'It all came together': 30 years later, BYU players reflect on winning the 1984 national championship
Mark Philbrick, BYU
PROVO — Because of the controversy and drama surrounding BYU's national championship in 1984, Trevor Matich, an ESPN college football analyst and an offensive lineman on that '84 team, believes many observers frequently overlook the talent level the Cougars had that season.
At the same time, Matich admits "the power of miracles" played a key role in that championship campaign.
This year, BYU is commemorating the 30th anniversary of its national championship season, and the ’84 team will be honored Thursday, Sept. 11, during the home game against Houston. On Sept. 12, BYU will host a dinner and reunion for members of the 1984 team.
Matich and former linebacker Leon White were invited to participate in BYU's media day on June 23 to talk about that magical season.
When BYU opened its Legacy Hall a decade ago, Matich remembers watching a DVD of the 1984 highlights on a TV screen there.
“I own that DVD, but I had never watched it,” Matich said. “That was after I had played 12 years in the NFL and was in broadcasting. So I had a lot of football behind me and I was someone who evaluates football. (Then) I went back and watched that for the first time, and I saw it through those eyes.”
And what did he see?
“I saw a defensive line that played with low pad level and drove the offensive line back to create a new line of scrimmage. I saw the linebackers fly downhill and when they hit ballcarriers, it shocked them,” Matich said. “I saw a secondary that played as smart as any secondary I’ve ever been around at any level. They were smart, they were aggressive. They were never in the wrong spot and when they got to you, they made their presence known. Our offensive line, all five guys were in NFL training camps when they left BYU. We had a deep group of skill players and our quarterback is rightly in his place as one of the top quarterbacks ever to play here.
"So when you look at just the talent on that team, it was strong.”
The 1984 Cougars produced a host of players that became NFL draft picks, including Matich, White, safety Kyle Morrell, punter/placekicker Lee Johnson, offensive lineman Louis Wong, defensive back Jeff Sprowls, wide receiver Glen Kozlowski, running back Vai Sikahema, linebacker Kurt Gouveia and quarterback Robbie Bosco.
Matich, White, Johnson, Kozlowski, Sikahema and Gouveia were among those that enjoyed productive NFL careers.
“We were solid in every phase. Our special teams could return punts and kickoffs for touchdowns. We had one of the best punters in the country, who was also our field goal kicker,” said Sikahema, who played in two NFL Pro Bowls. “Our defense — I love reading about how great BYU’s defenses have been — but there were more players on that defense that went on to the NFL than any other team BYU has produced. There were a bunch of guys that played in the NFL. And just didn’t play a couple of years, but double-digit years. At almost every position, we had guys that played in the NFL. We were loaded at every position — offense, defense and special teams. I think the true test of how good a team is what happens to its players when they’re done (with college).”
That ’84 team, which finished with a 13-0 record, also featured plenty of intangible qualities.
“You add camaraderie, and miracles, and it ended up being a perfect storm in favor of BYU,” Matich said. “I don’t want to say we were the most talented team ever to play here, but we were the team where it all came together. We feel very fortunate and blessed to be the recipient of that.”
The Cougars opened the season with a stunning upset of No. 3 Pitt on the road. Then came several more close games, including four fourth-quarter comebacks. While other teams higher in the rankings fell week after week, BYU eventually climbed to the top of the polls and was the only undefeated team that year. The Cougars rallied to defeat a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl to preserve a perfect season.
“We were tested numerous times throughout that season. Every time we stood our ground and responded,” Sikahema said. “One of the ingredients of great teams always, at any level, is to play well enough, even when you’re not playing your best, to be triumphant at the end of the day. That’s how special things happen.”
Along the way, BYU made some amazing, unforgettable plays that won tight games. Among the plays that live on in Cougar football lore is Morrell's timed leap over Hawaii’s offensive line near the goal line to stop the quarterback and prevent a Warrior touchdown late in the game. BYU won, 18-13.
“We just didn’t play well that night for whatever reason,” Sikahema said. “If he doesn’t make that tackle, we don’t go undefeated and play for a national championship.”
“One thing that stands out is the power of miracles,” Matich said. “There were a series of miracles, on and off the field, that led to that and contributed to that (championship). We had fantastic camaraderie. We were a band of brothers. But I think that gets too much attention, people lose sight of the quality of players on the field.”
Going into the 1984 season, the Cougars, though unranked, had won eight consecutive Western Athletic Conference titles. BYU possessed a swagger and an aura.
Sikahema recalls, as an NFL rookie with the St. Louis Cardinals, having a conversation with former Wyoming tight end Jay Novacek, who was his teammate with the Cardinals. In 1984, the Cougars held on for a 41-38 victory over the Cowboys, and Novacek, in Provo.
“Jay said to me over lunch, ‘You know, when we came to Provo, there was something weird about your team,’” Sikahema recalled. “We would stand there and we would warm up and do all the false chatter guys would do. But deep down, we knew we weren’t going to beat you guys.’ I laughed and said, ‘The amazing thing is that while we were warming up, we also knew we were going to beat you guys.’ We had a good laugh.’ Jay probably understood that later when he went to the Dallas Cowboys and played on two or three of their Super Bowl championship teams.”
