Flashback: The Holiday Bowl—Where the Best Celebrate Graduation

Several great quarterbacks have played for the Brigham Young Cougars. Several of the best Holiday Bowl games have featured BYU. It is only fitting that the two BYU quarterbacks who had the best collegiate careers took their final snaps in the Holiday Bowl.

Jim McMahon, Holiday Bowl IV (1981)
Thirty years ago, Jim McMahon suited up in a Cougar uniform for the final time as BYU faced Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. There was no other way for this BYU legend to go out. The Holiday Bowl was where McMahon made his biggest mark. BYU had never won a bowl game before McMahon led BYU to an unbelievable 20-point comeback victory punctuated with a 41-yard hail Mary as time expired. As McMahon’s career concluded one year later, the natural thing to do was go back to where the miracle comeback happened. This time, the game was a little less dramatic, but McMahon was just as heroic.

Appropriately, the game was able to embody the two sides of McMahon that Cougar fans most liked. BYU either crushed opponents, or Jim McMahon fought tooth and nail to do everything possible to win. A 31-7 lead early in the second half was similar to many Saturday afternoons that saw McMahon take a seat early. When Washington State closed the gap to 31-28, McMahon the winner took control of the game. Not only did McMahon want to win more than anyone else, he believed more than anyone else that, regardless of the situation, he would win. McMahon threw one last touchdown pass, and converted a crucial fourth down to seal the win for BYU.

When the game ended, BYU was celebrating more than a victory. They were celebrating the graduation of a fantastic quarterback. A quarterback unlike any that anyone had ever seen.

Ty Detmer, Holiday Bowl XIV (1991)
Twenty years ago, Ty Detmer played his swan song in the Holiday Bowl. For Detmer, this was one last chance to redeem himself. In the Holiday Bowl the year before, the Heisman Trophy winner suffered in agony on the sidelines with two separated shoulders. He made sure that his last impression on the Holiday Bowl was a good one. Facing the #7 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, Detmer and the Cougars had their work cut out for them.

If there was one thing that Ty Detmer had proven in his career, it was that he could throw the ball against any defense. Whether the opponent was a WAC doormat or a national power, Detmer would move the ball through the air. The Iowa defense, the best in the Big Ten, was no exception. Detmer passed for 350 yards. Both of BYU’s touchdowns came through the air.

Although the game ended in a tie, Detmer did everything possible and necessary to win the game. Nevertheless, the game’s outcome exemplified one of Ty’s greatest attributes. The sign of a great leader is to make those around him better, and there was no doubt that Detmer brought out the best in his young team. BYU was double digit underdogs going into the game, yet they played toe-to-toe with one of the nation’s best.

Both quarterbacks graduated with honors, taking home the offensive MVP award.

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