And all Saints [who obey these commandments] shall run and not be weary and shall walk and not faint.
—Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon-church, describing God's promise to him, made by divine revelation, if the Mormons would observe a moderate, wholesome diet and abstain from tobacco, wine, strong or even hot drinks.
We find within us the disposition to 'fun and frolic,' which, under certain conditions and circumstances, it becomes necessary to gratify, in order to insure perfect health and harmonious working of the whole human organism. The intelligent parent and school teacher are not ignorant of the fact that the body and mind of the child can be perfectly ruined by constant application to study and being denied the necessary leisure for physical recreations and exercises, and thousands, through the same cause, have become certified lunatics.
—Brigham Young, Mormon president and leader of the Utah pioneers, in a sermon delivered 11 years before the founding of the school that would bear his name.
December 8, 1980
The only possible way to understand the big picture is to look at it this way: there's a vast invisible superdome covering all of Brigham Young University's 646 acres, and the dome is pumped full of goodness. One may come and go freely—which is maybe the main advantage of an invisible dome—but there's a vague feeling about the place that if you were to suddenly wheel and look up over your shoulder, you might glimpse a greatly magnified celestial eye looking at you. This isn't necessarily a frightening prospect to anyone on the campus, Mormon or not. At BYU, the eye is always benign. These days, it twinkles.
Well, no wonder. Brigham Young is a jewel of a college tucked away at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains in Provo, Utah, 45 miles south of Salt Lake City. This is a set designer's campus: at 4,600 feet, under a flawless sky, the air always freshly laundered and crisped up. Everything fits—the boys are stouthearted, the girls wholesome, walking through life with what novelists used to call "long, cleanlimbed strides." It's enough to shake a cynical heart during an age in which everybody knows that purity gets you no points and nothing is as swell as it seems. But then, just when that reality starts to sink in, the bells jar you from such tawdry thoughts. Starting at 6 a.m. and repeating every hour, the tower on the upper campus peals forth with the first four bars of Come, Come Ye Saints, the Mormon signature hymn.
The hymm is a call to study. When the first of the bright-faced students appear on their way to 7 a.m. classes, there is a momentary impulse to leap upon one, wrestle him or her to the ground and check for a Mattel trademark just behind one ear, or perhaps a telltale inflation valve just where the umbilicus should be. Ah hah! Just as we suspected, not a one of you is real! You're all BYU props. Hundreds of Donnys and Maries.... But they're not; they're all too real. And there in the dawn comes one final realization: this 'isn't sophisticated suburbia. Brigham Young may be the only college in America where the girls going to morning classes trail the aroma of Dial soap.
Maybe 95% of these students are Mormons. More officially, they're members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the LDS Church, which has a membership of 4.6 million worldwide. The members are usually called Mormons and occasionally Saints—which BYU students find mildly amusing in this day and age. LDSers frequently call each other Brother and Sister, and they figure that anybody who isn't a Mormon is a Gentile, Jews included, which is confusing to the rest of us but maybe simpler, too. The Mormons took a lot of flak in the mid-1800s; some early critics and cartoonists insisted that all Mormons had horns, and a lot of folks believed it. The Mormons finally fled west by wagon train and found their own Zion in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. "This is the place," said Brigham Young upon arriving at the mouth of Immigration Canyon, seeing the desert and lake spread out below him. And now this is the school—at last.
The point is that the Mormons got what they wanted. The mood on campus today is pretty much the way it is by plan—the successive administrations since 1875 have made sure of that. And if there's an air of goodness all around, well, by God, that is precisely what Young demanded. "Neither the alphabet nor the multiplication tables are to be taught without the word of God," he thundered—and Young was a man who could, and often did, thunder at his flock. He was 5'10" and 44 inches around the chest, and in his glory days he was called the Lion of the Lord. Young had converted to Mormonism from the Methodist Episcopal Reform Church and had had only 11 days of what was known as formal education back in those days—but he was a brilliant, charismatic leader who advocated the hardy life and was intolerant of panty-waists. "Many persons are so constituted that if you put them in a parlor, keep a good fire for them, furnish them tea, cake, sweet meats, etc., and nurse them tenderly, soaking their feet and putting them to bed, they will die in a short time," he said. "But throw them into snowbanks and they will live a great many years."
