In 2016 this world lost many iconic figures, faces that will live in our memories forever, the latest being LaVell Edwards, whose mourning will definitely continue into 2017.
In talking to former BYU football players whose lives were impacted in so many ways by the lovable Edwards, feelings were tender, emotions were raw and tears flowed freely from grown men who’d put their college careers behind them decades ago.
Edwards died Thursday morning, the day after actress Debbie Reynolds, who died while making funeral plans for her daughter Carrie Fisher, the princess of "Star Wars." And this came within hours of the passing of rock star George Michael in the same month we lost astronaut John Glenn, actress Florence Henderson and TNT broadcaster Craig Sager.
On Friday, the father of BYU volleyball, Carl McGown, 79, passed away.
This was the year we said good-bye to golf legend Arnold Palmer, who was a year older than Edwards at 87. It was the year we buried Muhammad Ali, Joe Garagiola, former NFL coach Buddy Ryan, hockey star Gordie Howe and the most successful women's college basketball coach in history, Pat Summitt at Tennessee.
This was the year that silenced the voices of Prince, David Bowie, Dan Hagerty, Eagles’ creator Glenn Frey, and Merle Haggard. We said farewells to Patty Duke, Nancy Reagan, Antonin Scalia, Gene Wilder, my favorite author, Pat Conroy and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.
The recall from heaven was on speed dial.
LaVell Edwards’ passing brought a flood of memories of many moments, games, personalities, awards and honors a new generation of BYU fans were never exposed to and know little about. But for those who experienced the Edwards Era, it is a time never to be forgotten.
A former Edwards assistant, Claude Bassett, got a call from Edwards five months ago.
“The cell phone rang and I saw it was LaVell,” said Bassett. “I feared the worst because usually he called about deaths. Dick Felt, Craig Garrick, Scott Norberg, et cetera. Well, after a couple of minutes of pleasantries, he admitted that he had hit the wrong speed dial number. We laughed and laughed. Then he opened up a little about a wound from a surgery he had in his foot. The wound just wasn't closing.”
Edwards confided in Bassett that it was frustrating. Bassett sensed Edwards understood he had an uphill battle.
One of the phone calls I made Thursday was to Jeff Blanc, who was a 17-year-old running back from Boise, Idaho, recruited by Edwards and his chief assistant Dave Kragthorpe in the early '70s. He became one of Edwards most productive running backs as he helped BYU’s football program become a rising phenomenon.
Blanc, who is now a security expert in Las Vegas, left BYU for a law enforcement career in Boise. He is now 61.
Blanc found it hard to hold back emotions as he retold story after story of how Edwards had impacted his life, attended his wedding at the Manti Temple in 1977, frequently called him, golfed with him, checked on him, gave him advice and even talked of golf at Coral Canyon in St. George in early December, the month he would leave this world.
Blanc’s bond with Edwards is one of among hundreds of stories from his former players, who all have similar tales.
“He had your name in his phone and when you called, he’d be ready to greet you by name,” said Blanc.
“He was supposed to come to my daughter’s wedding,” Blanc continued. “He called me to say he couldn’t make it. He apologized for missing my daughter’s wedding. He called me to tell me that when he was in the hospital after having open-heart surgery. He called me. Can you imagine? From his bed? I said, 'Hey, don’t worry about it, you just had heart surgery and you are in the hospital, coach.'”
Blanc struggled to get through that story, his feelings fractured, his love for Edwards something bursting out of him, a feeling he tried to explain in words when the vehicle needed was much, much more.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do without him. I really don’t,” said Blanc.
“I’ve never heard him say a harsh word to anybody. I’ve never heard him be negative, no matter how hard things were or how difficult things could be. Oh, man.”
Blanc is planning on driving up from Las Vegas with former teammate Chuck Carlson to attend Edwards funeral.
They’ll join an army that day. From all corners of the earth they will come to pay their respects to the one whose ultimate respect they found themselves craving day by day, season after season.