PROVO — During his career at BYU, Ty Detmer shattered numerous NCAA passing records. By the end of his tenure, Detmer threw for 15,031 yards and 121 touchdowns while leading the Cougars to three WAC championships.
In 1990, he was awarded the Heisman trophy for being the most outstanding collegiate football player of the year. With Detmer as the signal-caller, the Cougars were involved in some of the most exciting games in their history — including a 28-21 victory in 1990 over No. 1 Miami and a wild, come-from-behind 52-52 tie against San Diego State in 1991. In Part 1 of a three-part series, Detmer took time to sit down with KSL.com to talk about his days in Provo.
Dylan Cannon: When you came from Texas to Provo, what was the hardest adjustment you had to make?
Ty Detmer: Probably the altitude. That was a little different than here. You know that (the altitude) and just the speed of the game. Catching up with playing with older players and being a freshman and learning the routine and what college life is all about. The football part of it, the system (at the Y.) was real similar to what I’d been running (in high school) so that part of it came a little easier than just the adjustment of being away from home and class and school and football and managing all those things.
DC: What about the adjustment to Utah winters?
TD: You know, I thought it was fun to be in the snow, actually. I guess when you don’t grow up in it, it’s kind of unique and fun. So, I didn’t mind the snow part of it. I was happy to get out in some of those big parking lots and do doughnuts.
DC: You’ll have to talk to my wife who is from California about why snow is fun.
I hope that the fans appreciated that I played hard and came to play every week; that I was durable. I think the thing that means the most is the career body of work, not just one game or one season. That I played at a high level over a long period of time. I hope that people just appreciate the passion and those types of things. So, that's what I hope I left in people's minds when I was done playing. -Ty Detmer
TD: I probably wouldn’t want to live in it again. I spent enough time (in snow) in Green Bay and Detroit.
DC: You came to the Y. as a non-LDS student-athlete. Did you have any "fish out of the water" moments in Provo and on campus?
TD: Not really. I grew up drinking iced tea and couldn’t get any around there (in Provo). That was probably the biggest adjustment, you know, just being outside of that. Other than that, I loved the outdoors. I wasn’t a partyer. I was kind of the designated driver in high school. It was kind of nice to not have to do that anymore. That was one of the draws for me — the clean lifestyle and some of those things. There wasn’t ever really a big "fish out of water" moment for me, or really any big adjustments, other than no iced tea.
DC: Do you have any specific funny memories about Coach Edwards?
TD: I really enjoyed playing for him. He was the type of guy where we’d hang out in the football office when you’d walk in. If you were sitting within arms length, he would slap you in the back of the head. When you were a freshman, you’re not sure whether he liked you or not because his personality is not real outgoing. Then, as you go and play, you learn that he’s a great man and a lot of fun.
Probably one of my fondest memories of him was when we were playing against Air Force and the refs kept throwing flags for delay of games because the crowd was "too loud." That was a first (refs penalizing team due to crowd’s volume) and I remember him (Edwards) at halftime or after the game, just sprinting and chasing down the officials and giving them a piece of his mind. It (the refs calls) was ridiculous. (The refs) let (Air Force’s) quarterback dictate the game. We won, but that was the first time I’d ever seen him (Edwards) get really fired up about something. Most people kind of think he’s just laid back and not into the game but that’s just his personality. He’s definitely in the game and a competitor. That came out in that moment. It was funny to watch.
DC: Since leaving Provo, Norm Chow, your coordinator at the Y., has gained a reputation as being someone who can be hard to get along with. What was your experience like with him?
TD: My experience was great. We had a good relationship. He really allowed me to do my own thing and have some freedom out there. So, I think he trusted me to have some of that. He probably regretted some of it. (Laughs). But, overall, we had a good player-coach relationship.
He’s very detailed and business oriented, so there wasn’t a lot of friendly interaction. But, most coaches I’ve been around have been that way and I really enjoyed playing for him. He would go in the offseason and visit pro teams and other colleges and bring back stuff. We had real open and honest talks. When he’d come back, if there was something he brought back and I didn’t like it he’d say "OK, let’s scrap it." Then there were things that I did like and we’d incorporate some of those into the offense.
So, you know, I always really appreciated that from him; he didn’t try to force me to run plays that I really wasn’t comfortable with. He tried to give me options that I felt good with. So, I really had a good relationship and we still talk every now and then today.
DC: Speaking of your relationship with Chow, an old teammate, Andy Boyce, said that you would pretty frequently change his (Chow’s) play-call in the huddle or call an audible when you saw something. Sounds like he let you do that?
