Football History

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the 1984 National Championship

Robbie Bosco behind offensive line anchored by Trevor Matich against Michigan in 1984.

Reprinted from Gameday program, Sept. 11, 2014

By Ralph R. Zobell, Athletic Media Relations

Fastened seatbelts are a must nowadays for passengers on airlines in the aftermath of 9/11.

Yet 30 years ago, two celebrated football players from BYU's 1984 National Championship team were both prone on their stomachs, laying sky-high on airline floors, unsecured by seat belts on different flights.

Robbie Bosco was aboard a West-bound Salt Lake City charter flight writhing in pain the night of Sept. 1, nearly 17 years earlier over those same Pennsylvania skies devoid of airlines that fateful day of 2001. 

"My back felt like it was broken because of a knot the size of my fist," Bosco said. The pain may have been caused when he was hit in the chest and thrown to the turf by future NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Chris Doleman.

Yet Bosco and his Cougar teammates were ecstatic as he lay facedown in the aisle, just inches from the cockpit door. The Cougars had just upset No. 3-ranked Pittsburgh, 20-14.

“Patti made LaVell move over to give me more room,” Bosco recalls of Coach Edwards and his wife. “I was on my stomach most of the flight. I ate dinner with the plate right in front of my face on the floor.”

That same month, a couple weeks later it would be kicker Lee Johnson lying on the airline floor of an Eastbound flight from Honolulu.

Pillows were needed over the Pacific Ocean in the wee morning hours as the plane rose over Pearl Harbor, bucking turbulent trade winds. As the jet descended Utah-bound clearing the Sierra Nevada range, a pillow fight erupted amongst giddy players, and Johnson was underneath the melee on the airplane floor. Buried under pillows hiding his body, the stewardess couldn't hear Johnson's cries, "Pete Witbeck (late BYU senior associate athletic director), help me!"

The plane kissed the tarmac in Salt Lake City, familiar to 52 of the players who had served church missions. Sixteen married players embraced their spouses as they got off the charter. Johnson emerged unscathed from the pillow pile and the Cougars were 3-0.

The Hawai’i game enabled BYU to play 13 games that season. BYU’s coaching staff returned to Hawai’i a couple months later, individually with their spouses as a reward for the National Championship. The Cougar assistants visited several of the Hawaiian islands, surfed or fished, basking in the memories of the 1984 season.

The Pitt game had been unscheduled the year before because BYU was supposed to play Texas A&M and Kentucky in 1984. As it played out, the 6-5 Aggies and 9-3 Wildcats each drew a bye those weekends that BYU defeated Tulsa and had a bye of its own.

Glen Tuckett, then BYU’s athletic director, remembers Alabama was supposed to be the new opponent, but grabbed Pitt at the last minute when the Crimson Tide ebbed.

The 1984 BYU team is one of 34 teams to go undefeated since that time, but only 13 of those teams were voted No. 1 by Associated Press. Dominos fell—in the bowls, pre-season No. 1 Auburn won in the Liberty Bowl, the next No. 1 Miami lost in the Fiesta Bowl, the next No. 1 Nebraska won in the Sugar Bowl, the next No. 1 Texas lost in the Freedom Bowl and the next No. 1 Washington won in the Orange Bowl. 

Fans recall gimp-legged Bosco returning from the locker room to lead BYU to the 1984 Holiday Bowl victory over Michigan. But that wasn’t the first time that season Bosco begged to return to the game after an injury.

“I pulled my groin at Hawai’i,” Bosco said of the play as the second quarter ended, rolling left with all kinds of daylight, then barely converting a first down, nursing a 12-10 lead. “At halftime the coaches told me, ‘You’re not going to the second half.’ I told them, ‘I’m playing,’ so they taped me up.” 

Johnson’s first of two blocked punts at Hawai`i was pay dirt in the end zone following a Rainbow recovery.

“The turf in Hawai’i was wicked-hot,” recalls the bare-footed punter. Johnson hadn't kicked an extra point in BYU's 18-13 win at Hawai'i, but field goals of 46 and 36 yards he booted with his shoe on, were the difference. He began wearing a shoe for punts during his third year in the NFL.

In the Holiday Bowl, Michigan blocked a Johnson 50-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter to set up a go-ahead Wolverine TD with the score 14-10.

“They (Michigan) climbed a wall to block me,” Johnson said of that bowl game where he only punted once. “I couldn’t believe how high they could get.”

Two months earlier Johnson had punted five times against Wyoming and his 46-yard field goal was the difference in a 41-38 win over the Cowboys in Provo. But it was Bosco on autopilot that felled UW that October day following a pregame tirade by co-captain Kyle Morrell when he hurled a ketchup bottle against a hotel wall during the team’s ritual cheeseburger snack meeting.

“We had a series of miracles that season, not just one,” center Trevor Matich recalls. “On that last drive against Wyoming I thought this thing could slip away against Wyoming! We didn't have our A game every series of every game. Bosco and (Glen) Kozlowski made plays off schedule, it was almost sandlot.”