Well, the Mormons have survived—and, more important, prospered—for enough years that their school has quietly become a force in the country: Brigham Young is now the largest private university in the U.S. With its 26,000 students, its enrollment is more than twice that of Stanford, 1½ times that of Harvard, three times that of Notre Dame, and it could seat all of Oral Roberts' student body in its field house—the old 10,200-seat one, not the new 22,700-seat job. What's more, BYU is one of the few colleges in the country with a growing number of applicants—largely because of a parallel growth in the membership of the LDS Church. There's also a growing sense of athletic feistiness in Provo, though, Lord knows, it took a lot of time to develop. Traditionally, the Mormons of BYU have been a far, far less imposing folk athletically than, say, the Catholics of Notre Dame. This isn't a matter of guts, nor are any of those Pat O'Brien halftime histrionics involved; it's simply that it takes a lot of practice and some national exposure for a school to develop a proper in-your-face stance. For years, the interests of BYU pretty much ended on Provo Canyon Road at the edge of the campus—in fact, until 1921 it was basically a teachers' college whose first president, a Lutheran retread, was paid in part in chickens and produce. But no more.
The day has arrived when Athletic Director Glen Tuckett can stroll through the practice fields nodding pleasantly at all the giants and permit himself a knowing smile. "We're a very missionary-oriented church," he says. "Are we ever. Well, then, think about this." The grin widens. "Purely for athletic reasons, now: if we wanted to enroll every good Mormon athlete in the world, plus every good, big athlete we convert to our church—just stash them here on our campus, put them on this team or that...think of it. All the king's horses, as they say, couldn't stop BYU."
Tuckett's right, of course. If the Saints ever decide to go into juggernaut-building in a really big way, they could pack the school with guys who have to duck their heads and turn sideways to go through classroom doors. The church counted 192,901 worldwide convert-baptisms in 1979, and LDS officials estimate that they have a national growth rate of 83,000 members a year. "But we don't want to load up here," Tuckett says. "We want to have good LDS athletes at other schools all over the place; our religion comes first, and those athletes reflect well on us." There was a time when Brigham Young Academy, as it was called until 1903, wouldn't hear of any claptrap about sports, pointing out, with great frontier logic, that the rigors of pioneer life left little need for additional special exercise. Thus, schools all around the Far West were playing games while the Mormons were still wearing swallowtail coats. But when the Saints finally determined that a little recreation was good for a body, as Young had said...well-1-1, then. Here come the Cougars, with their students rising as one to roar: Smite 'em, Brethren!
It isn't until one considers the mounting statistics that one starts to hear the distant thunder—which is the way-it is with a school that has always been on the far reach of the nation's consciousness. In the 1979-80 academic year, the Cougars were the champions of four sports in the Western Athletic Conference: football, basketball, wrestling and golf. They will probably repeat in all four this year (on Nov. 22 BYU clinched the '80 WAC football title), possibly adding track and perhaps even an AIAW volleyball championship. Nationally, the Cougars pop in and out of the Top 10 and 20 rankings. BYU's golf team gave us Johnny Miller and, more recently, Bobby Clampett, and the Cougars have been ranked in the collegiate Top 10 in that sport for the last 14 years. Seven times in the past 10 years, BYU has made the Top 10 in the all-sports rating compiled by the Knoxville Journal. The university produces sparkling football teams whose All-America quarterbacks fill the skies with passes for collegiate records. The basketball team plays in the biggest on-campus arena in the U.S. The football stadium will be remodeled next year: 18,000 new seats will increase capacity to 53,000, all more or less on the 50-yard line. The design is just kooky enough to work; when it's finished, the stadium will look like a gigantic tackle box with rise-up trays.