TD: Yeah, we’d talk about things during the week and things like that. But he felt comfortable enough with me that if I saw something as a quarterback on the field, or if I felt like something was going to work, he allowed me to take it and run with it. Like I said, he probably regretted it at times — I know I did. (Laughs).
DC: Here’s a question you might not have been asked in awhile. In the memorable game against San Diego State in 1991, you guys came all the way back from a late 45-17 third-quarter deficit. With less than a minute to go, (former BYU running back) Jamal Willis scored a touchdown to make it 52-51. The BYU coaching staff decided to go for the PAT and the tie. Did you want to go for two?
TD: No. At that time, if we tied them and won the next week at Utah, we’d win the WAC championship outright. So, we knew that going in it (the SDSU game) was for the WAC championship. That’s why Coach Edwards got paid the big bucks to make those kinds of decisions. You always want to win but at that time, it made more sense to go for the tie and of course we were playing Utah the next week and felt good about that game going in. We ended up winning the WAC and going to the Holiday Bowl and accomplished all those things we set out to do.
DC: Did you ever run into (former San Diego State star running back) Marshall Faulk in your NFL days?
TD: Oh yeah. We had some good laughs about the games and all the scoring and everything that went on during those games. He’s a good guy and a great football player.
DC: Too bad neither of you could play defense.
TD: (Laughs). Yeah, it wouldn’t have helped any at that point.
DC: So, everyone remembers the win against Miami during your Heisman year. But most fans don’t remember that the week before you guys got into a bench-clearing brawl at UTEP. What caused the brawl?
TD: I think there was a cheap shot against (BYU wide receiver) Matt Bellini on our sideline. It got started over there on our sideline. There were maybe a few more questionable hits after that and next thing you know, their bench is coming from their sideline all the way over to ours. It was pretty crazy.
DC: Did you get in on the action?
TD: Uhh … yeah, I did. (Laughs). Actually, there was a picture the next day in the sports page. My mom had come in for the game and there was a picture of me throwing an uppercut on the front page. It was just a heat-of-the-moment, protecting your guy type thing. There were a couple of guys on him (Detmer’s teammate) so I grabbed one off of him and it was kind of a free-for-all at that point. (Laughs). We actually had brawls against them, San Diego State and Utah State in different years while I was there. So, three bench-clearers, which is something you don’t see too often anymore.
DC: Referring to the brawl against UTEP, Miami safety Charles Pharms said, “they (BYU) always seem to get into scuffles. Their games are better than a (Mike) Tyson fight.” Do you think that you, personally, and your teammates played angry and with a chip on your shoulder?
TD: I don’t know; it never seemed like that going into games. Depending on who we were playing, there was some bitterness from the opponents. We were the type of team that was not going to take cheap shots. So, our guys would rush to each other’s defense. That’s how things usually got started. It wasn’t so much that we played with a chip on our shoulders. We were out there and we were going to protect our teammates. Other teams had a dislike for BYU because of our success and it seemed like every week, in the WAC especially, teams were getting up for us and it would be their big game of the year oftentimes.
DC: In some recent Nissan commercials, you had some cameos where you’re basically a frat boy in the Heisman Frat House. While you guys (past Heisman winners) aren’t bunking up, is there a special bond or camaraderie that exists between all Heisman winners?
TD: Yeah, there really is. It's kind of a unique experience what you go through. The season that you have, winning the Heisman and all the things that come with it. So, I think you respect what the other winners did and you respect what they had to go through with all the things that come with being a Heisman winner. So, there is kind of a natural fraternity there. I know when I was in the NFL, when you met a former Heisman winner, you always sought each other out and said hello. So, it’s a pretty neat group.
DC: What would you say your legacy at BYU was?
TD: I’m not sure. I hope that the fans appreciated that I played hard and came to play every week; that I was durable. I think the thing that means the most is the career body of work, not just one game or one season. That I played at a high level over a long period of time. I hope that people just appreciate the passion and those types of things. So, that’s what I hope I left in people’s minds when I was done playing.
DC: How’s the college game different now than when you played?
TD: I think the exposure with the social media, the BCS, the advertising, all the money that’s involved in it. Teams are more wide-open, now, and play at a faster pace. We thought we threw it a lot — 30 to 40 times a game. But now, it’s 60-70 times for some schools. It’s fun to see the way the game’s gone that way and BYU and Coach Edwards and his staff were the people out in front of that. They were the people that opened the doors for other teams to do it. It’s a lot more wide-open, a bigger stage, defenses are more sophisticated now, too. It’s fun to watch.
Dylan Cannon is a KSL.com sports contributor and can be reached at his email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or his Twitter account @DylanCannon11.