Last Thursday, as the Brigham Young players settled into their seats for a daily meeting, the coaches announced that it was time for yet another screening of that goldie-but-oldie game film--Southern Methodist vs. BYU at the 1980 Holiday Bowl.
Quarterback Ty Detmer, who had seen the film about a half dozen times, couldn’t believe it. At least once, sometimes twice, every season, the Cougar players were forced to watch footage of the stunning comeback victory, which saw BYU, led by quarterback Jim McMahon, overcome a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit and beat SMU, 46-45.
Detmer enjoyed it the first two or three times. But now, as screening No. 7 began, the 1990 Heisman Trophy winner decided enough was enough.
As the lights dimmed, Detmer figured he would take a quick snooze. He had done it before (sorry, Coach LaVell Edwards), mainly because he couldn’t help himself. Every day, without fail, Detmer grows tired at about 2 p.m.
“It’s about my nap time,” he said.
But try as he did, Detmer couldn’t help but watch the celebrated SMU game. It was that exciting, seventh viewing or not.
Nor could Detmer and the rest of the Cougars ignore the film’s message: No matter the deficit--in the SMU game, BYU trailed, 45-25, with less than four minutes remaining--don’t give up.
So what happens? Two days later, in a game every bit as exciting as the day’s premier college event--No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Miami--the Cougars overcame a 28-point San Diego State lead and tied the Aztecs, 52-52, with less than a minute left.
Detmer passed for 599 yards and six touchdowns. His San Diego State counterpart, David Lowery, passed for 568 yards and five touchdowns.
Aztec freshman running back Marshall Faulk, who will earn Heisman consideration next season, scored four times.
“Right now, since we’re involved in it, (the comeback) doesn’t seem all that great,” Detmer said in a telephone interview. “I don’t think we really realize how important a comeback that really was. I mean, people are coming up to me saying, ‘Hey, great game, great comeback,’ and I’m still sitting here watching the SMU game. To me, there’s nothing better.”
Barring an upset by Utah Saturday, the Western Athletic Conference championship and the automatic Holiday Bowl bid are BYU’s. Of course, had BYU converted a two-point try against the Aztecs instead of settling for a tying extra point, everyone would have been spared the embarrassment of the postgame ceremony. That’s when BYU was crowned WAC champion and formally invited to the San Diego-based Holiday Bowl.
As it turned out, the invitation was premature.
“I agreed with going for the tie,” Detmer said. “I figured all along that’s what we’d do.”
Add Detmer: In truth, he never had much of a chance to win a second consecutive Heisman Trophy. A regular-season-ending loss to Hawaii, followed by a Holiday Bowl mauling by Texas A&M; in 1990, created a media backlash. Then, in 1991, BYU opened its season with defeats by Florida State, UCLA and Penn State. In no time at all, Detmer became a non-candidate.
“As for repeating, I never thought much about that,” Detmer said. “I knew we would have a young team. Plus, we lost the last two (games). I felt like we had to go undefeated and win the national championship in order (for me) to win it again. It would take a miracle to get half the voters to vote for me again.”
Yet, by his own evaluation, Detmer said he is playing better this season than he did in 1990. “I’m more in control of what’s going on,” he said. “I’m being a better leader.”
Detmer has a point. His pass efficiency ratings are up from a season ago--164.9 in 1991 (No. 2 in the nation), after finishing with 159.7 in 1990. His interceptions are down, from 24 in ’90 to 10 with a game to go this season. And at last look, Detmer led the country in total offense.
As for the rest of his numbers, last season Detmer had more completions (339 vs. 231), more attempts (517 vs. 374), more yards (4,869 vs. 3,653) and more touchdown passes (38 vs. 30) than he has with a game to go in 1991.
So Detmer won’t win another Heisman. However, he will leave with at least 62 NCAA records and one stiff-arming statuette to call his own. And if BYU’s schedule had been reversed, with the Cougars facing Florida State, UCLA and Penn State at the end of the season rather than at the beginning when the BYU offensive line was in a state of disarray, who knows what might have happened?
Center Ed Cunningham of No. 2-ranked Washington had his own opinion about the bowl selection process, particularly Miami’s decision to play in the Orange Bowl, where the Hurricanes will face the Big Eight champion, rather than go to the Sugar Bowl, where No. 5 Florida awaits.
Said Cunningham to the Tacoma News Tribune: “If Miami does not go out and play the highest-ranked opponent in another bowl, I don’t respect them right off the bat. If they don’t play Florida in the Sugar Bowl, they’d be wimping out. I can’t use bad words in the newspaper, but I don’t think they have the testosterone level they need right now. And I think we all know where testosterone comes from.”
