passed for 3,875 yards and 33 touchdowns in 1984.
UCLA next Saturday and Washington Sept. 14 will test a BYU squad that lost 12 starters but has returning lettermen at every position except left defensive tackle. Korey Rasmussen, a would-be starter at strong safety, incurred a detached retina during two-a-days and will miss the entire season. On the positive side, starting running backs Kelly Smith and Lakei Heimuli, along with four of last year's top five receivers, are back.
"We've lost some good people, but we're going to start off doing the best we can do," Edwards said. "When you have an inexperienced line, as we obviously do, they tend to learn and adjust quickly if you have an experienced quarterback who can read defenses and know where to go with the ball. We have some good receivers and running backs who should offset any problems we have up front."
Although his national television exposure has been limited, Bosco enters the season as a Heisman Trophy contender with even better credentials than former all-America quarterback Steve Young, who finished second in the 1983 balloting. In a courageous effort against Michigan in the Holiday Bowl last year, Bosco sprained his ankle and strained some knee ligaments and convinced Edwards that his coaching staff should dismiss any hopes of designing running plays for his much-celebrated quarterback come 1985.
"Robbie's really showed us a lot against Michigan," Edwards said. "I think he has a much better chance of winning the Heisman than Steve Young did because there's a greater national focus on him as a result of our success last year. I talked to Robbie the other day and told him all he can do is what he can do.
"In a large sense, the Heisman voting is just a popularity contest, anyway, but with Flutie winning it as a quarterback last year, the odds are better for Robbie."
Some coaches say championship seasons create an impossible legacy, bringing revitalized opposition fighting to wrestle away the crown and playing well above their heads in the process. The good of it comes with more national TV exposure and big recruiting scores, although Edwards said "the effect of the championship on our program is yet to be seen."
The Cougars no doubt will face more than a few critics this season, those who still consider 1984 a fluke year in college football and discredit any championship going to a member of the WAC. With its relatively easy schedule, and with seasoned veterans at the skill positions, BYU may make a run at a second national championship. Only two teams have won back-to-back UPI titles: Oklahoma in 1955-56 and Texas in 1969-70.
Edwards said, "I feel like we can have a fine year. There's no question that we'll be a real good football team. If we stay healthy and play hard, we should win the conference title again. We have the ability, we should be strong again. I know we'll put in the work."