First Family Of Football

The Bye family have had two generations and four family members all play football at Concordia. (L-R: Matt, Rob, John, Erik)
The Bye family have had two generations and four family members all play football at Concordia. (L-R: Matt, Rob, John, Erik)

Feature written by Concordia sports information student assistant David Youngs

MOORHEAD, Minn--Rob Bye smiles as he unveils a framed musty column from the 1984 Concordian newspaper. The article starts by quoting legendary Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz. 

"A long snapper is like a wife. You don't appreciate one until you don't have one." 

Bye served as long snapper for the Cobbers from 1981-84 and was a pretty good one at that. The Moorhead native was a force to be reckoned with on the line, boasting a streak of over 250 successful snaps from his sophomore to senior year. Bye also holds a piece of Cobber history, holding a roster spot on the 1981 NAIA DII Cobber Co-National Championship team. 

Rob Bye certainly made his mark on Cobber Football on the field. However, his most cherished moments with the program are from the last 11 years. Bye hasn't missed a single Cobber football game in those 11 years, home or away. The reason why? His three sons John, Erik, and Matt all suited up for consecutive 4-year careers with the Cobbers during that span. 

John, the oldest of the Bye's played from 2009-2012, Erik played from 2012-2015, and Matt recently finished his football career with the Cobbers this past month as Concordia defeated Carleton 52-14 in the season finale.      

Not only have the Bye brothers been successful on the football field but all three have been exceptional track and field athletes for the Cobbers. This past spring Matt earned All-American honors for his eighth-place finish in the decathlon at the NCAA Championship Meet.

There's no doubt that the Bye's have secured a spot in Concordia athletic history. But their journeys to Concordia are about much more than sports, exemplifying the importance of community and supporting one another. 

Rob Bye grew up riding his bike through Concordia's campus. His two older brothers attended Concordia - his brother Tim playing on the 1978 national championship team. While he enjoyed watching his older brother on the gridiron, he couldn't quite understand why his brothers had chosen Concordia. 

"We grew up one block from Moorhead State and Concordia was eight blocks away and I couldn't figure out why you'd go so far away for college," Rob laughed. "Seriously, MSUM was a block away, why would you go that far (to Concordia)?" 

When it came time for Rob to choose a college, he made the long trek across Moorhead to Concordia because of the strong relationships that he had witnessed his brothers make while at school. 

"It worked well for my brothers, so I went here too and it was great," Bye said. 

When it came time for his three sons to begin their college search Rob put in a good word for Concordia but made sure that his sons did what was best for them individually. 

"(When I was helping John search) I said 'You can't go to Concordia because I went to Concordia because that's not gonna work. It may not be the fit for you. It was for me, it may not be for you.'" Rob recalled.

Middle child Erik recalls playing football behind the endzone at Jake Christiansen Stadium when he and his brothers were growing up. As they got older their dad began to teach them aspects of the game. Their ability on the field continued to grow and when Erik was in high school John had begun his tenure with the Cobbers as a cornerback.

"It was a fun, family atmosphere," Erik said.

And while those fond memories growing up may have factored into Erik's decision, his father once again made sure that the family's ties didn't solely determine his son's college choice.

"I told Erik 'You can't go to school here because I did, and your brother did. You have to go to the place that you need to go to," Rob said.

By the time Matt had begun looking for colleges, he had seen both of his older brothers excel both on the field and in the classroom at Concordia.

"Growing up I had heard a lot about it (Concordia)," Matt said. "As I got into middle school and high school my brothers went here so I learned a little bit more specifically about what the school was like (in regard to) academics, football, and track."

When he was young Matt watched his brothers compete for the Cobbers, envisioning himself in their shoes one day. But as he aged, Bye began to shift towards perhaps going elsewhere for school.

"During my junior and senior years of high school I didn't want to come here because they were here," Matt recalled.

As Bye began to tour schools, he was drawn back to Concordia by the strong connection between athletics and academics.

"I began to realize that this school offers things academically and athletically that other places can't," Matt said. "I was just kind of drawn back by everything that it offers."

Matt has certainly excelled at Concordia, making his mark both on the football field and in track and field events. He appreciates how the school has allowed him to balance academics and athletics.

"Obviously we're athletes, but academics always come first, and the coaches know that," Matt says. "They challenge us on the field, but also challenge us and push us and give us opportunities to excel in the classroom."

Matt is a biology major who plans on attending medical school following his graduation in May. And while Bye's time at Concordia is nearing an end, he appreciates the input that his older brothers and father gave him to get him where he is.

"My dad and brothers both made it a point of 'don't do what we did just because we did it, we'll support whatever you choose.' They gave out as much information as they could about Concordia. They were open, they told me to look at everything, and that if it's the best choice then it's the best choice. But challenge yourself by checking out as many places as you can," Matt said.

