Top 10 Ty Detmer Moments: #4-Winning the Starting Quarterback Job

Note: A special collector's edition CD-Rom of the Top 10 Ty Detmer Moments is available for purchase. For full details, click here.

To be named the starting quarterback for any NCAA Division I-A (FBS) football team is a highlight in any players career. The Brigham Young Cougars, however, aren’t just any football team, especially when it comes to the starting quarterback. The Governor of Utah has an easier job and faces less pressure than the BYU quarterback. Not even the prophet of BYU’s sponsoring religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, would want to trade places with the Cougars signal caller. Therefore, if a guy is named the starter, he has to do something great. Ty Detmer certainly did.

Detmer won the starting quarterback job December 29, 1988, in the Freedom Bowl. LaVell Edwards didn’t make the official announcement until much later, but the writing was on the wall in fluorescent neon lights. Any future announcement was merely a formality.

Sean Covey started the game, but he was very ineffective in the first half. Even though BYU trailed Colorado by only seven points, 14-7, Edwards knew he had to make a change. Covey was just 4 for 10 passing for 39 yards. He killed one scoring opportunity by throwing an interception in the end zone. At this point, it was nothing new, or even unexpected, for the team to have Detmer replace an ineffective Covey. It had happened four other times during the 1988 season, including the two previous games.

On his first play, Detmer completed a 21-yard pass. He threw a 15-yard touchdown pass later in the third quarter to tie the game. After Colorado kicked a field goal in the fourth quarter to regain the lead, Detmer drove BYU from its own 4-yard line to Colorado’s 10. A field goal tied the game. Less than two minutes later, and with 2:33 to play, Detmer had BYU in field goal range again. This time for the win. Final score: BYU 20, Colorado 17.

For Detmer to lead BYU to victory was a big deal. BYU entered the game with a 4-8 record all-time in bowl games, with the last win coming in the 1984 national championship season. Colorado was a good team. They entered the game with an 8-3 record. Led by running back Eric Bienemy, Colorado was the seventh best rushing team in the nation. Colorado was 11-1 the next year and 11-1-1 the year after that.

Not only did Detmer win the game, he took home offensive MVP honors. There wasn’t really a question who BYU’s best quarterback was. There also wasn’t any decision to make about who the starter should be. Detmer’s play made both of these crystal clear.

Hindsight shows that Detmer did more than wrestle away the starting quarterback job. The Detmer-led comeback triggered a chain of events that completely changed the future of BYU football. If Detmer had not started the 1989 season, then clearly the epic beatdown of Utah (moment #7) and tomorrow’s moment (#3) would not have happened. Detmer definitely would NOT have won the Heisman Trophy in 1990, and BYU probably would not have beaten Miami either. BYU’s 1989 WAC championship could probably be kissed good-bye as well. To put it succinctly, Ty Detmer would not have been Ty Detmer.

It was paramount to BYU football and Detmer’s career that he be the starting quarterback in 1989. Detmer didn’t leave this matter to chance. When he went out there in the second half of the Freedom Bowl, he didn’t go out there and just win the game. He went out there and won the starting quarterback job.

Ty’s Take
Obviously, the Freedom Bowl provided the ammunition going into spring ball. After that game, I was kind of sitting there wondering, as a freshman, “Okay, well what does this mean? I got this big old MVP trophy. Am I going to have to go back to the bench next year? What is going to happen?”

There is a lot of time from the bowl game and spring ball, so you are just kind of waiting to see. I had some success my freshman year. I started a game, and won a few games coming from behind. I really felt confident going into spring ball.

Sean Covey had knee surgery and missed all of spring ball. All of that was a combination that kind of led to me even becoming a little bit more of a leader on the team. I was out there running the show and going through practice doing good things. The team kind of rallied around me a little bit gave me a chance to not just be the back up but to be a BYU quarterback. A combination of that Freedom Bowl and having spring practice all to myself and not having to share reps with Sean led to me being named the starter after a couple weeks of fall camp.

I think LaVell called us in one at a time and told us our roles. He told me I was going to be the starter, and I was super excited about it.

10. The Essence of Ty Detmer
9. BYU Retires Ty Detmer's Jersey
8. Down, But Never Out
7. Unstoppable and Unprecedented
6. First Career Start
5. Final Home Game
4. Winning The Starting Quarterback Job
3. Joining the BYU Quarterback Club
2. Beating the Best--#1 Miami
1. Winning the Heisman Trophy

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at