There were more people (police and members of the FBI) there in the stadium with guns than there were fans. It was pretty uneasy. —Marc Lyons on the 1968 San Jose State game
PROVO — Suddenly, BYU’s 1968 team has been getting a lot of publicity, which is something nobody could have foreseen.
The ’68 team has been brought up a lot lately — for all the wrong reasons.
“I’m so glad we were so bad that year,” Marc Lyons, one of the Cougars’ quarterbacks that season, joked this week.
That 1968 squad was the last BYU team to do what the current BYU team has done — record a seven-game losing streak.
Not groovy, baby.
The ’68 team set a standard of futility that a lot of people are referring to these days.
The 2017 Cougars will try to snap that losing streak — and avoid eclipsing the ’68 squad’s epic slump — when they host San Jose State Saturday (1 p.m., MDT, BYUtv).
Like this year's team, the ’68 Cougars won their first game of the season, at Western Michigan, then dropped seven in a row. BYU halted its streak at New Mexico, 35-6, before finishing the season with a 25-21 loss at — can you believe this? — San Jose State in the season finale to finish with a 2-8 record.
That setback at San Jose was noteworthy because protests were erupting on the SJSU campus in reaction to LDS Church’s policies at the time, which were regarded by some as bias. The specter of violence in connection with the game created some tense moments.
“There were more people (police and members of the FBI) there in the stadium with guns than there were fans. It was pretty uneasy,” recalled Lyons, who started, or played in every game that season but the one against SJSU. “We had a bomb scare at our hotel at 2 in the morning. We had police escorts everywhere we went in our bus.
"It was confusing to me. I wasn’t a member of the (LDS Church) then. It was kind of a dark atmosphere," he continued. "That one was one of the worst losses of the season to me because I felt like we were better than they were and it was our final game of the year. Having a terrible record hurt. I still felt like we were a pretty good team but we couldn’t beat anybody.”
It’s been 49 years since that dismal ’68 season so it’s not something Lyons dwells on much when reflecting on his career.
“I don’t recall how painful those losses were along the way,” he recalled. “Maybe I’ve erased those.”
The Cougars posted a 6-4 record in 1967 and a 6-4 mark in 1969. Lyons, who currently provides color commentary on BYU football radio broadcasts, was part of both of those teams. He led the Cougars in passing in ’67, ’68 and ’69.
During that 1968 season, Lyons took some consolation in small gains, like being “competitive” with nationally ranked Arizona State (BYU lost 47-12).
“The thing that I remember is, I thought we were a really good football team,” Lyons said. “We were 6-4 the year before. We finished third in the conference. The next year, we lost some of those marines that had played for us in 1967. We had a hard time figuring out how to win.”
Earlier this season, when BYU lost to Wisconsin at home, 40-6, seven of Lyons’ teammates from the 1968 team attended that game.
“I asked all of them, ‘Did you think going into that next game that we were going to lose?’” Lyons said. “Everyone of them said, ‘No. We thought we were going to win every week.’”
Are there lessons from that ’68 season that can be applied in 2017?
“I think this is part of what’s going on today — as the season went on and we were losing games, I think we forgot how to win. We may have been in the frame of mind that we had forgotten how to win,” Lyons said. “I don’t think we knew the urgency of getting back into a game or taking a lead.
"I think we forgot how to do that. All the players on this BYU team have to believe that Tanner Magnum is going to complete a pass on third-and-nine. If everyone gets a positive frame of mind that things will go your way, they’ll start to go your way.”
All of Cougar Nation, including former players like Lyons, hope things go BYU’s way Saturday against San Jose State — and this ignominious losing streak finally ends.
If the Cougars can’t get it done, well, the ’68 team will fade back into oblivion.
And the 1955 team will likely step into the spotlight. It was the last BYU team to lose eight games in a row.
Cougars on the air
San Jose State (1-7)
at BYU (1-7)
Saturday, 1 p.m. MDT LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM