Note: This story is part of Deseret News sports team’s Flashback Friday series, which revisits memorable moments involving Utah teams.
Did you know that a newspaper intern unearthed BYU’s “new” logo before the big reveal in August 1999?
Probably not. I suspect most BYU fans have moved past the bib uniforms and the cougar-on-the-mountain logo. (What was it with mountain logos in the 1990s?)
Plus, I never told anyone besides my editor and the rest of the sports staff at the Daily Herald. But boy, did playing video games pay off that year or what?
Heading into the 1999 football season, the BYU athletic department had announced a rebrand with new logos and uniforms. The new look would be unveiled at a press conference scheduled for Aug. 16.
“Until then, lips are sealed,” reported the Deseret News at the time. “BYU staffers have been asked not to discuss the changes and vendors have signed non-disclosure agreements.”
So imagine my surprise when I brought my new copy of EA Sports’ NCAA Football 2000 home to my college apartment, fired up my PlayStation and discovered a new BYU logo. The game had been released on July 29 — more than two weeks before the press conference. The uniforms were the same royal-and-white combo as the year before — but there was no mistaking the new logo.
What happened next is complicated. I couldn’t tweet out the image or text it to anyone in those days. So I took my console into work, found a way to hook it up to the newsroom TV and then proudly shared my discovery with the sports staff. My presentation was followed by a lot of conversations between editors that I wasn’t involved in.
It took negotiation and time, but we eventually published a story with an image of the new logo on Aug. 13. (You can see the digitized version of the story here.)
“We knew at some point somebody would get their hands on it,” athletic director Val Hale said in the story.
Being an intern, I didn’t get the byline. But I didn’t care. I finally had proof that playing video games was a worthwhile endeavor.
And while we got the scoop on the logo, which was a secondary logo from a larger family, we were still in the dark on the uniforms — so the bigger surprise was yet to come.
At the time, I was both a student and an intern at the local paper, so I ended up in the press box for the season-opener against Washington. Weeks earlier, BYU had introduced new home uniforms from Nike with blue numbers on a white background that resembled a bib. It was quite the departure from the traditional royal uniforms that had defined the LaVell Edwards era, and there was plenty of strong reaction from BYU fans.
But again, this was before a rebrand could be buried in angst and mockery in the span of five minutes on social media. So for a lot of people, the season-opener was the introduction to BYU’s bold new look.
The game itself was a classic. BYU took an early lead. Washington rallied behind future NFL quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo. The Cougars eventually won late on a long pass from Kevin Feterik to freshman Chris Hale, who happened to be the athletic director’s son.
But what I remember the most were the incredulous comments in the press box about the uniforms, especially from the out-of-town media. “Wait, are those uniforms purple?” I remember someone asking.
The answer depended a bit on the lighting. But yes, they were kind of purple. Defensive end Byron Frisch apparently thought the same thing.
“The purples,” he told then-Daily Universe writer Seth Lewis, “are a little too purple.”
But a lot of the players seemed to like them. I have a distinct memory of one BYU player telling me during an interview, “I don’t care what everyone says. I like our uniforms.”
Decades later, the bibs aren’t remembered fondly. They made SBNation’s list of the worst college football uniforms in history. KSL’s Mitch Harper has them on his list of the five worst in school history, and my colleague Sam Benson, as a young writer for Bleacher Report, gave them an F-minus.
More significantly, the NCAA didn’t like them. Following the 1999 season, BYU was informed that it couldn’t have white on its home jersey with the exception of the uniform number and accents. Apparently, some opponents found the bibs confusing.
As a result, we didn’t get to see the bibs the following year on NCAA Football 2001 and they ended up with a very short shelf life — all of six games. The last time the Cougars wore them, they lost 20-17 to Utah in a game that cost them an outright conference championship.
The new logos stuck around for much longer, but they can’t be found on BYU’s official branding site today.