To commemorate the 30th anniversary of BYU’s national championship, here are 30 memorable moments from that 13-0 season, in chronological order.
As spring practices in 1984 begin, BYU is dealing with the loss of many of its stars from a team that finished 1983 with an 11-1 record and a No. 7 ranking in the polls, including quarterback Steve Young, tight end Gordon Hudson and linebacker Todd Shell. But in the spring coach LaVell Edwards senses something distinct about the ’84 squad. “When I came home after one of our spring training practices,” Edwards says, “I told my wife Patti that there was something special about this year’s BYU football team.”
BYU closes practice to the public during fall camp as it adjusts to many personnel changes. The Cougars are breaking in a new starter at quarterback, junior Robbie Bosco. It figures to be a rebuilding year for the Cougars, who had won eight straight Western Athletic Conference championships. In its preseason preview, Sports Illustrated picks BYU to finish third in the WAC behind New Mexico and Hawaii.
In the weeks leading up to the season opener at No. 3 Pittsburgh, Panther lineman Bill Fralic indirectly mocks BYU’s honor code and values, bragging about his three favorite hobbies: drinking, fornication and golf. Those comments don’t go unnoticed by BYU players.
On the eve of the Pitt game, during a players-only meeting at the hotel, BYU offensive lineman Craig Garrick stands up and delivers an impassioned speech to his teammates. “He thought through the possibilities that were before us if we beat Pitt,” remembers kick return specialist Vai Sikahema. “He got up and said, ‘When we beat Pittsburgh tomorrow, we’ll have a clear path to the national championship. But obviously, it won’t happen unless we win.’ We sat there and considered what he said. We hadn’t looked beyond that game because it was so daunting to play on national television. That was a seminal moment in the beginning of a lot of moments.”
On Sept. 1, in the first college football game televised live by ESPN, unranked BYU falls behind, 14-3, to No. 3 Pitt after a couple of interceptions by Bosco, who is feeling the weight of the pressure of having to replace an All-American, Young.
With less than two minutes remaining against Pitt, the Cougars find themselves trailing, 14-12. In the huddle, Bosco calls for play "63," in which wide receiver Adam Haysbert runs a post pattern to clear out the defenders underneath the coverage while Glen Kozlowski cuts across the middle. When Panther free safety Bill Callahan leaves Haysbert, Bosco completes a game-winning 50-yard strike to his senior receiver, who dashes into the end zone, propelling the Cougars to a 20-14 victory.
Before the Baylor game the following week, Cougar players know they can't squander their monumental win at Pitt — which catapults them to No. 13 in the polls — by falling to the Bears. Baylor was the last team to beat the Cougars, in the 1983 season opener. With BYU fans throwing tortillas in the stands, the Cougars thrash the Bears, 47-13, in surprisingly easy fashion on Sept. 8.
Boasting a No. 6 ranking and 3-0 record, BYU is nursing a 12-10 lead against Hawaii at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu on Sept. 22. In the fourth quarter, Hawaii quarterback Raphel Cherry drives his team to the BYU 2-yard line, first-and-goal. Cherry tries a QB sneak on the first two downs with minimal gains. On third-and-inches to go, Cougar safety Kyle Morrell decides, on his own, to line up across the line of scrimmage. Just as Cherry takes the snap, Morrell, with flawless timing, jumps over the center, collars Cherry by the shoulder pads, and makes a complete flip in the air. On his way down, his teammates smother Cherry. Hawaii settles for a field goal, giving it a 13-12 advantage. Morrell's heroics are widely regarded as the best defensive play in school history. “We just didn’t play well that night for whatever reason,” recalls Sikahema. “If he doesn’t make that tackle, we don’t go undefeated and play for a national championship."
Bosco connects with Kozlowski, whose mother hails from Hawaii, on a 25-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone with 5:24 remaining for what turns out to be the game-winner in an emotional, hard-fought game at Hawaii. "People who don't think we play anybody ought to go to Hawaii with us once and see some of their players wearing war paint under their helmets,” says BYU tight end David Mills. “Everybody shoots for us in our conference.”
The Cougars hold on for an 18-13 win in the islands before a sellout crowd of 50,000. In the waning moments, after blocking a BYU punt, Hawaii has a chance to win the game, but Cherry’s pass in the end zone is dropped by the usually sure-handed Walter Murray. The game ends around 2:30 a.m. MDT.
In a wild shootout in Provo, No. 5 BYU rallies multiple times to outlast Wyoming, 41-38, on homecoming in Provo on Oct. 13. Bosco’s 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mills with 4:16 remaining proves to be the difference-maker. In the third quarter, Mills suffers a gash over his eye, but the trainer glues the cut to stop the bleeding, allowing Mills to continue playing, even with blurred vision.
