SOME THINGS YOU never forget: where you were when JFK was killed; the day man walked on the moon. And if you follow BYU football, even remotely, you never forget the night BYU beat Southern Methodist in the 1980 Holiday Bowl.

With SMU in Provo this weekend to play BYU, nobody who ever ate a bag of Cougar Crunchies can watch and not think of the first time these two teams met.And like approximately 1.5 million other people, I'm claiming I was there at Holiday Bowl III and actually stayed to the end.

I was a college beat writer for the Deseret News, there to cover the game. It was BYU's third trip to the Holiday Bowl, and with four mintues to go in the contest, the Cougars were working on their fifth bowl appearance without a win. I was sitting in the open-air press box at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego with Lee Benson, the News' sports editor, and we were planning our stories for the next day's paper. My angle would be this: Same old story, Cougars lose again.

Which seemed the natural way to go, considering the Cougars were down 25 points at the time. But that was before the comeback that would make history. The Cougars revived to win 46-45.

Since then, BYU has been to 14 other bowl games and become a nationally recognized program. Despite the University of Utah's recent emergence, whenever the WAC is brought up nationally, most people still think of BYU. That comes from 17 WAC championships and the 17 straight bowl appearances. Though the Cougars have beaten Miami, Texas A&M, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Colorado - and even beaten Michigan and won a national title - no game was more important than the 1980 Holiday Bowl.

That was the night the Cougars decided they could swim in the deep end of the pool.

Reaction to the comeback was one of disbelief, even in the press box. Writers who had covered college football for decades said they had never seen anything like it. Many, fighting tight deadlines, had already written their stories before the winning pass from Jim McMahon to Clay Brown with no time left on the clock. When the game ended, one Texas writer lay his head down, pounded the table and moaned.

He didn't mind SMU losing; he just didn't want to write his story over again.

Provo Daily Herald writer Marion Dunn leaped from his seat on the final play, clinched his fist, and shouted, "Take that, Texas!"

OK, so he got carried away. It wasn't like he didn't have a lot of company in the building.

Over the years, more details have emerged; players tend to loosen up as time passes. Three years after the game, I interviewed players from that team for a book - since out of print - called "Greatest Moments in BYU Sports," and learned some interesting facts. For instance, with BYU trailing 45-25, McMahon connected with Matt Braga on a scoring pass in which Braga dived to scoop the ball off the ground. As he came to the sidelines, teammate Bill Davis said to Braga, "Matt, you catch that ball?"

Braga gave him a "Yeah, right" look.

"How many bounces?" said Davis.

"I think only one," grinned Braga. "Two at the most."

I learned that every player on the team believed the game was over except one: Jim McMahon. "I don't care what anyone says, only one player on the field that night thought we could win, and that was Jim McMahon," one player told me.

A year earlier, Brown's wife, Ria, had dreamed he would make the winning catch on the last play of Holiday Bowl II against Indiana. But it was not to be. The next year, he was thinking of her dream as he left to board the team bus.

"Ria," he said, "remember the dream you had last year?"

She nodded.

Said Brown: "Maybe this time."

And he walked out the door into history.

At the time BYU won the game, I remember thinking this was a good game, but there would be others. Now it's been 16 years and I've never seen a game to compare. Perhaps I never will. Then again, if I learned anything that night, it's to never say never again.