The Luckiest Girl Around

Some reflections on life with Father from the only daughter of a football coach

Most of us have memories of perfect days—days that stand apart from the rest because something or someone made them unforgettable. One of mine happened when I was in the fifth grade. On a particularly bleak Saturday morning in January, my father suddenly announced that we were going skiing.

“All of us?” I asked, thinking of my brothers, John and Jim.

“No,” he responded, “just you and I.”

He urged me to finish my breakfast in a hurry as he gathered our equipment together. Half an hour later we were heading up Provo Canyon to the old Timp Haven ski resort. Dad and I spent the entire morning there, perfecting our snowplows and challenging one another to races. Later that day, after thoroughly exhausting ourselves on the slopes, we traveled to my Grandpa Edwards’s warehouse where we helped him and other family members bag potatoes for hauling. Although it was cold outside, dad worked so hard that huge beads of perspiration rolled freely off his forehead. Afterwards, he and I went to a nearby drive-in and had hamburgers, fries, and shakes—just the two of us.

There were other days, other moments that we shared together: playing Monopoly and Clue, swimming at the city pool, watching High Noon starring Gary Cooper, grilling hamburgers in our backyard, puzzling over story problems in my third grade mathematics book. And all the time we shared these things together, I felt like the most important person in dad’s life. The thing I didn’t realize, of course, was that both my brothers grew up feeling exactly the same way.

Dad has a knack for making people feel important, primarily because he thinks they are important. He believes that every individual possesses enormous potential for good, and in his own quiet fashion, my father seeks to help others recognize their worth. Perhaps it is this quality, among others, that has contributed to his professional success as head football coach for the Brigham Young University Cougars.

I have to admit that it’s been exciting, particularly in the last five years, to be the daughter of LaVell Edwards, the head football coach at Brigham Young. My family and I have enjoyed sharing the thrills (and the frustrations) of college football together. Yet while I am enormously proud of my father’s professional achievements, I love him for his sense of humor, his commitment, his kindness.

No doubt about it, dad had to develop a sense of humor to stay afloat in the large, lively Edwards family. One of 14 children, dad once said the only way he could tell he’d grown up was when he no longer had to sleep between two older brothers in a single bed. His sense of humor also helped him deal with experiences outside the family circle. When dad was a senior at the old Lincoln High School in Orem, Utah, for example, he enrolled in a mixed chorus class. Always a lover of music, he especially looked forward to the choir’s traditional performance of Christmas carols during the holidays. He particularly enjoyed singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. The only problem was that at one point in the number instead of singing the required four hallelujahs and then pausing, Dad always sang a fifth enthusiastic hallelujah. In desperation, the choir director finally took him aside and said he would earn an “A” if he simply mouthed the words the evening of the performance. Dad is the only person I know who managed to pass a singing class without making a sound.

Later when he married and began raising a family, a sense of humor helped him deal with three children (and one wife) who possess a weakness for stray animals. Although he himself was raised in a family that believed animals belong in a barn, dad has survived over the years any number of dogs, cats, guppies, goldfish, turtles, lizards, rabbits, chickens, frogs, toads, chameleons, mice, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, parakeets, and one foul-tempered cockatiel named Doosey. I remember one winter when I brought home two full-grown cats and asked if I could keep them.

“Are they males?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. “Their names are Sam and George.”

That convinced him. “All right, but they have to stay outside.”

That spring Sam and George had 13 kittens between them. And they didn’t stay outside either!

Today he still manages to see the lighter side of things. When I started bringing home fairly respectable grades from my English courses at BYU, dad asked me to tell my professors who my father was. I looked at him, shocked.

“Dad,” I said, “I don’t want to win points that way.”

“You?” He looked at me in surprise. “Look, I wasn’t talking about you. I’m the one who needs to earn points. We football players can stand some good publicity in the English department.”

The fact of the matter is, both dad and mom have always encouraged my brothers and me to work hard in school, to be teachable. Dad demonstrated his own enthusiasm for learning in the summer of 1978 by earning a doctorate in education from Brigham Young University.

My father’s commitment to his family and friends, to his players and his church, is another quality I admire. As my brothers and I were growing up, dad and mom made it a point to attend the activities we were involved with, no matter how marginally. The summer after my senior year in high school, I was cast as a servant in a local production of King Lear. Since I didn’t have a single line in the play and spent more time in the wings handling props than I did on stage, I told dad he didn’t have to come watch me, particularly since mom was out of town and wouldn’t be able to accompany him. Opening night, however, found dad sitting front and center, and he stayed there the entire four hours although I was on the stage for less than three minutes. Now that’s commitment.

This quality of commitment shines in other facets of his life. It is the basis of his relationship with players. One of the ways he demonstrates his commitment to players is by demanding that they give their best on and off the field. He knows, I suppose, that self-respect is attained by giving 100 percent over and over again. Commitment also characterizes his involvement in the Church. A home teacher and a priests quorum adviser, he has lately accepted the additional responsibility and pleasure of speaking to youth groups everywhere from Los Angeles, California, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

In the final analysis, however, it is his kindness that makes dad a special man, a special parent. I’ve seen him engaged in quiet deeds of goodness from the time I was small: playing catch with a seven-year-old neighborhood girl, writing a personal letter of encouragement to a sixth-grade boy, inviting a nephew to eat with him at the training table. Dad is a man with a great gift for humble acts of kindness. I’ll never forget one evening when this gift made the difference to me. When I was a young girl, our ward used to sponsor an event known as the daddy-daughter dinner date. Now this was an occasion that I looked forward to with a good deal of excitement. Being proud of my father, I naturally seized any opportunity to show him off and the daddy-daughter dinner date seemed like the ideal occasion to do so. After weeks of anticipation, we Primary girls made and delivered invitations to our fathers. I watched eagerly as dad read mine. He looked at the flimsy construction paper I had given him, and then he looked at me.

“I’m sorry, honey, but I’m going to be out of town that week. There’s nothing I can do about it, I’m afraid.”

“Oh.” I tried hard not to show my disappointment. I even opened my eyes wide so that the tears I felt coming would dry before they had a chance to spill down my face. “Well, that’s okay.”

He gave me an affectionate hug. Looking back on it now, I realize that he was as unhappy about the whole state of affairs as I was.

During the week before the daddy-daughter dinner date, my parents made arrangements with our bishop to be my special escort. The day before the event, my father left town after apologizing once again for having to leave.

The day of the dinner date arrived quickly. On the way home from school, listening to my friends chatter excitedly about the evening’s planned activities, I made a silent decision not to go; as nice as the bishop was, I preferred to stay home and feel sorry for myself. When I shuffled into the house, prepared to tell my mother that the whole thing was off, I found a surprise waiting for me in the living room: my father was sitting by himself on the sofa.

“Well,” he said, “is the date still on?”

It wasn’t until some years later that I learned just what my father’s act of kindness cost him in terms of time and money. In addition to losing one day of valuable recruiting time, dad had to purchase another round-trip ticket so that he could fly out once again on the following morning. That night, though, I had no idea of the sacrifice he had made to be my escort—I was too busy having the best time of my life.

No wonder I’ve always considered myself the luckiest girl around.

[photos] Photos by Eldon K. Linschoten