This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 1994, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
They hardly seemed that special at the beginning of the season. Talented? Sure. But contemplating anything beyond winning their conference was, well, a little silly. The coach called it a rebuilding year. Few disagreed.
``To tell you the truth, we didn't know what we had,'' the quarterback acknowledges.
As it turned out, the 1984 Brigham Young football team had plenty. Combining skill, athleticism, guts, good health and a few breaks, the Cougars went 13-0 and scaled the college football summit.
Ten years later, the words ``National Champions'' still resonate for anyone who bleeds blue. No BYU team -- nor any team from Utah nor the Western Athletic Conference, for that matter -- had ever won a national title. Nobody has come close since.
Oddly, some Cougar observers do not consider the '84 team BYU's best. The '83 squad was an offensive powerhouse that featured quarterback Steve Young and tight end Gordon Hudson. The '85 Cougars were a defensive force anchored by tackles Jason Buck and Shawn Knight.
The '84 team?
``A bunch of no-names,'' says coach LaVell Edwards.
That was certainly the case at the start. The quarterback -- Robbie Bosco -- was new. So were the running backs (Lakei Heimuli, Robert Parker and Kelly Smith) and receivers (Adam Haysbert and tight end David Mills). However, there was also a solid veteran core: wideout Glen Kozlowski, center Trevor Matich, guard Craig Garrick, defensive tackle Larry Hamilton, defensive end Jim Hermann, linebacker Leon White and defensive backs Steve Haymond and Kyle Morrell, among others.
Together, this group forged something completely different. Together, it became the greatest BYU team of all.
``There was a chemistry on that team that sets it apart from any other I've been on, at any level,'' says Matich, in his 10th NFL season, with Washington. ``Sometimes, teams just don't jell, on or off the field. With that team, it flowed from the start, and it grew as the season went on.''
``Everybody was close,'' adds Bosco, a BYU assistant coach. ``The togetherness might have made us just a little bit better.''
Chemistry Class: The Cougars' chemistry was put to the test early.
BYU traveled to Pitt for its season
opener. The Panthers, loaded with future NFL stars such as tackle Bill Fralic and defensive end Chris Doleman, were ranked third in the nation. With just four starters back on on offense and the heart ripped out of the defense because of linebacker Todd Shell's graduation, the Cougars were a hefty underdog. Adding to the visitors' jitters: The game was ESPN's first live national college football telecast.
``All we heard when we got there was they were going to wipe us off the field,'' recalls Haysbert, now a Philadelphia minister. ``The media compared us to a high school team. Nobody gave us a chance.''
``I was nervous,'' says Heimuli, who works for a local sporting goods firm. ``I was so nervous I forgot all my assignments. But once I got hit, it all came back.''
Bosco could not say the same. He endured a miserable first half, then had a third-quarter pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Things got so bad, Edwards finally pulled him aside to calm him down. ``He told me not to worry, to keep my head up,'' Bosco remembers. ``He said I was his quarterback, no matter what. That really helped.''
While Bosco steadied himself, the Cougar defense stuffed the Panthers. BYU's defenders pitched a shutout in the first quarter, despite being on the field for 13 minutes. They preserved it at the end of the half with a goal-line stand. Sparked by the interception, Pitt's offense finally got going and the Panthers grabbed a 14-12 lead. But by the final quarter, Bosco had also found his bearings. His 50-yard touchdown pass to Haysbert with 1:37 left gave BYU its stunning 20-14 victory.
The Panthers never recovered, finishing 4-7 that season. But the Cougars were just getting going.
Some started thinking about an undefeated season.
``Nobody said anything, but you could see it on everybody's face,'' says Matich. ``I was sure thinking about it. It was almost like the goal was set. There was a tacit understanding that we couldn't afford a single loss.''
BYU rolled in the next two weeks, hammering Baylor (47-13) and Tulsa (38-15). Plenty more blowouts would follow.
Close Calls: The nailbiters, however, defined BYU's championship season. Four times, the Cougars trailed in the second half and rallied to win.