It is a noble thought, but Cunningham needs to wake up and smell the paychecks. Miami’s Orange Bowl pick was easy. The Orange pays $4.2 million, compared to $3.6 million the Sugar provides. For all intents and purposes, it’s another home game for the Hurricanes, who play their regular-season games in the same stadium. It also helps their valued in-state recruiting, and it gives them the best chance to win a national championship.
One other thing: Miami probably wouldn’t have played the lower-ranked Gators unless Florida agreed to return Miami to its annual schedule. The 49-game-old rivalry ended after the 1987 season when the Gators cited scheduling difficulties. Don’t be fooled: The Hurricanes had beaten Florida five of eight times in the 1980s.
Say what you will about the quality of the Western Athletic Conference, but we dare you to find a single conference game that features better offensive players than Detmer, Lowery, Aztec receiver Patrick Rowe, the amazing Faulk and BYU freshman running back Jamal Willis. Faulk, you know about, but Willis will receive his share of attention before his career is complete. Against San Diego State, he rushed for 66 yards and one touchdown and caught passes for 163 yards and two scores. . . . Detmer needed 20 stitches to close a cut over his left eye Saturday. Against Miami last year, he needed about eight stitches to fix a gash on his chin. Any more needlepoint and they might start calling him “Scarface.” “Yeah, it’s a good thing I’m already married or I wouldn’t get a wife,” he said. . . . Washington State Coach Mike Price has done smarter things than publicly reveal his vote in the weekly USA Today/CNN coaches’ poll. Price told reporters that he voted Miami No. 1 this week, which is OK, except that the Cougars play No. 2-ranked Washington Saturday. . . . When it came time for the WAC to select conference players of the week, officials chose Detmer and Lowery. “We don’t know how to break a tie,” BYU sports information director Ralph Zobell said.
Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz finally put an end to the rumors about his imminent departure to coach the Minnesota Vikings. Minutes after the Irish were whipped, 35-13, by Penn State last Saturday, Holtz announced, without prompting: “I hate to disappoint the Notre Dame people, but I’m going to be at Notre Dame next year.”
A day later, when Notre Dame accepted its invitation to go to the Sugar Bowl, Holtz reaffirmed his surprise decision.
“I don’t plan on coaching anyplace else, and you can put that sucker in granite.”
Entering its Nov. 9 game against Tennessee, Notre Dame was 8-1 and ranked No. 5. Now, after losses to the Volunteers and Penn State and allowing 70 points in those two games, Notre Dame is 8-3 and ranked a disappointing 17th.
When the NCAA reduced the width of the goal posts, from 23 feet 4 inches to 18 feet 6 inches, guess who voiced his objections? None other than Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden, who, as fate and the rule change would have it, watched his Seminoles lose to Miami, 17-16, when kicker Gerry Thomas missed a 34-yard attempt by inches. “Most coaches weren’t in favor of (the change),” Bowden said. Florida State kickers have missed eight extra points this season, as well as three of 17 field goal attempts. The three misses were from 34 yards or less. . . .
Bowden on the possibility of deleting Miami, which has beaten the Seminoles nine of the last 12 games, from Florida State’s schedule: “I would never instigate dropping Miami. But it is tough playing both of them (Miami and Florida). No conference championship in this nation is harder to win than the state championship of Florida.” . . . And this from Bowden on the supposed curse of the Hurricanes: “I think the curse is that they’re on my schedule. They’re going to chisel on my tombstone, “But That He Played Miami. . . .” Still no word on the fate of Ohio State Coach John Cooper. The Buckeyes are 8-2 and ranked No. 18, but Cooper has yet to beat archrival Michigan in three tries. A fourth loss to the Wolverines--the teams play in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday--could force a change. “It’s pressure,” he said. “Absolutely, it’s pressure. I feel pressure every game. You can’t get any more pressure involved in a big game than what we have this week going into Ann Arbor.”
As selected by staff writer Gene Wojciechowski
No. Team Record 1. Miami 9-0 2. Washington 10-0 3. Florida State 10-1 4. Michigan 9-1 5. Penn State 9-2 6. Florida 9-1 7. California 9-1 8. Texas A&M; 8-1 9. Iowa 9-1 10. Alabama 9-1
Waiting list: East Carolina (9-1), Tennessee (7-2), Colorado (7-2-1), Nebraska (8-1-1), Clemson (7-1-1).