There is a time and a season for everything. As a young boy growing up in Orem, Utah, two seasons made for the best of times — summer was for strawberries and fall was for football, and without the allure of social media, there was nothing to convince us otherwise.
The wait for BYU’s season opener was eternal for the McCann boys. Our only sources of football news came from our dad, Dale McCann (executive director of the Cougar Club), sportswriters Marion Dunn and Dick Harmon at the Provo Daily Herald and sportscaster Paul James on KSL-TV.
Even while we enjoyed the break from school, the longing for fall football was exhausting when the pages of the calendar turned at the same pace as a snail crossing our sidewalk.
Fortunately for us, we had a distraction.
The city block we lived on was a combination of homes with fenced-in backyard orchards. Some neighbors grew fruit trees while others, like the Brimhalls, cut them down to make room for a massive garden — and in that space grew the world’s greatest strawberry patch.
Brimhalls’ berries were unlike any other. In a small hand, they felt the size of a whiffle ball with the insides as ruby red as the “S” on Superman’s chest. The sweetness was exquisite. To borrow a quote from Kramer on “Seinfeld,” biting into a Brimhall strawberry was like having “a circus in your mouth!”
Not only were they next-level, but the berries were also constantly on our minds. All the while filling up the day with baseball, water-balloon fights against the rival neighborhood or floating down the ice-cold stream in the river bottoms, the taste of those berries remained front and center.
The supreme challenge for our group was staying out of the strawberry patch. It called to us just as Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber called to Rey in “The Force Awakens” and it drew us in like the scene in “Bug’s Life,” where the insects are helplessly drawn into the light of an electric zapper.
Mrs. Brimhall was determined to defend her turf. Her husband was a quiet, hard-working man who chose to stay out of the conflict. This was her fight, and to her credit, she seemed to enjoy it. Plus, she had an extra sense when it came to detecting our unsanctioned harvests and on occasion, we too would get zapped.
The hot summer days in Utah County led to warm nights that were often spent camping in the fortress we built in the back of Webb’s orchard. The location was conveniently selected next to the strawberry patch and separated by the kind of log fence that kids our size could easily slip underneath.
On one occasion, with the Brimhalls’ house lights turned off and the full moon turned on, the temptation was too great, and we initiated a raid. Like hungry Marines taking a beach, we moved into the strawberry patch crawling on our hands and knees, cautious to not set off the light sensors in the Brimhalls’ backyard or wake up the neighbor’s dog.
The berries were in their prime and they were everywhere. It was Eutopia for a 10-year-old, but our sense of noise management was lost in the feast. The patio light came on, followed by several others and soon the backyard was lit up like LaVell Edwards Stadium.
We hit the dirt, lying face down in between the rows, only breathing when we had to. Then, like Thanos from “The Avengers,” Mrs. Brimhall seemed to appear out of nowhere.
“David, what are you doing?” she asked, while staring into the dark abyss of the patch. Fortunately, she was not referring to me, but another boy named David, who functioned as the ringleader on most of our mischievous adventures.
Nobody said a word and she asked again, “David, what are you doing?”
It was at that moment, in the dead of night with the only sound coming from the slight breeze moving through the patch, that our friend said the first thing that came to his mind.
“We are weeding!”
Containing our laughter was nearly impossible, until Mrs. Brimhall fired back with a gem of her own.
“I want those weeds!”
That exchange lived on for years as one of the great endings to our neighborhood standoffs. We eventually grew out of the late-night strawberry raids with the accompanying phone calls to our parents and subsequent apologies. In time, everybody grew up, moved away and the strawberry patch became history.
Shortly before Mrs. Brimhall passed away, she stopped by our mom’s house and those strawberry capers from years before were still on her mind, but the challenges of life changed her tone. “I’d give anything to have those days back and have those boys out in my strawberries,” she said. “Those were wonderful times.”
Simpler times, for sure — and for the record, we should have never been in that strawberry patch to begin with — but that’s a repentance story more appropriate for the religion section of the Deseret News.
Back then, strawberry season would end as football season began. There was trampoline football, side-yard football, living room football and electric football — all variations of what we really lived for, which was BYU football.
The proverb “absence makes the heart grow fonder” runs counter to how the world works today. There is no offseason for college football. News and information flows 24/7. Storylines are produced as fast as they are consumed, and fandom conflicts emerge daily on social media.
We love it. We are addicted to it, but is the lack of balance siphoning away its flavor? Is too much of a good thing, too much? The body regulates how many berries it’s willing to digest and eventually the mind or bank account will dictate our interest in football. Gluttony can be a killer of good times.
The Brimhalls’ strawberries were attached to a specific season and together they created a longed-for recurrence. Football was also attached to its own time of year — when school was back in session, the leaves turned colors and the temperatures dropped.
It is practical to assume the reason we love what we love today is because of how we came to love it in the past. The McCanns love the Cubs because our mother was born in Chicago. We love the Cougars because our dad worked at BYU, and we have fostered loyalties on those foundations for years. The key to securing that same affection for the future is rediscovering the same balance that allowed it to flourish in the first place.
If eating too many berries is a problem — eat less. If the constant cycle of football news, including transfers, NIL, conference affiliations and rivalry chatter is too much and it’s suffocating your love for the game — take a break. Allow your fandom some downtime to recharge so you are reinvigorated for when the team charges out of the tunnel in September. A tweak in perspective might even make you a better fan — and we can all be better at that.
Easy to say, hard to do, of course. But lessons from the past can be helpful, and for me, my brothers, and the neighborhood boys, we came to know during the “glory years” of our youth that summer was for strawberries and fall was for BYU football.
When kept in balance — both seasons can be sensational.
Dave McCann is a contributor to the Deseret News and is the studio host for “BYU Sports Nation Game Day,” “The Post Game Show,” “After Further Review,” and play-by-play announcer for BYUtv. He is also co-host of “Y’s Guys” at ysguys.com.