Lessons I learned on the gridiron

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Jeff Call reminisces about his BYU intramural flag football team '

Jeff Call reminisces about his BYU intramural flag football team ‘Anonymous 7.’ From left, top row: Chris Hedquist, Kirt Melling, Gary Petersen and Drew Hearst. From left, bottom row: Jeff Call, Bart Tingey, Gary Petersen and Jay Christensen. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Call)

I played football at Brigham Young University.

This may come as a shock to those who know me, because I stand only 5-feet-8-and-a-quarter-inches tall — in cleats. At the time, I weighed about 140 pounds soaking wet, ran the 40-yard dash in roughly 4.4 minutes, and made Rudy (of Notre Dame fame) look like a world-class athlete. Though it’s been many years since I laced up my Nike turf shoes,  I can still vividly remember catching passes and trying to chase down opposing quarterbacks. It’s not something I brag about, though. After all, I was one of thousands of BYU students who play intramural flag football every fall.

Notice I said I played football at BYU, not for BYU.

This may be deemed as a sad commentary on my social life and academic achievements, but I have to admit in all seriousness that playing intramural flag football was one of the highlights of my BYU experience. And my team didn’t even win the coveted intramural championship. The members of the winning intramural teams receive a T-shirt, which is worn with pride on campus. We came close one year to a championship, but we were denied in the most cruel and unusual way imaginable in the tournament … but that’s another story.

Every fall, my roommates and I pledged our allegiance to flag football. Most of our games were played on the field west of University Avenue, in the shadows of LaVell Edwards Stadium, then known as Cougar Stadium. Today, when I drive past that intramural field in the fall and see those bright lights shining on students playing intramural flag football, the memories come flooding back. When my roommates and I get together now, it doesn’t take long for us to reminisce about our flag football days.

Our team, named “Anonymous 7,” fashioned plays drawn on 3 x 5 index cards, bound by a rubber band. Bound by a love of football, we called each another nicknames like “Pee-Wee,” “Max Headroom,” “King,” “Gumby” and “Bird.” During the season, and even between seasons, flag football talk dominated many of our conversations.

Few things interfered with Game Day rituals. Sometimes we’d meet a couple of hours prior to kickoff at Burgers Supreme on University Parkway for our “pre-game meal.” Then we’d return to our apartment, which magically transformed into a locker room as we dressed to lively music. After the games, covered in sweat — and, sometimes, mud and or frostbite — we’d sit around on the worn-out couches and analyze minute details from the game, play-by-play, well into the night.

“I don’t know which was better,” remembers Chris Hedquist, my Anonymous 7 teammate, “the game itself or the pre-game hype or the post-game rehash.”

Collectively, we weren’t the most gifted athletically, but we maximized our abilities. We didn’t play for a scholarship or public adulation. Still, it was amazing how much better we’d play if a certain girl we liked showed up to watch. In fact, one of the plays we reminisce most about was when, following a kickoff, Bart Tingey, undoubtedly spurred by the attendance of a certain female, flew through the air like a Patriot Missile and pulled the flag of an unsuspecting opposing ball-carrier. Had someone been there filming that game, I have no doubt it would have ended up on ESPN’s SportsCenter that night, or at least YouTube — if YouTube had been around at that time.

“We played for the love of the game,” says teammate Steve Petersen, a former BYUSA vice president. “It deepened friendships and memories that still live today even after 20 years. We can still recall exact plays, passes, formations, and green sweat pants for cryin’ out loud. It totally enhanced the BYU experience, actually, I would say in an institution of 35,000 students,this was our outlet, our individuality, our BYU memory, this is where BYU became personal for us.”

Truth is, some of the best lessons college offers are learned outside a classroom. The leaders at BYU who established intramural athletics must have understood this concept. BYU’s Intramural program began in the early 1900s under the direction of Karl G. Maeser, thesecond principal of Brigham Young Academy. He taught, “Play and recreation are more than mere diversions, they are recuperative requisites in the process of physical, intellectual, and moral development.”

