I first learned of my former BYU teammate Bruce Hansen’s passing when I read Dick Harmon’s article last Thursday. No one likes learning of a friend or loved one's death in the news, but I appreciated Dick's sensitive treatment of Bruce's life and tribute.
I was saddened and surprised because Ive known Bruce since we were teenagers. I haven't seen Bruce in probably 20 years and we really haven't been in touch since we parted ways in college, yet, I felt a tinge of melancholy and guilt that I hadn't been a better friend. I wish I had stayed in touch more. I regret I hadn't reached out sooner so that Bruce knew he had a friend and that I loved him.
Life hadn't been easy for Bruce. He was married and divorced. He was working at Sundance when he died. He has two kids. I don't know what kind of father he was, but his son Derek is a 6-foot-3 245-pound senior defensive end and Rhodes Scholar candidate at the University of Montana. Rhodes Scholar candidate! Only 80 are chosen on the planet each year; 32 come from the United States. It's the Heisman of the academic world, only more prestigious.
Derek is a chemistry major carrying a 4.0 GPA and is a captain for the Grizzlies. Of course, Bruce may not have had much to do with any of that because his ex-wife remarried and moved to Montana when Derek was in the first grade, so he was raised by his stepfather. But still, what can't be denied is that Derek carried his father's DNA and that, in my humble observation, is as dynamic today as it was 35 years ago when I first met Bruce. Apparently after Bruce died, his family found a lunch Bruce had prepared for his drive to Missoula to watch Derek play. Obviously, Bruce was proud of his boy.
Bruce was the 10th of 13 children, and it seemed all the boys in the Hansen family had football scholarships to Utah or BYU. When I first saw their home gym/weight room in American Fork, it seemed to me a good investment by his father Wendell.
As a freshman, Bruce chose jersey No. 34. When he returned from his mission to Jackson, Mississippi, a young, promising linebacker from Waianae, Hawaii, named Kurt Gouveia was wearing his jersey. In today's college football landscape, it's not unusual for two players to share jersey numbers, as long as one is on offense and the other is a defender.
But rather than create a problem, Bruce simply chose jersey No. 2, which was odd for a fullback. Today, single-digit jerseys seem to be all the rage, but back then, it was, well weird. It seemed weird to us then, but Bruce was ahead of his time as a gym rat. At 6 feet, 220 pounds, he was chiseled — he LOVED to lift weights. He had six-pack abs and a jersey number that may have reflected his body fat. On top of that, he was runway-model handsome.
I first met Bruce and his family when I came to play in a Utah/Arizona high school All-Star game that was played in Rice-Eccles Stadium in the summer of 1980, just before we both enrolled at BYU as freshmen that fall. Organizers asked the Utah All-Stars to host us, and perhaps because I was soon to be his college teammate, the Hansens were my host. Their property in American Fork was sprawling, with horses, turkeys and other farm animals. Their home was spacious, warm and comfortable — not pretentious or extravagant. It was functional, especially with 13 children.
The Hansen men were handsome and women strikingly beautiful. Bruce's older brother Brian was the only one away — serving a mission. This initial meeting made Bruce the first friend I made at BYU, and it would be an important one because on many Sundays that first year, I was a guest at their Sunday meals. And typically, I wasn't the only guest. There were usually two or three or four or more of us eating his mother LaVon's delicious roasts — a respite from the Cannon Center at Helaman Halls.
I don't discount how crucial those meals and weekend getaways were at the Hansen home in creating and fostering the camaraderie and bonds we had as a freshman class, because our group became the backbone of much of the success the program enjoyed through the early to mid-1980s, including the national championship year.
We were a part of what I believe to be the best recruiting class in the history of BYU football — 1980. Two first-team All-Americans in one class would certainly qualify as successful, but Steve Young and Gordon Hudson are also in the College Football Hall of Fame, and Steve is enshrined in Canton.
Linebacker Todd Shell was the 49ers' No. 1 pick in 1984. Linebacker Leon White was in our class but didn’t enroll until January because of a hiccup in his registration. Wide receivers Kurt Pendleton and Adam Haysbert both started and played significant roles in the program. Pendleton would’ve earned a spot on the 49ers' roster, but Olympic hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah was Bill Walsh’s pet project.
Three of the four starting defensive linemen on the ’84 team were members of our class: captain Jim Hermann from Wisconsin and two Californians, Brad Smith and Larry Hamilton. Robert Anae and Keith McCullough were also starters for us at guard and center. A high school All-American kicker from California named Mack Smith was on scholarship but was beaten out by a walk-on from Texas named Lee Johnson, who went on to play 19 years in the NFL as a punter.
Four running backs were in the 1980 class: Waymon Hamilton, of Calipatria, California, was the prize recruit of the class who had spurned offers from Oklahoma and USC because his mother had just been baptized, though Waymon himself wasn't LDS at the time.
Waymon and I were the tailbacks; Jim McDade from Modesto, California, and Bruce Hansen were the fullbacks. McDade was eventually moved to linebacker; Waymon held the BYU scoring record for years, and Bruce was a replacement player for the New England Patriots during the 1987 strike, who remained on the roster after the strike ended.
Our class hailed from every part of the country — the South Pacific, Pacific Northwest, West Coast, East Coast, Midwest, Southwest, North, South and of course, Utah.
We were talented, smart, fun, fast (DB Brian Hazelgren was the Utah state 100/200 meter champion at Murray High), extremely competitive and as in any family, we fought. I was expelled from Helaman Halls for fighting with O-lineman Jim Shank because he doused me with a dorm fire extinguisher during two-a-days. We were also prone to immaturity, but over time, we became close and life-long friends.
And in my opinion, Bruce Hansen and his family in American Fork had much to do with it.
The proximity of the family farm to the campus and the open and welcoming nature of the Hansens provided a place for many of us to decompress and just be kids. We went pheasant hunting on the Hansens' property. We shot hoops. Had family home evening. It was a place to just hang out away from coaches, from the dorms, from homework, from campus life.
As the Hansens prepare to bury their beloved son and brother Bruce today, I want them to know that many of us who played ball with Bruce, Brian and Regan will never forget your kindness, hospitality and love.
Bruce, may God be with you till we meet again.