BYU's 1984 Holiday Bowl win transcended football for linebacker Leon White
During his NFL career, White found himself defending BYU’s 1984 national championship in locker rooms, as some of his NFL teammates denigrated the Cougars' schedule that season.
“We never got the respect. Mostly it was the players from the teams that had won college championships that didn’t think we deserved it,” White said. “I had to battle with people about it, and I still battle with people about it — the teams we played. I guess it will be an ongoing thing. But it doesn’t matter. We have the trophy.”
Former BYU offensive lineman Trevor Matich, a member of the 1984 team and currently an ESPN college football analyst, said White was a key player on that national championship squad.
“I remember Leon White was the most violent nice guy I had ever been around,” Matich remembered. “He was so much fun to watch in games because whenever an opponent would throw a screen pass to his side, I’d always elbow the guy standing next to me on the sideline and say, ‘Watch this.’ Leon would come up and undress that guy. We expected the guy’s helmet to fly off, and it did.
"Leon would knock helmets off guys. When they put him out there on a swing pass or a screen, he’d knife through there. You could see it being set up. You could see the pass floating through the air. You could see Leon digging his cleats into the ground and starting that run. And when that guy caught the ball, and he’s turned to get himself re-established, here comes Leon White with a ton of bricks. That was as violent as I’ve been around in football on any level. Then Leon would smile that big, childlike, happy smile and go right back to the huddle.
"I was glad he was on our team. I would have hated to have had to block that guy.”
Thirty years after winning the national championship, the lessons learned from that season still live with White.
“I remember how we just stuck together as a team. It was a rough year. We had naysayers the whole year. Nobody believed in us," White said. "Nobody thought we could go undefeated, and after we did, they still didn’t give us the credit. It was a tough season that way, but we fought through it and it showed the strength of our team. That’s what I remember.”
Given what he was dealing with off the field that season, perhaps no one on that team was stronger than Leon White.
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