Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

The Western Athletic Conference: It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday

I don’t know where this road
Is going to lead
All I know is where we’ve been
And what we’ve been through.

If we get to see tomorrow
I hope it’s worth all the wait
It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.

And I’ll take with me the memories
To be my sunshine after the rain
It’s so hard to say goodbye to yesterday.

It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye- Boyz II Men

This one hit me a little harder than I really thought it would.  Yesterday that the Western Athletic Conference would no longer be a conference at least not one that plays football.  And then I realized just how many good memories (and some sad) were tied to WAC sporting events.  Even the stories my dad told me from before I was born made me feel like this conference was always a part of my life.

Hell, I even wrote my senior thesis in History at the U on the Western Athletic Conference.

From an academic standpoint the WAC is a fascinating story and really was a conference that was ahead of i’ts time.  In fact, many Pac-12 schools are apart of its history whether they want to admit it or not.  The WAC’s story begins with essentially the California schools and Washington deciding they were just a little too good for the Oregon schools and Wazzu.  They decided to break out on their own as a five team conference.  So Oregon’s president along with Utah’s president at the tile A. Ray Olpin set out to design what would be the conference of the future.  Instead of just being a network of schools of near each other, the WAC took into consideration things like proximity to airports and populations.  They saw that television was going to be huge.  If the California schools and Washington hadn’t figured out how difficult scheduling with five was going to be, Oregon  Oregon St., and perhaps Washington St. would have been founding members.  Also without the insistence of Utah’s president Wyoming and BYU would have been left out.

So Pac-12 members Utah, Arizona, Arizona St., Oregon and Oregon St. all were major parts of the design of the WAC.  And again, nearly 25 years after its founding, the WAC was ahead of the times again when it expanded to 16 teams, something pointed out by interim commissioner Jeff Hurd in this article.

But to me it was so much more than that.  It’s memories both good and bad and far too many that involve BYU.

The WAC was my dad telling me stories of BYU QB Virgil Carter being humiliated.

My parents nearly didn’t get married because my dad spent far too much money going to New Orleans for the 1967 Sugar Bowl which had Wyoming vs LSU.

The WAC was the story of the Black 14 and how my dad blamed BYU and basically the LDS religion for destroying Wyoming football.

WAC football for a time became just hoping that this might be the year you beat BYU.  But there was kind of a thrill in the challenge.  When Wyoming did it in 1987 in Provo, it was like Christmas came.

The WAC was Al Kinkade and Benny Dees both destroying my child hood, may they both burn in hell.  When there is less to do this summer I’ll talk in great detail about why both of them hurt me so.

Yeah a lot of my WAC memories had to do with BYU because they were oh so very dominate.  With the backing of the LDS church they had more money to spend that all the other teams in the conference combined.  As LaVell once said, they were “blessed.”  And man were their fans pricks about it, only it was so much worse then because they actually were good.  Utah fans will recall a BYU assistant screaming at Utah coaches to get their dogs off the field.  BYU players being reinserted into blowouts to get records.  Far too many jerk stories to recount.  Wow I hated those guys.

But in basketball the WAC had many more stories.  We got the pleasure of watching Don Haskins coach for 20 plus years.  We got New Mexico fans and The Pit.  We had Vranes, Chambers, Ainge, Hardaway, Cooper, Dembo, Leckner and a ton more I’m missing.

Oddly I threw the first punch at a sporting event I ever threw was at the 1985 WAC Tournament after an adult Utah fan taunted a 13 year old me when Manny Hendrix made me cry. I always wish I could have seen that guy explain to his wife why he had a black eye.

In 1987 at the Huntsman Center, Wyoming with Dembo and Leckner beat UCLA with Reggie Miller.  Wyoming has a 6-7 kid named Jon Summers (for you Utah fans, think Alex Jensen).  Summers beat Millers ass that day.  UCLA coach Walt Hazzard was so pissed after the game he did serious damage to a Utah locker room.

A year later in the Marriott Center, Lecker hit the Laettner shot in the MWC tourney a few years before Laettner didn.

A couple of weeks later, Benny Dees killed my childhood when he decided to run with Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble.  This event more than any other probably opened the door to me becoming a Utah fan.

As I type one memory another comes back.

1976 I attend my first college football game, Wyoming v New Mexico.  Wyoming’s coach was Fred Akers who would go on to coach at Texas.

1981 My parents left me with my grandma to go and see Wyoming vs BYU in basketball in Wyoming’s old fieldhouse.  The fieldhouse had a dirt floor which Wyoming placed the basketball floor on.  Wyoming won, but the game is famous for BYU basketball coach Frank Arnold calling Wyoming fans despicable.  Wyoming fans embraced that.

1984 Al Kinkade had a 4th and 1 that if he gets it, BYU doesn’t win their fake national title.

The 1990 Holiday Bowl will always hold a special place in my heart.  It was the night that made it clear BYU was just another football team.  Ty Detmer had won the Heisman and it seemed like a dark day.  Even though YU got curbstomped in Hawaii, it was chalked up to Heisman hangover.  BYU drew Texas A&M in the Holiday Bowl and spent the time running up to the game discussing that they deserved to have a better opponent.  The Aggies had Sam Adams and Quentin Coryatt.  If you haven’t ever seen what happened, Texas A&M made this handy video. If you haven’t seen it, its nearly better than porn.

The 1990’s brought me going to Utah and Utah deciding to sort of not suck at football. It also brought a fat man to Utah and two of the most amazing back to back wins ever. I was at the 1997 WAC tournament with my father just three months after my mother died. It was a wonderful and much need weekend after a terrible year. Here are the back to back tips, and don’t forget, we held SMU scoreless for 10 minutes to have a chance at the first one.

I still can’t watch those without a tear coming to my eye.

But after that for Utah the WAC would give way to the MWC and finally on to the Pac-12. We would find football success and amazingly basketball failure. But somehow all those WAC memories will be the ones that I treasure the most.

It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday
 

Tags: Al Kinkade Benny Dees Don Haskins Eric Leckner Fennis Dembo Jon Summers Keith Van Horn LaVell Edwards LSU Manny Hendrix MWC Oregon Oregon St. Pac 12 Sugar Bowl Utah Utes Virgil Carter WAC Wazzu

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