PROVO — Heather Nuckles didn't exactly know what she was getting into when she married her husband, Dennis, nine years ago.
She was fully aware that he was a big BYU football fan, but she didn't understand at the time the degree of his fanaticism. In fact, the couple has a running joke about his dual allegiances.
Heather and Dennis, who live in Cedar Hills, were expecting their first baby seven years ago in September. "I always wanted to have a baby on the day of a BYU game," Heather says. "I honestly don't know if he'd be at the game or in the delivery room. He just loves BYU football so much. He's true blue. He won't miss a game."
Turned out their son, Cade, was born a few days after the home-opener that season. The couple's third child, Luke, was named after — you guessed it — former BYU running back star Luke Staley.
"Heather doesn't like to think of it that way, though," Dennis says. "I told her she can think of him being named after Luke in the Bible."
Except for the two years he was serving an LDS Church mission, Dennis has attended every home BYU football game the past 27 seasons. "I've gone to games with the flu, with strep throat," he said.
While Dennis hasn't missed the births of his children, he has skipped weddings and wedding receptions involving extended family members when they've conflicted with a Cougars game.
"Everything has to be planned around a BYU game," Heather says. "And before games, I tease him because his hands get clammy and he doesn't eat much."
When Dennis attends a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium, he likes to arrive plenty early and soak up the ambiance. "What drives me crazy is missing kickoff," Dennis says. "I have to watch the players come out of the tunnel and warm up. It's all part of the experience. It's more like an event than a game."
Of course, he's already looking forward to the BYU-Utah game in November. Every year, Dennis and his brother-in-law, who happens to be a former Ute football player, enjoy stoking the rivalry in good-natured fashion by decorating each other's yards.
"One year, he spray-painted a block U. on my grass and decorated my yard with red balloons," Dennis says. "We took some plywood and spray painted 'Go BYU' on it and put it in his yard with blue balloons. One year, we put a bunch of forks in his grass with a sign that said, 'Stick a fork in the Utes.' "
This passion for BYU runs in the family. While growing up in Orem, Dennis began attending games with his father at age 5. His two younger brothers and sister were also weaned on Cougar football. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, when BYU regularly played in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, the Nuckles family took Christmas vacations to San Diego almost every year for the game.
"We would have rather gone to the Holiday Bowl than to Disneyland," he says.
Today, the Nuckles clan owns eight season tickets, and they take their spouses and children to the games. Heather admits her husband's love of the Cougars has rubbed off on her, too.
For Dennis, the confluence of family and BYU football is a perfect mix.
"It's always been a family tradition," he says. "We're absolutely passionate about it. We like being together, and we like the atmosphere of the games."