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Provo • Only one man is more synonymous with Brigham Young University than LaVell Edwards: the school's founder himself.
That's what Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said Friday as the former BYU football coach was memorialized for his career and service to his community and church.
Hundreds of Edwards' admirers and dozens of former players attended the public service at the Utah Valley Convention Center eight days after Edwards died on Dec. 29 at his Provo home surrounded by his wife of 65 years, Patti Edwards; sons Jimmy and John Edwards; and daughter, Ann Cannon.
A ceremony open to family members, close friends and all his former players and coaching colleagues will be held Saturday morning at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints meetinghouse in Provo.
Holland, a former BYU president, said the past week of tributes to the coach from across the world "are certainly without precedent" in BYU's history.
"I think, maybe, only the university's namesake, good ol' Brother Brigham himself, may be the only better known link in the nation to this university than is the name LaVell Edwards," Holland said. "Now, that is not bad for a boy raised right here in Utah County who played in his college days down in the trenches where there was blood and bent fingers and broken noses, and who, for the most part of his coaching career, forgot to tell his face how happy he was."
Among the notable attendees Friday was Jim McMahon, the colorful, often controversial former BYU quarterback who noted before the service that he rarely attends any meetings, let alone funerals.
"As much as I hate funerals, this is one I couldn't miss," McMahon said. "He meant a lot to me and my football career and in my life. He was a great person, not only on the football field, but [in] teaching kids about life. I think that's why a lot of these guys showed up. He meant a lot to them."
McMahon predicted plenty of laughs and humor as Edwards is eulogized over the next two days, because his fondest memories of Edwards were the times they shared laughs in the coach's office during McMahon's well-documented five Honor Code-dodging years as a Cougar.
"We had quite a few of those meetings," McMahon said, laughing. "He got calls all weekend about me, and I had to go explain myself. So we had a lot of fun on Monday afternoons. ... LaVell liked to laugh. He was pretty funny if you got to know him the way I did on Mondays."
McMahon said he might not have made it through BYU, getting his degree in 2014, if not for Edwards.
"If he could deal with me, he could deal with anybody," McMahon said. "He was a special guy. He is well-respected not only here in Utah, but all around the country and the football world."
Former BYU quarterback Robbie Bosco spoke at the service Friday night to represent Edwards' former players. Bosco, who played for Edwards for five years and coached under him for 14 more, said Edwards leaves a legacy of not only a great coach, but a great mentor and father figure to thousands.
"He taught, he loved, he administered," Bosco said. "That's LaVell Edwards in a nutshell."
Edwards' sons also spoke from a podium surrounded by flowers from the likes of Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham and his staff; Utah athletic director Chris Hill and his wife, Kathy; and Utah State University, where LaVell once played. His daughter, a Salt Lake Tribune columnist, delivered the closing prayer.
After presenting a sketch of Edwards' life, Jimmy Edwards said his father saw things in others that they didn't see in themselves.
"He valued the people over the sports," Jimmy Edwards said.
John Edwards thanked BYU for lighting the stadium that bears his father's name on the night of his death, calling the act an inspirational tribute from the school that employed the coach for 38 years.
"He had an unwavering commitment to our family," John Edwards said.
Brian Santiago BYU associate athletic director and bishop of the Mormon ward, or congregation, Edwards attended, the Oak Hills 6th Ward conducted the service and told a story of how his son, Colson Santiago, once said LaVell Edwards was a lucky man.
When asked why, the youngster replied: "Because he is named after the football stadium."
Edwards, Santiago said, "made us all feel like we were his guy."
A video montage of Edwards' career played to the audience, accompanied by music from three of his favorite country singers: Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. Edwards also enjoyed Creedence Clearwater Revival and Broadway show tunes, Jimmy Edwards said. He liked to garden, read newspapers and novels and listen to all different kinds of music.
He is survived by 14 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
"It's been perfect. It is like going 13-0; it is absolutely perfect," Holland said of the service, alluding to the 1984 national championship that BYU won with Edwards as its coach.
Then the LDS general authority noted: "Given my current position, is there any chance I can get Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash on my [funeral] program? I'm not sure that will work, but at least that's a thought. That's LaVell at his best."
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake attended the service, as did other former players, such as Vai Sikahema, Leon White, Shawn Knight, Trevor Matich, Chuck Cutler, Gary Sheide, Lee Johnson, Chad Lewis, Adam Haysbert, Roger Gourley, Ty Mattingly, Craig Christensen, Alema Fitisemanu, Justin Ena, Jim Herrmann, Scott Brumfield, Steve Lindsley and Jason Buck.
"His legacy will go on for generations and generations," Bosco said. "It is about how he treated us as human beings."
Said Holland: "LaVell was true to his faith in every setting in which I ever saw him. … With LaVell, what you saw is what you got."
He read a letter from the LDS Church First Presidency before presenting it to Patti Edwards.
Family friend Dallyn Bayles delivered a stirring rendition of one of Edwards' favorite songs, the Irish folk song "Danny Boy." Andrew Morrill played his bagpipe as the family left the proceedings.