Matt's brothers and dad certainly encouraged him to choose a school that was the right fit for him but were excited when he did end up at Concordia.

"Once he (Matt) toured Concordia, he called me and said 'this is it,'" Erik said.

"I think he just wanted to find the right place for him but I really think he felt like Concordia was the place, even before he decided," Rob added.

Rob Bye isn't the only one who has gotten to watch John, Erik, and Matt in the maroon and gold. There has been a Bye on the roster in 11 of the 19 years that head football coach Terry Horan has been at the helm. Horan cherishes all of the moments that he has gotten to spend with the family over those seasons.

"It's been an absolute blessing," Horan said. "I treasure all the moments with all three of those guys. I have a great relationship with their family. Their entire family is maroon and gold."

Even though the three played different positions (John – defensive back, Erik - linebacker, Matt – wide receiver), Horan says that the three boys brought the same work ethic and drive to the program over the years.

"They're quiet, humble, faith-driven young men that lead by example, they're hard workers," Horan said. "They're students of the game and great in the classroom."

Horan describes the brothers as "the backbone of a program." He also appreciates all the work that Rob has done to support the program. On Saturday recruiting events, Rob will visit with recruits and their parents before games, informing them on the benefits of Concordia and his own sons' experiences.

"He has a gift of talking, he always says the right things," Horan said. "I could listen to him for days. He really pinpoints to all our parents and recruits that you need to focus in on. It's not just about sports, it's about academics. He's got these life experiences within his family. He speaks about how strong our program is but he speaks of the community and the school."

When talking with recruits Rob uses the same platform that he used to help guide his sons towards a school that was best for them.

"When you're making your decision pick No.1 should be academics, pick No.2 is atmosphere and then pick No.3 athletics," Rob said. If you get those three right - and if you get them in order - you're going to be fine wherever you go."

Horan says that it will be different not having another Bye stepping onto the field when the Cobbers take the field next fall.

"I've been coaching here 19 years, the last 11 years I've had a Bye in my program and they mean a lot to me, I'm so happy for them," Horan said.

While the Bye's may seem like the first family of football of Moorhead, Rob emphasizes that there's a lot more to their family than just sports.

"You know, it's funny, people think we're a football family, and that we must sit around and talk about football, but we almost never do," Rob said. "I really like football, but I really love the kids that play."

When the boys weren't on the football field growing up they would spend time behind the boat skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing at the lake. The Bye brothers also love spending time on the links whenever they can.

"I'd say John is the best golfer and I'm the worst," Erik admitted. He says that Matt has pushed his way up on the family golf leaderboard as his skills have improved in recent years.

And even though the family has a long history of Cobbers, Mom Jana completes the full Moorhead experience for the family as she graduated from MSUM.

"We always kind of laugh and joke that we're a mixed-marriage," Rob said.

As Matt prepares to graduate in May he is thankful that family has stayed a key component of his life throughout college.

"I think I've learned to appreciate just how special family really is," Matt said. "I think growing up, I took that for granted, being with family. That physical presence is really cool."

That physical presence at games is something that Matt has appreciated throughout his four years on the field. Compared to teammates who are from across the country, Matt has put into perspective how special it is that his family was able to make it to all of his collegiate games.

"It's been huge, I don't know if I really completely understood it until recently. I've got friends/teammates from Arizona that don't have that every week," Matt said.

While Matt has witnessed himself grow at Concordia, so have those around him. Coach Horan admires Matt's willingness to be a team player when he shifted from quarterback to wide receiver midway through his career.

"When you're asked to move from a position that you love to help our team, that says a lot," Horan said. 

"He loves to be with him teammates, it's about more than just individual performances and accolades for him," Erik added.

As Matt enters his final semester at Concordia, he is most proud of the relationships that he has made and the people that he has met.

"I've learned to rely on good friends, with school and sports, and understanding and that everything is group effort when it comes down to it," Matt said.

Rob coached Matt in youth football up until his freshman year of high school and would text him good luck before every game. He hopes that through all the wins and losses that Matt had the same focus that he did back in 4th grade football; having fun.

"I hope nothing has changed for him that way, I hope that all the way through it was looking forward to the game, having fun, having fun in practice, and just knowing the game," Rob said

And while there won't be another Bye playing on Saturday afternoons at Jake Christiansen stadium, Horan will always appreciate the leadership, quality of play, and service that the Bye family has brought to his program.

"You can't take away the memories and friendships," Horan said. Maybe there'll be another family that comes along but they're pretty hard to beat. They're backyard boys coming from Moorhead and they mean a lot to me."