For die-hard BYU fans here, the Dec. 27 Fight Hunger Bowl was far more than a football game between the Cougars and the University of Washington.
For one, the holiday-season bowl at San Francisco’s AT&T Park offered the team and its local followers an opportunity to participate in a faith-promoting devotional on the eve of the game.
On Dec. 26, about 1,000 people squeezed into the Temple Hill Auditorium near the Oakland California Temple for the team devotional. The hour-long event included remarks from Coach Bronco Mendenhall, his wife, Holly Mendenhall, and senior wide receiver Skyler Ridley.
Several BYU players and their wives also performed a musical number. After the devotional, the coaches and players enjoyed mingling with fans and family members and posed for numerous photos.
“The devotional really deepened my appreciation for the team and the school and church they represent,” said Tim Bean, chairman of the East Bay chapter of the BYU Alumni Association.
The pregame event — which has become a football tradition over the past decade — “helped to humanize the team and the coaches,” said Brother Bean. “You realize these are guys with wives and families who are trying to better themselves and the football program.”
Coach Mendenhall focused his message on faith, spiritual guidance and finding and following priorities.
Staging the devotional wasn’t easy. The local alumni association had just two weeks to organize the event after BYU was invited to participate in the bowl game. Under the presiding direction of the Oakland California Stake, assignments were made and invitations extended to all Bay Area members and their friends and neighbors.
Brother Bean said many who attended the devotional were not Latter-day Saints. All were made to feel welcome, he added.
Local Cougar fans also answered the titular challenge issued by the bowl game and did their part to help fight hunger.
Fans and alumni from BYU and the University of Washington staged a competition to see which fan base could collect the most food for local families in need. Food and cash donations made to San Francisco-area food banks accounted for more than 30,000 meals.
The fan fun continued on game day. The BYU Alumni Association sponsored a tailgate party and pep rally — replete with appearances from the BYU band and cheerleaders — for some 650 Cougar fans prior to the game.
Almost 35,000 people attended the game — “and more than half the stadium was BYU fans,” said Brother Bean.
The Cougar football team walked onto the gridiron hoping to extend their school-record four-game bowl-winning streak. In the end, that record was undone by missed scoring opportunities and trouble on special teams.
Washington would raise the Fight Hunger Bowl trophy after claiming a 31-16 victory.
BYU outgained the Huskies in total offense by more than 150 yards but struggled to finish with touchdowns.
“We weren’t able to put it in the end zone,” said Coach Mendenhall.
The Cougars finished the season with an 8-5 record that included memorable wins over Texas, Boise State and Utah State.
Now the coaches and team turn their attention to the 2014 campaign. They will lose graduating team leaders Kyle Van Noy — an All-American linebacker — and Cody Hoffman, who set several school receiving records.
Still, the program’s proverbial cupboard is not bare. Star quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamall Williams will both return for their junior seasons.