The Mormons like to tell this one on themselves:
“How do you recognize a Latter-day Saints church?”
“It’s the one with the satellite dish outside.”
Such equipment is necessary because the networks still haven’t discovered the Brigham Young University Cougars, who a while ago made college football the second most popular religion in Utah.
Winners of 102 games in the last decade and the national championship in 1984, BYU will get a national cable audience only once this season--Sept. 8 against Miami on ESPN--and will appear on a regional basis twice--Sept. 22 against San Diego State on CBS and Sept. 29 against Oregon on ABC. Otherwise, tune in KBYU-TV, the campus station, if you’ve got a dish.
What a pity, because in the year of the quarterback, BYU may have the best.
Ty Detmer might even be the best in the history of BYU, and that is saying a mouthful because quarterbacks are to BYU what tailbacks were to USC. Since 1975, a half-dozen Cougar passers have won All-American recognition. The honor roll: Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and Detmer.
Bosco was Detmer’s favorite. Detmer saw him play against Air Force in one of those rare Cougar games that was fed into San Antonio in 1985. An all-state selection in Texas as a junior that year, Detmer already was hoping to attend a university that stressed passing.
Detmer was coached by his father, Sonny, who called BYU Coach LaVell Edwards that summer to tell him the family was taking a car trip west and would like to say hello.
“I knew Ty was a terrific athlete, but he must have weighed all of 150 pounds when he came into this office,” Edwards said recently. “His Adam’s apple was as big as his head and he looked like he was 14 years old. We had a nice talk, and then his dad said, ‘If you want us, we’re ready to give you a verbal commitment right now.’ I couldn’t believe it.
“We have a great quarterback tradition, but it isn’t that easy to recruit here. John Elway and Jeff George wouldn’t even give us a visit. Ty went back to San Antonio, played his senior year and never even visited another school.”
Today, Detmer looks 17 and resembles a lanky middleweight.
He actually is 22 and, according to the BYU media guide, packs 175 pounds on a 6-foot frame. However, his most vital statistics are the 4,560 passing yards, 32 touchdown passes and 265 completions of his first full season as a starting college quarterback.
He set 11 NCAA records and tied two. You may remember him from the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. The ball was stripped from him on the play that sealed the 50-39 victory for Penn State, but the Cougars wouldn’t have been in the same ballpark with the Nittany Lions if Detmer hadn’t thrown for a bowl-- any bowl--record 576 yards.
If he stays two more years at BYU and remains injury-free, he will shatter the school records for career yardage (9,536), completions (653) and touchdowns (84) set by McMahon from 1978 through ’81.
Already, Detmer ranks as the most popular of all the Cougar quarterbacks among the residents of this college town--population 85,000, elevation 4,553 feet, 45 miles south of Salt Lake City at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains.
During the July 4 parade, Detmer and his father rode up University Avenue in a red roadster. Two U.S. senators and various dairy princesses were in the procession, too, but only the Detmers spent most of their time shaking hands with admirers who had streamed onto the street.
After the team picture was taken on media day, Detmer stayed on the practice field two hours to sign autographs.
But it was during the 70-31 rout of crosstown rival Utah last November that he unexpectedly got to meet one of his fans up close and personal.
The star quarterback got an upset stomach during the action and asked to excuse himself. He ran to the dressing room, which was locked. Time was precious and the need pressing, so he located the nearest public restroom.
“Ty, it’s you, doggone!” a fan said as No. 14 left his stall in full uniform and strapped on his white-and-blue helmet.
It’s little wonder that Detmer loves Provo as much as it loves him. He is a hunter and fisherman who spent much of the summer catching trout in the Provo River. When he saw this year’s schedule, he was delighted that the Cougars had a bye on the opening weekend of deer hunting season. And winter means skiing at nearby Alta or Snowbird.
He is a devout Methodist whose lifestyle flourishes on a Mormon campus where tobacco, drugs, alcohol, caffeine and premarital sex are prohibited, and dress and grooming codes are enforced.
“You can be more focused on football at BYU than at other places,” he said. “Besides, I never smoke, drank or took drugs at home, so there’s nothing different about that here.”
His idea of a wild time is to leave crushed raw eggs on the apartment floor of a teammate or to place a hog’s head on the pillow of another.
In late August, many of what otherwise would have been free hours were spent talking to visiting sportswriters. Such is an obligation of a Heisman Trophy candidate. The push is on for a junior Cougar quarterback to win the Heisman for the second consecutive year. In 1989, it was Andre Ware of the University of Houston Cougars, who left school early and signed with the Detroit Lions.
In his Texas twang, Detmer politely answers all questions, addresses his interviewer as “sir,” and says he would be honored to become the first BYU quarterback to win the Heisman, although a 12-0 season is his real goal.
The closest any Cougar has come to the Heisman was Young’s runner-up finish in 1983. McMahon was third in 1981 and Bosco third in 1984 and ’85. Detmer was ninth last season.
The one constant has been Edwards, whose career winning percentage of .745 ranks third among the nation’s coaches. It surprises those unfamiliar with BYU that he is a former defensive coordinator who leaves the offense to others. He has had some notable quarterback coaches, including Ted Tollner, Mike Holmgren, Doug Scovill, Wally English, Dwayne Painter, Dewey Warren and now Norman Chow.
