About Utah: Gary Sheide slighted by BYU reunion

Published: Sunday, Sept. 12 2010 12:59 a.m. MDT

A week ago they had a reunion of Brigham Young University's all-time great quarterbacks and my question is: Where in the heck — as they might phrase it in Provo — was Gary Sheide?

Back in 1988, I wrote a book called "And They Came to Pass," about BYU's all-time great quarterbacks and Gary Sheide was the first chapter.

Then came chapters on Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco, all of whom were at the big QB love-in last weekend, as was Virgil Carter, who came along before the book, and Ty Detmer and Steve Sarkisian, who came after.

All eight deserved to be there, no question about that, but as I verified in researching the book, and as any follower of BYU football through the dank, dark dustbowl years knows, if Gary Sheide hadn't come along when he did, it's possible Virgil Carter would have been standing there at halftime last Saturday all by his lonesome.

Sheide was the first starting quarterback in the grand passing experiment that LaVell Edwards unveiled in his second season as head coach in 1973. It was a desperation move by the program, the equivalent of a Hail Mary. BYU was awful in football and with rare exceptions — such as in 1966, when Carter played and the school won its one and only conference championship since it started fielding football teams in 1922 — had always been awful.

Sheide was the guinea pig in Edwards' pass-first, pass-crazy offense. Nobody knew if it would work. He was like the first guy they pushed out into the ocean and said, let us know if you fall off the edge or if it really is round.

Sheide made it work. He completed more passes in two years than any BYU quarterback ever had in three. The short passes in the flat, the dump-offs to the running backs, finding the seams in the zones — he showed that it could all be successful. If not for him proving the formula, Edwards' career might have lasted 29 weeks instead of 29 years. BYU might never have turned into Quarterback U.

So why wasn't Sheide invited back as one of the all-time great Cougar quarterbacks?

I called Gifford Nielsen, who first came up with the idea of a Y. quarterback reunion. Giff passed the buck to the BYU athletic department, who had taken his reunion idea and transformed it into a million-dollar scholarship drive. The school was in charge of designating what constituted an all-time great, said Nielsen.

Senior Associate Athletics Director Brian Santiago explained that the elite list was restricted to those who achieved All-American status and according to research by the BYU sports information office, Sheide didn't qualify.

But Sheide did achieve All-American status. He was named honorable mention All-American by United Press International in 1974, his senior season. He was not a first-team selection, but then neither was Carter, Bosco or Sarkisian.

More significantly, Sheide capped his senior season by winning the 1974 Sammy Baugh Trophy, a national award that began in 1951 and goes annually to the best passer in the country. He was the first BYU quarterback to win it, establishing a tradition followed by Wilson, McMahon, Young, Bosco, Detmer and Sarkisian (although not by Nielsen).

In the 1974 Heisman Trophy balloting, Sheide finished 8th and received 12 first-place votes — the highest BYU placement in history to that point and two spots ahead of Steve Bartkowski, the Cal quarterback who was first-team on the UPI All-American list.

Sheide was the Western Athletic Conference MVP that year, when his passing led BYU to the conference championship, a No. 15 national ranking and the school's first bowl invitation ever. Before Sheide, the Cougars had played football for half a century and had never been in a bowl game. Since Sheide, they've played in 27 bowl games in 35 years.

"He was one of the great ones; in my mind he's in the same category as all of them," said LaVell Edwards. He didn't say that 30 years ago. He said it yesterday.

So who gets to call the guy who got BYU to its first bowl game, who was the top passer in the nation, who finished eighth in the Heisman voting, who was an honorable mention All-American from a school never before known for its football — and gets to inform him that at the quarterback reunion he won't be included among the all-time greats?

In BYU's case, nobody.

The athletic department sent Sheide the same form letter they sent to every other quarterback who played for LaVell Edwards, starters and otherwise, about 125 of them in all.

For $2,500, he was invited to attend the banquet where the Elite Eight would be guests of honor and for another $1,000 he could play in the pro-am golf tournament and rub shoulders with the likes of McMahon, Young, Detmer, et al.

"I don't know why he didn't attend," said Santiago.

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com.

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