Times Staff Writer

Some day, Chuck Cutler may sit in his living room, lean back in his easy chair, and recount his days as a Brigham Young football player to grandchildren pretending to hang on his every word.

He can tell them of the first time he strapped on that white helmet with the “Y” on the side. Of how he worked hard to impress the BYU coaches and earn a scholarship after returning from a Mormon mission to Ecuador. Of how he was the receiver on BYU’s first touchdown in his first game as a Cougar. Ah, the memories.

Uh, about those memories. A few of them could be a little sketchy. Some may be forever locked in the dark recesses of a Bermuda Triangle of the mind.


Join us now as Chuck Cutler, an ordinary wide receiver, takes a two-week journey to . . . the Twilight Zone.

It began in BYU’s Western Athletic Conference game against Air Force Dec. 6 at Colorado Springs. Cutler, a sophomore who redshirted last season after returning from Ecuador, took his familiar place on the sideline, watching senior Mark Bellini start at wide receiver. Cutler had played behind Bellini all season. Bellini had job security. He is the Cougars’ leading receiver and the fastest player on the team. Cutler was a faithful understudy, anxiously awaiting any playing opportunities he received.

One came along in the second quarter against Air Force. Cutler caught a pass for a seven-yard gain. It was only his second reception of the season. His third came in the third quarter, a sideline route for a four-yard gain to the BYU 23. On that play, Cutler met Air Force defensive back Tom Rotello. It was a rather violent meeting. Cutler had to be helped to the BYU bench when it was over.

BYU trainer George Curtis treated Cutler on the sideline and would later sit next to him on the Cougars’ return trip to Provo.

“He kept asking the same questions,” Curtis said. “He kept asking if we had won the WAC. (The Cougars had lost the WAC title the week before by losing to San Diego State, 10-3).

“When that happens, you can either appease him with the same answers, or you can do what I did and have some fun with it. He asked me who we had played and I said, ‘Provo High.’ ”

Cutler had suffered a concussion, and the dizzy, where-am-I feelings that come with such a malady. Concussions are hardly an uncommon football occurrence. And, in some cases, they are accompanied by some temporary memory loss or a case of the fuzzies. But this was Cobweb City.

This was amnesia. The two weeks leading up to the Air Force game are still a blur to Cutler, and there’s a good chance they may never come back completely into focus.

Dr. Marc Udall, BYU’s team physician, said amnesia is not unusual in cases such as Cutler’s. “It happens quite commonly,” Udall said, “but his is a little more pronounced. Sometimes it takes a while to get the memory back . . . sometimes days, sometimes weeks. Some of it doesn’t come back at all.”

The victim says his teammates now call him Rip VanCutler. It’s easy to laugh about it now, he said, but the injury did make for some uneasy moments. Cutler said his mother was so alarmed that she suggested he give up football. He has since convinced her that it’s safe to return to the field. He’ll be back in uniform when BYU meets UCLA in the Freedom Bowl at Anaheim Stadium next Tuesday. But that two-week void in his life was a little scary for him, too.

“I started making sense on Sunday afternoon,” Cutler said. “But it wasn’t until Wednesday that I started feeling good. I just stayed around home Monday and Tuesday. Mostly, it was frustrating because I felt OK physically, but I knew I was slow. I didn’t like to speak with people because I couldn’t remember past conversations with them. It was an odd feeling.”

All of this was quite distressing to Michelle Maxfield, another BYU student. One week before the Air Force game, Cutler had made it official. He and Maxfield would walk down the aisle next June. The couple had dated for about a year and a half. It was time to start shopping for diamonds. It would be a big wedding.

But first, the blushing bride-to-be had to remind Cutler that she was a blushing bride-to-be. It seems Cutler’s engagement was one of the items jarred from his memory banks. Oh, he remembered Michelle and their relationship. But the fact that wedding bells would be ringing was lost when Cutler had his bell unceremoniously rung.

“We had spoken with her parents and my parents and told them we were going to get married next summer,” Cutler said. “But I didn’t remember any of that. It was kind of a touchy situation for a while.

“After I started coming around, she let me know that we were getting married on June 12. She said, ‘I can understand your forgetting that, but I might have been a little upset if you had forgotten who I was.’ ”

There was also the little matter of final exams, which were scheduled for the week after the Air Force game. Cutler, no slouch in the classroom, had to explain to his instructors how he had forgotten two weeks worth of lectures and readings in a matter of seconds. The business major went to campus armed with a letter of explanation from Dr. Udall, and the knowledge that his father had spoken to his instructors by phone to inform them of his son’s injury.

“I didn’t even have to show them the letter,” Cutler said. “I had been doing well in my classes, so they knew I wasn’t trying to put a quick one over on them. Some of them gave me an incomplete and told me I could make it up. Others just went ahead and gave me a grade.”

It helped that the Air Force game was nationally televised. “Most of them saw the game and saw the hit, so they were pretty understanding about it.”

So that was Chuck Cutler’s visit to Cobweb City. He’s glad he can look back at the whole incident now and chuckle. Besides, it’ll give him something else to tell the grandchildren.

“It’s been quite an experience,” he said, “something I won’t forget.”