Beck comments on Tittle's 'What it means to be a Cougar,' a BYU football retrospect

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 2 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Ask Duff Tittle about all of the memorable football experiences that nearly five dozen BYU football legends over nine decades conveyed to him in interviews, and he may just surprise you in his response.

“Hardly anybody wanted to talk about football, but instead about friendships, relationships, lessons they’d learned,” said the BYU athletics director of communications about his new book, "What it Means to be A Cougar," a 303-page retrospective published by Triumph Books in Chicago. “That’s the real message of the book. Great football stories are in there too — I eventually got that out of them.”

Cougar No. 2 all-time passer John Beck, now of the Washington Redskins, was among those who needed a little push. Though Beck acknowledged that "What it Means to be a Cougar," may shed more "firsthand perspective" than the "Greatest Moments in BYU Football History" video that he saw on a near-annual basis when he made Holiday Bowl trips as a child with his family, he was quick to speak about the importance of reflecting the purpose of the gospel, as the book tends to do.

"I'm reminded that you never know who can be watching and listening," Beck said. "It's a great opportunity for kids who are maybe not LDS or who are starting to hear about the church to read about somebody they may have looked up to. A young man can not know whether to go on a mission or not and then can read about Austin Collie, as the conference newcomer of the year, going on a mission, only to come back and have success. They can say, 'that's something I can do.'"

Football stories do abound, from Glen Oliverson’s experience in being a part of the first team to beat Utah in 1942 to Brandon Doman’s experiences in playing with his brother Cliff for two years (and, of course, something to do with Doman becoming the starting quarterback). But it’s the opportunity to have learned to become organized and spiritually centered that comprised a large amount of the stories, said Brett Pyne, BYU football media relations director, who helped edit the book.

“People treasure a lot of off-the-field experiences they had together,” Pyne said. “I think as fans, we know about the times they won championships or won a big game, and that’s an important element. But what kind of struck me are a lot of things that people don’t know about: why the athletes came to BYU in the first place, some that thought about leaving because they are not sure they could make it and then becoming some of the greatest players in BYU history. It’s kind of fun to see the human element of getting to know more about what they were thinking as their career transpired.”

Conducting interviews was far from a burden for Tittle during the three months that he spent interviewing the legends, including Heisman Trophy winner Ty Betmer and Eldon Fortie, BYU's first All-American.

“I would ask questions that would bring up unique stories I’d never heard before,” said Tittle, who felt fortunate to be conducting interviews during quarterback weekend last September, where he could interview previous all-American signal-callers that included Steve Young and Jim McMahon. “It was crazy, a lot of these athletes I’ve known really during my 15 years in this position who shared with me experiences and feelings that I’d never heard before.”

Among Tittle’s favorites was that of Curg Belcher, a defensive back for the Cougars from 1963-66. When Belcher was in high school, he was interested in playing for the University of Utah. Then the rarest of occasions occurred.

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