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Dick Harmon: Refusing to lose: Robbie Bosco, BYU triumphed over adversity in 1984 Holiday Bowl

Published: Saturday, July 26 2014 4:00 p.m. MDT

Updated: Sunday, July 27 2014 10:43 p.m. MDT

BYU vs Michigan - Holiday Bowl and National Championship, San Diego, California (CA). 6 Robbie Bosco. 50 Trevor Matich. 57 Robert Anae. BYU-21 Michigan-17 December 23, 1984 Photo by: Mark Philbrick/BYU Copyright BYU PHOTO 2008 All Rights Reserved 801-422-7322 photo@byu.edu

Mark Philbrick, BYU,

The framed photo hung in George Curtis' office for decades. The former head football trainer for BYU had it situated in the middle of a wall. The image showed Curtis at the side of Robbie Bosco, helping him off the field in the first quarter of the Holiday Bowl on the night of Dec. 21, 1984.

This is the 30-year anniversary of that 1984 team’s exploits — the undefeated season, bowl-game triumph and eventual national championship. Festivities are scheduled for the Houston game on Sept. 11 at LaVell Edwards Stadium to remember those accomplishments.

Curtis, now retired, cannot speak due to a disease called supranuclear progressive palsy. That night, he was volunteering away from his main job with the Los Angeles Express of the USFL, a nine-iron away from where he’d made a career at Santa Ana Community College in Orange County, California. He would become BYU’s head trainer the next year. Two other BYU trainers who worked furiously on Bosco for half an hour, Marv Roberson and Ollie Julkunen, have both passed away.

Bosco’s ankle injury in that final game of an undefeated season could have turned the Cougars upside down with three quarters to play. But it didn’t. Blaine Fowler came in for brief relief and Bosco returned and hobbled his way to a 24-17 comeback victory over Michigan to force a vote for No. 1 from Associated Press and UPI voters.

I asked Bosco and Fowler what went through their minds that night when Curtis helped Bosco limp off that field and into the locker room, a moment captured by that iconic photograph.

“I just couldn’t believe this was happening to me,” said Bosco. “It was the most important game of the year and the potential of not being out there with my teammates and not knowing how serious the injury was. As I went up the ramp to the training room, I began to think just how quick could I get back out there.”

Medical personnel examined Bosco and nothing sounded that serious. “I asked them if I went back out there and played, would it do more damage and jeopardize my career. Dr. Brent Pratley and the trainers told me it wouldn’t. I decided right there to return to the game. Trainers re-taped my knee and my ankle. It was my ankle that hurt the most. It was a high-ankle sprain, but my thoughts were to get back out there. People in the tunnel were relaying to me what was going out there on the field and it was nothing bad.”

As Bosco made a re-entry from the tunnel onto the field, he remembers a kind of quietness as eyes of fans in a packed Jack Murphy Stadium seemingly were all on him. Then a loud noise erupted. Bosco felt an immediate surge of adrenalin and emotion as he walked onto the sideline and field. After a few warm-up passes, he felt extreme pain and doubted he could perform. But he made up his mind and told quarterbacks coach Mike Holmgren he was ready to return.

“Are you sure?” Holmgren asked.

“I’m going back in,” said Bosco. And with that, he just went on the field where he and center Trevor Matich switched to a shotgun formation, something they’d never practiced that season. “Trevor’s first hike hit me right in the stomach and I wasn’t ready for it. This was all new, and I was in the middle of calling an audible when he hiked the ball. Fortunately, I got ahold of the ball and I hit Kelly Smith on a hot route.”

It didn’t hurt Bosco to run forward, but he had a lot of pain when he tried to move laterally or to back-peddle. Michigan defensive linemen sensed Bosco’s limitations and began blitzing him almost every play. Michigan led 17-10 in the fourth quarter on a field goal.

Bosco’s game-tying touchdown pass to Glen Kozlowski in the final quarter capped a 70-yard drive that saw him hit seven different receivers. His game-winning TD pass came on a scramble and strike to Smith.

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