Sunday, November 26, 2006

Faith, Plus Work, Precedes The Miracle Finish

When BYU started on their last drive with 1:19 left in yesterday's 33-31 win over archrival Utah, I told my wife that they would win. Knowing only BYU's history since we moved back to the States from Hong Kong in 1995 (and not having experienced firsthand the great years under Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and Ty Detmer), she was not so sure and left the room temporarily to do something else. She came back with nine seconds left, and I told her she needed to stay in the room--that she was about to experience history in the making. I was completely sure BYU would score and win the game at that point.

After a spike ran the clock to seven seconds, I must admit my confidence level wasn't quite 100% when the next pass was deflected and we were down to three seconds, but I still felt that I would be very, very surprised if BYU didn't pull it out. Of course they did, in what was such an incredible finish that it became ESPN's play of the day.

I believe the significance of this finish cannot be overestimated, with regard to the future of BYU football and anything that might be affected by it. Like the 1980 Holiday ("Miracle") Bowl finish, it will transcend time. Without that miracle comeback, BYU would not have won a national championship four years later.

The belief ("faith") in what BYU was capable of achieving was what drove them during the early 1980's. It also influenced BYU's future a little down the road as a non-LDS high school sophomore quarterback in Texas drew inspiration from Robbie Bosco's gutsy performance in the 1984 Holiday Bowl (which clinched the National Championship). A couple of years later, Ty Detmer committed to BYU. He won the Heisman Trophy in 1990.

The years between Robbie Bosco graduating in 1985 and Ty Detmer coming onto the scene in 1988 saw the Cougars unable to find or produce star quarterbacks. At the time, the 1986 and 1987 seasons were considered aberrations. The period after Detmer's departure in 1991 until this year confirmed that mediocre quarterback play had become the rule rather than the exception. Questions arose as to the capability and/or suitability of Norm Chow as offensive coordinator.

Since leaving BYU, Chow has certainly proven his capability when working with great talent, akin to Phil Jackson with Michael Jordan or Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. But there were valid reasons for him not being considered to succeed LaVell Edwards as head coach, and many of those reasons were also directly related to BYU's lack of sustained success. As the reasons for Chow's unsuitability have been chronicled elsewhere and by multiple writers, I will not reiterate them.

Regardless of the reasons, BYU's legacy of success had been squandered. No longer did BYU have quarterbacks or teams that could do the highly improbable, until now.

Why was I quite confident that they would pull off the miracle finish? And what was the difference between this year and last year, when Beck likely could have won the game against Utah in regulation, or at least tied it in overtime?

The elements of BYU's dramatic finish have been some time in the making. Credit goes partly to Gary Crowton. He hired people--when he was allowed to; his hands were somewhat tied for the first couple of years--that better suited BYU and Polynesian recruits, who are certainly a boost to the Cougars' success.

Most of the credit, however, goes to Bronco Mendenhall, who, of course, was one of Crowton's hires. Mendenhall has believed that BYU could win with the best BYU-type players, whether LDS or not, whereas Crowton's emphasis was on pure talent first and then suitability to BYU second, which turned out to be a disaster from the dual viewpoints of BYU's image and recruits lost to dismissal.

Mendenhall not only went with the talent best suited to BYU, but the discipline and execution-based emphasis he has instituted fits BYU as well. The results have not been immediate and probably could not have been anticipated to be so. But two years is frankly not too much to allow to see such a dramatic turnaround.

I was confident that BYU would pull off the miracle finish yesterday because of the incremental steps they have made both this year and last. Last year, I could see that perhaps they weren't completely there, because the belief based on the preparation was not quite sufficient. I was a little concerned this year when they didn't win the Boston College game. But the TCU game proved that they were back. In yesterday's victory, it was only a matter of looking back at what they had accomplished, and knowing that they were capable of doing it.

John Beck said, "I remember telling myself, 'John, you've prepared forever for moments like this.'" Johnny Harline, who made the winning catch, said, "Everyone on the sideline kept telling each other, 'We're going to be all right.' We knew we would come back and win it." They believed. They prepared. And the result was a magic moment that will be remembered for a long, long time.

Now, can I apply this to my own life (which is almost as important as football)?

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