When Utah freshman running back Ty Jordan died tragically last Christmas night, an unlikely, unsung source stepped up to help and make a difference.
Nick Bruce, a former BYU student and a big BYU fan, looked for ways to donate money to the Jordan family in their time of grief. But he couldn’t find one. So he set up a GoFundMe account on the family’s behalf.
Bruce didn’t know the Jordans. But he felt impelled to do something positive during a dark period.
Thanks to donations large and small from Utah fans, BYU fans, and college football fans all around the country, Bruce was able to raise about $24,000. Many of the donations were for $22, in honor of Jordan’s jersey number.
Bruce was filled with gratitude for the public’s generosity and kindness. He turned over the money, and the account, to Jordan’s brother.
“It was right about the time when they were trying to figure out the funeral and memorial service. I tried to keep our conversations as short as possible,” said Bruce, who currently attends physical therapy assistant school in Provo. “Some people had doubts and reservations about donating to something that wasn’t affiliated with the school or his family.
“I assured him that I was going to do everything I could to make sure the money got to them,” he continued. “It was just days removed from losing his brother. He was extremely grateful for it. There was such an outpouring of love from everybody, not just Utah and BYU fans but all the people that Ty touched in his life.”
Because fans weren’t allowed to watch games in person last season, they weren’t able to watch Jordan and cheer for him in crowded stadiums. Bruce remembers watching on TV as Jordan ran through defenses last season, and wondering how much trouble he would cause BYU’s defense in the future.
Though Bruce loves the Cougars, he grew to appreciate and respect Jordan’s personality and running ability.
“I didn’t know Ty. I never met him. I never saw him play in person or anything like that. But he had a smile that lit up the TV and you could feel that he had something special about him,” Bruce said. “A lot of people in this world that got a chance to meet him and he had an impact on them. But there are thousands of people like me that watched him play football on TV and saw some interviews or saw pictures of him. That was enough for them to see that he was a special young man.”
Through the experience of setting up a GoFundMe account for a player that played for the rival school completely changed Bruce’s view of the BYU-Utah rivalry.
“Being a year removed, some people have forgotten a little bit. Not about Ty — I don’t think anyone will forget about Ty. But about the unity we had during that hard time the Utah family was experiencing then,” Bruce said. “On Twitter, I’ve seen how things have gotten back to the old banter, some at each other’s throats and some well-meaning from both sides. I wish people could hold on to the love that was shared during that time and the unity that was felt even though we are rivals.
“This week’s game is huge for both teams. This is bigger than football. I saw the ‘Moment of Loudness’ that they had for Ty at Utah last week. Goosebumps and holding back tears. It was amazing. I hope this week, as fans, we can remember that this rivalry is fun but it’s a lot bigger than who’s going to win. It’s bigger than red versus blue. We’re all in this together, like with the pandemic,” he continued. “When hard times come to us, like the situation around Ty, and what we’ve experienced this past year, and having this chance to all come together and actually be in a football stadium in person and to enjoy a football game, I hope people keep it well-natured and fun rather than cutthroat like it’s been in years’ past.
“It’s definitely put a new perspective on the rivalry for me. There’s a lot of love and respect for Utah fans and the team, for people that were so generous and reaching out to Ty and his family in their time of need.”
Bruce was glad to hear that BYU has created a flag in honor of Jordan that the team will run out and then present to the Utah team before the game Saturday (8:15 p.m. MDT, ESPN) at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
“To take a couple of moments before or during or after the game to pay some respect to him would be well-deserved,” Bruce said.
The flag was done in coordination with Utah using the same logo Utah players will wear on their helmets this year to honor his memory. Utah will use the flag as the program pays tribute to Jordan throughout the season.
Since Bruce is no longer a student, he’s looking for a ticket to Saturday’s game.
“I can’t stand to not be there,” he said. “I’ve got to find a way to get there.”
Not only is this the last scheduled meeting between BYU and Utah until 2024, after last year’s game was canceled, it’s also the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
In addition, last Saturday in the season opener against Arizona in Las Vegas, BYU’s Keenan Ellis suffered an injury and remained on the turf for a long time before being placed on a stretcher and transported to a hospital.
By Sunday, it was reported that Ellis was out of bed, walking and had no serious back or neck pain.
Those who watched that game, either in person or on TV, held their collective breath as Ellis lay motionless on the ground. Bruce was watching the game on TV that night.
“I had a couple of friends that were in Las Vegas for the game,” Bruce said. “I could feel it being at home watching on TV. The energy got sucked out of the game for me.”
It served as yet another reminder that life is fragile. Jordan’s death and tributes to his life; Ellis’ health scare; and the commemoration of 9/11 will all converge Saturday night at Edwards Stadium, amid the 2021 BYU-Utah rivalry game.
“Everybody realizes that what’s going on is bigger than the game. These kids that are playing — it’s easy to make them be these heroes that are invincible — but they’re just kids,” Bruce said. “Things can change so fast. As far as Keenan Ellis, things seem to be going well for him. I hope everything continues that way. Unfortunately, Ty won’t have that opportunity. It’s important that we realize that.”