Obviously, the Cougars aren't merely coming, they're already here: in royal blue and white, mostly blue-eyed and mostly white, with sleek bodies free of caffeine and tobacco, untouched by dope and Coke (Coca-Cola, that is), beautifully coached, ferociously clean-cut and so stunningly motivated you just know they occasionally dash off a prayer or two between plays.
That's a comment and not a criticism. As BYU President Jeffrey Holland points out: "It's our school and, therefore, we get to do it our way. We're a religious folk; we pray when we feel the call to pray. And we are a church school. We accept no government money; we pay our own way and we brook no interference. We're excited by our new power in sports. There is a traditional collegiate value in what sports can do. I went to graduate school at Yale, and I recall that the very planets stopped for the Harvard-Yale game. But not here. We try to keep our heads."
While they're all concentrating on keeping their heads over at the administration building, the Cougars are going crazy under La Veil Edwards, the best football coach the school has ever had. Edwards, 50, is a large, lumpy chap, secretly something of a poet and romantic. He grew up just down the road in Orem, one of 14 kids in a solid Mormon family, and during 10 years as an assistant coach at BYU, he dreamed passionate dreams about the day when he would unloose an all-passing attack. The diverting thing in all this is that Edwards doesn't look like an all-singing, all-dancing, all-passing coach. Sitting in his royal blue field-house office—blue carpets, blue gadgets and trinkets, and blue-bound playbooks, with the giant blue stone on his WAC championship ring glowing softly in the semidarkness—the only hint you get of the fierce music playing inside Edwards is when he says, dryly, "I guess we have, mmm, maybe five or so excellent receivers, really good, and we substitute freely to keep them fresh. Then, of course, our running backs also are always ready to catch passes. You know how it goes: the center snaps the ball, our quarterback fades back—and I've been accused of sending the entire Tabernacle Choir out for the pass."
Edwards' long-awaited dreams are now abundantly real. In 1979 his Cougars produced the NCAA's first 4,000-yard passing season, 4,051, to be precise, and led the country in scoring (40.6 points per game) and in total offense (521.4 yards per game), and ye gods, BYU advanced an average of 6.89 yards every time it snapped the ball, no matter what kind of play. The Cougars went 11-0 to win the WAC, the fourth consecutive year in which they won or shared the title, and played in the Holiday Bowl, losing to Indiana 38-37. That was the fourth bowl visit in eight years under Edwards. This from a school that averaged four wins a year before Edwards took over in 1972. For these accomplishments, he was named WAC Coach of the Year for the second time, as well as Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year ("Edwards is the guy you'd want your son to play for," says Dodd, the former Georgia Tech football coach) and Churchmen's Hall of Fame coach for 1979—which have to be two of the more obscure honors in the sport.
This season has been another highly successful one for the Cougars. After an opening game upset loss to New Mexico, they rattled off 11 straight wins and are currently ranked 12th in the country. A victory over SMU in the Holiday Bowl two weeks from now would secure a position in the Top 10.
Such success is remarkable when you consider that BYU has requirements that make other church schools look positively secular by comparison. Whenever Edwards or Tuckett finds a prospective player, no matter how promising or bright or eager to listen, they must alert him to the honor code before he signs. Most schools have honor codes printed somewhere in the freshman pamphlets, but nobody has a code quite like the one at Provo. Applied to all students, Mormon or otherwise, it's tied closely to LDS philosophy, which brooks no worldly clowning around. In terms of dress, this means no cutoff jeans or tank tops, no cutesy-vulgar T shirts, no beards, no long hair or unkempt frizzies, no wild mustaches or shirts unbuttoned to the waist so that the gold chains show. It also means chastity for everybody and no narcotics or drugs, and it means no coffee, no tea, no booze, no beer, no cigarettes, pipe mixture, snuff, cigars or tobacco of any kind—that lump in your cheek had better be Double Bubble.
