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Edwards tribute was timely because a new generation of BYU fans never knew him

BYU football players will honor the late LaVell Edwards this upcoming season with a uniform patch. Here, the LaVell patch is displayed on a jersey at BYU Football Media Day on Friday, June 23, 2017.
BYU football players will honor the late LaVell Edwards this upcoming season with a uniform patch. Here, the LaVell patch is displayed on a jersey at BYU Football Media Day on Friday, June 23, 2017.
Brandon Judd, Deseret News

PROVO — Sy Kimball walked out of Studio C where he’d just witnessed an hour-long tribute to his buddy, LaVell Edwards, last Friday. It was a touching collection of interviews from NFL and college coaches, painting a picture of the late legend as a prime people person whose personal touch changed lives and forever impacted careers.

Kimball, who is 94, has been called by family members Edwards’ closest friend. Introduced to one another in the ’70s at an Arizona State game, Kimball made a small fortune as a developer in Southern California. He owned a yacht, docked in Newport Beach, had houses in Utah and California and made it his personal mission to travel to almost every BYU football game, home and away, to be with Edwards and his wife Patti. They vacationed together, told one another their deepest secrets, shared their triumphs and confessed their fears.

Kimball was with Edwards shortly after he fell in his driveway and broke his hip the day before his death. “It was his undoing, you know, that fall,” said Kimball.

“It was a nice tribute to LaVell, he would have appreciated it,” said Kimball of the BYUtv production about Edwards’ coaching tree. In the production room backstage, a producer, Zak Hicken, said there wasn’t a dry eye among the employees toward the end of the show.

In 1941, Kimball had a scholarship to play quarterback at BYU out of Kanosh, Utah, but World War II got in the way. He left for California to join the service with $6 in his pocket and a bus ticket. He never played a down after the war.

For some reason, Kimball and Edwards hit it off the day they met. They became inseparable. They entertained one another, made each other laugh. They loved to tease.

Kimball once told Edwards he’d be a better football coach if he had a higher golf handicap. He also told him he ought to find more quarterbacks who could run like Steve Young. Edwards would chew his tongue and tell him he might be on to something. Kimball, you see, was a runner. He once stopped with Edwards in Kanosh to gas up on a car trip when a haggard, crazy old guy approached Kimball and complimented him on how fast he was chasing goats down the mountainside. “See, LaVell,” he said. Edwards roared in laughter.

A long time ago, Edwards and Kimball were golfing at the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland where you have to hire a caddie to accompany you during the round. After Kimball shot a 45 on the front and was on the back nine, an errant tee shot found him off the fairway. He asked the caddie where the green was, if he could point him in the right direction. The caddie, an old codger said in his Scottish accent, "Laddie, I don't know, I've never been here before." Edwards laughed hard at that quote and never let Kimball forget it.

The Kimball memories of Edwards are precious because he knew a part of Edwards in a way few ever had.

The BYUtv tribute to Edwards is valuable because it assembled some of football’s most storied coaches, men who worked with Edwards, and they shared their opinions and memories. It will be preserved for all time as a reference.

For this and many other reasons, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe and head football coach Kalani Sitake decided to put a logo patch of Edwards’ famous profile face on the jerseys of players this season. It will be a point of discussion wherever they go, especially with a television audience.

Think about it. Today, there is a new generation of BYU fans who never knew much about Edwards and certainly didn’t see him on the sidelines coaching before he retired in 2000, 17 years ago. If a teen remembers anything about games at BYU, it would probably be seeing a Bronco Mendenhall team — it is all they’ve known.

The Kimballs of this world are rare, a breed ever so close to the legendary coach. His players, those with a unique perspective, are fathers and grandfathers now, their hair turning gray and lives filled with their own challenges.

By 2030, just 13 years from now, many of his players will be retired or past midlife. They’ll tell tales of their old coach, recounting his sayings, his advice, explaining the connection they had with him as a surrogate father, teacher and friend.

This is why, if you haven’t done so, the Edwards coaching tree tribute is a must-see — if you care. Personalities like Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick, former Seahawks and Packers coach Mike Holmgren, former Edwards assistant Norm Chow, Washington State coach Mike Leach, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and many others are featured.

Brian Mitchell, a former Cougar corner and secondary coach under Edwards, and now an assistant coach at Virginia Tech, was present. His words echoed a familiar refrain and in the end, his emotions were visible as the native of Waco, Texas, explained his feelings for Edwards.

Mitchell said he was a very young man when he came to Provo and since then, he met his wife, got a degree, had kids, played in the NFL, coached at BYU before traveling across the land in this, his chosen coaching profession. He credits Edwards for being his mentor every step along the way.

“Everything I’ve done in my life has been influenced by this man.”

Mitchell said he owed Edwards everything and the last time he saw him was last summer at his daughter’s wedding. Edwards always made weddings. And funerals. He seemingly was always everywhere for everybody.

Until now.

Thus, the jersey patch.

Yes, it was a LaVell Edwards kind of day last Friday at BYU’s football media affair at the Broadcast Building on campus.

It was a stroll down memory lane Kimball and friends took with humility and great pride. It was a touchdown.