The Brigham Young football team schlepped its bullyragged national championship to New Jersey's Meadowlands last week in search of the coast-to-coast respect it so covets. Thirteen and 0 in 1984 had not done it. Beating Michigan in the Holiday Bowl had not done it. Even supplying the land with a beaut of a Miss America hadn't done it. Maybe whomping Eastern pet Boston College in the third annual Kickoff Classic would sway the nation's cynical souls, so East the Cougars came.
The idea behind the Kickoff Classic is to pencil in the previous season's national champ against a leading power-that-be in August, before any other teams go and blemish their records. The first year Nebraska played Penn State, and in 1984 Miami faced Auburn. Fair enough. This year the Classic's promoters came up with BYU and Boston College. BYU and Boston College? Powers that be? Can you imagine what Bear Bryant would think if he were alive today? Or Bo Schembechler?
Anyway, plenty of fans who don't recognize the Mountain Time Zone as official would sooner expire than breathe a word about a BYU national title. For that reason—and $550,000—the Cougars set off for the Big Apple. To much of the Eastern media, BYU was a curiosity show of shows. Step right up, kid, and poke the belly of the beast from the non-East, three for a quarter. Whazzat? You say these guys have won 24 straight games? Not bad. What do they play—touch football or flag?
"I think they expected us all to have three wives, all with dresses that never came above the ankle," said Glen (Koz) Kozlowski, BYU's prestidigitating wide receiver. Jabs at Eastern high-nosedness, real or imagined, flew all week. When BYU's mad pilot of the air lanes, coach LaVell Edwards, arrived late for a press conference, he explained he had been stuck in a toll line. "We don't have tollbooths in Provo [Utah]," said Edwards. "We just got the streets paved last year."
So how would America know? The Cougars haven't appeared nationally on a major TV network since 1979, when they routed San Diego State 63-14 on ABC. BYU is 56-9 since that day, with wins over SMU, UCLA, Pitt and Michigan. Still, nada. Last week's game was syndicated into 160 markets by Raycom, but played no networks. "It hacks me," says Edwards. "We must be the only national champion never to be seen on network TV." Says ABC college football coordinator Donn Bernstein, "I know they have bitter feelings about it, but we're not a charity; we're in the entertainment business. We're not in it to feed the mouths of BYU. The market has never been there to merit putting on BYU."
Sweet exposure for itself and for Heisman ballot-boy Robbie (Boz) Bosco is what made the game so fetching to BYU. And exposure is what Bosco got, especially from the Manhattanite who, as Bosco was wandering about town the day before the game, presented his unclothed derriere to him. The city of New York welcomes you.
The whole week back East was an eye-opener for Bosco. Thrilled to find out that Bruce Springsteen was staying on the 15th floor of the same Teaneck, N.J. hotel, Bosco randomly dialed half a dozen numbers on his hotel phone in an effort to get him, but to no avail. He did, however, think he reached the drummer once. "Man, I'd love to meet Springsteen someday," Bosco said. "You know he's got to be a sports fan, right?" Unfortunately, Springsteen was born to run; Bosco was born to pass.
No matter. At least for one night, the new king of Jersey was not The Boss but The Boz, who cut his own records—most yards passing in Giants Stadium, pro or college, for one—and introduced himself as more than just a write-in for the Heisman. Playing with an injured groin that sometimes turned darts to ducks, Bosco still threw for 508 yards in a 28-14 whomping of BC that could have, should have, been twice as ugly. BYU failed to score four times inside the Eagle 20.
Talk about American Flyers, Boz completed 35 of 53 passes (66%) and six were dropped. Koz caught 10 for 241 yards. Mark Bellini hauled in nine for 111 yards, and Trevor Molini collected five for 55. Let's see...Bosco-Bellini-Molini.... Are these guys from Provo or Parma?
As for Bosco, he seems to be from another planet. Though his voice still cracks like a schoolboy's, he is wise beyond his years. "I don't think any of my quarterbacks has ever known the offense better," says Edwards, invoking names like Nielsen, Wilson, McMahon and Young. Because Boz knows it so well, he's basically unblitzable. "Too risky to blitz Bosco," said Boston College noseguard Mike Ruth, who put on an Outland Trophy kind of performance with eight unassisted tackles, including four sacks—all while being double-and triple-teamed. "He knows where his receivers are. If you blitz him, it usually hurts you."
