September 12th – Boulder Oregon 10, Colorado 7
To open the 1987 season, Oregon returned to Boulder to finish out the four year home-and-home series with the Colorado.
The Ducks had won two of the three previous games in the series, but this was 1987. Gone from the Ducks’ lineup was all-everything quarterback Chris Miller, who had accounted for 70 percent of the Oregon attack in 1986. Even with Miller’s talents, Oregon had finished the 1986 campaign 5-6, so the 1987 game would be the Buffs’ opportunity to exact a measure of revenge for the last-minute 32-30 loss in 1986.
Those in the know seemed to agree, as Colorado was installed as a 17 1/2-point favorite.
Before the game, thoughts were of avoiding the 0-4 start of 1986. “We lost the opener (in 1986, to Colorado State)”, said senior nose tackle Kyle Rappold, “and when we finally woke up, we were in a pit we couldn’t climb out of.” As to the possibility of a loss in the season-opener to Oregon, Rappold said, “It would put a cloud over the rest of the season.”
The game was played in ideal conditions, with a game time temperature of 71-degrees and cloudless skies. A disappointingly small crowd of only 40,521, though, came to witness the event.
Neither team could put many points on the scoreboard. Oregon made an impressive statement in the first quarter, marching 80 yards on 16 plays before scoring on a seven yard pass. The Buffs quickly responded, going 73 yards on only four plays, with freshman fullback Michael Simmons tying the score on a 34-yard run.
The score was 7-7 with 2:42 left in the first quarter. Little did anyone know that a 32-yard field goal by Oregon with 11:11 remaining in the game would be the only other score.
Colorado had only itself to blame. The Buffs’ defense held the Ducks to 277 yards of total offense. The Buffs’ offense crossed midfield ten times, making it beyond the Oregon 30-yard line on six different occasions, but didn’t post any points after the first quarter. Colorado averaged over five yards per play on the afternoon, but still couldn’t score. Three lost fumbles, two interceptions, and three missed field goals doomed Colorado to its fifth opening game loss in six years under Bill McCartney.
Colorado quarterback Mark Hatcher had a good game on the ground, rushing for 89 yards on 23 carries, but threw two interceptions in completing only seven-of-17 passes.
The only star for the Buffs on the day was freshman fullback Michael Simmons, who set a record for the most yards gained by a freshman in their first game in rushing for 142 yards on 18 carries. (Charlie Davis rushed for 174 yards in the first game of the 1971 season – but it was Davis’ sophomore year).
Said McCartney after the game: “There are defeats. And then there are defeats that really hurt. That really hurts …. We have to go back to square one now. We’re 0-1.”
[The only reason I stayed as long as I did was to take the Colorado Bar exam. I was already committed to returning to Bozeman, Montana, to start my legal career, but, after seven years in a city as exciting and diverse as Boulder, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy myself back in my hometown. This being the case, I hedged my bet by taking the Colorado bar exam before I left town.]
Leaving Boulder meant more than leaving my residence of seven years. It also meant that I would miss my first Colorado home game since 1981. Colorado was to open with its first three games at home. Great for the Buffs, but lousy for a new attorney who could not afford (literally or figuratively) to travel 700 miles to Boulder three consecutive weekends.
Brad still had his third year of law school to go, so getting tickets was not a problem. (Not that getting tickets in 1987 was a real concern – only the Nebraska game would be a sellout). The problem was that I could not afford to be there for the 1987 home opener. I was relegated to watching the Notre Dame/Michigan game on ABC, waiting (not so) patiently for updates of the Colorado/Oregon game. With such a low scoring game, updates were few and far between. I received no new information between halftime and the end of the game. When the final score was posted, I was incredulous. I couldn’t believe we had lost to Oregon, and at home.
We had started 1986 with an 0-4 mark after a promising end to the 1985 season. Could we be facing the same disappointing start yet again? As soon as I saw the final score, I called Brad, leaving a message on his machine (yes, this was back in the dark ages before cellphones). Once Brad got home from the game, he returned the call to give me the blow-by-blow.
It would be the first of many telephonic postmortems Brad and I would conduct over the years.
The conversation was brief and quiet. What could be said about a 10-7 loss? The missed opportunities were obvious. The issue of whether the Buffs would ever post a winning non-conference record under Bill McCartney remained a valid concern.
Game Notes –
– Four Buff defenders posted ten tackles or more in holding Oregon to ten points on the day. Senior linebacker Eric McCarty, a converted fullback, had 15 tackles to lead the Buffs. Sophomore linebacker Michael Jones posted 14 tackles in his first career start, while senior safety Mickey Pruitt chipped in 13. Senior middle guard Kyle Rappold, for his part, had 11 tackles against Oregon.
– Seven players received their first career starts against Oregon. Included on the list were two freshman who would go on to become two of the all-time greats at Colorado. Joe Garten was a red-shirt freshman from Placentia, California. Garten started at left guard his first game against Oregon … and never left. By the end of his career, Garten, a unanimous All-American in 1990, started a team-best 44 consecutive games. Another unanimous All-American in 1990 receiving his first start in 1987 was true freshman running back Eric Bieniemy, from West Covina, California. Bieniemy, who would go on to become Colorado’s all-time leading rusher, had three carries for 19 yards against Oregon. In starting in a season opener, Bieniemy became just the fourth true freshman to do so, joining wide receiver Billy Waddy (1973) and cornerback Victor Scott and linebacker Scott Hardison (1980).
– Others who started their first game in the 1987 opener included junior center Erik Norgard, who would go on to start every game at center that season; fullback Michael Simmons, who set the first-game Buff record with 142 yards against the Ducks; junior defensive tackle Lee Brunelli; junior linebacker Tom Stone; and sophomore linebacker Michael Jones.
– At halftime of the Oregon game, Colorado honored Buff legend – and Supreme Court Justice – Byron “Whizzer” White.
– Oregon would win four of its first five games in 1987, but could not sustain the momentum. A four-game losing streak in mid-season ended hopes of a major bowl, with a season-ending Civil War victory over Oregon State giving the Ducks a winning season, but, at 6-5, no bowl bid.