This is what LDS president and school founder Brigham Young said on this topic: “We find within us the disposition to ‘fun and frolic,’ which, under certain conditions and circumstances, it becomes necessary to gratify, in order to insure perfect health and harmonious working of the whole human organism. The intelligent parent and school teacher are not ignorant of the fact that the body and mind of the child can be perfectly ruined by constant application to study and being denied the necessary leisure for physical recreations and exercises, and thousands, through the same cause, have become certified lunatics.”

Today, BYU, the perennial No. 1 “Stone, Cold Sober” school, boasts one of the largest intramural programs in the country. People sometimes ask me what BYU students do since drinking and carousing are prohibited by the Honor Code. One of the answers is intramural athletics. More than 10,000 students, faculty/staff members and BYU ward members participate in more than 30 sports and activities.

Once someone asked legendary Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant about college football’s place on a college campus. “It’s kinda hard,” he growled, “to rally around a math class.”

As a communications major, I found it impossible to rally around a math class. Intramural flag football held a special place for me, and many other students, at BYU. It was something to rally around. Amid all the pressures of choosing a career, dating, fulfilling church callings, writing research papers, and making dreaded trips to the testing center, it served as a necessary diversion. And more.

“It all starts with the opening games of the season on a September evening,” recalls Anonymous 7 founder and team captain, Gary Petersen. “The smell of freshly cut grass, the light dusk of the setting autumn sun, the crisp chill just beginning in the new fall air. Anything is possible on those days, every team can make it to the championship, every team can win the T-shirt, and it goes beyond the field, it’s still possible to get an A in every class, date the cutest new co-eds in the ward. Those were the days we wished would lastforever.”

Our Anonymous 7 name originated after a one of those 20-something-Stake Sunday Marriott Center firesides, of all places. A message was delivered that night about the venerable Book of Mormon superhero, Captain Moroni, and those who served with him. The following scripture was quoted: “Now behold, Helaman and his brethren were no less serviceable unto the people than was Moroni…”

From that scripture about the anonymous men who served under Captain Moroni (who I envision being built like an All-America BYU tight end) the Anonymous 7 name, and our team identity, was born.

Each of us on the Anonymous 7 team had a role. If we executed those roles at the highest level (to borrow a favorite mantra from current BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall) we usually moved the ball down the field and found our way into the end zone. Our most successful play was called “curl-in, arrow-out.” It was a play that required each of us to our jobs precisely. Wide receiver Steve Petersen was the designated decoy, allowing fellow receiver Kirt Melling to get open and, oftentimes, score a touchdown and earn the glory. But to this day, Melling appreciates Petersen’s willingness to be that decoy. “He knew his duty,” he recalls. “He knew it was team-first. But, best of all, he knew I would let him celebrate with me as I crossed the goal line.”

Flag football taught me lessons about selflessness and taking pleasure in the accomplishments of others. It taught me about camaraderie and the strength of being united in a common purpose. Certainly, those are principles that apply to me, and all of my roommates now, in the workplace, in our church responsibilities, and at home as we raise families.

To this day, the Anonymous 7 continues to get together every so often to catch up on our lives, and relive our, ahem, glory days.

In this age of win-at-all-costs and spoiled professional athletes who frequent police blotters, some would like to ignore the idea of sports possessing any redeeming qualities. But when played for the right reasons, in the right ways, sports offers myriad benefits that endure longer than even an intramural championship T-shirt.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have participated in intramural athletics. The non-descript T-shirt I wore in those flag football games wasn’t a jersey and it wasn’t emblazoned with a BYU logo, but the lessons learned, the feelings engendered, and the friendships forged during those intramural flag football games certainly embody the school and its mission.

On second thought, maybe my Anonymous 7 teammates and I did play football for BYU.

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Jeff Call has covered BYU sports since 1993, including the past 16 years for the Deseret News. He, his wife and six sons live in Cedar Hills.

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