PROVO — They came from coast to coast to pay respects to LaVell Edwards at the Utah Valley Convention Center Friday night, and one of the first of his former players to walk in the building was the first quarterback to play in a bowl game, Gary Sheide.
Former NFL star Vai Sikahema, who lives near Philadelphia, cut short his vacation in Hawaii to give his tribute to Edwards. He said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo was with him in Laie on the North Shore and was on his way also until he learned of his cousin’s death.
Robbie Bosco, the quarterback of the undefeated 1984 Edwards team, stood outside the massive ballroom greeting teammates. He admitted that as a scheduled speaker representing players at Friday’s memorial, the weight of being a speaker hadn’t hit him until he walked in the building. “Now, I’m a wreck.”
Norm Chow, Edwards’ longtime assistant coach, arrived with his wife from Los Angeles. A gathering of former players and wives, organized by Bosco, was expected to draw 550 at the varsity room in LaVell Edwards Stadium following services.
In the 2,500-seat ballroom, the crowd grew minute by minute as soft harp music by Sarah Price Jensen filled the room before services began.
“When I first heard he’d died, I said it can’t be, LaVell can’t die, he’s too good of a man to go,” said Sheide. “Growing up in northern California, I’d never heard of Edwards or BYU when he talked to me in high school. He came back when I was in junior college, met my mother and she was drawn to him as was I, just his personality.
“He changed the direction of my life. I came here, I joined the LDS faith, I’ve had five children go on missions. He is the greatest man I’ve ever met.”
In Provo, it was a week of great mourning as three prominent BYU sports figures were laid to rest. Front and center to pay respects to men he’d worked side-by-side with for decades was former athletic director Glen Tuckett, 89, who went from one service to another.
Legendary football coach Edwards, 86, died the morning of Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, and BYU’s Mr. Volleyball, Hall of Fame coach Carl McGown, 79, died the next day. Then Tuesday, Jan. 3, Elmo Roundy, 88, a colleague whom they’d known as the dean of the college of physical education, passed away.
For Tuckett, the losses came in a wave.
Although Edwards’ death made national headlines, the depth of sorrow felt by loved ones at each venue was equal, their lives celebrated and honored, final chapters penned.
“We were life-long friends. I first knew LaVell when we competed against each other in high school. Then I coached against him when I was at West High and he was at Granite High for six years, “ said Tuckett. “Ours was almost an association that lasted a lifetime.
“As our friendship grew and matured, it almost became fraternal, it became brotherly. I cannot remember or did not know of a football coach and athletic director who got along as well as we did. They (ADs and coaches) are famous for taking shots at each other and being critical. I can never remember in the 18 years as director that we had a misunderstanding or a problem. He was absolutely great to work with.”
Friday’s service drew from the who’s who of BYU football, from NFL Super Bowl quarterback Jim McMahon to Outland Trophy winner Jason Buck. Current BYU coach and Edwards’ player Kalani Sitake was seated on the front row with his wife Timberly.
Native of Houston Lee Johnson, a former Cougar punter who chiseled out an NFL career and now works at BYU, said the passing of Edwards has worked as a magnet this past week as everyone he’s talked to has had memories of their beloved coach well up from deep inside them.
“For me, I didn’t know LaVell as well as I do now because back in the day, I was quiet and very reserved,” said Johnson. “But the thing about this man is he was just a regular guy. You think of famous college coaches as being strong, dominating personalities. He was just a guy who never tore people down, never yelled or screamed. He was just a normal dude with a great system who had great results.
“In my life, I knew he cared about me, far more than any other coach I’ve ever had, and because of that, you would go through a wall for him,” said Johnson.
In his remarks, Bosco said he was lucky to have been at Edwards’ side right before he died. He said he took Edwards’ feeble hand and squeezed it, and Edwards returned the hand pressure. As Bosco looked at his face, Edwards said, “Robbie, I love you.”
Concluded Bosco, “There is no doubt in my mind, if he could, he would have looked in the eyes of all his players and told them the same thing. I was just fortunate enough to be there.”
At the conclusion of services, as attendees rose to their feet and pallbearers gathered to lift the dark wooden casket, the ballroom filled with bagpipe music from Andrew Morrill.
And with that Scottish traditional sound, it was a salute well done.