Vai's View: Vai's View: Story of team manager Mel Farr, miracle behind BYU's Miracle Bowl
Life isn't fair.
Sometimes those with the heart, the discipline, the will and the most desire to play football aren't always blessed with the bodies, the muscles and the talent.
In a nutshell, that's the story of Mel Farr's life. And there's a movement afoot, by some very credible people, to make a short film of an event in Mel's life that made the former BYU football manager a legend, if only among the athletes and coaches.
Mel was a fixture on BYU's sidelines in the late '70s and early '80s. He was our diminutive team manager with the gigantic heart. At the 1980 Holiday Bowl, it wasn't the team captains or Jim McMahon or head coach LaVell Edwards who offered the stirring speech that led us to victory. It was actually the 5-foot-4-inch, maybe 120-pound Mel Farr. Only, he didn't speak. Well, not much anyway. He didn't throw a chair through a chalkboard or bite the head off a frog. Yet, 30 years later, what he did for 30 minutes that night in a San Diego hotel ballroom is discussed with reverence by Kyle Whittingham, LaVell Edwards, Tom Holmoe, Jim McMahon, Clay Brown and myself in this video clip.
It happened the night before the game, in a setting where team leaders offered some remarks then allowed anyone who felt compelled to speak. Sort of like testimony meeting, only not as solemn. A few guys spoke, nothing out of the ordinary and actually rather routine and boring. Then to our surprise, Mel slowly walked to the front of the room and delivered what has become the most memorable and famous pre-game speech ever given in BYU sports history. It was surprising because Mel had a speech impediment due to a childhood hearing problem that required removing his adenoids. That was just the beginning of his medical issues. He was bullied throughout his life because he walked with a limp due to a childhood disease called multiple ephiphyseal dysplasia, which affects the growth centers in the body.
His parents moved to Salt Lake City from Maryland so Mel could be treated at Primary Children's Hospital, which is where he spent most of the first grade. That experience not only affected his physical growth, but his social skills as well. Mel was the oldest of five boys, his younger brothers were all over 6 feet and excelled in football, basketball and track at Skyline High.
Mel would not be so fortunate.
As I remember it, there were a few good-natured catcalls as Mel slowly made his way to the front of the room. I was an 18-year-old freshman and thought whatever Mel had to say would be comic relief and might allow us to be a little more loose as we prepared to face the SMU Mustangs and their vaunted running attack famously dubbed "The Pony Express."
Mel struggled to get the words out. Someone from the back of the room yelled, "Spit it out, Mel!." He mumbled something about never giving up.
Then, Mel motioned for someone in the room to hand him the San Diego Yellow Pages — something kids today wouldn't be familiar with. It must've been three inches thick.
When it occurred to us that he was attempting to tear the phone book in half, we did what young 20-somethings do — we chanted Mel's name in derision and howled in laughter. Jim McMahon fanned him with his playbook and someone else wiped at his brow with a towel. No one actually thought he would do it. In fact, some of us worried he'd pass out.
But silly and corny as it sounds, the mood in the room changed. It turned from derision to flat-out admiration. That catcalls turned to cheering.
No one left the room. We were captivated by what seemed at first to be a silly, futile stunt.
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