BYU erased a 20-point deficit with four minutes to play, capped off with Jim McMahon’s Hail Mary pass with no time left to beat the Mustangs.
Scott Phillips was a senior running back on that BYU team and scored 2 key touchdowns in the game. 42 years later, he still remembers what that game was like.
“I didn’t know much about SMU, but I learned before and after the game that they had a couple of decent running backs,” Phillips said.
The Mustangs had the Pony Express backfield of Eric Dickerson and Craig James, two of the best running backs in the country, and the Cougars couldn’t seem to stop them.
“Every time they had the ball, they seemed to have these long 50-yard runs, 30-yard runs,” Phillips said. “so that’s what I remember as the struggle.”
The struggle became worse when BYU found itself down by 20 points with just four minutes left in the game. And having lost the last two bowl games, Phillips wasn’t happy with the way things were going.
“I remember sitting on the bench with some player next to me and just kind of shaking our heads going, ‘Here we are again. Like, what’s the deal?,'” Phillips said. “There was a bit of dejection, I suppose, but at the same time, you never give up, right?”
Their quarterback, Jim McMahon didn’t give up. In fact, he overruled head coach LaVell Edwards when he wanted to punt because he wanted to go for it.
“It was 4th down and long, and we sent the punt team in,” Phillips said. “McMahon goes over to LaVell and said, ‘It ain’t going to happen, we’re not punting.’ That has some folklore behind it, but that’s actually true. That’s actually what happened.”
They got that first down, and eventually cut the lead down to just points. Phillips had a hand in the comeback. He scored on 2 touchdown runs and caught a pass for a 2-point conversion. But he doesn’t consider himself a hero of the game.
“We won by one, so every point mattered,” he said. “I’d like to take a lot of credit, but if you look at it, they weren’t real long runs, the kind of runs you expect to get in on the goal line.”
But he was out there on the field on that last pass when McMahon threw it over 50 yards in the air, and it was caught by his tight end Clay Brown in the end zone.
Everybody celebrated, including Phillips.
“[I’ve never] scored a touchdown and jump up and down or roll the dice or do a dance — that wasn’t my style,” he said. “So when I spontaneously leaped into the air, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s new for me.’ But it really was amazing to be a part of that. It was an amazing capper to an amazing sort of finish, and I’m biased, but I don’t think in the annals of college football history that there’s a better comeback ever.”
BYU will take on SMU again this Saturday, Dec. 17, in the New Mexico Bowl.