Yet the atmosphere at BYU is far from oppressive; indeed, because one is surrounded by uniformly handsome and healthy people, it's downright pleasant. As with all sets of rules, this one is easier to stick to because everybody else is sticking to it, too; nobody has to look around to see where the lines are drawn. The students get accustomed to living life as if they're always on-camera. They know that on the great rolling lawns of the upper campus, among the Norway maples and flowering plum trees, holding hands is fine, very companionable, in fact. Sitting on the lawns is great, but only if one's limbs are artfully arranged.
"I'll tell you what the code does for us," says Tuckett. "It brings the level of everything up. We're attracting a special breed of students; you might call them today's academy types, those kids who would have done very well at service academies in the old days. They appreciate the discipline—they understand that it's cruel out there in real life and they want to learn how to face it with dignity and with their honor unblemished."
"The code isn't really too tough," says Offensive Coordinator Doug Scovil, an Episcopalian. Scovil is a creator of stunning quarterbacks; he coached Roger Staubach to the Heisman Trophy at Navy in 1963, his Gifford Nielsen and Marc Wilson were All-Americas at BYU in 1977 and 1979, respectively, and he has another one this year in Jim Mc-Mahon, who is passing everybody silly—to the tune of 4,571 yards. "We simply find that some kids flourish under discipline," Scovil says. "Our recruits from Catholic high schools are used to it already."
Just as it is with the statue of Brigham Young overlooking the campus, the code is simply there and it works and no more problems, right? Well, not exactly. For one thing, where are all the black Saints? This doesn't mean students with tan or burnt-umber skin—the campus is up to here with dark-toned Polynesians and East Indians and American Indians—it means blacks of African descent. There are four on the football team (two of them freshmen), none in basketball and just a few others scattered here and there.
As recently as 1969-70, no blacks played on any Cougar teams; heckfire, as the Saints sometimes say, there was only one black family living in Provo—and they worked up in Salt Lake City. That was BYU's grimmest year, punctuated as it was with anti-Cougar incidents and demonstrations. In one ruckus at Colorado State, an outside group staged an anti-BYU demonstration at halftime of the Cougars-Rams basketball game. It got out of hand, of course, and the BYU band and cheerleaders barely escaped injury. In another noted ruckus, Wyoming threw 14 blacks off its football team for threatening to wear black armbands when they played BYU—it was to be their protest against the Mormon doctrine on blacks. While all this was going on, various Afro-American student alliances and the American Civil Liberties Union moved to get BYU bounced from the WAC, and finally, Stanford stopped speaking for a time.
That's all over now. The blacks are coming, the blacks are coming—it's just going to take a while. As for the two upperclassmen now on the football team, both are junior-college transfers, both are tailbacks—and both attend BYU for exactly the same reason. Homer Jones is from Honolulu and Santa Rosa J.C. in California. Eric Lane, of Hayward, Calif. and Chabot College, the Cougars' leading scorer for much of this season, has averaged 4.9 yards per rush. "Brig-ham Young was a pioneer college started by pioneer settlers," says Lane. "Well, me and Homer are definitely pioneer black athletes. Other young blacks will see what Homer and I are doing and they'll follow us to BYU. Some are still hesitant, I know, but our example will influence them. And then, BYU will really be a football powerhouse."
The thing that brought Jones and Lane to Brigham Young wasn't the Mormons' recently revised stand on blacks; it was the promise that they'd get an education, used-up eligibility or not. "BYU convinced me that it was as interested in my getting a degree as I was," says Lane. "Look, I'd like to play pro ball, but I'm not counting on it. I'm counting on getting a degree. Here, I get maybe 25 carries in four games. And there's no black community in Provo—which means no social life. But I lived in a city all my life before I came here; I've seen city living. And I don't want this to sound like a clichè, but Provo is a clean place filled with nice people. Everything is orderly here. There's...," he considers the wonder of it, "there's no graffiti. In my case, I'm giving up a couple of years of heavy social life for an education. I think it's worth it."
