Today, 4 p.m.

TV: KSL, Ch. 5

PROVO — Don't even try asking LaVell Edwards to put perspective on his last game at Cougar Stadium as BYU's coach. Don't ask him to wax nostalgic about the occasion.

"The only time I've thought about it is when I'm asked about it," he said.

He's leaving the reminiscing and ruminating about the historical significance of today's game between BYU and New Mexico to everybody else.

Just before 4 p.m., LaVell the Legend will stroll out of the locker room and onto the field at Cougar Stadium for a football game for the 360th and final time.

Things have changed a bit since his first game as a Cougar coach. When Edwards arrived at BYU as a 31-year-old defensive line coach in 1962, the Cougars played their games in a stadium on campus that is now a hillside. Two years later, BYU moved to a 30,000-seat facility which, 18 years after that, became the present-day, 65,000-seat Cougar Stadium.

The only constant during those 39 seasons? Edwards, of course.

The big difference between 1962 and 2000 is football's place at BYU.

"Game day now is a major happening, like it is at other universities," Edwards said. "That gives me as much satisfaction as any-

thing. I like the fact that football is important at BYU."

The flip side, though, is the scrutiny that goes along with his job. Today, if a player leaves school for honor code-related reasons, it's front-page news. Same goes with reports about possible candidates to replace him. Thirty years ago, there was comparatively little interest in the program.

"When I was named the coach (in 1972)," Edwards remembered, "it ran on page two of the Provo Herald. The next day."

Because of all that Edwards has accomplished at BYU since that time, the school has quite a farewell bash planned. Today's festivities will include an appearance by LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley, who will greet Edwards at midfield for a special pregame presentation.

Will the school announce it will name the stadium — or the field — after Edwards?

Will it announce that a new athletic complex, which has been approved by the school's Board of Trustees, will be named after Edwards?

BYU officials aren't saying.

Later, there will be tributes, gifts, the traditional awarding of senior blankets, a video presentation and a fireworks show. The festivities and speculation have almost overshadowed the fact there actually will be a game played here.

That's understandable. Neither BYU (4-6 overall, 2-3 in the Mountain West) nor New Mexico (5-6, 3-3) is in contention for a championship or a bowl berth. It seems the only people thinking about the game itself are those involved. Considering all the trouble the school has gone to in order to pay tribute to Edwards, the Cougars don't want to be party poopers.

There is no shortage of motivation, they say.

"What we're playing for is to go 6-6," said senior Cougar offensive lineman Kam Valgardson, whose father and uncle played for Edwards at BYU. Valgardson knows that a loss today ensures a losing record for the Cougars in 2000. Next week, BYU travels to Utah for the season finale.

"LaVell hasn't had a losing record since 1973. We don't want to be remembered as his second team to have a losing record."

All of the hype surrounding Edwards' final home game hasn't been a distraction, said senior defensive lineman Chris Hoke. "As players, we don't talk about it," he said. "The pressure is going to be that President Hinckley will be there. We just want to win these next two games. It won't make up for what happened this season, but it will make things better."

New Mexico coach Rocky Long and his team, meanwhile, must feel like they have been invited to a luau, only to find out that they are supposed to be the main course.

"We know it's going to be exciting," Long said of the anticipated charged atmosphere at Cougar Stadium. "It will be a very emotional day for coach Edwards and his team."

Knowing Edwards, though, he won't pay much attention to the pomp and circumstance — at least until after it's all over.

"I think it will sink in at the end, when we pass out the senior blankets, which we always do at the last game," he said. "I'm sure the reality that it will be the last time I will be doing that will set in. I haven't thought a whole lot about it, because you're trying to figure out how to get a team ready to win a ball game."

Then, when the game ends and the festivities subside, he'll take that stroll, for the 360th and final time, back to the locker room.