There was no single, obvious reason for BYU quarterback Robbie Bosco's horrendous play at the outset of the Cougars' 28-21 defeat at Provo of previously unbeaten Air Force. There were, however, several theories:
?The life-size posters of Bosco being hawked by the BYU bookstore on game day had been marked down from $4 to $2, and a sort of voodoo effect had set in.
? Bosco was in a funk because he has hardly seen his steady, Karen Holt, for four weeks. According to Mormon strictures, Holt must remain incommunicado while at BYU's Missionary Training Center, where she is learning Finnish, one of the few things more difficult than solving Air Force's veteran secondary.
? Bosco had too big a number on his back. As homage to star receiver Glen Kozlowski, who has missed most of the season with a torn knee ligament, Bosco had shunned his own No. 6 jersey and wore Koz's No. 7, which wasn't very lucky for Koz—and hadn't done too well for Bosco.
Of course, just when the fans from Colorado Springs were beginning to think that Air Force One might refer to the Falcons' standing in college football rather than an airplane, Bosco righted himself and the Cougars crawled out of a 14-point halftime hole and toward a possible 10th-straight WAC title. But that was later. On his first three snaps, Bosco threw an incompletion, lost a fumble and threw an interception. Of his first four passes, two landed in the hands of Falcons, or Zoomies, as they're known around the conference. And on those rare series not ending in Bosco turnovers, the Cougars had to throw in the Towle, in the person of their punter, Kevin.
Boos could be heard. They were sober boos, but they still made BYU coach LaVell Edwards livid. "A lot of people around here are spoiled," he said. "Robbie is 21-2 the last two years. That's better than anyone we've had. I coached here a lot of years when people didn't even get excited enough to boo."
Bosco did throw a 22-yard scoring pass to wideout Mark Bellini early in the second quarter to forestall more catcalls. But Air Force, having returned two interceptions of Bosco for TDs, still held a 21-7 lead at halftime when Kozlowski told Bosco, "Quit disgracing my jersey."
Bosco did Kozlowski's jersey proud. He did end up with four interceptions, but as Air Force cornerback Dwan Wilson said, "Bosco isn't a man to put it in the closet after a few turnovers." He wound up with 29 completions in 49 attempts for 343 yards as the Falcons left the closet door ajar in the second half, suffering uncharacteristic breakdowns in pass and punt coverage. One of Air Force coach Fisher DeBerry's many delightful bloopers—"Our defense ceases to amaze me"—would become apropos.
At first glance, the game itself had seemed a bit WAC-o. The Cougars, representing the descendants of intrepid overland trekkers, blaspheme their heritage by setting footballs to flying. The Falcons, meanwhile, are a team with so little air force that their quarterback, Bart Weiss, passes only about 10 times a game. But here they were, in their 11th week, confounding the traditionalists who find it unsettling enough that a WAC team is the defending national champion and absolutely subversive that two WAC schools should play in a game of such national significance.
With a 23-16 loss to hapless UTEP on Oct. 26—"The black hole in our galaxy," one BYU official calls it—the Cougars weren't going to repeat as national champs. But Bosco was still nursing hopes for the Heisman, and the Falcons were 10-0 and No. 1 in the supposedly dispassionate New York Times' computer rankings. The game was the biggest thing to hit Provo since Pepsi Free. Things got so giddy that Fiesta Bowl impresarios spoke of stuffing their pi�ata with extra pesos, just in case an undefeated Penn State had to be lured to Tempe, Ariz. on Jan. 1 to play an unbeaten Air Force for the national title.