It's clearly worth it to the folks who run BYU: Jones and Lane didn't stumble in by accident; they were intensely recruited, and if there's a vague feeling that these two are the house blacks on campus, there's also the sense that the recruiters are honestly trying to get more. "When I took the job here in 1976, I asked quite frankly, 'May I recruit blacks?' " says Basketball Coach Frank Arnold. "The answer was, 'If you don't, you can't have the job.' And while we've had only three play basketball here, it isn't the team and it isn't the school exactly—it's the lack of a social life. And that can be tough on kids." Says Tuckett, "It follows that when we get more black families in the LDS Church, we'll get more outstanding athletes."
It follows, indeed. If one is to understand the Mormon faith, one must also understand that rule changes are made from time to time by divine intervention. The revelations are delivered directly to the incumbent president of the church. Among the tenets upon which the LDS Church was founded in 1830 was one that said Negroes were the children of Canaan, who in the Bible had been made "a servant of servants" to his brothers. Though no Mormons owned slaves, Brigham Young railed in 1855, "The Negro is damned, and is to serve his master until God chooses to remove the curse."
It took until June 9, 1978 for the curse to be lifted. On that date, in Salt Lake City, LDS President Spencer W. Kimball announced a long-prayed-for heavenly revelation, specifying that all "worthy" black men could at last receive the priesthood (a status routinely available to "worthy" white youths at age 12) and all other benefits of Mormonism. In Provo, the staff of The Daily Universe, BYU's student newspaper, put out an extra; under the headline BLACKS GET PRIESTHOOD was the subhead: GOD REVEALS NEW POLICY TO LDS PROPHET, which has got to be one of the most unusual absolute, straight-faced scoops by any campus newspaper in history.
Lord knows, it isn't easy being a Latter-Day Saint; Mormonism is most assuredly not one of those good oldtime religions in which you clap your hands and sing a few choruses of Bringing in the Sheaves and then stand by for the golden slippers. The Saints have no paid clergy; everybody's a volunteer. They are required to tithe and work hard, and getting converts is a way of life. At 19 most able-bodied young men are called to go on recruiting missions. Each mission is for two years, and not only do the young men have to set aside whatever they're doing, sports included, but they also must pay their own travel and living expenses. Some 12,000 a year accept the call, and even now there are 23,656 men out in the field knocking on doors in their white shirts, somber suits and ties, short haircuts and ferocious sincerity. They appear in pairs: may I introduce you to Brother So-and-So.
This sort of thing is regarded as nothing short of terrific up the road at church headquarters in Salt Lake City—but it can drive a coach bonkers. There's no line of communication between the Mormons' ecclesiastical and sporting branches, and it has often happened that a coach has lined up a socko team only to have his very own church wipe it out by calling his aces away on missions. Between the 1973 and '74 seasons, Edwards lost 11 of them to mission calls and spent much of the next year scrambling for players.
Time was when Edwards would call a player around to the all-blue office and sort of wonder out loud if, well, it wouldn't be better if the kid, umm, played out his eligibility before going on a mission. Edwards would say, in effect, that the sinners weren't going anyplace; they'd still be there, and we've got a tough schedule ahead. "But I'm over all of that now," Edwards says. "Now our church pipeline is full of missionaries going in each direction. We keep in touch with the missionaries. I write them all letters; we encourage them to stay in shape, and we encourage them to come back and play. Most often they're more mature; they're certainly more settled down and ready to work hard. I've made up my mind never again to try and talk a kid into postponing a mission. In fact, sometimes I talk a boy into one if I feel it will help make a man out of him."
The missions hurt a bit more in basketball, Arnold says dryly, meaning that they hurt a lot. "The problem here, as opposed to football, is that ours is a skill sport; it isn't just a matter of staying in shape. And it's a fact of religious life that they just don't play a whole lot of basketball in the missionary field, and it's difficult to regain the delicate timing involved." This season's casualty, if that's the term, is Devin Durrant, a first-rate junior forward who was sent to Spain in search of new souls. The call came just when Durrant was peaking. He scored 13.3 points a game and shot 55% from the field last season. When he comes back, he'll still be a junior—but will he be able to make the team?
