Ten things Bronco fans probably didn't know about BYU or their righteous roost
10) Provo, Utah—the home of Brigham Young University—was discovered by a missionary...but not one of the Dockers and starched dress-shirt variety. A Spanish Franciscan missionary named Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante probably stumbled onto the area right around the time that America was born. It wasn't till about 75 years later when 33 Mormon families from Salt Lake established Fort Utah where Provo stands today. Just a year later, the settlement was renamed "Provo" in honor of French Canadian fur trader Étienne Provost—widely believed to be the first man of European descent to behold the Great Salt Lake in all its salty glory. Later that year, the Battle of Fort Utah occurred...which is not an entirely pleasant story, so I'll let you read about that here.
"And before me I beheld a great lake, and its savor was as salt"
9) BYU's roots go back all the way to 1862, when a guy named Warren Dusenberry started a little school in Provo. 13 years later, LDS church president Brigham Young personally purchased a building known as the Lewis building with the intent to make an academy for the children of the church members. Young felt that institutions of higher-learning at the time were filled with too many godless hippies and said as much about his hopes for the new school:
I hope to see an Academy established in Provo... at which the children of the Latter-day Saints can receive a good education unmixed with the pernicious atheistic influences that are found in so many of the higher schools of the country
Pernicious?! How dare you not tell me what that word means!
Classes at the new Brigham Young Academy commenced in January of 1876 and Young gave Dusenberry the job of interim principal until his hand-picked headman—a German immigrant named Karl Maeser arrived and mustached it UP. The LDS church became the school's official sponsor in 1896 and the school grew big enough to get the "university" tag in 1903.
8) Records of BYU's football exploits only go back to 1922, though it's clear they played before that in some capacity. For example, here's a picture of their 1896 squad (Brigham Young Academy) that won the regional championship in 1896. Sadly, the team only had one amazing mustache, but any disappointment will quickly disappear when you see the guy in the bowler cap and cape on the far right that apparently swung by the portrait studio on his way to the opera.
"Hurry up, gents...I'm missing Fidelio at the Provo Little Theatre."
7) Alright...back to 1922. BYU's first season of big-boy football came in 1922 when they put together a less-than-stellar 1-5-1 season under head coach Alvin "Twitchy" Twitchell. The fighting Twitchells only managed to muster 23 points in 7 games that year and surrendered 197. In fact, Twitchell never saw a winning season in his 3 years at the helm...that is, unless he ventured over to nearby Logan to watch Dick Romney's Utah State squads (yeah, same Romney). It wasn't until 1929 that BYU finally recorded a winning season, now with Dick Romney's brother Ott at the helm (yeah, same Romney). Ottinger "Ott" Romney had come to BYU from Montana State, where his roughly .500 win percentage was actually attractive to the perennially losing BYU powers-that-be. Romney did just okay in his 9 years with the program—leaving with a .571 win percentage, but that percentage was the high-water mark until 1972 when LaVell Edwards took the reins.
6) Speaking of LaVell Edwards...he's the winningest coach in BYU football history, with 257 wins, and as you'd expect, also the longest tenured coach in the school's history by at least 20 years. When Edwards arrived at BYU, the school had suffered through years of football mediocrity, but his focus on transforming the offense into that of the pass-first variety led to big changes in the team's success and perception. For instance, no one could really name a BYU QB before Edwards' tenure...now you can probably name several (Steve Young, Jim McMahon, Ty Detmer, Steve Sarkisian, etc). Edwards' squads won 19 conference championships and 1 national championship (1984). They've won just 3 since his retirement in 2000. By all accounts, Edwards was/is a great guy, but his sideline demeanor was somewhere between "bitter beer face" and Grandpa Jones from Hee Haw! A compilation:
"Let a scowl be your guide"
5) Head of Physical Education and track coach Eugene "Timp" Roberts (no relation) is generally credited with bringing the "Cougars" nickname to the football team in the 1920s. By the 1950s, the mascot was adopted by all the universities athletic squads and "Cosmo the Cougar", the costumed university mascot was born. Cosmo got his name much like the city of Provo...by way of sloppy abbreviation...this time the shortening of "cosmopolitan", which the university totally is, you guys. The current iteration of Cosmo is of a questionable ethnic background, wears the double zero jersey and can gaze directly into your soul. Make no mistake, there is something terrifying about this monstrous visage.
4) BYU's oldest and bitterest rival (seriously bitter) is the University of Utah. They've been playing annually since 1922, although BYU didn't really play all that much in the early days, losing the first 20 games in the rivalry until the Cougars finally tasted victory in 1942—one year before the rivalry was put on hold for WWII. Once things started up again after the war, BYU did NOT pick up where they'd left off and lost another 12 straight. It wasn't until the aforementioned LaVell Edwards arrived, in fact that any kind of real "rivalry" was born. Between 1972 and 2000 (the Edwards era), BYU won 22 of 29 games in the so-called "Holy War". Without the lopsided beginning to the series, things might be pretty close, but as it stands BYU trails in the series 31-53-4 (including this humorous episode just days ago). The "Holy War" moniker obviously stuck because it's easy to pick out a BYU alum by their clean-cut, by-the-book piety and the Ute alums for their hard-partying ways, right?
3) Golden-Globe nominated actor and
fearless district attorney Harvey Dent Aaron Eckhart is a BYU alum. Eckhart served a two-year church mission in France and Switzerland before enrolling at BYU-Hawaii and then BYU's main campus in Provo. He graduated with a BFA in 1994, but not before getting his first acting break in this seminary video entitled Godly Sorrow. In the film, Eckhart plays a man who ruins his marriage by breaking a picture frame in slow motion and then walking down a flight of stairs. You monster.
2) The anti LaVell Edwards in the BYU coaching tree might well be Hal Mitchell, who holds the distinction of the head coach with the worst win percentage in school history (.266). Mitchell coached the Cougars from 1961 to 1963 but never really found his groove and won just 8 out of 30 contests. Mitchell's pre-BYU career was a bit smoother sailing, as he was a standout offensive tackle at UCLA that was drafted in the 14th round of the NFL draft by the New York Giants. Mitchell played just one year in New York before moving on to smaller and worse bigger and better things. If there's a silver lining to Mitchell's career, it's that through him, LaVell Edwards got his start at the university. Mitchell was bound and determined to bring the single wing offense to Provo and Edwards was Mr. Single Wing (also my high school nickname). Mitchell flamed out, but Edwards stuck around. Lining status: silver.
1) Werner Hoeger is a BYU alum, but may have split loyalties during tonight's big game...he's also an active professor emeritus at Boise State who's been a Bronco since 1986. Hoeger has published 54 editions of Fitness & Wellness college textbooks and is one of the most widely read fitness and wellness college authors in the U.S. The best part about Hoeger is that he practices what he preaches on the fitness end of things; Hoeger (a native Venezuelan) took up the sport of luge (or "sledding, for crazy people") at 45 years of age and competed in the event in two Winter Olympics (for Venezuela) at age 48 and 52. So, if you're discouraged that you missed this year's Olympic games, you could always just wait till you're 45, take up a suicidally dangerous sport and make the Olympic team in your early 50s. Piece of cake.
The Biggest Luger.