New legacy hall exhibit helps uncover the lost legacy of an all-time great BYU football player

New exhibit at BYU's Legacy Hall looks at the evolution of BYU football uniforms and helmets. (Photo courtesy Stephanie Odle)

The simple narrative for BYU Cougars football is as follows: Before head coach LaVell Edwards came along in 1972, the BYU football program was below average, to put it mildly, except for a couple of seasons in the mid-1960s. Until now, the player who gets the credit for those outlier seasons is quarterback Virgil Carter. However, a new exhibit in BYU's Legacy Hall sheds light on the legacy of another player from that era who was equally responsible for the success that inspired Edwards. In fact, looking closer at the numbers, and a great debate of "what came first, the chicken or the egg" ensues over who really deserves the credit for BYU's first ever conference championship and eight-win campaign the following season.

Carter has a legacy as BYU's first record-setting quarterback who paved the way for the long string of legendary quarterbacks produced under Edwards. He rewrote the BYU record books, and even set his share of NCAA records.

Carter didn't do it alone. During his seasons as quarterback, 1964-66, he benefited from the services of running back John Ogden who also set career rushing records for BYU. The real difference maker, however, appears to be split end (wide receiver) Phil Odle. Odle's played for BYU from 1965-67.

BYU's record with Carter and Ogden in 1964 was 3-6-1. Carter completed just 34 percent of his passes for 1,154 yards. His touchdown to interception ratio was 9:14. With Odle the next season, those numbers improved to 48 percent completion percentage, 1,789 yards and a 20:13 TD to interception ratio. BYU won the WAC Championship that season, and improved to 6-4. Year two with Odle as a target saw Carter maintain a positive TD-Int differential, and his passing yards went above 2,000 (2,182).  That 1966 season saw BYU finish 8-2 and second in the nation with an average total offense of 400.6 yards per game.

With Carter and Ogden, who rushed for 770, 700, and 906 yards, respectively, from 1964-66, gone in 1967, a big drop off was expected, but it never came. BYU averaged just four yards less of total offense (396.2 yards per game), passed for just 152 yards less as a team (2,416 vs. 2,264), and set a new school record for most points scored in a season (278, nine better than 1966). The win-loss record went back down to 6-4, but the schedule was the 13th most difficult in the nation (opponent win percentage 0.5778).

Phil Odle won the Dale Rex Memorial Award in 1968. (Photo courtesy Sephanie Odle)

After Odle graduated, BYU posted a 2-8 record the very next season. Scored just 179 points and passed for just 1,398 yards as a team.

Odle rewrote the BYU and WAC record books. He finished his career with 183 receptions (second most in NCAA history) for 2,548 yards (third most in NCAA history) and 25 touchdowns. Austin Collie is the only other BYU football player to set school records in these categories in a three-year playing career. In 1965, Odle was named the WAC lineman of the year, and all three seasons he was first-team All-WAC. He had two 200-yard receiving games during his career (242 vs. UTEP in 1966, and 203 vs. Western Michigan in 1967).

Carter's BYU passing records were all broken by 1977 (11 years). Odle's receiving records lasted more than twice as long. It wasn't until Matt Bellini came along that Odle's records for receptions and yards were broken in 1990 (23 years). The record for receiving touchdowns would last another three years until Eric Drage broke it.

Odle was inducted into the BYU Hall of Fame 40 years ago.

The main intent of the new Legacy Hall exhibit is to show the evolution of helmets worn by the Cougars over the decades, as well as a few jerseys. The helmet in the previous photo was worn by Odle his senior season.

Odle died unexpectedly on July 27, 2006. At the insistence of his remaining posterity, the new exhibit also includes his number 88, onesie style jersey and his Dale Rex Memorial Award as an effort to honor Odle's BYU legacy.

Photo courtesy Stephanie Odle.

After speaking with both of his children, Stephanie and Matt, Blue Cougar Football has learned that the Odle legacy is much greater than what any exhibit could capture.

Phil Odle grew up outside Chicago, Illinois. He enlisted in the Marine Corps out of high school and was stationed at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California. While there, he saw an advertisement for the Marines football team. His coach Thomas Mullin was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mullin contacted the BYU football coaches and suggested they come recruit players from his team.

