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A SIMPLE PLAY, A BYU PLAY, APPROPRIATELY WON IT ALL

SHARE A SIMPLE PLAY, A BYU PLAY, APPROPRIATELY WON IT ALL

Ten years ago this season it happened. The moon, the stars, the Milky Way, and the football teams from Oklahoma, Washington, South Carolina and Nebraska, among others, all lined up - amazingly enough - in the only configuration possible to allow Brigham Young University to win the national football championship.

With all that in place, the rest was a day at the chalkboard for the Cougars.They threw a pass for a touchdown and popped open the Martinelli's.

It was as appropriate as it was momentous, that 13-yard game-winning touchdown pass from Robbie Bosco to Kelly Smith with 1:23 left to play in the 1984 Holiday Bowl: The play that closed the case. Smith would go where other Cougar heroes had gone before - into the south end zone at San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium. It was into this same long grass where Steve Young had gone the year before to beat Missouri and where Clay Brown had gone in 1980 against SMU to make the Miraculous Reception.

But whereas Young and Brown made their entrances in unorthodox, Indiana Jones-like ways - Young on a reverse halfback pass, of all things, and Brown on a Save-the-Game pattern that called for all the finesse of an emergency jet landing in the ocean - the play that would clinch BYU's national title, the pass from Bosco to Smith, was as fundamental BYU as sparkle punch and the occasional maple bar for breakfast.

This wasn't something every defensive coordinator in the WAC didn't routinely curse in the middle of the night. This certainly wasn't something the Michigan defense hadn't seen over and over again in their film room for most of the past month.

This was as routine as a Paul James superlative - a basic BYU play called the H option, where the halfback comes out of the backfield and into the flat, looking for an easy five or six yards.

Which is what Smith did.

Then, when he turned and saw that his quarterback - who wasn't moving at his best on account of he was playing on only one leg - was under heavy pressure, he broke from the flat and raced upfield.

Watching Smith make his break was a lovely scene for BYU coach LaVell Edwards, even if he had seen it before.

"Kelly saw Robbie was in trouble," says Edwards, remembering it like it was yesterday's sunset, "so he just turned around and broke deep. That's what he was supposed to do. That's what he'd been taught to do. That's why you work on those kinds of things every day since spring. Every practice. Even though the touchdown came off a broken play of sorts it was still something we had worked on and practiced; it was what we were supposed to do."

The touchdown broke a 17-17 tie. The system had prevailed. The rest was up to fate.

Being who they were, Smith and Bosco exonerated the unique BYU system even further. Who better to personify a system predicated on precision, disciplined passing - rather than blue-chip recruiting - than the self-made Smith, originally a walk-on from Beaver, Utah, who shuffled from defensive back to wide receiver before settling in as a halfback and a junior starter? And who better to personify a passing game grounded in fundamentals and intelligence - as opposed to strong-armed bombing - than the gimpy-legged Bosco, a player who chose BYU over USC because he feared playing second string at USC behind Sean Salisbury?

Like the teammates flanking them on all sides, Smith and Bosco were two players who had paid their dues, who had elevated themselves through the system, and who now were just doing what they'd already done at least a thousand times before. And that's not counting the spring.

Ten years' worth of hindsight only sharpens the focus on the appropriateness of the play that clinched BYU's national title. It was a play that allowed the Cougars to not only claim the crown, but to show off their stuff - such as it was.

That play was the easy part. And in reality, it was the only part the Cougars could control. The alignment of the planets and all those other teams winning and losing precisely when they had to - that's the part of the story that, to this day, remains truly amazing.