Some athletes, like All-America basketball Guard Danny Ainge, who summers as an infielder with the Toronto Blue Jays, allow that by playing on high-visibility teams they already are, in effect, serving as missionaries, spreading the LDS word wherever they go. There is a touch of disingenuousness in this line of reasoning, but there's also an element of truth. Certainly Arnold thinks so. "BYU actually needs a good basketball team," he says. "The team is a missionary tool, like it or not. It isn't a case of hoping to win—it has got to win."
Making matters even tougher for the Cougar basketball team is the fact that Utah is crazy about the sport. Perhaps one of the least-known statistics in the land is that Utah, with a population of 1,367,200, leads the U.S. in per capita college basketball attendance; in absolute terms, around one million Utahans go to games each season. At BYU, the immense Marriott Center is sold out in October; season attendance last year was 300,713, a school record. Cougar basketball grosses more than $1 million a season. "Many of the guys we recruit haven't even heard of the Mormons," says 6'11" Center Greg Kite. "But when the coach tells them about getting to play in front of 23 thousand fans every game, it sort of gets their attention."
The sight is kind of impressive. The arena takes up three acres and occupies a hole in the ground that might have been made by a meteor: it's 10 stories from the subterranean basketball floor to the 130,000-square-foot ceiling.
It was from this grand edifice that Arnold and his all-white, all-cleanly-chiseled teams launched a 24-5 WAC championship season in '79-80. The Cougars could well match that this season, even without the missionary, Durrant. Arnold came to Brigham Young five years ago from UCLA, where he was an assistant to John Wooden. Like Wooden, he coaches "fast-break, quick-strike, fast-tempo...but controlled" ball; like Edwards, he's a Utah native and a working Mormon. "What often happens to us," Arnold says, "is that other schools will hear that a kid is interested in BYU. And even if they can't get him—or even if the kid isn't right for their school—they start to bad-mouth BYU. It's some sort of reverse psychology. They'll tell the boy, 'Well, go ahead, go to BYU...even if you can't dance or date girls.' Dance? Date girls? We happen to be very big on both of those activities."
"Well, some folks do think we never have any fun," says Kite. Kite is from Houston, and in 1978-79 was one of the most heavily recruited prep stars in the U.S. He was also a 4.21 (out of 5.0) scholar and a Mormon who had BYU on his college list right behind Duke, UCLA, Kentucky and Texas. But loyalty and the big arena and the prospects of being with his own kind won out. Which is why, he says, "I can see why it's tough for us to recruit top black players. Those scare stories about BYU don't help. The thing that would solve it would be to hire a black assistant coach. It can be done, you know. And then we'd get more blacks and they'd be more comfortable."
BYU has already got that angle figured out, and while it's not a matter up for discussion, the feeling is that Tuckett and his staff are at work looking for the right black coaches to introduce into the system. "But not just anybody will do," says Marion Dunn, sports editor of the Provo Daily Herald and an old Cougar watcher. "The same BYU standards would apply; those folks up on the hill won't go for any tokenism. In addition to being a good coach, the guy has got to be a good man, in the Christian sense of the word." In other words, he doesn't have to be a saint, as they say at the Y, but he sure can't be a sinner.
But, come on, isn't there even any venial sinning at BYU? Sure, some critics say, and one need look no farther than the track and field program to find it. Despite the Cougars' saintly stance, they assert, BYU is as guilty as any school when it comes to loading up on foreigners who'll lead the school to glory and then largely abandoning them once they arrive there. Finland's incomparable Lasse Viren was just such a case: he emigrated to BYU as a freshman in 1970, but stayed only one term, apparently suffering from intense loneliness off the track.
