It was two Novembers ago when I recognized, again, just how good the access can be to BYU's football team.
The Cougars were just wrapping up a Thursday practice, working their way from the indoor practice facility back to the Student Athlete Building, a short jog in the dark.
I was there, along with a Daily Herald photographer, to document the journey of the team's equipment truck from Provo to Colorado State in Fort Collins.
Head coach Bronco Mendenhall and a staffer not only approved two wallflowers witnessing the hectic final rush to get the truck on its way — but also ride along to the east through the night. (Sudden illness kept me from making the whole journey; another story for another day.)
Upon passing me, Mendenhall just smiled and wished me luck.
I don't take such opportunities for granted.
Neither should you.
A qualifier should be put on BYU's access for media (and, in essence, you) during fall camp that starts Thursday.
It is not perfect. But relatively speaking (there's your qualifier), it is awesome.
Mendenhall has tightened down over the years, various scenarios appearing to weigh on his decisions to cut off some access.
But it's way better than most programs. That's a good deal for us workers, and you enjoyers.
Media will not get to witness as many practices once games are going. I also still remember getting to witness the relatively quiet evening sessions of fall camp. Those are off-limits the past few years.
Again, it's better than most, however, including Utah. The Utes' media will only get to witness the last 20 minutes of practices. That's commonplace for Pac-12 Conference members, but still a disappointment. Especially working so hard to build an identity in a new league, Utah should be more open like it used to.
Just one loudmouth's thought.
It's not a bad thing for the program's participants, and it's a good gesture toward fans that have had ticket prices hiked significantly — and deserve to get to know these guys and the product a little better.
Other programs, especially at so called power-conference schools, are ridiculously uptight about access. Paranoia is a popular word, used not so tongue-in-cheek by reporters. Though if sportswriters are such dummies, what's the fear of us watching?
Mendenhall's self-assuredness is refreshing.
Funny thing, if you ask me, is that media isn't exactly the greatest enemy to a program anymore. Chat boards, with anonymous spouters, or social media can create many more headaches.
You're a little more careful with criticism, and not so likely to rumor-monger, when you've got to hang your name, email address and other info to your work — not to mention show up and deal with these people day after day. It doesn't mean you relent on being critical, but you sure think twice. You'll still make some folks mad, but hopefully not forever.
Perhaps the local media's greatest consternation about covering BYU: The gag order on all newcomers, which has taken place since O'Neill Chambers spouted off about his talents to a national reporter as a freshman (the incident didn't exactly heal Chambers from foot-in-mouth disease, though he appears to be back on the right track after some steady issues with quote reliance).
Just wait 'til Thursday when you start listening to audio recordings of Mendenhall with the media, his first such gathering since the media day in late June.
There will assuredly be some gentle back-and-forth about how much we missed him, and vice versa. The banter's pretty funny.
Truth is, Mendenhall is really easy to work with. Probably the most comfortable interview at BYU, which is saying something considering the number of requests he gets — and the magnitude of his job.
Do we (me, you, other fans or reporters) always agree with the coach? Hardly.
But ask Mendenhall a solid question, you will get a solid answer.
And he has a very unique ability to treat everyone the same. Whether you're the new student-newspaper reporter, or someone on the beat for years, Mendenhall's ability to be candid doesn't really differ.
There's a BYU staffer I have joked with often, that I am Mendenhall's favorite reporter.
Truth is, I don't know where I stand. No one does.
There's a certain beauty in that, because I've always felt (and I think the coach does, too) that it's his consistency that has led to some excellent seasons.
The column I wrote from Saturday's event that Mendenhall attended, about his relative distaste for the NFL life, has caused some consternation.
The way-too-easy critique is that trying to analyze Mendenhall's decisions equals Bronco-hating.
It's not that simple.
Basically, it comes down to this: Go examine the last 20 years worth of national-championship teams. How many NFL draft picks do you think they've averaged?
Well, BYU has had no Mendenhall-staffed recruit get picked. Fact.
The program, especially the head coach, has talked openly about the goal being another national championship.
Well, can it be done with a horde of future NFL-draft free agents? That's up for debate, and I'd like to think my column made for a good one (you may be surprised to hear, after I did some research, more people like Mendenhall than me.)
The Cougars have found talent in Mendenhall's tenure, developed it, and sport a number of current pros. But do they need to start stockpiling some high draft picks to really have a shot at achieving those lofty goals?
Sorry for all of those questions. Just getting ready for Thursday.
There was a slight bit of chatter on a BYU fan-based website that my column about Mendenhall — I didn't think it was particularly critical, but others begged to differ — would mean more limited access to the team on my behalf.
Bronco's very business-like when it comes to coverage. You do your job. He does his. We meet for 10 minutes or so at the end, and go our separate ways.
Another quick story: I still remember covering BYU's annual "women's night" a few years ago. Right before fall camp started, the coaches and some players held a clinic to introduce the fairer sex to the game.
Mendenhall was walking around and he said hello. I congratulated him on his fresh-new contract extension and raise. Remember, this was a guy who many doubted at first because of his youth and relative inexperience. I was trying to be nice.
He gave a meek smile.
He never has liked having that portion of his life announced and dissected (though at least his private-school privilege keeps those numbers in secret), but he continually has gotten more at ease with that part of the job.
Yes, I missed Bronco the past month.
Think he missed me?
Don't answer that.
***Jason Franchuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @harkthefranchuk.