An influence on Edwards’ thinking when he became head coach in 1972 after 10 years as an assistant was John Ralston.
“I worked under John at Utah State and liked what he did there and at Stanford,” Edwards said. “Stanford is a private school with a lot of recruiting limitations. So are we. He showed what you can do when you’ve got a quarterback like Jim Plunkett or Don Bunce.”
Here is how Edwards, who was born in Provo 59 years ago, sees the quarterbacks who have played for him:
--Nielsen: “He didn’t have a tremendous arm, but had a great feel for the game. Not fast, but a good all-around athlete who had the hand-eye coordination of a two-handicap golfer. A thinking man’s quarterback.”
--Wilson: “You could take a picture of him and everything would be perfectly symmetrical. A tall, lanky guy who was very graceful and probably had the strongest arm of all our quarterbacks.”
--McMahon: “The epitome of pugnaciousness. A street fighter. Smart, too. He took one look at a defense and knew everything about it. He was blunt and spoke out, but I never had any problems with him.”
--Young: “One of the most exciting athletes you’ll ever see. Talk about explosiveness. And what an athlete. He could have been a running back, a defensive back or a wide receiver.”
--Bosco: “He was like a coach on the field. And he is a coach here now, working with our quarterbacks. Good touch on the ball and tremendously accurate. Great at the last-minute drive and didn’t throw many interceptions.”
It took only a week of freshmen practice for Edwards to see that Detmer would uphold the BYU tradition.
Edwards points to his head. “That’s something all the quarterbacks have had in common,” he said. “They’re smart and poised and have leadership ability. You could tell with Ty, the way the players reacted to him at the very first.
“Coming out of high school, he and McMahon were probably the most ready. You look at Ty and worry about him getting banged around, but he’s strong in a wiry sort of way. He’s never been hurt, knock on wood. He’s taken some hard shots, but he’s very resilient.”
And Detmer’s 17.2-yard average per completion last year was an NCAA record.
“We’re a high-percentage team,” Edwards said. “When we’re doing things right, we don’t turn the ball over. We’ll go deep on occasion, but we’ll never be confused with, say, the Raiders. Ty knows when to throw the ball, which is as important as knowing where to throw it. Most quarterbacks tend to wait too long. Ty makes the right decisions.”
Detmer insists that he will not opt for the NFL draft early. Of course, Ware said the same thing after winning the Heisman and before being picked in the first round by the Lions.
“I came here and promised the school that I would stay five years,” said Detmer, who was redshirted as a freshman. “I intend to live up to that obligation and to get my degree.”
He is a wildlife management major and says he probably will follow his father into coaching--that, of course, after a career in the NFL.
“I don’t have the strongest arm and I’m not big, but that shouldn’t stop me,” he said. “Look at Joe Montana. He’s not that big, either, and he doesn’t have a shotgun.”
On Saturdays in Provo, Detmer assumes mythical proportions at Cougar Stadium, whose 65,000 seats already have been sold out for the season.
As usual, BYU should win the Western Athletic Conference title and advance to the Holiday Bowl. Most of the offense that ranked second nationally in yardage and fourth in scoring average returns.
Among Detmer’s blockers is Mike Jenkins, a 6-foot-8, 380-pound tackle. He is playing second string. If Jenkins could only get down to 320, the coaches say, he probably would be a starter.
Edwards, the old defensive coordinator, is more worried about how the Cougars will perform on that side of the scrimmage line. “Most great teams have great defenses,” he said.
But look for the Cougars to be near the top of the national rankings if the Heisman Trophy race ends in a Ty.
OTHER QUARTERBACKS TO WATCH CRAIG ERICKSON School: Miami (Fla.); Year: Senior Height: 6-2; Weight: 200 1989 Statistics: Att.: 273; Cmp.: 147; Yards: 2,007; TD: 16; Int: 13 Career Statistics Att.: 359; Cmp.: 195; Yards: 2,693; TD: 24; Int: 15 DARIAN HAGAN School: Colorado; Year: Junior Height: 5-10; Weight: l85 1989 Statistics Passing Att.: 85; Cmp.: 48; Yards: 1,002; TD: 4; Int: 4 Rushing: Carries: 186; Yards: 1,004; Ave.: 5.4;TD: 17 Career Statistics Passing Att.: 110; Cmp.: 55; Yards: 1,103; TD: 4; Int: 8 Rushing Carries: 235; Yards: 1,256; Ave.: 5.3; TD: 19 PAUL JUSTIN School: Arizona State; Year: Senior Height: 6-5; Weight: 210 1989 Statistics Att.: 314; Cmp.: 183; Yards: 2,591; TD: 17; Int: 10 Career Statistics Att.: 500; Cmp.: 287; Yards: 3,885; TD: 24; Int: 16 TODD MARINOVICH School: USC; Year: Sophomore Height: 6-4; Weight: 210 1989 Statistics Att.: 352; Cmp.: 219; Yards: 2,578; TD: 16; Int: 13 DAN McGWIRE School: San Diego St.; Year: Senior Height: 6-8; Weight: 240 1989 Statistics Att.: 440; Cmp.: 258; Yards: 3,651; TD: 16; Int: 19 Career Statistics Att.: 524; Cmp.: 205; Yards: 4,331; TD: 22; Int: 23