BYU football: Cougars' bowl history as rich as it is varied

Published: Friday, Dec. 17 2010 11:13 a.m. MST

The legend of Ty Detmer may have begun in earnest during the 1988 Freedom Bowl in Anaheim, Calif., when, as a redshirt freshman, he came off the bench to rally the Cougars to a win over Colorado, a team that would play for the national title the following two seasons (the Buffs won it all in 1990).

It was the only bowl game Detmer won in his illustrious career.

In 1989, Detmer threw for 576 yards, but when Nittany Lion safety Gary Brown stripped the ball from Detmer and ran it back 53 yards for a touchdown, BYU's comeback attempt was squelched. Still, Detmer passed for 576 yards and that game helped launch his Heisman Trophy campaign the next season.

In 1990, Detmer won the Heisman, but the Holiday Bowl was forgettable for the Cougars that season. Detmer injured both shoulders, including a separation of the right shoulder, courtesy of Texas A&M. He left the game in the third quarter as the Aggies went on to a dominating 65-14 victory.

In his final game as a Cougar, Detmer passed for 350 yards against Iowa in the 1991 Holiday Bowl. His final pass was tipped and intercepted with less than 30 seconds remaining — an inglorious ending to one of the more glorious collegiate careers in NCAA history. The game ended in a 13-13 tie.

Maybe the most amazing part of the '91 season was that Detmer was a senior surrounded by underclassmen. He managed to rally his team from an 0-3 start to a 7-3-2 finish and a WAC championship.

THE GLORY YEARS (1980, 1981, 1983, 1984)

Remember the days when BYU fans would complain because they had to go to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego every year?

What a drag — spending late December in relatively warm weather, with nice ocean views, before watching a heart-stopping bowl game.

These days, wouldn't a BYU fan give up a year's worth of food storage for a trip to the Holiday Bowl?

There's no question that the years 1980-84 were very, very good to the Cougars — four Holiday Bowl wins in five years. And it wasn't just that they won. It was how they won.

In the 1980 Holiday Bowl, there was the amazing comeback as Jim McMahon and Clay Brown the play simply known in Cougar lore as "The Catch." BYU scored 21 unanswered points against SMU in the final 4:07 to win the game simply known in Cougar lore as "The Miracle Bowl."

But in the 1981 Holiday Bowl, the Cougars also made an incredible comeback. But it wasn't the BYU Cougars — it was the Washington State Cougars. BYU nearly pulled an SMU, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. After BYU defensive back Tom Holmoe — who's now the school's athletic director — picked off a WSU pass early in the third quarter, BYU took a 31-7 lead. But in fine Holiday Bowl tradition, BYU surrendered a comfortable lead as WSU came roaring back, scoring 21 third-quarter points. BYU, though, held on to win, 38-36.

In 1983, it was Steve Young catching the game-winning touchdown pass from Eddie Stinnett in the final two minutes.

Oh yeah, and BYU captured the national title by defeating Michigan in 1984 as a gimpy Bosco threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Kelly Smith against Michigan to cap the biggest win in Cougar history. After the game, a reporter asked Wolverine defensive back Ivan Hicks if BYU was the best team in the land. "Yes, and I'll tell you why," Hicks replied. "We played our hearts out there and they still won."

Yes, the early 1980s were very good to the Republican Party, Cabbage Patch Kids, and BYU football.

THE BLOWOUT BOWLS (1982, 1986, 1994, 1998, 2006, 2009)

Call it coincidence. Call it fate. Call it yet one more inane statistic that's been unearthed. Whatever it is, every four years, from 1982 through 1998, BYU was involved in a blowout. Mostly, the Cougars found themselves on the wrong side.

In 1982, Ohio State, which had beaten Rose Bowl-bound Michigan, pasted the Cougars, 47-17, in the Holiday Bowl. In 1986, UCLA pummeled BYU in the Freedom Bowl, 31-10. Both games were second half blowouts. The Cougars trailed the Buckeyes 17-10 at halftime. Against the Bruins, BYU was down only 7-3 at intermission.

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