White said part of the legacy of what the Cougars accomplished in 1984 is “the determination and heart of our players, sticking together. We went through a hard, hard season with a lot of doubters. Our team stuck together like brothers. We didn’t let anyone bring us down.”
"Looking back at my career, (the national championship) means a lot," said quarterback Robbie Bosco. "One of the great things about winning a national championship is the whole team is involved. It's a team award. You can celebrate that with everybody, and you can talk about it forever."
Last spring, when current BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae, and an offensive lineman in 1984, was asked about that season, he joked: “We always remind each other how great we were. The stories seem to be getting bigger. The Holiday Bowl, I think I heard (quarterback Robbie) Bosco was helicoptered out of there and brought back. The older (we get), the wilder the stories. Mythical, legendary. Shoot, we just got lucky, in my opinion.”
"The way it all came together, it almost had to work just the way it did for it to happen," recalled legendary coach LaVell Edwards. "It was a magical year."
To this day, Edwards maintains that the 1984 team may not have been the most talented squad he coached in his 29 years at the helm. "But it was certainly one of the best teams we ever had because it was a group of guys that got along well," he said.
Morrell has described the 1984 team like this: "We didn't have any egos on our team. We didn't have any superstars. We were a bunch of hard-working guys, and we were always happy for each other when one was getting the limelight. There was no jealousy. We were all best friends, though we came from a lot of different backgrounds. Some were LDS; some were Catholic. Some grew up without religion. For some reason, we meshed really well together. We were best of friends. That's a big part of it. Everybody knew their spot on the team and they lived with it. I think we all played above and beyond our talents."
While the school plans to honor the ’84 team in September, several players won’t be able to attend because they are coaching their respective high school or college teams. Sikahema is among the former Cougars who plans to attend the festivities, but other team celebrations could occur later.
“Technically, we weren’t crowned national champions until January,” Sikahema said. “We can go into January, and still celebrate our 30th anniversary. We can celebrate it in the fall, but it would be somewhat hollow if we showed up and Kurt Gouveia, and others, are not there. At this point, I don’t think guys care about being honored at halftime at LaVell Edwards Stadium. You know what we care about? Getting together and telling war stories and laughing and seeing each other. I don’t know frankly if our wives and children particularly care about coming and sitting around with a bunch of old guys with bowed backs and crippled knees. For us, that’s the fun of it — getting together and having Kozlowski regale us with stories of his greatness, and the rest of the nonsense that happens when a bunch of old guys get together and talk about their days as young men. But that’s the fun of it. I told the ('84 reunion) committee that no matter when you have it, I’m coming out for it. But I hope I can come out when the majority of guys can be there.”
Members of the 1984 team are also hoping that coach LaVell Edwards and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, who is currently serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was BYU's president in 1984, can attend as well.
For Sikahema, the real legacy of the 1984 Cougars isn’t what they accomplished on the field.
“I don’t think any of us sit around and think about it that much. But what we do think about is the fact that we are husbands, fathers, and about what we’ve done in our professions. Leaders of our church often say to mission presidents when they train them that you won’t really know, or appreciate, the success of your mission until 20 or 30 years later with the lives your young missionaries lead, the young men and young women they’ll become, as fathers, mothers and leaders. We feel the exact same with what LaVell has done.
"In the 30 years that have lapsed, the most gratifying thing about that year, frankly, was not winning the national championship. It’s not. That put a capstone on that season and it was certainly memorable for all time," Sikahema continued. "However, I think to a man, every one of us who played on that team, what we’re proudest of is the kind of husbands and fathers and leaders that we have become, how successful we’ve become in our chosen fields. We have doctors, lawyers, coaches and broadcasters The most gratifying thing of being a part of that team, was how that team turned out.
"You know, obviously, we’ve had some tragedies and guys that have passed, like Mark Allen and Craig Garrick. We mourn those guys and we miss them. But in the grand scheme of things, so many guys on that team have done remarkably well and done amazing things. I’m proud of them, every one of them and the people they’ve become. It’s made our reunions that much more fun because we have reveled in each other’s successes. Best of all, we see the pride in faces of LaVell and (Edwards’ wife) Patti when they see us. We’re their kids. We’re their boys. It’s a great feeling to be a great son when you’re around your parents. They laugh with us and revel in our success and meet our children.”
When members of the ’84 team get together these days, it’s 1984 all over again.
“I saw Leon White for the first time in decades and it’s like we’ve never been apart,” Matich said. “It’s that way with everybody because of the bond that you form. That’s something we knew right off the bat, right away. One of the good things from winning that national championship was knowing that we would be that team. We would be that band of brothers.”
BYU 20, Pittsburgh 14
BYU 47, Baylor 13
BYU 38, Tulsa 15
BYU 18, Hawaii 13
BYU 52, Colorado State 9
BYU 41, Wyoming 38
BYU 30, Air Force 25
BYU 48, New Mexico 0
BYU 42, UTEP 9
BYU 34, San Diego State 3
BYU 24, Utah 14
BYU 38, Utah State 13
BYU 24, Michigan 17
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