In southern Illinois, a few miles outside the Kentucky border, Hal Morrell and Fili Taufa neared hour 25 on the road.
“It is now dark and light moisture is falling. All is well,” Morrell had posted a few hours earlier on the BYU Equipment Twitter account, which until Thursday afternoon was of little importance to most BYU football fans.
But beginning Wednesday night, Cougar fans — and some interested national observers — were glued to the account like an 8-year-old watches the NORAD Santa tracker on Christmas Eve.
And for good reason. If the two men hadn’t made it to Conway, South Carolina, by 3 p.m. Friday, the BYU football team wouldn’t have the gear needed to prepare for Saturday’s game against unbeaten Coastal Carolina. It’s a game that, by all accounts for 9-0 BYU, means a lot.
The truck made it to South Carolina on Friday in time for the team’s arrival by plane.
The BYU-Coastal Carolina matchup wasn’t official until Thursday morning. Liberty was scheduled to play Coastal Carolina in a game that would feature a visit from ESPN’s “College Gameday” crew. But rumors of a cancellation due to COVID-19 issues in Liberty’s program began to surface online Wednesday afternoon.
Morrell and Taufu hit the road at 9 p.m. on Wednesday with a tweet that read “Just a quick run to Taco Bell ...” It was a bold move considering the unpredictability of the 2020 college football season.
“I got a phone call around 4 p.m. yesterday telling me the game was probably on but nothing was inked ... but if I didn’t leave Wednesday night after practice, they wouldn’t have all the equipment there for the game,” Morrell told the Deseret News from the road on Thursday night. “We agreed to leave after practice on the chance that we might get to Omaha, Nebraska, and they might tell us to turn around and come home.”
Normally for a road game of such distance, the truck would have left Tuesday night, and the 24-hour delay added a little extra stress to what is typically a routine trip for Morrell and Taufu, who have transported BYU football’s equipment for nearly a decade.
In the days since the truck left Provo, Utah, the two men have garnered quite the social media following, with thousands of people tuning in for live updates from the BYU Equipment page.
“How many people have tapped in, or whatever you call it?” Morrell asked, confessing that he’s “not a Twitter guy at all.”
“Are you serious?” he exclaimed after being told nearly 2,000 people liked one of the posts.
Maybe the NORAD Santa tracker metaphor isn’t all that far off. Consider Morrell and Taufu were an impromptu Santa Claus for the thousands of BYU fans, on a tight deadline to deliver precious cargo that will, indirectly, bring joy to thousands of people.
In what has been an unconventional year in the regular world, let alone the sports world, BYU’s undefeated season has been a bright spot for Cougar fans, who haven’t seen an undefeated season since LaVell Edwards’ national championship run in 1984.
“This is 1984 all over again. They're loving what’s going on and they have a right to. This is a big game for BYU,” Morrell said.
Which leaves little questions as to why thousands of Cougar fans were fixated on the BYU equipment truck. The fate of the still promising season was hurtling 70 miles per hour across the country. No pressure, Hal and Fili.
On Friday, the BYU Equipment account reported that the truck had arrived before noon.
The two men have an online emotional support system that seemed to be grow by the hour. “Be safe,” one person replied to the BYU Equipment page.
Some fans even came out to greet the truck upon its arrival.
“Had to open a Twitter account just to follow these 2 heroes,” wrote another. “Thanks for lighting the hearts of fans around the world.”
Some Cougar fans even resorted to giving the two men directions, with one user posting: “Good heavens, they are going through Nashville. They won’t get to Brooks Stadium until Monday ... Hope they take 155 around. (Used to pick up loads in Murfreesboro, what a horrible stretch of interstate).”
Morrell and Taufu took turns every 11 hours. They’re champing at the bit to watch BYU take the field Saturday.
“Look for us on the sideline,” he said.