It was 10 years ago today — Aug. 17, 2000. I had a previously scheduled morning appointment at the BYU football office, and I unwittingly walked into the story of the year in Utah sports.
As I entered the reception area, a team meeting was breaking up — a meeting at which LaVell Edwards had informed his players that the 2000 football season would be his last on the sidelines. A press conference was planned for later in the day, but the news of LaVell's pending retirement had now fallen into my lap, so I did what a reporter should do: I got the news on the air.
Among the reactions KSL sought that morning was one from the longtime "Voice of the Cougars," Paul James. Interviewed on the "Doug Wright Show," James broke some news of his own.
"I said 'If LaVell's retiring, I'm retiring. Don't make anything big of that; the big deal is LaVell,' " James recalled of his conversation with Wright that day. "But I had already decided that when the big guy goes out, I'm going out, too."
With today's 10th anniversary of that announcement, I recently sat down with "PJ" at his east-bench home to relive that August day and the final football season that followed. It was a season that threatened to interrupt LaVell's string of 26 consecutive seasons without a losing record.
"He had that horrendous schedule," James said of a BYU campaign that included away games against Florida State, Virginia and Syracuse, and a home meeting with Mississippi State. "I was feeling so bad for LaVell after all these great years.
"And he has to play his last game at Utah. He has a record of five wins and six losses; there's a minute to play in the Utah game, and LaVell's going to go out with a record of 5-7."
Of course, quarterback Brandon Doman and the Cougars pulled off what came to be known as the "Last Miracle for LaVell," winning 34-27 on a Doman scamper and two-point conversion with 23 seconds to play.
"People ask me, 'Which was your favorite BYU-Utah game?' " James says. "That was it. That was LaVell's last game, it was my last game, it was a game at Utah, and it kept LaVell from having a losing season. That game had everything."
James has been to only two or three BYU football games since that November day in 2000.
"If I never (attended) another football game, I wouldn't miss it," James said.
He will miss seeing the Cougars and Utes face each other as conference foes, saying he was "stunned" that Utah ended up in the Pac-10. A Utah graduate who broadcast Ute games for six years before switching allegiances, James has a unique perspective on the BYU-Utah rivalry.
"When I was at Utah, I was the biggest Utah fan in the world," he said. "When I was at BYU, I was the biggest BYU fan in the world. You root for the people that you work with.
"Now, for the BYU-Utah game, I'm rooting for the team that wins. I never lose."
James just turned 79 years old; he remains active, playing tournament bridge three times a week, taking piano lessons once a week, and filling many of his remaining hours with gardening and painting. The quiet life suits him well.12 comments on this story
"After 50 years of sitting behind a microphone, I was ready to retire," he said. "I would never go back. I'm through with broadcasting."
James still keeps in touch with Edwards.
"He'll call me once in a while, and I'll call him once in a while," James said.
Christmas cards are still exchanged between the two men, who will forever be linked in the hearts of BYU fans, just as they were in the final months of the year 2000.
"I didn't want to go out before him, and I wasn't going to go out a minute after him," James said.
So leaving with LaVell just felt right?
"It not only felt right," James said, "it was right."