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BYU football: Black 14 game lives in BYU memories

SHARE BYU football: Black 14 game lives in BYU memories

Forty years ago, BYU and Wyoming met at War

Memorial Stadium in Laramie, Wyo., for a football game that turned out

to be much more than a game.

It was October, 1969 — a turbulent time in American history, with

demonstrations and protests abounding around the country, sparked by

the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War.

So when 14 black Wyoming football players decided to wear black

armbands for the game against BYU — to protest what they considered to

be "racist practices" of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day

Saints, which owns and operates BYU — and when then-Cowboys coach Lloyd

Eaton decided to boot those 14 players, which included seven starters,

from the team for that decision, it touched off a maelstrom of

controversy and it immediately became a national story. The following

week, reporters from media outlets like the New York Times and Sports

Illustrated descended upon Laramie to chronicle the episode.

And the ramifications of the "Black 14" incident have since resonated for decades.

During the week of the 1969 BYU-Wyoming game, the Black Student

Alliance at Wyoming announced it was planning to stage a demonstration

outside the stadium against the LDS Church because it did not allow

blacks to hold the priesthood (it wasn't until 1978 that blacks were

granted that opportunity). The Black 14 insisted on being part of that

protest by wearing black armbands as a symbolic gesture, but Eaton

rejected that plan and meted out a severe punishment against those

players for violating team rules prohibiting players' involvement in

protests.

Marc Lyons, who was BYU's starting quarterback in 1969, remembers

staying at the Holiday Inn in Laramie the night before the game and

hearing people throw bottles at the hotel. On game day, the Cougars

encountered protestors as they arrived at War Memorial Stadium.

"It was definitely a strange atmosphere," said Lyons, a longtime

color analyst for KSL Radio who will be in Laramie when BYU visits

Wyoming on Saturday (noon, The mtn.). "It was hard to understand. A lot

of our players weren't LDS. It was odd that this was happening at a

football game.

"We were the news. ... It was the first time we encountered

protesters. People were holding signs as we got to the stadium to play.

We walked through those people and they were badgering us a little bit.

"There was a girl who had a sign, something about the Mormons, and

she misspelled the word 'Mormon.' It was a little bit unnerving, a

little bit comical," Lyons said. "The strangest part was that it didn't

seem at all like a game that day. There was a lot of other stuff going

on. It was a different atmosphere, that's for sure."

At that time, Wyoming was a dominant team in the Western Athletic

Conference while the Cougars were perennial also-rans. Yet going into

that contest, BYU was confident about its chances for victory because

it knew the Cowboys had lost seven starters.

"We were kind of excited. We thought, 'Man, we're going to beat those guys,' " Lyons recalled.

Instead, the incident, at least on that day, galvanized the rest of Wyoming's team.

"Once the game started, man, they got all over us," Lyons said. "I was surprised about that. They beat us pretty good."

Indeed, the Cowboys, who were unbeaten and ranked in the top 10, crushed the Cougars, 40-7.

From there, however, the two programs started courses in opposite

directions and Wyoming football was never the same. From 1966-1968, the

Cowboys had won 27 games, but over the next seven seasons, they won

only 24 times and suffered six consecutive losing campaigns. After

playing in the 1968 Sugar Bowl, Wyoming didn't play in another bowl

game until 1987.

BYU, on the other hand, went on to become the WAC's dominant team

from the late 1970s through the 1990s. Through the years, many Wyoming

fans saw BYU as being responsible for the Cowboys' demise.

Kevin McKinney, a Cheyenne native and Wyoming graduate, is the

senior associate athletic director at Wyoming. He's also the longtime

color analyst for Cowboy radio broadcasts. McKinney, who was on the

school's sports information staff in 1969, said the Black 14 incident

had a long-lasting influence that went far beyond football.

"It had an incredible impact on the football program and it had an

incredible impact on those kids (who were kicked off the team),"

McKinney said. "They had a terrible time going to school anywhere. It

was a tragic thing, really. It impacted a program, but it impacted a

lot of young men, too. That was the sad thing. The wins and losses were

the shallow part of it. The real crux of it was the impact it had on

those kids and their teammates."

Like many Wyoming fans, McKinney had a difficult time coming to terms with the incident.

"I live and die Wyoming. I was born there, I was raised there, I

went to school there," he said. "It's hard for me. It was amazingly

bitter because Wyoming football was everything to the fans and the

students."

It wasn't until years after the incident that McKinney met up with

one of those Black 14 players and they talked about what happened in

1969 and its aftermath.

"He told me how he couldn't go to college anywhere because nobody

would take him," McKinney said. "I got a real perspective on what

courage it took to stand up for what he believed in. Those kids loved

the game. They gave that all up. So I kind of changed my mind about it."

Just this week, a symposium was held on the Wyoming campus about the

Black 14 incident. McKinney was among those on the panel. The

auditorium was packed with students eager to learn about that painful

time in the school's history.

"People need to know about it," McKinney said. "It was 40 years ago.

That's a long time. But I was amazed at the turnout at this

(symposium). It was very interesting to be part of that. I didn't know

that, 40 years later, we'd still be talking about it. But it was as big

as anything."


Cougars on the air

No. 25 BYU (6-2, 3-1 MWC)at Wyoming (4-4, 2-2)

Saturday, noon

War Memorial Stadium, Laramie, Wyo.

TV: The mtn.

Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM