On that play, at the end of the game, I’ll tell you what. I’d be going crazy too. —Former Utah coach Ron McBride said.
Watching video of Bronco Mendenhall crowd-surfing in the locker room after BYU’s win over Nebraska, last Saturday, I found myself wondering: WWLD.
What Would LaVell Do?
Would he take a victory lap? Whoop and scream? Turn the locker room into a mosh pit?
Mendenhall did all that.
In turn, that started me wondering what Ron McBride, the former Utah coach, would do. So I called the yin and yang of college coaches to find out. McBride was known for wearing his feelings on his shirtsleeves pant legs hats forehead, etc. LaVell Edwards never unfolded his arms.
What I found is that both the unflappable Edwards and the excitable McBride agree on one thing: Mendenhall earned his moment.
“On that play, at the end of the game, I’ll tell you what,” McBride said, “I’d be going crazy too.”
Edwards concurred that when it comes to celebrating, don’t wait. “You just do it then,” he said.
But with typical Edwards humor, he added, “You always like to have those kind of endings at the end of the year, because you have a long time to think about it.”
Spoken as one who has done just that.
Edwards was on the sideline that December night in 1980, when Jim McMahon threw a scoring pass on the game’s final play, giving BYU its first bowl win. Edwards was in the same stadium four years later when the Cougars clinched a national championship by beating Michigan. Both touched off wild celebrations.
But Edwards, 84, always watched games like he was studying a menu. He doesn’t recall much personal celebrating after the 1980 game, except this: “I can remember going out there and just clenching my fist, because I had never had more sense of relief, as well as sheer joy.”
OK, so he didn’t end up with a lampshade on his head. Still.
A team manager had leaped on him, but Edwards, looking dazed, continued walking through the chaos, looking for SMU coach Ron Meyer.
“I pretty much kept things to myself,” he said.
McBride didn’t win as prodigiously as Edwards, but he got the Utes attending bowl games. Along the way, he celebrated everything, dog-piling with his team after beating Minnesota in his second career game, and rushing to conduct the band after beating BYU. Often he looked like a kid exiting a pillow fight, shirt untucked, hair standing up, face flushed.
McBride, 75, still relishes the emotion.
“There was the one game against USC in the Vegas Bowl,” he said, recalling a few of his greatest celebrations. “And the first win against BYU in their stadium was huge. And the one with Fresno (Las Vegas Bowl) and the win against CSU when we were both undefeated ... the time against Air Force we scored two touchdowns in the last 20 seconds. Unbelievable. The Freedom Bowl there’ve been a lot of them.”
How does that compare to Mendenhall’s moment last week?
“I don’t know the whole situation, but he had to have been happy, crazily happy,” McBride said.
Both coaches say the final sequence of last weekend’s game was what triggered the celebration. Players piled on receiver Mitch Mathews after the last-second catch. Teammate Terenn Houk threw his arms around an official. Mendenhall ran onto the field, arms high, fists clenched, hugging people as he went. Inside the locker room, he pumped his arms and crowd-surfed. In a quieter moment he paid tearful tribute to injured quarterback Taysom Hill.
It was a day of emotional overload.
The trick, according to Edwards, is to get players back to business mode on Monday, “working them hard enough to get them griping about it” if necessary. But not so hard they lose momentum.
“Once you start winning games like that, it kind of catches on,” McBride said. “Then you start believing that no matter what the score is, you can find a way to win.”
It certainly worked for both former coaches, who say it’s easy to understand Mendenhall’s exhilaration.
“A win like that,” McBride said, “you can enjoy for a lifetime.”
That’s how it goes when you live a lifetime in just a few seconds.
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