Odle and some other players came to BYU on a recruiting trip and saw the BYU-Utah game. BYU lost that day, but Odle gained an appreciation for the rivalry and decided he wanted to come to Provo and beat Utah.

He was one of several married couples from his platoon that came. They had to get an early release from the Marine Corps and enroll immediately in order to be eligible. Just a few weeks later, his platoon was shipped out to Vietnam. Although Odle was not a member of BYU's sponsoring religion, and hadn't served a two-year mission, he was still considered an older player. He turned 23 just days before the final game of his first season in 1965.

Odle wasn't that fast or big. The BYU media guide listed him at 6-foot and 188 pounds. He was quick, however, and ran great routes, but the greatest reason he had such a phenomenal career was his hands. He would, literally, catch everything. People said he could catch a falling star. That led to quarterback Virgil Carter completely trusting him.

Odle's children can recount many stories that their father told them over the years. He was very fond of his playing days at BYU. In his final game against San Jose State, Odle caught three touchdown passes. To celebrate, he was throwing the football into the stands after each touchdown. It got to the point where equipment manager Floyd Johnson had to tell him to stop. He finished his career 3-0 against Utah. Odle was invited to play in all of the post-season collegiate games that existed at that time. He participated in three: East-West Shrine game, Hula Bowl, and Coach's All-American Game.

Phil Odle's BYU Statistics

 Rec.  Yards  Ave.  TD 

Odle and his wife appreciated the way they were befriended in Utah and not made to feel as outcasts. Both Matt and Stephanie recall a story where their mother, soon after they arrived, confused the Latter-day Saint acronym (LDS) with a well-known drug and told people, "Sorry, I'm not LSD." The Odles truly loved the Utah Valley community, and during Phil's senior season bought a home in Provo where they would set down roots, even during his NFL career.

The Detroit Lions drafted Odle in the fifth round of the 1968 NFL Draft. The Lions had a lot of depth at wide receiver, but he was able to maintain a career as a special teams player. Although he was the special teams captain, Odle wanted more playing time as a receiver. The Lions helped Odle move to the New York Giants. He broke his led shortly thereafter. His wife was pregnant with their second child at the time, and they decided it was time to hang up the cleats. During his career, Odle played on the same field as NFL greats like Dick Butkus, O.J. Simpson, and Charlie Sanders. His Lions teammate Chuck Hughes became the first player in NFL history to die on the field when he suffered a heart attack.

Returning to Provo, Odle took up a career in auto sales, raised his son and daughter, and stayed involved with the BYU football program behind the scenes. Stephanie remembers having BYU football players at their home all of the time. They flocked to her father, and he mentored them. While she was in junior high, her father made star linebacker Leon White go to class with her. She still lives near campus and regularly visits the football facilities. Many players, especially the non-LDS ones, like Jim McMahon and Tony Crutchfield, have told her, "You'll never know what your dad did for me when I got to campus."

Son Matt Odle says he was asked a million times how he liked being Phil's son. He loved it. His dad was his idol. He was everything Matt wanted to be. Matt followed in his father's footsteps and played wide receiver at BYU from 1987-89. His father also pass on a lot of his superstitions. Phil would not shave on game day. He would always pick a piece of grass from the south end zone and chew on it pre-game. Phil also took a strip of cloth off of one of his jerseys and passed it on to his son. Matt wore it hanging out of his pants his entire career.

His children can't say enough about how Phil was a great father and husband. How much he loved them and they love him.

Matt was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Floyd Johnson. Just five days before Phil died, Matt would baptize his father and mother.

Almost 50 years ago, to the day, February 18, 1968, was delcared "Phil Odle Day" as a sign of what he meant to Cougar football and Cougar fans. May his legacy live on another 50 years and beyond. For being a phenomenal player and an even better person off the field, he represents everything good that BYU stands for. He is truly a BYU football legend who gave everything he had to making the program better.

Thank you, Phil, and the entire Odle family.

Additional Phil Odle coverage on Blue Cougar Football
Head and Shoulders Above the Rest

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


  1. I was at BYU while Phil Odle, Virgil Carter, and John Ogden played. I'm so glad I got to read this article. Thanks! It is great.


Post a Comment