By now I’m sure you’ve heard that 2016 claimed yet another victim. LaVell Edwards, that rock of BYU football, died today.
He coached BYU from 1972 (before I was born) until 2000 (when I graduated from BYU). I grew up watching his teams (and the UCLA Bruins) play football on fall Saturdays with my dad and, as a student at BYU, I went to almost every home game.
I never met him while I was at BYU; my sole access to (and image of) him was cutaway shots to him on the sidelines, unsmiling, arms folded over his chest.
Imagine my surprise, then, meeting him and Patti, his wife, at church in Manhattan.
LaVell and Patti served in Manhattan as public affairs missionaries from 2002-2003, shortly after my wife and I married. Our ward was their home ward. And the strangest thing was, he was always smiling. (My wife, not a college football watcher, was shocked when I told her I’d never seen him smile. She had never seen him not smiling.)
Over the year and a half they spent in New York, I got to know them casually. Things I remember: both were warm and generous, both worked hard and integrated into both the Mormon and the New York community (he helped restart and coach the Harlem Hellfighters high school football team). In my (limited) experience with him, he was humble and kind.
For a couple generations of football fans, LaVell Edwards was the face of Mormonism. And his is a sad face to lose.
[N.b.: many of you know far more about Edwards and football than I; my brush with LaVell Edwards was not life-changing, but it was certainly a positive contribution to who I am. I’d love to hear, in the comments, what he meant to you.]