A Cougar converted: Mark Bellini, the '84 national championship and beyond

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

The second highlight came on the evening of Dec. 14, 1984, a week before the team left for San Diego to play Michigan in the Holiday Bowl. The team was invited to the grand ballroom of the Hotel Utah to have a special dinner with the LDS Church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Players were allowed to bring their spouse or a date. Each table seated eight people, including a member of the Twelve, the Presiding Bishopric or Quorum of the Seventy and his spouse.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, the only member of the First Presidency present, conducted the proceedings. (Presidents Spencer W. Kimball and Marion G. Romney were unable to attend for health reasons but watched the event via closed circuit television.) President Hinckley encouraged the team to play hard and represent the school and church well, knowing the media attention would be tremendous. The Cougars came away feeling emboldened and ready to play, Sikahema said.

Bellini also recalls President Hinckley telling the group that the gathering was one of the greatest nights in the history of football. Although not a member yet, Bellini agreed.

“When else has a football team sat down with the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles and dined together?” Bellini said. “It was such an occasion. I felt lucky to be part of that evening.”

The third memory came in the big game. Bellini caught three passes for 48 yards against the Wolverines, including two in the fourth quarter that sustained BYU’s final two scoring drives. The last one was the most meaningful. With less than four minutes remaining and the score tied, 17-17, quarterback Robbie Bosco got off a 20-yard completion to Bellini, who was tackled by the facemask, adding 15 more yards. A few plays later, Bosco hit Kelly Smith with the game-winning touchdown. BYU 24, Michigan 17.

“As a sophomore, I didn’t have a big role,” said Bellini, who has a picture of his final reception in his office. “But catching a ball over the middle on that last drive, with a national championship on the line, was a highlight of my football career.”

Bellini's baptism

Bellini came away from Fugal’s class knowing the Book of Mormon was true, and the professor knew it.

“Mark had a solid understanding of the Book of Mormon and I felt he would be a solid member of the church,” Fugal said. “Golly, how could he not get baptized?”

So when they ran into each other on that chilly February morning, Bellini, who respected Fugal, considered the professor’s invitation seriously.

About three weeks later, Bellini found Fugal again and told him he was ready to be baptized. He was even willing to do it in the Provo River. But Fugal prevailed upon his student to first take the missionary discussions, then be baptized it in a heated font.

The service took place on March 16, 1985. Edwards, Chow and other members of the team attended the low-key event. Fugal performed the baptism and Mike Young, a quarterback and close friend, confirmed Bellini a member of the church.

Fugal said the service was both emotional and memorable.

Still strong

Bellini finished his career at BYU following the 1986 season with 146 receptions for 2,429 yards and 23 touchdowns, earning all kinds of individual honors and accolades in the process. (His little brother Matt Bellini followed in his footsteps to BYU to play football and later joined the LDS Church, as well.)

Bellini was selected by Indianapolis in the seventh round of the 1987 NFL draft and played two seasons for the Colts. One of his most memorable NFL moments came when he attempted to pull in a pass and was nearly decapitated by Chicago Bears’ linebacker Mike Singletary. The pass was intercepted.

Injuries derailed further opportunities to play and Bellini’s career was over at the close of the 1980s. He finished his short NFL career with 10 receptions for 133 yards. But Bellini was OK with that.

“How many can say they got there, made the squad, played in the games and heard the crowds?” he said. “The highlight is just being able to say I did it.”

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