BYU football was more than a passion for 81-year-old David Pinckney and his family: it was a way of life.
So when Pinckney collapsed and died suddenly in the north stands at LaVell Edwards Stadium before the Middle Tennessee game Sept. 27, his family was understandably shaken and overwhelmed with grief. But somehow they found comfort in the fact that their husband and father passed away at one of his favorite places on earth — a place he revered.
The next day’s headlines focused on how an elderly fan died before the game, but this was not just an ordinary man or Cougar football fan. Pinckney was a loving husband, dedicated father and grandfather, former high school football coach, popular substitute teacher, accomplished athlete, military veteran, returned LDS missionary and much more.
Pinckney loved all things BYU football, and his legacy reminds fans of what being a Cougar fan should be all about. He used BYU football as a vehicle to bring his family together and touch many lives.
“It was a way of life for my father. God, family and then there was BYU football,” said Michael Pinckney, David Pinckney’s son. “He said football taught men to be responsible, to have character, to have faith and to have the Spirit.”
The Pinckney family of Springville was true blue through and through, BYU football season ticket-holders for the past 18 years. When they lived in California, they were such avid Cougar fans that they went to the local stake center to watch satellite broadcasts of the games. They rarely missed a bowl game and even traveled to Notre Dame last year to watch the Cougars face the Fighting Irish.
LaVell Edwards Stadium “was a place of worship for him and for my family,” Michael Pinckney said. “There was a time in my life when I went through a rough divorce and I was heartbroken and there was a time when I did not attend church, but the one thing we had in common was BYU football. Even though we were not in contact for a while, BYU football kept us together and gave us something to talk about.”
Football brought the Pinckney family together, so it is somehow fitting the final moments they spent together were at a BYU football game.
“In the Pinckney home, football has been a great blessing and has kept our family together,” Michael Pinckney said.
Pinckney passed doing what he truly loved, surrounded by his family, said his wife of 54 years, Joy Pinckney.
“That is what has given me peace, thinking ‘How could he be so lucky?’” Joy Pinckney said. “All his friends, everyone who knows him, say they all have a big smile on their face. They really can’t be sad. But couldn’t it have been after the game?”
His family was proud of his example of a righteous, hard worker. He loved young people and always pulled for the underdog. After Pinckney’s passing many of his students have reached out and told his family of the positive influence he had on their lives.
Pinckney entered the Marines at age 17 and always thought that the Marine Corps and BYU football taught men similar lessons.
“After much convincing, his mother signed the papers to allow him to join,” his youngest daughter, Elizabeth Johnson, commented on the Daily Herald’s website. “He was so proud to be a Marine, and he hung his flags every morning and retired them every evening!”
Pinckney was a patriotic man and remembered the discipline and camaraderie that the Marine Corps taught throughout his life.
Pinckney then attended BYU in the 1950s, where he played football, met his wife and graduated in 1956 before pursuing a graduate degree in physical fitness. Both Dave and Joy were studying to become teachers and realized they had grown up only a few miles apart in California. The Pinckneys then moved to Fullerton, Calif., where he taught English and was a head football coach for 34 years.
Pinckney moved to Springville to retire, but because he was such a hard-working man he told his family it would be impossible to slow down. He audited a Japanese class at BYU, attended a Japanese temple session once a month, and became a substitute teacher in the Nebo School District.
“He couldn’t stand being away from his passion,” Johnson said of his love for being around and teaching young people.
His love for the Japanese culture led him and his wife to serve a mission at the LDS temple in Tokyo, Japan. In March of 2011, one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded hit Japan while Pinckney and his wife were living in Tokyo. Given the opportunity to go home, they decided to stay and help the relief effort.
“We loved the words that Elder (Joseph B.) Wirthlin said, ‘Come what may and love it,’” Joy Pinckney said. “That was really a strength to us. That’s one of our favorite sayings. We knew that the Lord would protect us if we stayed and did the work.”
Pinckney was extremely healthy and rarely went to the doctor. But in a mandatory check-up before he left for Japan, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” Joy Pinckney said. “If he would have never been influenced to go on a mission they never would have found the cancer.”
Pinckney was able to beat the cancer, the only major health problem he ever had.
“We were totally bowled over by what happened. The whole family was,” Joy Pinckney said.
The events of Sept. 27 came as a shock to his family, because Pinckney went to the gym at least five days a week. He even went the day of his death.
“My dad was a tough man, but he was also very tender and loving,” Michael Pinckney said. “My dad was a man that did not want to show weakness. That was good and bad because we never knew when he was really hurting.”
The family and everyone who knew him not only remembers his love for football but his desire to use his life to bless others.
“Like the Savior went out to find the one and left the 99, that’s how my father was,” Michael Pinckney said. “He always stood up for the underdog. I’m proud of my father.”