Deep beneath the stadium, the Cougar Club was already going strong with its pregame festivities. The buffet line was moving briskly. A country band played happily away. A banner stretched behind the podium that said "Congratulations, LaVell, Get No. 200!"
Overhead, a plane circled Cougar Stadium with a trailer: "LaVell, Win No. 200 - Go For It!"Saturday afternoon had all the makings of a joyful event for the Cougars. This wasn't just the home opener, this was LaVell's invitation into the Football Hall of Fame.
The occasion was, of course, the day BYU coach LaVell Edwards was supposed to win his 200th career game. What good are records without hype? Edwards was to step alongside the other great coaches of history - Bear Bryant, Pop Warner, Joe Paterno, Woody Hayes, etc. - on a perfect Saturday afternoon in front of the home crowd.
Certainly Saturday's game had more than a normal amount of buildup. BYU and Colorado State were both undefeated in two games, and both picked in the preseason polls to contend for the WAC title. The Cougars were back home for the first time this year. BYU players spent the week shouting, "Get 200!" rather than the traditional "Beat CSU!" when they broke meetings.
But instead of sending Edwards into the record books, the Cougars lost 28-21 to Colorado State. BYU quarterback John Walsh was sacked four times and intercepted four more, making it a day neither Edwards, Walsh nor anyone in the Cougar Club would care to remember.
"I hope LaVell gets No. 200," said CSU safety Greg Myers, stifling a smile. "I really do . . . next week."
For his part, Edwards spent most of the week trying to hold down the hype as he neared his milestone victory. Two quick wins in previous weeks set things up so he could claim the win in Provo, where he has spent his entire college coaching career. He fielded questions about the approaching milestone by saying he hadn't thought much it. He hastened to add that he was thinking more of the WAC race.
If Edwards was avoiding talk about his place in history, that didn't discourage others. Athletic department officials made plans to present Edwards with the game ball after the contest. Newspapers and TV and radio stations made it a point to bring up the benchmark win on a daily basis.
"That's all we heard," said CSU defensive end Sean Moran.
But only too soon, the Cougars learned what Napoleon already knew: making history isn't easy. Thirteen minutes into the game the Cougars trailed 7-3 after an interception return by Myers. Late in the half the Rams moved their lead to 21-10.
According to the BYU Book of Miracle Comebacks, the Cougars should have then won. When they cut the lead to 21-13 with 11:10 to go on a field goal, they were supposed to forge ahead in the final minutes to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Isn't this where Steve Young takes a keeper into the end zone? Isn't this where Jim McMahon drops back and unloads a touchdown pass? Where Kyle Morrell leaps over the line to tackle the quarterback on the goal-line stand?
"We almost did pull it off," sighed BYU wide receiver Bryce Doman. "Just a couple of series hurt us."
But Walsh, fighting not only the WAC's best defense but also a case of strep throat, was anything but legendary. He threw his fourth interception with 7:18 to go. Soon after, the fans were soon storming the exits and the celebration was on hold.
"No excuses," said Walsh. "We self-destructed."
Thus, the Rams saved Provo from an acute overdose of LaVell. The way they had it figured, BYU can go for records on someone else's time.
"We come out and they have a write-up in their program about LaVell getting No. 200," said Moran. "Everthing was `Congratulations, LaVell!' everywhere we went. We just decided `Not against us.' "
So Edwards' date with history was sidetracked until another Saturday. The Rams had rained on their parade, pulled out the plug, stolen all the party favors.
"We'll get it for him," said Doman. "Soon. Very soon."
Just not as soon as they had planned.