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Cougars and Charlie Brown are chasing the same Thanksgiving dream

For sports fans, the what-ifs are the lifeblood of optimism.

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BYU cornerback Jakob Robinson (0) celebrates after a defensive stop during game against at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

BYU cornerback Jakob Robinson (0) celebrates after a defensive stop during game against at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. The Cougars wrap up their first season as a member of the Big 12 Saturday at Oklahoma State

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

I fall for it every year.

Lucy puts the ball on the ground and calls for Charlie Brown to come kick it. Charlie thinks about it for a few minutes. He’s been down this road before. Suddenly, he feels a burst of optimism. What if this is the year that it all comes together? What if she doesn’t pull it away at the last moment and I really get to kick that football?

The potential joy of watching the ball sail deeper into the animation is too much. He must try. Too many of us optimistic sports fans are pulling for him. Never mind the risk of continued disappointment and pain, the imagined satisfaction of pulling it off is as alluring as sneaking a piece of pumpkin pie before Thanksgiving dinner.

“This time I’m gonna kick that football clear to the moon,” Charlie Brown says in a voice of grit and determination during “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.” This is right now. This is sports. And here he comes, bursting with big plans.

This is also the genius of Charles M. Schulz, who in a matter of artistic strokes captured the naiveté and passion of the BYU fan as the Cougars joined the Big 12. After winning five of their first seven games, BYU looked at West Virginia, Texas, Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State with the same hopeful gaze that Charlie Brown looked at that football.

It just takes one. For Charlie Brown, it’s one kick to eradicate decades of annual holiday failures. For BYU, it’s one win to bolster the future and become bowl eligible in their first year playing Power Five football.

With the Las Vegas odds stacked against them, the Cougars spent the last four Saturdays charging toward their dream. However, one by one, the Mountaineers, Longhorns, Cyclones and Sooners pulled the ball away and left BYU landing flat on its back.

Oklahoma State is the last team left.

The recent outcomes of 37-7, 35-6, 45-13 and 31-24 don’t bode well for the Cougars in Saturday’s regular-season finale in Stillwater, Oklahoma (1:30 p.m., ABC). To the contrary, the Cowboys are playing for a chance to compete in the Big 12 championship game.

This is where Charlie Brown’s eternal optimism comes into play. What if Lucy doesn’t pull the ball away? Likewise, what if it’s Oklahoma State, and not BYU, who turns the ball over or fails to convert on third down?

What if Aidan Robbins runs for another 182 yards? What if Jake Retzlaff hands the ball off instead of throwing a 100-yard pick-six? What if Parker Kingston gets the block he needs to spring a dramatic punt return? What if the defense denies the Big 12’s best running back of a banner day? What if BYU beats Oklahoma State?

The what-ifs are the lifeblood of optimism. They are why we watch and why kids play. When reality screams “no chance,” the optimist whispers, “What if?” Oklahoma came to Provo as a 24.5 point favorite and limped out of town with an injured quarterback and a narrow victory. BYU, despite three costly turnovers, had several chances to beat them. What if they made one fewer mistake?

Charlie Brown and the Cougars are running toward the same goal and against incredible odds. Lucy is drawn to pull the ball away and Oklahoma State is heavily favored to beat BYU — but what if they don’t? What if this is the Thanksgiving weekend that it all comes together, when the Cougars win, and Charlie Brown finally kicks that ball clear to the moon?

I fall for it every year, and isn’t it great?

Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is a play-by-play announcer and show host for BYUtv/ESPN+. He co-hosts “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com and is the author of the children’s book “C is for Cougar” available at deseretbook.com.