Critics charge that the Cougars have used this eligibility rule cynically. That's because while players at certain positions—notably linemen—can only benefit from the passage of time and the adding of bulk, there is little benefit in a quarterback's missing a moment away from the program. And, it turns out, not one of BYU's storied quarterbacks—Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young (a descendant of Brigham himself), Robbie Bosco, Detmer—ever went on a mission. "That is a large coincidence, isn't it?" says Lee, who nonetheless disputes the notion that missions are a secret weapon for the Cougars. "When they come back, they frequently don't have that fire in their belly," he says. Detmer agrees, saying of some players who returned from missions, "mentally they just don't have the competitive spirit, and you've got to have it because football is a mean sport."
•The goody-goody factor. All BYU students sign pledges not to drink alcohol, tea or coffee, use recreational drugs, smoke, swear or engage in premarital sex. They didn't use to be able to wear blue jeans. Says Detmer, "We are perceived as thinking that we are better than everyone else." And, in some ways, they are. For example, only six of the 107 current Division I-A football schools have never been investigated for wrongdoing in cither their football or basketball programs. Of course BYU is one of the six. Fifty-five percent of Cougar athletes had a 3.2 or better average for at least one semester in 1991.
But skeptics love those rare occasions when a BYU football player goes off the rails. For example, in a 1991 game against UTEP, a personal foul was assessed against the Cougars. An official miked to the P.A. system was asked by Edwards to explain the call and blurted out, "Because Detmer said, 'You're full of——.' " Former Wyoming player Rabold says bluntly, "They talk a lot about what a class organization they are, but they don't win with class or lose with class. And whenever they lose, they whine and make excuses."
•That air of superiority. No question that as the Dallas Cowboys once were America's Team, BYU fancies itself as God's Team. That doesn't play well in Laramie and San Diego and Honolulu. Says athletic director Tuckett, "We are better human beings than we are football players. We try to be good guys because we are." That sound you hear is the grinding of teeth in all the other WAC towns.
Edwards, for one, is careful not to further inflame the critics with any Tuckett-like declarations. He says that he has a tough enough time as it is recruiting big-name players from out of state. He won't even enter the fray when it comes to the single most controversial event in BYU history: the awarding of the 1984 national championship to Brigham Young. That year's Cougars went 13-0, including a 24-17 win over Michigan in the Holiday Bowl. But a sizable portion of the college football world remains convinced that an asterisk should be affixed to BYU's title, because the Cougars had fashioned their perfect record against the patsies from their own conference plus nonleague opponents Pitt, Baylor and Tulsa, none of which was ranked in the Top 20 at the end of the season. Even the Wolverines finished out of the Top 20 that season.
Edwards just shrugs and says, "I don't know at all that we were the best team in the country. All I know is that when I got this job, I looked back over my 18 years of coaching and discovered that I'd been associated with just four winning years. So nobody has been more surprised with our success than I have been."
•Sundry irritants. Outsiders charge that as long as BYU remains in the WAC, its schedule—with pushovers UTEP, New Mexico, Utah State and Utah—can never be taken seriously. Last year the only tough teams BYU played in the regular season were Florida State, UCLA and Penn State; the Cougars lost to them all, by a combined score of 104-58. There is also the perception that BYU has unlimited financial resources, which McCann denies. "We're not poor, and we're not wealthy," he says. "We're healthy." Maybe, but the church does help to fund many of the athletic facilities at the school. Some critics even hate BYU because Edwards, possessor of the third-best winning percentage (.744) among active coaches, is too nice a guy. That, for sure, can grate.
BYU, chip on shoulder firmly in place, routinely sees itself as victim. When the WAC all-conference team was named last year, Air Force and San Diego State each had five first-team players. The Cougars—the conference champs—had four. "The coaches pick the team," says Harmon. "That says something."
Lee contemplates the problem and concludes, "I do hope the solution to all this is not losing football games." And Ray Herbat, a former writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, has had it. Writes Herbat, "If Brigham Young University wants to make a major contribution to our hateful society, I plead that it get out of the WAC. It's time to find someone, something else to hate."