1980 Holiday Bowl was a college football bowl
game played December 19, 1980 in San Diego,
It was part of the 1980 NCAA Division I-A
. It featured the SMU Mustangs
against the BYU Cougars
. BYU won 46–45 after a
dramatic comeback in the fourth quarter. The game is widely
referred to as the “Miracle Bowl”.
The Holiday Bowl
was a young bowl game
at the time, in only its third year. The 1980 Holiday Bowl
pitted Brigham Young
University (BYU) against Southern
Methodist University (SMU).
BYU entered the game with an 11-1
record. After losing the first game of the season
(25-21 against New Mexico), the Cougars won 11 straight games to claim the
Conference (WAC) Championship.
BYU had overwhelmed most
opponents with a high-powered pass-oriented offense led by future
. The Cougars led the NCAA
offense (535.0 yards per game), scoring (46.7 points per game), and
passing offense (409.8 passing yards per game) during the 1980 regular season
In contrast, SMU entered the game with an explosive run-heavy
offense, nicknamed the "Pony Express." The Mustangs were led by two
star runningbacks, Craig
and Eric Dickerson
James and Dickerson went on to careers in the NFL
; Dickerson achieved superstar status with the
Los Angeles Rams
in the mid-1980s.
The Mustangs entered the game with an 8-3 record, impressive
considering they played in the tough Southwest Conference
BYU had never won a bowl game in the entire history of the school,
having lost the 1974 Fiesta Bowl
and 1976 Tangerine Bowl
as the first two Holiday Bowls (in 1978 and '79). For the first 56
minutes of the 1980 Holiday Bowl, it appeared the Cougars were
headed for another bowl loss. BYU's defense couldn't handle SMU's
offense, as James ran for 225 yards and Dickerson added 110. With
just four minutes left in the game, the Mustangs scored to take a
commanding 45-25 lead over the Cougars.
Most BYU fans started leaving the stadium, but McMahon screamed at
the fans, declaring that the game wasn't over yet. He promptly
threw a touchdown pass to Matt Braga, and BYU recovered an on-side
kick. The Cougars quickly marched down the field, ending the drive
with a 1-yard touchdown run by Scott Phillips. SMU's lead had now
been trimmed to 45-39. The Cougar defense forced the Mustangs to
punt on the next possession, and BYU's Bill Schoepflin blocked the
punt by SMU's Eric Kaife with 13 seconds left in the game. The
Cougar offense took over at the 41-yard line, with a last chance to
win the game.
After throwing two incomplete passes, McMahon launched a Hail Mary
into the end zone as time expired.
Smothered by four SMU defenders, BYU tight end Clay Brown somehow
managed to leap and haul in the football, scoring one of the most
miraculous touchdowns in college football history. With the score
tied, BYU's Kurt Gunther kicked the extra point to give the Cougars
a "miracle" 46-45 victory.
BYU scored 21 points in the last 2 minutes and 33 seconds of the
game. McMahon completed 32 of 49 passes for 446 yards to share MVP
honors with SMU's James. The final statistics were remarkably even:
SMU finished with 25 first downs and 446 total yards, while BYU
totaled 23 first downs and 444 total yards.
In an ironic twist, SMU joined BYU's conference, the Western Athletic Conference
1996, after SMU's own conference, the Southwest Conference
, disbanded. They
remained WAC rivals until 1999, when BYU and 7 other schools formed
the Mountain West