Ruth, the budding priest, put the fear of God in Bosco more than once. Three sacks were mean, but one seemed to be a Bosco offering to Ruth's eminence. As Ruth steamed into Bosco's line of vision, the BYU quarterback tried to juke but fell flat when Ruth reached out with a paw and tapped him going by. Said one Eagle coach, "Looked to me like he fainted." When left Ruthless, however, Bosco was all but unstoppable.
The win was Bosco's 20th straight. He still hasn't lost at BYU in games in which he has played. "It's got to happen sometime," he says, "doesn't it?"
If it doesn't, Bosco will have a lock on the Heisman, now that BYU has a schedule everybody approves of. Next up are UCLA and Washington. Consider that when Jim McMahon finished third in the 1981 Heisman voting, his showcase game was Colorado. When Steve Young came in second in '83, the only name schools he faced were UCLA and Baylor. More voters may already have seen Bosco than both of them combined.
Last year Bosco finished third to the Eagles' Doug Flutie, who, for a guy 5'10", can still throw a long shadow. Most of it darkened the path of new Boston College quarterback Shawn Halloran. Flutie had promised to stay off the sideline, much as he wanted to be there, to keep cameras off him and on his successor. "It's Shawn's day," he said. So how come TV showed Flutie and his bride of three weeks, Laurie, watching from the BC sideline? Worse for the star-crossed Halloran, ABC announced earlier in the day that Flutie would be joining the network as a college football analyst. Shawn who?
As for the rest of the night's ignominy, Halloran provided that himself. Halloran, who occasionally borrows his roommate's ambulance on dates, is in danger of showing up DOA unless he develops soon. "Shawn needed to get his feet wet," said Eagle coach Jack Bicknell. This, of course, did not mean Halloran should drown. While completing 18 of 37 passes for 165 yards, he was impatient, flighty, reluctant to audible and patently mortal. The 6'4" Halloran also runs like Herman Munster in snowshoes. "I'm not down on Shawn," Bicknell said. "He's going to be all right. I just hope the media leave him alone so he can relax."
Even then, it will be some time before BC fans are ready to readjust to reality, no matter who's filling Flutie's pixie shoes. In his career, Flutie won six games on the final drive. No wonder nobody expects more miracles than a BC fan.
"People come up to me on the street and they say, 'Yeah, BC's not gonna be the same without Flutie,' " says Halloran. "You know, I just feel like hitting them. But you can't do that. So you just try not to think about it. "
Of course, quarterback is just one of the frights at The Heights now. The Eagles' defensive backs were marionettes in Bosco's hands, especially cornerback Rorery Perryman, a converted quarterback. In his first-ever game on defense, he had the misfortune to face college's state-of-the-art passing attack. Perryman was positively combustible, giving up two touchdowns, a two-point conversion and nearly 200 yards in receptions to Kozlowski and Bellini. Koz, in particular, is a wizard at deception. Twice, on receptions of 40 and 51 yards, he duped Perryman into rushing past him on fly patterns and then fell back and caught the ball behind Perryman. Both grabs set up touchdowns, the second of which put Brigham Young up for good in the third quarter, 21-14.
The Cougars may have bivouacked across the Hudson, but Edwards let them take a big bite of the Apple: dinner at Mamma Leone's, a Yankee game and tickets to 42nd Street. Nonetheless, the dancingest feet belonged to Brigham Young, finally fulfilled. "Maybe we won some respect," said Koz. "But even if we didn't, it's all right. We'll just go right on winning games."
Perhaps some people will watch them do it, too. Don't look now, but ABC, like a long-lost uncle of a Lotto winner, is interested in the Washington game in Provo on Sept. 14. News of that brought a wry grin to the face of Glen Tuckett, the Cougars' A.D. "ABC?" he said. "I don't think they've ever been here. Guess we better draw 'em a map."