“It was fourth down, and we were losing,” Bosco recalls of that Wyoming game. “If we don’t make it, they kneel and win. Kozlowski was playing with a concussion. We called a Z option in a slot against their zone. I had to motion to Koz to scoot over because there was a huge hole.”

That play set up a 14-yard game-winning TD to David Mills to defeat the Pokes. 

Cougar offensive lineman Robert Anae had doubled as the long snapper until he dislocated his right ring finger in the Hawai`i game. He had switched from guard to center to replace an injured Matich during the Tulsa game. Anae wore a boxing glove, courtesy of equipment manager Floyd Johnson, for the balance of the season as walk-on Jay Shumway picked up the deep snapping chores.

There are more-publicized plays from the 1984 season when the Cougars didn’t buckle. For instance, at Pittsburgh reserve quarterback Blaine Fowler to Kozlowski, Bosco to wideout Adam Haysbert on the 63 call, and nose guard Dave Futrell making a stop on fourth and two on the Cougar two in a goal line stand.

There’s Morrell’s aerial tackle at Hawai’i. And against Michigan there’s a Marv Allen interception, or Larry Hamilton standing the Wolverine fullback up in the second quarter on third and one for no gain, and Bosco to Kelly Smith breaking out of double coverage for the game-winning TD.

But there were several behind-the-scenes heroics that contributed to the 1984 National Championship where players picked themselves up off the floor.

 

The Ring

Front and center on the desk of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland sits his 1984 National Championship ring from one of his years as president of BYU (1980-89).

Most of the players and coaches on the 1984 team have placed their National Championship ring in safety deposit boxes or trophy cases, rarely wearing it.

Defensive lineman Jim Herrmann, however, has owned two 1984 National Championship rings.  He had a replacement copy made after his sons lost the original.

“I kept the first one in a safety deposit box until my Mom told me I should be wearing some of my rings,” Herrmann said. One day, Herrmann overheard his sons saying something about dropping Daddy’s big football ring and no one could find it.

“It was gone. I phoned OC Tanner (jewelers) and they were just about to throw out the mold.  My wife (Leslie) surprised me with the new ring on my 39th birthday when she pulled me aside as we were walking to a home BYU game (Air Force 2001) at the stadium.”

 

Lesser Known on 1984 Team

After BYU defeated Michigan, Cougar center Trevor Matich said one of his first priorities was to thank the players on BYU’s scout team who made life miserable for him all season. Those scout team/junior varsity players had to practice every day against the National Champions.

Among those practice players were defensive backs Brian Timmons and Rodney Thomas.

“I played only rarely and only on special teams,” said Timmons, a Harvard graduate and now a trial lawyer for Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in Los Angeles.  “I transferred to Duke after my freshman year, where I was offered a full football scholarship.”

“We always went after him,” said Robbie Bosco of Rodney Thomas, a scholarship cornerback the regulars picked upon on the scout team. Thomas became a starter for BYU the next year and was drafted by the Miami Dolphins, playing three seasons for them. He also played for the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers.

“No one was out to make a name just for themselves,” said Jim McDade, a reserve linebacker on the 1984 squad. “I just think that even when we were behind in a game, everyone believed and expected that we would score or do what it took to win.”

1984 JV Player Position Hometown
Steve Anderson DB Calgary, Alberta
Todd Arbon DB Salt Lake City
Jason Briggs LB Provo, Utah
Paul Clifford K Rochester, N.Y.
Bob Conlee K Orem, Utah
Steve Done DB Sunnyvale, Calif.
Patrick Earl DT Moses Lake, Wash.
Chris Edwards DB Hurricane, Utah
Kerry Edwards DB Hurricane, Utah
Peter Finau FB Mesa, Ariz.
Mike Franks TE Kennewick. Wash
Steve George DB Las Vegas
Gary Gray WR Santa Ana, Calif.
Mark Hegerman OT Minnetonka, Minn.
Max Hegerman DB Minnetonka, Minn.
Scott Holloway LB Pocatello, Idaho
Brian Hunt QB Glendora, Calif.
Jody Jennings LB Thomasville, Ala.
Greg Johnson DB Orem, Utah
Joel Johnson FB Spanish Fork, Utah
Stan Larson TE Pleasanton, Calif.
Vern Leatham LB Birmingham, Ala.
Michael Naumu DB Pearl City, Calif.
Kip Nield DB Pittsburgh, Kansas
Todd Olsen DB Kailua, Hawai`i
Jason Parker OT Kalispell, Mont.
Tom Pitcher LB Houston
Jonathan Plater WR Reno, Nevada
Richard Reid OT Tremonton, Utah
Joe Richardson OG Taylorsville, Utah
Dan Rosza LB Los Angeles
Robbie Stark K San Diego
Brian Timmons DB Kernersville, N.C.
Dave Tuckett DB Spanish Fork, Utah
Bob Vance FB Honolulu, Hawai`i
Dan Wall LB Lehi, Utah
Kenny Woods DL Stone Mountain, Ga.

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