From Danny Ainge to Steve Young and Jimmer Fredette, the Cougars’ courts and fields have been graced by many great athletes. BYU has long been a standard of excellence throughout collegiate athletics.
On top of the 10 national titles garnered by football, men’s volleyball, women’s cross country and men’s golf, the history of BYU athletics is accentuated with moments of greatness that will forever go down in history.
Jimmermania swept the country just last year, and for good reason since Jimmer averaged 28.8 points per game in his last season at BYU. But do not let this overshadow the glory days of Danny Ainge. Ainge was a well-rounded athlete; the first high school All-American in football, basketball and baseball. Ainge is most well known for his coast-to-coast drive against Notre Dame during the NCAA basketball tournament of 1981. Notre Dame had a 50-49 lead over BYU with eight seconds left to play. Ainge got the ball and booked it for the other side of the court. He breezed past each Notre Dame defender to send BYU to the Elite Eight.
Duff Tittle, associate director of communications in the BYU athletics department, said the momentum of the play then was not nearly what it could have been.
“That play in today’s world would have been off the charts,” Tittle said. “That thing would have played over and over on ESPN.”
BYU football won the national title in 1984 against Michigan in the Holiday Bowl. Less well-known is the Holiday Bowl just four years earlier that led the Cougars to a slim victory over Southern Methodist University.
The situation looked bleak. Four minutes were left to play and fans were leaving in droves as the Cougars were down 45-25. Quarterback Jim McMahon yelled at the crowd to stay. The game was not over yet. To prove it he promptly threw a touchdown pass to Matt Braga. The “Miracle Bowl” was in the making.
Another touchdown run by Scott Dillon put BYU at 45-39. The SMU Mustangs got the ball, went three and out, and had to punt. BYU’s special teams unexpectedly blocked SMU’s punt and the Cougars got the ball back on their own 41-yard-line. Three seconds left to play and the Cougars were still down by six on third and 10. The ball was snapped. McMahon dropped back 17 yards and from midfield, launched the ball for the end zone. The clock hit zero; the ball landed right in the hands of Clay Brown to tie the game. Following a tremendous celebration, Kurt Gunther kicked the extra point for the Cougars’ win over the Mustangs 46-45.
BYU baseball often goes under the radar since the basketball season runs concurrently. But during the 1983 season, BYU’s baseball team was ranked No. 1 in the nation, and shortstop Cory Snyder made his big appearance against UNLV. He was a freshman in his first collegiate game. His first three at-bats, he hit home runs on three consecutive pitches. This performance led him and his team to take the Western Athletic Conference Championship. He went on to win the silver medal the next year in the Summer Olympics in the first Olympic Baseball team.
The ’80s were the years for BYU’s unsung sports. Tittle said the golf program was probably the best in the nation at the time.
“There was a period of 10 years where they finished at the NCAA tournament in the top five,” Tittle said.
Bobby Clampett won the Fred Haskins, the equivalent of football’s Heisman Trophy, in 1979 and 1980. Clampett led the team to several wins, but in his senior year, he went pro. Disappointment ran throughout the team and campus as the hopes of the national championship drifted away. And then, the team did the unthinkable and won.
“In its world, it was an amazing event,” Tittle said.
The Cougars are periodically faced with media attention garnered through disreputability. However, they have consistently waded through hard times and come out on top as an acclaimed collegiate team. These highlights are just a handful among the many bright moments in athletics history.
Ralph Zobell of Athletic Communications said it is no coincidence that BYU is a consistent standard of excellence in all things, academic and athletic.
“It’s based on the principles which the university is founded upon, which are church related,” Zobell said. “God is not offended of excellence.”