Game-Day Reflections of a Blue Blood - Y Magazine
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After All

Game-Day Reflections of a Blue Blood

College Fans in the stands

Shoulder to shoulder, row upon row, and year after year, thousands of Cougar faithful are brought together by BYU football.

By Mary Lynn Johnson, ’91

It’s 5 p.m. on game day, and there’s way too much traffic on the BYU diagonal. I feel sorry for the few who are not headed for the stadium but must crawl through this congestion anyway. I pity the orange-vested traffic guys who have to stand in the intersections and wave their arms for hours to manage the invading vehicles. They will also have to herd the hordes who come stampeding out of the stadium after the game.

Being a BYU fan in possession of game tickets, I am a most benevolent person. With my radio tuned to the KSL pregame show, I could sit calmly at these intersections for ages. But woe unto the owner of the minivan who nabs the final space in the parking lot and forces me to go scavenging through neighborhoods for a piece of open curb. (And blessings upon the local homeowners, who let us overrun their streets every fall!)

Of course, lines are part of the package, and the crowd itself can be half the delight. Exuberant boys in baseball caps run light-footed through the masses, racing to the gates of the stadium. Retired couples walk more sedately, laden with stadium chairs and binoculars. Some students have painted their faces white and blue, and they are already making more noise than the rest of us. People cluster around the cougar statue, waiting for their friends or families. There is always at least one fan pacing the sidewalk with his arm in the air, trying to sell an extra ticket.

I remember waiting in predawn lines at the Marriott Center to buy my first BYU football tickets. We gathered a good-sized segment of our freshman ward, wrapped ourselves in sweatshirts and blankets, and trekked bleary-eyed from our dorm rooms to make sure we’d be seated near each other. We came to campus the year after BYU‘s 1984 national-championship season, and none of us was about to miss a single home game.

There’s something magical about hearing the whistles live. Watching yellow flags fly and then trying to read the referee’s motions before the loudspeaker broadcasts the penalty. Enjoying game-time antics and half-time performances from the Cougar Marching Band and cheer squads. Hearing the announcer’s voice echo across the stadium in sweet September air, when the mountains are wearing their first patches of orange and the sky is so vibrantly blue that victory seems inevitable. Rising and shouting with 65,000 others in roars of wild joy, disappointment, loyalty, and pride. Play by play by play by play.

Back in 1920, when football was reinstated on campus after a 20-year hiatus, the class of ’22 started a stadium fund, believing, as student body president A. Ray Olpin wrote to university president Franklin Harris, that BYU needed “the greatest institution in unifying college life–namely, a stadium” (Ernest L. Wilkinson, ed. Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years [Provo:BYU Press, 1975], 2:320).

They had the right idea. Whether you love intercollegiate sports or deplore them, you can’t deny that athletics are a major force in unifying the past and present children of Alma Mater. And of course the unity extends far outside the circle of the stadium. Team spirit turns a stranger wearing headphones into a friend who gives you updates and scores as you sit on the sidelines at a child’s soccer game. Team spirit can transform a few barely acquainted ward members into a band of buddies who watch all televised BYU games together. Team spirit even casts a generous light on the traffic that jams Provo streets on game days. And real team spirit keeps us unified through change and defeat and redesigned uniforms.

And there will always be golden moments. I was there when BYU shattered Miami’s No. 1 ranking. I remember how good it felt to spank Notre Dame on their home turf. I vividly remember a run by Kalin L. Hall, ’96, that was so beautiful it took my breath away. And I will always remember Coach R. LaVell Edwards, ’78, in his typical game posture, jaw set and arms folded.

With Coach D. Gary Crowton, ’83, now leading the team, the plays may look different, but most things haven’t changed. New freshmen will always wait eagerly for football tickets. There will never, ever be enough parking for anything at BYU. And there will always be players in blue whose feats can unify 65,000 hearts and voices on a Saturday afternoon.

Mary Lynn Johnson, ’91, is a homemaker and former associate editor of BYU Magazine.