The tale of the CougarTail

Lights are shining bright, the air is crisp and cheers explode all around as the BYU football team runs onto the field before a sea of royal blue at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Fans clap with sticky fingers, with the faint smell of maple lingering on the edge of their breath left behind by the beloved CougarTail. 

It wouldn’t be a BYU game without a Cougartail, with the award-winning concessions favorite set to celebrate its 20th year of filling the bellies of Cougar nation this 2023 football season.

The iconic 16-inch maple doughnut was invented by Dean Wright, former managing director of BYU dining services. The idea came from his love for maple doughnuts and the help of his wife as they experimented with new concessions items.

“I was trying to come up with an idea that would really be unique to BYU,” Wright said. “I was on my way to the Cougareat to buy a couple maple bars, which are my favorite doughnut. I took them home and I put them end to end, and just looking at them I thought, ‘wow, that kind of looks like a cougar tail.'”

With the help of the BYU Catering manager, print and mail and other BYU services, the CougarTail doughnut and its notorious packaging was made. 

CougarTails are sold at most sporting events around campus but receive the highest sales from football games. According to BYU’s general manager of concessions Andrew Jacobsen, between 9,000 to 12,000 CougarTails are sold each game. This translates to more than $6 million worth of CougarTails sold over the past two decades.

“Our number one items that we sell in our concessions are soda, followed by water, then number three is the cougar tail. It outsells hot dogs, it outsells popcorn, it outsells pretzels. I think that shows that the fans are pretty pleased,” Wright said.

Traditional game day snacks usually include hot dogs, nachos or pretzels. Nevertheless, when it comes to BYU fans, nothing compares to the love they hold for a CougarTail.

Sophia Schroeder — a senior at BYU from California — has never missed a home football game nor the chance to eat a giant maple doughnut. 

“I have never gone to a BYU football game without buying a CougarTail,” Schroeder said. 

When the idea for the extra long maple doughnut originated, no fryer basket would fit the desired size. The BYU bakery specially ordered a new fryer in order to mass produce the large doughnuts to the exact specifications Wright envisioned. 

Sixteen inches of maple doughnut did not stop Wright as he worked with BYU pastry chefs to create the world’s longest maple doughnut. A total of 1,260 CougarTails can be placed end to end to generate a quarter mile in total distance. 

In addition to being a fan favorite item on campus, the specialty has reached a nationwide audience as well. ESPN commentators Robert Griffin III and Mark Jones got their hands on a pair of CougarTails during BYU’s double-overtime thriller against Baylor on Sept. 10, 2022.

“This thing is like the ‘glizzy’ of doughnuts right here,” Griffin said.

“Oh yeah, this is the mothership right here,” Jones said, referring to the size of the CougarTail.

According to BYU Dining Services, the CougarTail has been named the number one unique concession food item in the U.S. by ESPN on three separate occasions.

“It has won many national awards for best collegiate concessions item,” Jacobsen said. “It is featured on ESPN’s broadcasts almost every home game. The CougarTail has become part of the BYU game day experience for so many fans.”

The CougarTail has always been the delicious maple flavor that many are familiar with. However, BYU concessions introduced another flavor to the doughnut’s repertoire. In 2012, the chocolate-covered CougarTail was born. 

This limited edition doughnut became a quick fan favorite as it was introduced with BYU football’s very first blackout game against Oregon State. The chocolate sensation was reintroduced for the BYU/Western Kentucky game in 2020 and for a third time against Arkansas in 2022.

McKell McIntyre, a law student at BYU, completed her undergraduate at BYU and in four years managed to never eat a CougarTail. However, after attending football games during the 2022 season, the chocolate doughnut changed her mind. “I am not a maple doughnut fan so the only time I purchased a CougarTail was when it was chocolate flavored this year.”

Overall, the CougarTail has been a staple at BYU sporting events, and there are high hopes the concession item will stay on top for the foreseeable future. 

“As we celebrate the 20th year since the invention of the CougarTail, my hope is to continue making it a part of every fan’s game day experience,” Jacobsen said.

Here’s to another 20 years of happy faces, full stomachs and sticky fingers at all BYU sporting events.

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