I know brevity hasn't exactly been my strongest suit during this series, but I'm going to try and limit today's post as much as possible.
After all, I'm sure 2007 is sufficiently fresh on our minds. Admit it--who among you can say you don't have dreams about Eathyn Manumaleuna's big sirloin steak of a hand reaching up to block UCLA's field goal to preserve a 2007 Las Vegas Bowl win?
Personally that moment has been etched in my brain and is now stored alongside my other most precious memories: my wedding day, my mission, the final episode of Small Wonder, etc.
2007 was a heck of a year, was it not? 2007 was the kind of year that tests--and then rewards--a fan's faith.
That's all we really had in 2007: Faith. After losing all of our offensive weapons to the NFL/Summer Sales, we looked at a new crop of athletes and put our trust completely in our coaches to build on the success of the 2006 season.
At QB BYU would start a redshirt sophomore named Max Hall who hadn't played in a game since high school.
At WR we welcomed back Austin Collie, but no one knew just how effective this 2004 junkyard dog would be after his mission.
At RB we heard good things about a freshman named Harvey Unga, who actually played in 2006 but was able to redshirt.
At TE we tearfully said goodbye to Jonny Harline (whom I still believe should be playing NFL ball somewhere) and welcomed back Dennis Pitta who also played in 2004.
New, unfamiliar faces. It was certainly an adjustment for a guy like myself, who had become so attached to the 2006 team. To watch the 2006 team play was like watching living art. They played so flawlessly at times; it was beautiful.
I wasn't ready to give that up.
So when the 2007 season began I was nervous. This season would finally tell us what we really needed to know about Bronco Mendenhall: Has he put together a good football program? Or was his success personnel-driven only?
Can he duplicate and even improve on his 2006 success with a brand new team?
When the season opened on September 1, 2007 we began to answer those questions.
2007 SDP: Mine may seem like a strange pick for the 2007 season-defining play, but hear me out.
Let me take you back to that first game. It was BYU vs. Arizona in LaVell Edwards Stadium. My fellow BYU-obsessed buddies and myself (The Cougar Crazies) arrived at our seats in LES a full 90 minutes before kickoff. We were there so early, in fact, that the players who were warming up on the field hadn't even put on their pads yet.
I got my first look at some of Arizona's players at that time, including this man whom we snapped a picture of, and I'm not afraid to say it: I was concerned. I started to wonder, "Can BYU really compete with schools from BCS conferences who get 4- and 5-star athletes (plural) every year? That has such athletes sitting on the bench because of depth?"
I did what any blue-blooded fan would do in that situation: I masked my anxiety with obnoxiousness. I proceeded to heckle and harass every Arizona player within the sound of my voice hoping, at least, to gain some psychological edge for the Cougars.
(I know I'm taking a long time to set up this SDP, but hang with me).
When the game started I learned something about BYU. We may not get whom the media deem to be "top-caliber" athletes, but the Cougars do have an abundance of heart, passion and discipline.
What's more, our coaches know how to inspire. I learned this for myself as I watched our slower, undersized players dominate Arizona, with all of its blue-chippers, for four quarters and win the game 20-7 (it should have been a shutout; Arizona scored once with 59 seconds left in the game).
And one play exemplifies my discovery perfectly. On third down in the second half vs Arizona, Unga took a routine pass from Hall and was wrapped up and taken down short of the first down. Instead of falling, though, Unga twisted back up to his feet and raced downfield for another 40 yards.
The Arizona players, who had stopped even though no whistle had blown, watched Unga truck by them and looked at each other in disbelief. They finally caught up to him down the field, but the damage was done.
This play is a fine example of why BYU will always have an edge over seemingly faster, bigger teams. Coach Mendenhall has established a culture of hard work, devotion to the team and passion for the game. He puts workers on the field--players with heart. Players that play to the whistle. And the players, in turn, make big plays. Unga showed it in the first game of the season, and Manumaleuna showed it in the last. BYU plays with heart.
BYU ended the season with another 11-2 record, and Bronco Mendenhall proved to be worth his weight in gold. Now we aren't as worried about fresh new players or lack of game-time experience. If there's one thing 2007 has taught us, it's that the system is in place.
Gosh- see what I mean? I suck at being brief.