I still remember the moment I fell in love with college football. 

A month before my 15th birthday back in 2005, I sat in the bleachers of Brooks Stadium in Conway, South Carolina. The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers were trailing 27-24, and the game had less than two minutes to go.

Then CCU wide receiver Jerome Simpson made a spectacular 27-yard catch — with one hand. It left me wide-eyed and stunned.

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That play — which has gone down in CCU history as “The Catch” — put Coastal Carolina on James Madison’s 13-yard line. It set up the game-winning touchdown against the No. 1 ranked team in FCS football. It’s a moment you don’t forget if you’re a CCU fan.

Deseret News reporter Lottie Johnson stands with former CCU wide receiver Jerome Simpson after a CCU game. | Lottie Johnson, Deseret News

The love for football grew even more a few years later in 2009, when I moved from my home in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to a Brigham Young University dorm. One of my first games at LaVell Edwards Stadium marked the last time (for now) that BYU beat Utah — an overtime thriller where the Cougars won 26-23 thanks to a Max Hall touchdown pass.

I was hooked.

My love for Coastal Carolina never wavered, though. In 2011, when I was a junior attending every single game at LaVell Edwards Stadium, I smiled when I saw Simpson, my first college football love, on ESPN highlights — this time as an NFL wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals. Holding the ball one-handed at the Arizona Cardinals’ 3-yard line, Simpson somersaulted over a defender at the goal line and scored an Olympic-worthy touchdown. 

Some things never change, I thought.

I’ve kept up with BYU and Coastal Carolina football fairly regularly over the years. And I’ve been celebrating the fact both teams are undefeated this season. But Thursday morning, I woke up to an unlikely conflict I truly never anticipated facing: What to wear on Saturday — my signed Simpson CCU jersey or my BYU 1984 national champs sweatshirt? 

The hastily arranged matchup between the Cougars and Chanticleers — a shocking colliding of worlds for me — didn’t leave me much time to process. So to work through the dilemma, I turned to the root of the problem: The man who has long referred to BYU and CCU as “America’s favorite collegiate football teams.” 

My father. 

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I called my dad Thursday afternoon, a few hours after the news broke.

He had just finished teaching his weekly intro to American government course at the BYU-Salt Lake Center — where he couldn’t resist wearing a Coastal Carolina sweatshirt to celebrate Saturday’s exciting, albeit conflicting, matchup. 

For years now, he’s used his Facebook as a sports journal of sorts, each week writing in-depth recaps of BYU and CCU’s football games for friends and family.

Chanticleer teal and Cougar blue both run deep in his blood. 

My dad transferred to BYU his senior year of college, in 1967. LaVell Edwards Stadium was simply called Cougar Stadium back then, and BYU wasn’t really on the college football radar. 

That’s the year my dad started following BYU football. 

He watched as the Cougars went to the Fiesta Bowl in 1974 — their first bowl game. He followed the long streak of promising QBs: Gifford Nielsen, Mark Wilson, Jim McMahon, Steve Young and Robbie Bosco, who would lead BYU to its one and only national championship (so far) in 1984. 

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By that momentous occasion, my dad was two years into teaching political science at Coastal Carolina University. He had been following all of BYU’s games by radio and television. But he flew all the way from South Carolina to San Diego to see the Cougars in person for the Holiday Bowl. 

To this day, he can still give a play-by-play of that game, vividly recalling how a limping Bosco returned to the field and eventually led BYU past a fourth-quarter deficit and to victory. 

Coastal Carolina University didn’t have a football team then. In fact, the football field located on the edge of campus was for the nearby Conway High School. The university went independent in 1993, and it wasn’t until the late 1990s that CCU announced plans to develop a football program. 

Lottie Johnson poses for a picture with her dad at a Coastal Carolina football game. | Lottie Johnson, Deseret News

“I was actually opposed to it when they first established the program, even though I love football,” my dad told me Thursday afternoon. “Because it’s a money loser for a lot of schools — particularly schools the size of Coastal. … I just wondered about it being a financially viable option.

“But it’s still around!” he said with a laugh.

He bought season tickets for Coastal Carolina’s inaugural season in 2003 — and every season all the way through 2016, when he eventually retired from teaching and moved with my mom to Provo (the year 2016 also saw former CCU players Mike Tolbert and Josh Norman represent the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50). 

For over a decade, my dad made time on the weekends for what he dubbed “America’s favorite collegiate football teams,” watching most CCU games in person at Brooks Stadium and then making the 30-minute drive home to catch the Cougars on TV. 

Now, he’s getting ready to watch a CCU matchup on TV he never saw coming — this time from his home that’s just a few blocks away from Edwards Stadium. 

“One way of looking at it is that I cannot lose,” my dad initially told me when I pressed him about who he was rooting for. 

It’s a safe but smart answer — after all, one of his former CCU students wrote on his Facebook page: “Your rating as my favorite college professor will drop drastically, should you choose to root for BYU.”

Saturday is huge for the Chanticleers — a football program that started from scratch 17 years ago. The team’s had a losing record ever since joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2017 — in fact, the Chanticleers were even picked to finish last in the Sun Belt’s East Division this year. 

Instead, they clinched the division last week with a 49-14 win over Texas State — a team BYU similarly clobbered in October. 

To date, CCU is 9-0 and ranked No. 18 in the latest College Football Playoff ranking. It’s the latest in a series of recent athletic successes — CCU winning the College World Series in its first-ever College World Series appearance in 2016, and CCU alum/golfer Dustin Johnson winning the 2020 Masters Tournament with a record score of 268. 

Lottie Johnson and her friend, fellow South Carolinian/BYU fan Riley Brown, pose for a photo with BYU football coach Kalani Sitake. | Jennifer Johnson

More and more people are learning about the Chanticleers. And even more people will learn about them during the BYU matchup that has become the destination for ESPN’s “College GameDay.” 

“Everybody knows who BYU is — it’s a brand name,” my dad said. “A former national champion, with a Heisman Trophy candidate as their quarterback on a team that is 9-0 on ‘College GameDay.’ I would say that’s the biggest deal in the history of Coastal Carolina football. 

“I’ve seen enough of Coastal Carolina this year, I’ve seen enough of their games to know that they are really a good team and they have a great quarterback and they have a good defense,” he continued. 

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“If they win, I won’t be disappointed.” 

And finally, after some hesitation, the ultimate confession. 

“But I will be rooting for BYU. There’s just too much at stake,” he said, noting BYU’s significant national ranking and Zach Wilson’s Heisman Trophy possibility. 

But you can bet he’ll proudly be wearing his CCU sweatshirt.

As for me? Let’s just say I’m my father’s daughter.