September 15th – at Oregon Oregon 27, Colorado 20
The Oregon Ducks, like CU’s opening opponent, Michigan State, had posted a 4-6-1 record in 1983. Unlike the Spartans, though, the Buffs had no history from which to draw incentive. The last meeting between the two teams had been in 1979, with the Buffs falling 33-19 at home in Chuck Fairbanks’ debut as Colorado head football coach.
In 1984, Oregon was able to outlast Colorado, holding off the bumbling Buffs, 27-20. Dropped passes, 11 penalties, and continuing difficulties with the kicking game condemned the Buffs to a second straight failed fourth quarter comeback.
Unlike the Michigan State game, the Buffs did well in their first drive in Eugene. Despite starting on the eight yard line, Colorado put together a 92-yard drive, with junior wide receiver Ron Brown hauling in a 68-yard touchdown pass from Steve Vogel for the early score. Kicker Larry Eckel, however, missed the extra point, and the Buffs’ enthusiasm was tempered.
After falling behind 17-6 at halftime, Colorado rallied in the second half to take the lead. Two one-yard touchdown runs by Lee Rouson put the Buffs on top, 20-17. Rouson’s second score, coming on the first play of the fourth quarter, was capped by a two-point conversion pass from Vogel to tight end Ed Reinhardt.
The lead was short-lived, though, as Oregon kick returner Tony Cherry took the ensuing kickoff 66 yards to the Colorado 28-yard line. After tacking on 15 yards for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Buffs, and Oregon needed to travel only 14 yards to reclaim the lead, 24-20.
A 40-yard field goal by the Ducks’ kicker, Matt MacLeod, with 2:51 remaining gave Oregon a 27-20 lead. The Buffs, though, were not finished. After driving to the Oregon 43-yard line with 1:36 left, the Buffs had a first-and-ten. Quarterback Steve Vogel dropped back and lofted a pass to split end Loy Alexander. Alexander, who had five catches on the day, was inexplicably behind the Oregon defenders at the Oregon seven yard line. As had been the case with Colorado receivers all day, however, Alexander dropped the ball.
Three incompletions later, the Buffs turned the ball over on downs, and Oregon was 2-0 for the first time since 1965. Colorado was 0-2, with powerhouse teams of Notre Dame and UCLA up next.
It would have been understandable for Bill McCartney to be disheartened after losing a close game for the second week in a row.
It would have been forgivable if Bill McCartney was mono-syllabic in his post-game press conference.
But there were no post-game locker room quotes from McCartney. In fact, McCartney could not be reached for comment.
He was on his way to Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene, where tight end Ed Reinhardt was fighting for his life.
Most University of Colorado fans, when the 1984 game against Oregon is mentioned, do not remember the score. Buff faithful can only remember one aspect to the game – the near death of tight end Ed Reinhardt.
There was no forewarning before the game as to what was to happen. The only attention Reinhardt received prior to that fateful Saturday was from the Oregon defensive coaches. After Reinhardt’s record-setting 10-catch performance against Michigan State, the Ducks were more focused on stopping the sophomore tight end. For most of the afternoon, they were successful, holding Reinhardt to four catches and 48 yards.
Reinhardt’s final catch of his career came late in the game, around 3:55 p.m. local time. He was tackled hard, but refused help as he stumbled off the field on his own. At 4:00 p.m., Reinhardt collapsed on the Colorado sideline. Comatose, Reinhardt was carried from the stadium on a stretcher just as the game was ending.
Upon leaving the field, Coach McCartney was informed by trainer Brian Barry of Reinhardt’s condition. McCartney immediately requested and received assistance from the Eugene police department in securing a ride, and left for the hospital. There he was informed that his tight end was undergoing emergency brain surgery.
The sophomore, who played at Heritage High School in Littleton, underwent over three hours of surgery for a subdural hematoma (bleeding inside the brain). After the surgery, Dr. Arthur Hockey, a neuro-surgeon who had been on call and who had attended the game, indicated Reinhardt’s prognosis “is uncertain. He still could not survive”.
Reinhardt was in a coma.
Reinhardt’s parents flew in. McCartney kept the vigil with the family as the team flew back to Boulder. Reinhardt was in critical condition with his future, if not his life, very much in doubt.
The next few days would bring an increased appreciation for Bill McCartney, a deeply religious man who was true to his faith. His concern for Ed Reinhardt went well past that of a head coach. At the same time, a special bond developed between the cities of Boulder, Colorado, and Eugene, Oregon. The outpouring from well-wishers was overwhelming. It seemed that the citizens of Eugene could not do enough for Ed Reinhardt and his family. It would be a relationship which would not be soon forgotten.
With Ed Reinhardt remaining indefinitely in an Oregon hospital, the University of Colorado football team was faced with a daunting task. Two frustrating defeats, one of their own struggling to survive, and a trip to Notre Dame on the schedule.
What was to happen next was unfortunately all too predictable.
Note … Here is a link to an excellent story from the Rocky Mountain News, published the day after the accident, and reprinted years later at CUBuffs.com.
Game Notes -
- The 92-yard scoring drive by the Buffs to open the Oregon game was the longest for Colorado in 1984.
- Lee Rouson had 29 carries for 121 yards against Oregon. The 121-yard total proved to be a single-game high for Rouson – who would lead the Buffs in rushing during three of his four seasons in Boulder.
- Oregon, 4-6-1 in 1983, would go on to win its first four games of 1984, including a 21-14 win at Cal. The Ducks would stumble, though, to a 6-5 finish (3-5 in the Pac-10), and would not be invited to a bowl at the end of the 1984 season.