``They never quit,'' says Edwards. ``They always found a way to get it done at the end. Bosco, Kozlowski and Morrell were just mentally tough guys. And that attitude ran through the whole team.''
The litmus test came on Sept. 22 in Honolulu. With Hawaii threatening inside the BYU 1-yard line on third down, Morrell darted toward the middle, anticipated the snap count perfectly and went airborn to meet diving Hawaii quarterback Raphael Cherry head on. The dramatic stop forced the Rainbows to settle for a field goal and a 13-12 lead. One series later, Bosco found Kozlowski on a 25-yard scoring pass for an 18-13 victory.
``They only had six inches to go, so Kyle felt like he had nothing to lose,'' says Haymond, a controller for a Salt Lake building contractor. ``Without that win, we were toast.''
It was no fluke, either. BYU's defense allowed just over two touchdowns per game for the season. And when it occasionally faltered, the offense was there to help.
``We always picked each other up,'' says Bosco. ``We never had a game where everybody played poorly.''
Luck Helps: As BYU alternately bludgeoned and squeaked past opponents, a funny thing started happening: Teams in front of the Cougars in the Associated Press and United Press International polls began losing.
By late October, BYU had crept to No. 4 in the AP poll. After a 34-3 victory over San Diego State on Nov. 10, the Cougars climbed to third, thanks to losses by No. 1 Washington (to USC) and No. 2 Texas (to Houston).
A week later, it happened again. On the same day the Cougars struggled to a 24-14 victory at Utah, top-ranked Nebraska fell to Oklahoma and second-ranked South Carolina tumbled against Navy. On Nov. 20, BYU was voted No. 1 in both polls.
``We got some breaks and it all fell into place,'' says Edwards. ``After Nebraska and South Carolina lost, they had no option but to put us [No. 1]. When it got down to the nitty gritty, we were the only team without a loss.''
Edwards had avoided talking about the national championship, but finally addressed it the day the No. 1 vote was announced.
``Coach Edwards told us it was up to us,'' recalls Bosco. ``He told us our destiny was in our hands.''
End Game: By late November, the Cougars' critics were pumping up the volume. They lambasted BYU's league and its schedule. Twelve games against ``Bo Diddley Tech,'' sniffed ``Today'' host Bryant Gumbel.
The catcalls got louder when the Holiday Bowl lined up 6-5 Michigan for its first and only national championship game. BYU had hoped for a more prominent foe. But most were either locked into other bowls, or opted for a bigger payday elsehwere.
On paper, the Wolverines were a top five team. Injuries torpedoed their season, but Bo Schembechler's team was healthy again by postseason.
``They were all 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds with 2 percent body fat,'' says Haymond. ``Then there we were. On a scale of 1-10, they were probably a 9 1/2 and we were about a seven. But they didn't control the line of scrimmage and they didn't outhit us.''
No, they didn't. But the Cougars were hampered by enough problems to make it a moot point. Bosco suffered a knee injury early in the first quarter and didn't return again until the second. With the BYU QB still hobbling, the Cougars went to the shotgun offense. They led 10-7 at the half, but were kicking themselves for blown opportunities.
BYU trailed 14-10 going into the final period. But the Cougars never lost hope.
``We all looked into Robbie's eyes, and he said, `We can do it guys,' '' Heimuli remembers. ``And we really believed we could. That helped us in close games.''
The Cougars tied the game when Bosco hit Kozlowski with a seven-yard touchdown pass with 10:51 left. They took a 24-17 lead when Smith hauled in a 13-yard Bosco scoring pass with just 1:23 remaining.
As the clock ticked down, the Cougars felt elation. ``I was so happy I was weeping,'' says Haysbert.
And something else.
``Relief,'' says Bosco. ``It was a long, hard season. We went from being a young, unknown team to No. 1. With all the media around us in the final weeks, it was a circus. I'll never forget the win. But it was a relief to get it over with.''