Neither snow nor rain nor freezing temperatures can stop BYU. The No. 7 Cougars hold on to beat Air Force, 30-25, in 36-degree weather on a snowy day in Colorado Springs on Oct. 20. Snow is piled up behind the end zones due to snowstorms earlier in the week, and the conditions are sloppy. The game-winner comes when Bosco connects with Mills for a touchdown late in the third quarter on a pass that was actually intended for Kozlowski.
Four weeks into the 1984 season, both BYU and New Mexico boast undefeated records. In anticipation of a late-October meeting between the two teams in Albuquerque, ESPN moves the game to a Thursday night, Oct. 25. It is expected to be a Michael Jackson-like thriller. But the Lobos lose a couple of contests after that, removing some of the pre-game luster. Then No. 5 BYU eliminates all drama early, rolling to a 48-0 blanking of New Mexico as ESPN viewers around the country turn off their TVs due to the lopsided nature of the game.
During the week of BYU’s home game against UTEP on Nov. 3, rumors swirl of the Cougars getting out of their Holiday Bowl contract, the destination of the WAC champ, to instead play in the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl or Sugar Bowl. Such news makes national headlines, though BYU officials deny such scenarios. On the field, the No. 4 Cougars destroy the Miners, 42-9, prompting UTEP coach Bill Yung to say, “BYU ought to go to the Pac-10 like Arizona and Arizona State did a few years back. BYU is really good. I hope they have that 13-0 season.” Days later, Sports Illustrated produces a six-page, 11-photograph spread titled, “It’s Possible: Brigham Young Could Be The One.”
On the same day No. 4 BYU wallops San Diego State, 34-3, on Nov. 10, No. 1 Washington loses to Southern California and No. 2 Texas falls to Houston. In the polls the next week, pollsters move South Carolina ahead of the Cougars to No. 2, while BYU climbs to No. 3. The win over the Aztecs clinches the ninth-consecutive WAC championship for BYU.
A fired-up Utah team, wearing all-red, looks to spoil BYU’s perfect season on Nov. 17 before the second-largest crowd ever at Rice Stadium at that time. Utah is riding a 10-game home winning streak. The New York Times dispatches a reporter to Salt Lake, who is watching from the press box. The Cougars cough up five turnovers against the inspired Utes, who take an early 7-0 lead against their archrival.
On a third-and-9 situation on BYU's 31-yard line against Utah, Bosco throws a high, wounded-duck pass long downfield. Kozlowski, draped by three Ute defenders, leaps up and snags the ball for a 40-yard gain. It could have, and maybe should have, been an interception. “That catch won the game for us,” Bosco says afterward. Three plays later, Koz hauls in a 19-yard TD pass to lift the Cougars to a 17-7 lead. In the end, No. 3 BYU knocks off Utah, 24-14.
While the Cougars are downing the Utes, No. 1 Nebraska loses to Oklahoma and No. 2 South Carolina is swamped by Navy, paving the way for BYU to claim the top spot in the polls for the first time in its history. Fittingly for the Cougars, that feat happens after a victory over their archrival.
BYU indeed ascends to No. 1 when the new poll is released. This business of a team from the WAC being ranked in the top spot doesn’t sit well with much of the rest of the country. Not only does Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer belittle BYU, but Today Show co-host Bryant Gumbel grumbles one morning, “How can you rank BYU No. 1? Who’d they play? Bo Diddley Tech?”
Ranked No. 1 for the first time, BYU hosts 1-9 Utah State in the regular-season finale. The Cougars pound USU, 38-13, in their first, and only, regular-season game as the No. 1 team in the nation. The win gives BYU a perfect 12-0 regular-season record. In the stands at Cougar Stadium, fans unveil a sign that reads, “Bryant ‘Dumbell’ Gumbel.” BYU officially accepts an invitation to the Holiday Bowl against Michigan of the Big Ten — the Cougars are contractually obligated to play in San Diego — though most would prefer to see the Cougars take on No. 2 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
While awaiting the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 21, the country debates whether or not BYU deserves to win the national championship if it defeats a 6-5 Michigan team. "Win or lose against Michigan, the uproar will increase from the critics, led by the Orange Bowl, promoting its game between No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 4 Washington for the national title,” writes USA Today. "Consider that playing Michigan in the Holiday Bowl certainly wasn't BYU's first choice,” writes Larry Guest of the Orlando Sentinel. “It's not the Cougars' fault that all the bigwig teams took the money and ran to bigger bowls where they called press conferences to brag about how they'd bloody BYU's noses if only they could get at 'em."
