The Wisconsin Badgers came to Boulder September 17th for a night game to be nationally televised by ESPN.
The Badgers were also 1-0 on the 1994 season, having dispatched Eastern Michigan, 56-0. Wisconsin, ranked 10th in the nation, had been the feel-good story of 1993, having come from nowhere to post a 10-1-1 record. Claiming a share of the Big 10 title for the first time in over three decades, the Badgers made their first trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl since 1962. A 21-16 win over UCLA capped a magical year.
Out to prove that 1993 had been no fluke, the 1994 Wisconsin team was loaded. Fifteen starters returned for head coach Barry Alvarez, who had turned around a program which had finished 1-10 only four years earlier. Five All-Big Ten offensive players, including Big Ten MVP running back Brent Moss, returned to lead a potent attack. Colorado would certainly have its hands full.
And that was just on the field.
Off the field, another battle was to take place, as the “Cheeseheads” from Wisconsin descended on Boulder.
Amongst the most legendary of all tailgaters, the Wisconsin faithful took to Boulder like, well, foam to beer. “We’ve got seven cases of Wisconsin beer, a half barrel, and one Coors Light to give tribute to the state we’re partying in,” reported Donna Larsen to Rocky Mountain News reporter John Meyer. Larsen’s group of around a dozen Badger fans arrived at a parking lot near Baseline Road some six hours before kickoff.
The most bizarre pre-game scene unfolded in the Norlin quad, in front of the CU library in the heart of the Colorado campus. The University of Wisconsin Alumni Association procured a satellite dish and a big screen television for the thousands of Badger fans who could not find tickets for the sold-out game. The Association also obtained a liquor license and 45 barrels of beer, about half of which were gone a full 90 minutes before kickoff. “We love the Badgers”, understated Cheryl Dimmer, a Wisconsin graduate living in Denver. “We, like, sing their songs in our sleep.”
For the Buff faithful, it was yet another reminder of how fanatical other team’s fans were. Our little band filed into Folsom on a lovely mid-September evening, surrounded by red-clad opposition. For this battle, though, it was not Oklahoma or Nebraska red, it was the red of Wisconsin. Though there was no rivalry between the schools (the teams had not met since 1974), the I felt resentment/envy all the same. The vast majority of the 53,457 in attendance, the largest-ever crowd to witness a non-conference game in Folsom Field, were there for the Buffs. Yet it seemed to me as we settled into our seats that we had already lost the battle off the field.
Fortunately, the match on the field was the one which counted.
September 17th – Boulder #7 Colorado 55, #10 Wisconsin 17
“Swiss Cheese”, “Grated Cheese”, and “Grilled Cheese” were just some of the headlines after the Buffs ran over, around, and through the Wisconsin Badgers, 55-17.
Quarterback Kordell Stewart, who had endured almost a full year of second-guessing after his 8-for-28, three interception debacle against Nebraska in 1993, finally came through big in a big game. “I heard all those questions about me in big games”, said Stewart, who accounted for 301 yards of total offense. “I just wanted to put the past behind me and get on with this season.”
Making it easier for Stewart was the continuing domination of the Buffs’ offensive lineman and the ever-improving efforts of Rashaan Salaam. Salaam tied a school record by scoring four touchdowns, the second of which put the Buffs up 17-3 early in the second quarter.
Later in the quarter, after Wisconsin pulled to within 20-10, Stewart led the Buffs on a six-play, 80-yard drive in the final two minutes of the half, culminated in a 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Westbrook with 57 seconds to play before the break.
The 10th-ranked Badgers still had some game left in them after halftime, scoring first in the third quarter to pull to within ten points at 27-17. Thereafter, though, it was all Colorado, as the Buffs scored the final 28 points of the game. A pair of Rashaan Salaam toluchdown runs – of two and four yards – upped the lead to 41-17. Then, in the final minute of the third quarter, the Colorado offense put the icing on the cake with a 67-yard touchdown pass from Stewart to Rae Carruth. A five-yard touchdown pass from Koy Detmer to tight end Christian Fauria midway through the fourth quarter gave the Buffs a 55-17 rout, the most points the Buffs had ever posted against a ranked opponent (until 62 were hung on Nebraska in 2001).
While the offense basked in much-deserved glory, it was the much-maligned CU defensive secondary which really stole the show. With the game still at issue in the first half, the Buffs intercepted Wisconsin quarterback Darrell Bevell four times, setting up the Buffs’ offense for 13 first half points. Midway through the second quarter, Bevell had thrown five passes which had not fallen to the Folsom Field turf – two passes had been completed to Badger teammates, but three others had gone to Colorado defensive backs.
“I don’t think anyone expected our secondary to play that well”, said secondary coach Chuck Heater. “I think they realized they really had a challenge to live up to. And they did a heck of a job.”
Colorado was now 2-0 on the young 1994 season, ranked 7th in the nation. There was no time to enjoy the lofty status, however, as a matchup against 4th-ranked Michigan at Ann Arbor loomed next. The Wolverines, who had knocked off then 3rd-rated Notre Dame earlier, were also 2-0 for the year.
For the nation, it was a big game to be sure, as two top ten non-conference foes would square off in one of the most famous college football venues in the country. But it did not seemingly possess the makings of a classic game. The teams had met only once before (a 31-0 Michigan win in 1974), and the three Florida schools, Florida, Florida State, and Miami (ranked 1st, 3rd, and 6th, respectively, the week of the Colorado/Michigan game) were still receiving most of the nation’s attention.
Little did the nation know that the regionally telecast ABC game would culminate with one of the most spectacular finishes in the history of the game.
- The victory gave Colorado a 3-0-1 all-time record against Wisconsin, with the tie coming in 1965, and the other two wins coming in 1973 and 1974.
- Quaterback Kordell Stewart set a school record with a gaudy 31.13 average yards per completion (8-of-15 for 249 yards). For his efforts, which included six rushes for 84 yards and two touchdowns, Stewart was named the Big Eight Offensive Player-of-the-Week.
- While Rashaan Salaam tied a school record with four touchdowns rushing against Wisconsin, the game against the Badgers proved to be the only game in 1994 in which Salaam was held under 100 yards rushing. On the evening, Salaam had 26 carries, but netted only 85 yards. From the Wisconsin game forward, Salaam would go on to set a school record for consecutive 100-yard games, with nine to close out the 1994 regular season.
- Senior linebacker Ted Johnson continued to lead the defense, posting a season-high 13 unassisted tackles against Wisconsin. Four different Buff defenders had interceptions against the Badgers: Donnell Leomiti; Chris Hudson; Matt Russell; and Steve Rosga.
- Wisconsin did not recover from its loss to Colorado. The Badgers came into Boulder ranked 10th in the nation. After the 55-17 rout by the Buffs, though, Wisconsin would go on to post a 7-4-1 season, salvaging some pride with a 34-20 win over Duke in the Hall of Fame Bowl.