Kragthorpe: How my dad and Bronco beat BYU

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Bronco Mendenhall's memory of the last time BYU played Oregon State in football involves the Beavers defensive back who lay spread-eagle in the middle of the field, closing his eyes and reveling in the victory.

That was Mendenhall.

My lasting image of that November afternoon in 1986 revolves around the OSU fan who was sitting in the ninth row of then-Cougar Stadium and, every time the Beavers made a big play, would run down the steps and climb onto the railing.

That was me.

This will be a popular subject in advance of the Las Vegas Bowl, with Mendenhall's BYU team opposing his old school. I'm assuming everyone else's working theme is the same as mine: How Kurt's Dad and Bronco Beat BYU.

"I didn't know I was playing against [Mendenhall] then," former BYU quarterback Bob Jensen said this week. "Since then, I've put two and two together."

Even though the Cougars won eight games and went bowling, that's basically a season BYU fans refuse to acknowledge ever taking place, falling between the quarterbacking eras of Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer.

Meanwhile, Dave Kragthorpe brought a 2-7 team to Provo, with Mendenhall playing strong safety as a junior who came to OSU from American Fork High School via Snow College.

It was a very meaningful game to Mendenhall, who made five tackles that day after being rejected by the Cougars both times he was recruitable. "I had felt passed over," he said this week. "My dad played for BYU. My brother played for BYU."

Mendenhall has said repeatedly in recent years the only reason he chose OSU was that BYU was on the schedule.

Dave Kragthorpe: "I don't remember that coming up when I recruited him, but if Bronco says it, it's true."

OSU took a 10-7 lead into the fourth quarter. That's when BYU replaced Steve Lindsley with Jensen, who had played only in mop-up situations.

"I realized there was a big difference when they put you when it really mattered," Jensen said.

When a fourth-down pass fell incomplete, Jensen recalls "thinking the world had come to an end."

Mendenhall invested so much emotion in that game that as he walked off the field, he remembers wondering, "Now what?"

Jensen, who married a sister of Cougar quarterbacks coach Brandon Doman, once talked to Mendenhall during a reunion of former BYU players. Some 20 years later, "He was pretty excited about the win," Jensen said. "It was some vindication for him."

It also created an interesting dynamic for me regarding Mendenhall. In a way, he will always be No. 13, instrumental in one of the best days of my life. Yet the bond breaks there, because it is not as if Mendenhall cites my father as any major influence. I've never heard him mention Dave Kragthorpe, in fact -- which is just as well. There's nothing awkward about me covering Mendenhall, certainly.

And I recognize that if the Beavers went 5-17 in Mendenhall's two seasons, winning one Pac-10 game. What was he supposed to do? Say how well-coached his teams were?

We do share this belief: From those OSU experiences, we both understand, as Mendenhall said this week, "how difficult it is to win football games. They should be valued and treasured."

For me, that was never truer than Nov. 15, 1986, the day Bronco helped my dad finish 1-0 lifetime against LaVell Edwards. How many coaches' kids can say that?