In recent years, about 10% of BYU's track team has been made up of foreign imports. "Very effective for us," says one Cougar official. This practice started in 1961 with another Finn, Matti Raty, who became an All-America in cross-country running. It was the LDS missionary program that got this movement going; although the missionaries aren't allowed to recruit, there's nothing to stop them from talking up BYU or perhaps flashing a picture or two. The hottest foreigner of them all was Kresimir Cosic, a 6'11" free spirit from Zadar, Yugoslavia, who had heard about the school from an ex-player in 1969, signed on and went on to become one of the most popular—and best—basketball players in BYU history.
The current ace import is decathlete Tito Steiner, a senior from Buenos Aires. At 28 he looks more like a professor than a pupil. After competing for Argentina in the 1976 Olympics, he came to BYU to win both the conference and NCAA decathlon championships in 1977 and 1979; he's part of a dynasty in which the school has won the WAC decathlon title five out of the last seven years.
But Steiner isn't entirely happy in Provo. "My wife and I aren't members of the Mormon church," he says, "and it has been difficult for us. The U.S. is the greatest country in the world; Provo is a nice town; BYU is a good school; and these are a fine people—but we can't adjust to the life-style here. We accept their life, but we want to live our own way."
The latest Finn is Timo Saarelainen, who was a starting forward on his country's Olympic basketball team. He now plays at BYU and occasionally wonders why. "The biggest change is in getting used to the Mormon style of life," he says. "It's lonely."
And there it is again: the recurring theme of loneliness among the throngs of BYU students. It's true that the Mormons seem to have a closed society to those who don't belong and don't care to join. It takes a strong personality to stand up to it.
One who has stood up is Quarterback McMahon, who sets NCAA passing records with almost every game. McMahon is of Irish extraction and a Catholic. A tough, streetwise kid who was born in New Jersey, grew up in California and moved to Utah at 16, McMahon has been known to occasionally duck out from under the Cougar image and speak out. "I don't like living by somebody else's rules," he says. "I just want to live my way. I want to be Jim McMahon. Sometimes at BYU, they make you feel like an alien just because you're not one of them."
And even if you are one of them, life isn't always easy. There are times when the devil gets into Mormons just as he does anyone else. He can even get into a good, big solid one like sweet-faced Pulusila Filiaga (Pool-lu-see-lah Fee-lee-ong-gah), a defensive tackle. Filiaga is a 6'2", 246-pound Polynesian who ordinarily looks like a malted-milk angel. Indeed, his only devilish touch was his "hula sacker," a sort of native dance performed over fallen quarterbacks and ballcarriers. "It's the Polynesian way to get really excited about things," he says. But Filiaga's problem was that he got so excited during BYU's 70-46 trouncing of Utah State on Oct. 18 that he sacked Umpire John Birleffi, leaping upon him and pummeling him severely. There was no hula, there was just hell to pay. Even now, Filiaga doesn't know what made him do it. "It'll never happen again," he says—but he was suspended for the rest of the season and put on probation for all of 1981.
Perhaps Brigham Young ought to ease up some—back off a bit. Sure, good Mormon kids will occasionally step out, maybe hitting a tavern or two up toward Salt Lake. But the pervasive good life is overpowering: there's no fraternity row, with the occasional tinkle of breaking glass, with beery school fight songs and sentimental four-part harmonies hanging on the summer night air. There is only the peace that passeth all understanding. Well, it taketh a lot of understanding.
Meanwhile, the kids are popping Cougar Crunch on their way to class—holding the bright silver wrappers firmly in hand until they reach the next trash can—and as they chew, one can picture bones growing stronger, teeth whiter. Cougar Crunch, which is produced by Natures Gold Products of Orem, contains rolled oats, sesame, honey, wheat, peanuts, barley, soya, carob, corn, rye, flax, chia, kelp, almonds, celery, dates, green peas, alfalfa, millet, carrots and watercress. The old Lion would have eaten it.