In the first half against the Wolverines, and legendary coach Bo Schembechler, in the Holiday Bowl, Bosco drops back to pass and after releasing the ball, absorbs a hard hit by Mike Hammerstein. Bosco falls to the turf at Jack Murphy Stadium and grimaces in pain with a left leg injury. He can’t get up and is helped off the field by team doctors and trainers. Bosco, who is taken to the locker room for treatment, is replaced by backup Blaine Fowler. "I was thinking, 'I can't believe I went the whole season without being injured,'" Bosco recalls. "'Now here's the biggest game of our careers, and I get injured.’”
Fowler plays well in Bosco’s absence. Then Bosco emerges from the tunnel leading to the field, nursing an injured left knee and left ankle. He returns to the game in the second quarter and plays the rest of the contest on a gimpy leg, hobbling around on the field. “Never have I seen a more courageous performance by a kid," Coach Edwards says of Bosco. "He was in pain. But as long as he could stand up, he wanted to play." BYU rolls up 483 yards of total offense, compared to 202 for Michigan, but the Cougars’ six turnovers keep the game close.
Michigan leads BYU, 17-10, early in the fourth quarter when Bosco floats a pass into the back of the end zone. Kozlowski makes a leaping grab to tie the game at 17. “I still tease Robbie. I think he was really trying to throw the ball away," Kozlowski remembers. "I just thought I had a chance at it. So I jumped up and the (Michigan player) kind of pushed me up a little bit more because I jumped before him and got a little leverage on him. It lifted me up a little bit, and I caught the ball."
With the score still tied, and time running out, BYU faces third down at the Michigan 13-yard line. The play call comes to the huddle, “69 halfback option.” Bosco completes a pass to running back Kelly Smith, who races into the end zone with 1:23 remaining to lift BYU to a 24-17 victory and complete a 13-0 season. The Cougars also own the nation's best winning streak, at 24 consecutive victories.
With BYU’s season over, the college football world turns its attention to the Orange Bowl in Miami, where No. 2 Oklahoma faces No. 4 Washington on New Year's Day. Questions abound. Do the Cougars deserve to win the national championship, as the only team in the country with a perfect record? “I feel we're No. 1, but it is out of our hands now,” Kozlowski says after the Holiday Bowl win. “I know I'm going to celebrate — I'm going to take some non-alcoholic cider and dump it over my head.” Says Edwards, "I think we have as legitimate a claim on it as anyone. More than anyone, for that matter. I'm sure Nebraska would love to go back and play Syracuse, Oklahoma would love to go back and play Kansas, and South Carolina would like to play Navy, and so on down the line. We had our Kansases, our Syracuses, and our Navies, and this particular group of guys has always come out winners."
Switzer continues to denigrate BYU and its schedule at every turn, claiming the winner of the Orange Bowl should be the national champion. In the Orange Bowl, the Oklahoma mascot, the “Sooner Schooner,” a covered wagon pulled by two Shetland ponies, is assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when it charges onto the field to celebrate a fourth-quarter field goal. The kick is nullified by penalty and the wagon winds up in the middle of he Washington defensive huddle. Washington beats Oklahoma, 28-17. Ever gracious, Switzer says after the loss, "Washington is the best football team we've played this year. They deserve to be No. 1. They are better than BYU, I guarantee you that." In response to Switzer’s disparaging words, a sewage treatment plant in Midvale, Utah, is named after Switzer.
When the final polls are released on Jan. 2, BYU maintains its hold on the top spot. With 38 first-place votes in The Associated Press poll and 1,160 total points, the Cougars claim the national championship. Washington (11-1) finishes No. 2 with 16 first-place votes and 1,140 points. Florida (9-1-1 and ineligible for the postseason) is No. 3 with six first-place votes and 1,092 points. (BYU plays Washington early in the 1985 season in Provo and the Cougars drub the Huskies, 31-3.)
Reaction to BYU winning the national championship is mixed. While some say the Cougars are unworthy because of their schedule, many defend BYU’s accomplishment. “BYU won 'em all. It's like a bunch of kids on a playground,” writes legendary Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray. “If one boy whips everybody else, he gets to say he's the champ. Now if somebody doesn't like it, he's got to go fight the champ. BYU whipped everybody. If Barry Switzer has a problem with that, hey, Provo's on most road maps. Rev up the bus, or zip it."
In early January 1985, Edwards, accompanied by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, goes to Washington and meets with President Ronald Reagan at the White House in honor of BYU's national title. Edwards presents Reagan with a signed football and a BYU jacket.