Vai's View: What's in a name? Bobby Salazar knows

Published: Monday, March 28 2011 10:00 a.m. MDT

When Bobby was about 16, he returned from school one day to find his mother pacing nervously, wringing her hands. "My mom was a worry wart, but she seemed particularly agitated that day," Bobby recalled. "She asked us to sit down, then proceeded to tell us, for the first time, a long-held family secret. It started with a letter that came to Al Salazar from the Internal Revenue Service. The IRS was seeking to know why two Alexander Salazars, with the same social security numbers, were filing tax returns in separate parts of the country. Pat confided in Bobby and his brothers that their father's real name was Arthur McCarthy. He was a Scottish immigrant who grew up working since age 12 in a logging camp in Saskatchewan, Canada. When he turned 18, Arthur McCarthy wanted a better life and sought to go to America. A fellow worker at the logging camp named Alexander Salazar had an extra social security card and sold it to Arthur. Just like that, Arthur McCarthy assumed a new identity. He found his way to a logging camp in Montana and eventually Las Vegas, where he met Patricia Smith.

Worried about his family if he was exposed, Al (Arthur) wrote a long letter to the IRS explaining how it all happened, hoping that his confession would grant him leniency when the feds arrested and deported him. But the IRS never responded, so he continued to live as Alexander Salazar the rest of his life, unpunished. Stepsons John and Bobby took their father's name and became "Salazars", though not legally.

Al wasn't a sports fan nor did he have the time, so it was Pat who taught the boys how to throw a baseball and catch a football. They all loved to play sports, but Bobby was especially gifted in football. By his senior year, he was being offered scholarships by small schools in California, but he chose to stay close to home because Pat's health was deteriorating. Al and Pat were heavy smokers and social drinkers. Pat had contracted lung cancer from the cigarettes and for years had battled alcoholism. "She wasn't mean or abusive when she drank but rather, she was passive and lethargic," said Bobby. "As kids, we just managed around her addiction and our dad did his best."

Bobby played at nearby Santa Rosa Junior College so he could be near his mother, who passed away during his freshman year. Pat's illness seemed to inspire Bobby's play, as he started receiving offers after his freshman year at Santa Rosa from big-time Division I programs.

After his mother's passing, no longer obligated to stay close to home, he accepted a scholarship from the University of Southern California.

Before leaving for USC in January 1979, a high school teammate named David Bailey gave him some pamphlets about his church and a book that he took with him to Los Angeles. Southern Cal was the center of the college football world. The Trojans were the defending national champions, two future Heisman Trophy winners were still on the team (Charles White and Marcus Allen) and all 22 starters would eventually play in the NFL. Just in his defensive backs group were Ronnie Lott, Dennis Smith and Jeff Fisher, who respectively, became a Hall-of-Famer, a six-time All-Pro and a head coach in the NFL.

One night, he came across the pamphlets and the Book of Mormon his high school buddy David Bailey had given him and casually began reading them. He was intrigued with the odd names in the book and even more fascinated with the stories like Lehi's dream. So, he started calling David and asking questions. Long-distance calls were expensive in those days before cell phones and family plans, so David did his best to answer Bobby's questions quickly because of cost. David also suggested Bobby find the "Institute" at USC where Mormon kids hung out and encouraged him to find missionaries who could answer all of his questions. Word must have gotten out through the campus Elders because one day in the football office, USC's backup quarterback sidled up next to Bobby and whispered, "I hear you're taking the discussions. I am too." Bobby nodded, somewhat puzzled. Bobby whispered back, "What do you think?" His teammate replied, "I'm not sure. It's a lot to consider." For Bobby, it was too late. He knew. In June, at semester's end, Bobby asked David Bailey, his high school friend who gave him the tracts and Book of Mormon, to baptize him.

He had only been on the USC campus a semester, but already he knew the group of guys he was around at 'SC would not be help him live his new faith. He wasn't sure what he'd do or where he'd go, but he knew he couldn't stay at USC. Head coach John Robinson was perplexed with Bobby's request, but graciously released him from his scholarship. Being Mormon was so new, he didn't even know that his church owned a university with an up-and-coming football program. A friend in his ward called and said he knew someone at BYU and asked if he would he be interested. Then, LaVell Edwards called.

When he arrived in Provo, he was assigned to room in an apartment with a group of players who were mostly non-LDS, including quarterback Jim McMahon. He had only been a member of the church two months but felt he was at the right place.

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