MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Suffering a crushing 41-27 loss to Tulane University in the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31 was a severe blow for the BYU football team. It was made worse because, for most of the players, losing a bowl game was an unwelcome new experience.
In their most recent previous bowl game, the 1996 Cotton Bowl, the Cougars pulled out a 19-15, come-from-behind shocker over the Kansas State Wildcats. Prior to that, they dominated Oklahoma 31-6 in the 1994 Copper Bowl. BYU's last loss in a bowl game was 28-21 to Ohio State in the 1993 Holiday Bowl.Against undefeated and 10th-ranked Tulane on New Year's Eve day, BYU got off to a good start, scoring the first touchdown. But then the Green Wave swamped the Cougars for 34 straight points to take a 34-6 lead into the fourth quarter. The Cougar's 21-point rally down the stretch was woefully inadequate considering the hole they were in when they started.
After the game, BYU coach LaVell Edwards said, "Tulane is a very good football team. They are one of only two undefeated teams in the country and that's no small task."
One of the game's few bright spots for BYU was Mike Rigell's kickoff returns. In six chances, he returned the ball 220 yards to set a Liberty Bowl record. Ben Horton caught six passes for 67 yards and his team's first touchdown.
The Liberty Bowl was the final game for several BYU seniors and at least one junior — offensive lineman John Tait. He announced Monday, Jan. 4, that he will enter the NFL draft and has been projected as a high first-round pick. Tait was twice named to the All-WAC first team.
Val Hale, an assistant athletic director at BYU, traveled home with the team after the game. He said, "There was a lot of disappointment in the outcome of the game, especially for the seniors who were playing in their last game. We won our last two bowl games, so it was a new experience for them to lose a bowl game."
BYU participated in a fireside and a morningside while in Memphis for the bowl game. Coach Edwards and his wife, Patti, spoke at the fireside Sunday, Dec. 27, at the Memphis Tennessee North Stake Center. Players Tait and linebacker Rob Morris also spoke to a congregation estimated by Memphis Tennessee Stake Pres. Darrel K. Danielson to be about 900.
"It was a big deal for our members, especially to have the players there," Pres. Danielson said.
BYU Pres. Merrill J. Bateman and a member of the Seventy, and Elder D. Todd Christofferson, also of the Seventy, were the speakers at a morningside the day of the game.
Pres. Danielson said that he and many other members in the area had the opportunity to open their homes to guests who traveled to Memphis to see the Cougars. In his case, he hosted visitors from Utah, Maryland and Texas.
Prior to the Liberty Bowl, the BYU players were treated to several events and activities in the Memphis area. Probably leading the list, according to Hale, was a visit to Graceland where they saw the home of Elvis Presley. He said the tour was an educational experience for most of the players since Elvis Presley, who died in 1977, predates most of them.