Joy Bellini has been here before. Four times before, to be precise. She has also spent the holidays in Birmingham, Ala., and Anaheim, Calif., and Orlando, Fla. She can remember when she didn't usher in a new year by going to a college football bowl game, but only barely.
For nine years now she has been doing this, getting a tan in December in one sunbelt city or another. Her two sons, first Mark and now Matt, have played football for BYU and she has been the designated spectator. Good duty if you can get it.She's been here, to the Holiday Bowl, so often she knows where she's going to eat and where she's going to shop, and the fastest way to the stadium. She was here when BYU beat Michigan in 1984 and won the national championship.
She'd seen San Diego so often that when BYU got a bid to the All-American Bowl in Alabama in 1987 she was happy about it. "I'd never been to Birmingham," she remembers, "I told Matt I was excited about going there. He said, `Mom, you don't get the point. We did not win the WAC. We WANT to go to San Diego. Going where you haven't been is not the criteria.' "
They went anyway. Rarely has a Bellini played for BYU when Mrs. Bellini hasn't been in the stands. She has seen 95 percent of the Cougars' games - bowls and otherwise - over the last nine years. And, since she lives in the Bay Area and not Provo, they have all been away games. She's got enough frequent flier miles to fly to Neptune.
She even went to a game when neither of her sons was playing. It was the 1986 East-West Shrine All-Star game at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, near her home town of San Leandro. After an All-American career at BYU, Mark was selected to play in the game. But at the Freedom Bowl in Anaheim, Calif., he injured his ankle and had to have surgery.
"I was sitting home in my apartment in Provo," remembers Mark, "watching the Shrine game, and my mom comes on TV.
"She was holding this sign that said, 'Mark Bellini, Here in Spirit,' " and telling the sportscaster who was interviewing her about how I was supposed to be playing but I got injured."
"We already had the tickets and we'd rented a bus," says Joy, explaining. "A lot of people from home were planning to go. When Mark got hurt, we decided to make a party out of it anyway."
That philosophy more or less sums up her approach to BYU football for most of the last decade.
Mark started playing in 1982 and, with a redshirt year thrown in, played through 1986. Matt was a freshman that year, and will be winding up his career, and his mother's, Saturday night in Jack Murphy Stadium.
"A lot of people who haven't followed BYU football that close think I've been playing for nine years," says Mark.
That's partly because Matt picked up where Mark left off. Both have had outstanding careers. Mark was the team's leading receiver in 1985 and 1986 and Matt will leave with the school record for most passes caught in a career.
Their mother will leave with most appearances in the stands.
You name it, she's been there. She's seen all the cities in the WAC. She's seen all the intersectional sites. She was therethe day the New Cougar Stadium opened, in 1982. It happened to be the same day Mark opened the Bellini Era in Provo.
Mike Bellini, Mark and Matt's father, has done his share of supporting too. He's seen approximately 60 percent of BYU's games the past nine years. A lofty percentage, by most standards.
The Bellinis were largely unfamiliar with BYU until Mark, only lightly recruited out of high school, signed on as a freshman. His high school coach was a Mormon, and recommended the school.
"I knew nothing about BYU," says Joy. "Now I know everything."
She could still be watching live football next season, if Matt goes on to play for an NFL team. But she's had some experience in that arena. When Mark played for the Indianapolis Colts, she was introduced to the pro game. In one game, a playoff contest in 28-below weather in Cleveland, she was hit in the head by a bone thrown by a fan sitting in the notorious Dawg Pound.
"The NFL's just not the same. Nothing like that has ever happened in college," she says.
"Next fall could be tough," she says, wistfully. "I'm not sure what I'll do. I guess I better enjoy this one while it lasts."