The goalposts in the south end zone of the venue then known as Cougar Stadium were not torn down, exactly. Yet like the rest of Ty Detmer’s life, BYU’s football program, Miami’s No. 1 ranking and the memories of 65,000 witnesses, those goalposts were altered by everything that happened on that September evening in 1990.
That’s when Detmer took down the Hurricanes, pretty much won himself a Heisman Trophy and, as of Monday’s announcement, passed his way into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Detmer is proud of his consistency in college, which “kind of shows you weren’t a one-hit wonder,” as he told The Tribune, and 15,031 passing yards over four seasons endorse his body of work.
Yet if one snapshot ever could capture a quarterbacking performance, this is it: Detmer, a bandage covering a six-stitch cut in his chin, scrambling around and shredding the toughest, proudest, baddest defense in the country.
Actually, other quarterbacks around here have won a higher percentage of games than Detmer’s 29-9-2 record as a starter. In postseason play, he claimed only a Freedom Bowl win over Colorado as a freshman, having relieved Sean Covey in the second half.
Yet when it comes down to one night, one opponent, one opportunity to make a national impact, Detmer’s signature moment is bigger and better than anybody’s in Utah college football history — including the Cougars who have preceded him in the Hall of Fame: quarterbacks Gifford Nielsen, Marc Wilson, Jim McMahon and Steve Young, tight end Gordon Hudson and coach LaVell Edwards. Utah quarterback Brian Johnson’s Sugar Bowl upset of Alabama is also in the conversation, but that was in New Orleans.
This was in Provo, the site of the most anticipated September game ever played in the state. Miami’s aura elevated this matchup beyond anything BYU has been involved in before or since, coming to town as the defending national champion with a preseason No. 1 ranking.
Detmer picked Miami apart in a 28-21 victory. Operating the Norm Chow offense with high efficiency, throwing mostly to running back Matt Bellini and tight end Chris Smith, Detmer completed 38 of 54 passes for 406 and three touchdowns. The Hurricanes didn’t know what hit them.
Detmer was the ultimate gunslinger. Interceptions did not faze him. His roommates teasingly labeled him “Turnover Ty” as a way of keeping him humble — which was not necessary, or especially effective. Playing with a Texan’s swagger, he would just keep throwing, racking up huge numbers in the old version of the Western Athletic Conference and winning a bunch of games.
Actually, Detmer may have saved his best stuff for a tie game in San Diego. Fighting for a WAC championship, with its secondary weakened by suspensions, BYU trailed 45-17 against Marshall Faulk’s San Diego State team in the third quarter. Detmer rallied the Cougars to a 52-52 tie that eventually gave them a conference title in his senior season.
That second half showcased Detmer at his best, coming through when BYU needed a touchdown on nearly every possession. He finished with career highs of 599 yards, six touchdowns and 20 stitches — above his left eye — after banging helmets during a quarterback sneak.
As much as the win over Miami, Ty’s tie in San Diego was a vintage performance in a career filled with them. Monday afternoon, driving around LaVell Edwards Stadium, I thought of how Sonny Detmer brought his son to Provo from Texas a quarter-century ago. Glimpsing the “Y” on the mountain above the campus, he jokingly challenged him son to make so much impact that the symbol would be changed to “TY.”
With just a little imagination Monday, you could picture that.