Unfortunately, the event that most defined the 2004 season didn't even happen on the field.
In August, 2004, several BYU football players were accused and later indicted on counts of rape and sexual assault. It was embarrassing for BYU, and a horribly poignant example of the depths to which this once proud program had sunk.
This event, more than anything else that may have happened during the Gary Crowton era, led to the resignation of Coach Crowton and the firing of then athletic director Val Hale. It was a dark moment in BYU athletics--probably the darkest--and if it wouldn't have happened, Coach Crowton might be still be BYU's head coach today.
In fact, I'd like to take this time to express what might be an unpopular opinion among Cougar Faithful. I would like to submit to you, the readers, that Gary Crowton is actually a good coach. We all saw what he did in 2001 when he had the talent, and we all know what he's gone on to do post-BYU (success at Oregon, National Championship at LSU).
He struggled in 2002-2004 because, frankly, the cupboard was bare. We had no QBs, we had no defense, we had no WRs and so on.
Whose fault is this, you ask? If we're speaking honestly here, I think any Cougar fan has to admit that a good deal of the blame rests on the shoulders of the (gulp, please don't hate me LaVell) previous administration.
I alluded to this in my 2000 season analysis, but I'll say it again here: As good a coach as LaVell Edwards was, at the end of his career everyone could see that he was just tired, and recruiting suffered as a result. BYU ended up with an abundance of local, sub-par players that didn't really leave BYU until as late as 2005/2006.
(Note: There's absolutely no problem with local players. If the 2008/2009 recruiting class has taught us anything, it's that there is an abundance of talent in the state of Utah. However, that doesn't mean EVERY football player in Orem deserves a scholarship...)
Anyway, I know I'm going off the road a little bit here, but stay with me. As Crowton was working with players he didn't recruit (read: Rod Wilkerson), he was bringing in kids like Austin Collie, Dennis Pitta, Bryan Kehl, John Beck and Cameron Jensen. Who knows what Coach Crowton would have done with his guys once they reached maturity?
Of course, Crowton's zeal for recruiting was his downfall. He recognized talent, it's true, but unfortunately some of the players he brought in, while talented, simply did not fit the BYU mold. It all came to a tragic conclusion one August night when a girl was raped by four BYU players.
Crowton is a good coach with a good mind for football, but being a head coach at BYU means so much more than bringing in talent and winning games.
Being a head coach at BYU means standing for its principles and its mission. It's not apologizing for or making excuses about standards--it's embracing them. BYU is different than any other school on the planet, and every one of its programs, including football, should reflect that difference and serve to further its mission.
Gary Crowton tried to operate outside the standards of BYU. He tried to be an exception, and ultimately that is why I believe he was asked to resign.
2004 SDP: Gary Crowton didn't resign until after the 2004 season ended. His team showed a little improvement that year, but still ended with a 5-7 record. This meant BYU experienced back-to-back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1962-1964.
The season-defining play for the 2004 season came on a September night in the booming metropolis of Boise, Idaho. BYU faced the blue-clad No. 21 Boise State Broncos for a rematch after getting beat down in 2003.
The Broncos were just emerging as a rising star in the non-BCS galaxy, and this game appeared to be a symbolic passing of the torch from BYU to Boise State (and... ugh... Utah) as the premier non-BCS team in the country.
BYU refused to go down without a fight, though, and had a chance to win the game with 33 seconds left. They were on the Bronco 20 yard line down by one point. Big Matt Payne strode onto the field with a chance to kick the game-winning field goal; it was a mere chip shot to him--the guy who had kicked 28 consecutive FGs before this one.
The ball was snapped, the kick was up... wide left. BYU lost. The torch was passed. BYU sank into mediocrity yet again and Cougar fans everywhere wondered if the dream was finally over.
This was what rock bottom looked like.
Tomorrow: The light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Season-defining play for the 2005 season.