Vigorous health takes on special importance in the splendid isolation of BYU. The feeling rides in the crisp air that the students think there's no other place like this in the world. It's obvious that the fierce sense of brotherhood and sisterhood comes because the school still has its wagons drawn into a circle. This is no Yale or Northwestern, with a major population center nearby. There's only Provo, ho-hum. There's the wall of mountain to the east, desert to the west and south and Salt Lake City to the north. The boundaries are marked.
But BYU is no anti-intellectual outpost: 72% of its 1,284 faculty members have doctoral degrees, and Brigham Young was one of four U.S. schools in the '70s to produce Rhodes scholars four years in a row (1974-77). It also had three Dan-forth scholars in a single year (1976). This sort of accomplishment never fails to stun the outside world. "I was totally unprepared and delightfully surprised by what I saw," says Dr. James J. Lynch, of the Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland School of Medicine, after visiting in Provo. "BYU is an academic and religious oasis—an inspired university that has managed to swim against all these modern currents and still maintain a high sense of academic and spiritual excellence. It gives me hope that perhaps even now at this eleventh hour a similar sense of purpose can be restored to other universities that were founded and inspired by such ideals."
Holland will be one of the few college presidents who will face problems of growth over the next few years. It won't be a caretaker job: there won't be any holding of an imaginary line against declining enrollment and financing. With the Mormon Church growing and with BYU athletics suddenly loose upon the land, he has got a boom on his hands. "Theologically, we must make a case for the whole man and woman," he says. "We believe we are educating not just for now but for eternity. The school is now at maximum capacity; it's now my lot, for the first time in our school's history, to tell some kids they can't come. We turned away 4,000 prospective students last year.
"And we don't take church money to support athletics. For example, we need that new football stadium—which is being built with donated funds—but we don't need the attendant pressure to keep it filled, so when the day comes that we can't, we're not going to worry. Our strength is our independence."
Across campus at the field house, Tuckett is content with the system. Because it's a private school, BYU doesn't have to reveal costs—but Tuckett allows that the athletic budget is, astonishingly, less than $2½ million, and the teams do, indeed, pay their own way. But again, there is every prospect that sporting success will strain all of that.
"Last year only two schools finished in the Top 20 in basketball and football," he says. "They were BYU and Indiana—and Indiana only because we let the Hoosiers beat us in the Holiday Bowl." This year the Cougars made their regular-season debut against the Big Ten and stomped Wisconsin 28-3. "And now we're getting letters from Michigan and other schools—people who wouldn't even return a phone call a few years ago," says Tuckett. "They used to put us on hold. We're booked to open against Georgia in 1982. Baylor starts in 1983 and '84. And we'll play UCLA in '83 and again in a home-and-home series in '89 and '90. Like the lady says, 'We're dancin' as fast as we can.' "
But give old Floyd Johnson the last word on BYU and where it's going. Johnson has been the school's equipment manager for 24 years, and he speaks now from a lair in the bowels of Marriott Center, where the only noises breaking the hush are the muffled thumps of basketballs bouncing somewhere on the same level and the sound of towels spinning in the nearby clothes dryer. Johnson talks in the careful manner of a man whose teeth have grown a bit loose over the years.
"What not many people truly know about us Mormons is how serious we are about our mission," he says. "Take Coach Edwards. He's an honest man and a humble man, and at halftime or after a game he'll get right down there on his knees with the boys, right there in the locker room, and he'll pray with them." Johnson wants to make sure that the import of this is fully understood, and he eases his voice back a bit, speaking more forcefully. "And it's not exactly a halftime talk, as such. It's a prayer, down there on his knees. He prays so that the kids can understand. In a way, he's praying to our Heavenly Father, but in another way, he's not so much really praying as he is talking to the boys. Do you see? Well, it's aimed at both of them. It means that the Lord can listen in if He wants to."
Of course one sees. It makes sense down in the recesses of the basketball arena and it makes sense back up in the sunshine of the campus, with the carillon tolling out Come, Come Ye Saints. These people are at work even when they're at play, turning out waves of young men and women they earnestly believe to be upright in the oldtime pioneer sense that Brigham himself would surely approve of.