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CU at the Game – Birth of a Notion

// Apr 10 - 1996

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CU at the Game – Birth of a Notion

While many of the materials – programs, newspaper clippings, etc., – used for this work had been accumulating in my basement for over 15 years, the idea for using these treasures for a book did not come to fruition until 1996.

I have always read sports-related (that is to say mostly football-related) books, but for me, in the off-season between the 1995 and 1996 campaigns, the topic of college football became an obsession. Perhaps it was the heightened anticipation for the 1996 year, what with all of the Buffs’ skill position players coming back from a 10-2 squad. More likely, though, it was simply a function of geography.

The pickings in the Bozeman bookstores are always slim. In early 1996, though, I had the opportunity to expand my horizons. In January, my family made a trip to Portland, Oregon. Son Adam was testing for his black belt in tai-kwondo, and his school required that he travel to Portland to be tested. At the same time, our daughter Heidi was expressing an interest in attending an art school in Portland, so we combined events. Between watching Adam test and going with Heidi for an interview with the art school’s placement office, we engaged in my wife Lee’s favorite pastime – going to bookstores.

At Powells Book Store, a Portland landmark, I found new (at least to me) college football books. One had to do with the Washington Husky program. Entitled “Bitter Roses“, author Sam Farmer’s book chronicled Washington’s shared (with the Miami Hurricanes) national title season of 1991, along with the scandal-plagued season of 1992. I also found “Under the Tarnished Dome“, an indictment of Lou Holtz and the “holier than thou” attitude of the Notre Dame program.

A few months later, Lee and I had the opportunity to travel to Atlanta. Lee was attending a conference, so I took the opportunity to play tourist. For the most part, I found a city under feverish construction, what with the 1996 Olympic Games only a few months away. In addition to the mandatory stops at Stone Mountain and the Coca-Cola “museum”, I hit a few bookstores. There I found the two books which would serve to become the driving force behind this work.

The first was written by two college football fanatics. One of the writers, ironically enough, was an attorney. The two authors of “Saturday Afternoon Madness“, Bob Waldstein and Phil Silverman, took a season off from their lives in the fall of 1993 and traveled the country in search of the heart and soul of college football. Their road trip took them to such hallowed venues as State College, South Bend, and Ann Arbor. They also took the time to make it to Boulder, Colorado, for the CU/Nebraska game. (They liked Boulder, but the game was a bust for Buff fans, with the Cornhuskers prevailing 21-17).

The concept of traveling the country in search of historic game sites was appealing to me, but was not financially feasible. Fortunately, the second book I picked up was even better than the first.

Titled “The UnCivil War“, it was re-telling of the Auburn/Alabama feud, with an emphasis on the 1979-92 seasons. What made the story unique were the authors and the format for their work. Best of friends growing up, the two were bred to different allegiances. One was born into a Crimson Tide family; the other was from an Auburn Tiger home. Even after separating to attend their schools of choice, they remained friends.

Saying that football is a religion in Alabama is not to give credit to the seriousness with which the game is taken in that region. The two authors, Scott Brown and Will Collier, brought out the flavor of the rivalry in a clever style. First, they objectively told of the season’s highs and lows, citing results and statistics. Next, the authors penned vivid details of the season-ending grudge match between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers. Then, and this is what made the book fun, the authors wrote individual -which is to say biased -accounts of the game and the season. It made for great reading, and the seeds for this effort were sown.

While playing golf that spring, I spoke with playing partner Randy Tafelmeyer about the books I had been reading. (Randy was not a huge college football fan, but I was taking it as a personal crusade to convert him.) The more I talked about it, the better the idea of following in these authors’ footsteps became. Over the years, I had accumulated a large personal collection of programs, newspaper articles, and memorabilia. Why not put it to good use?

As they say … write about what you know.

CU at the Game was the result.

Notes

– One of the co-authors of “Under the Tarnished Dome“, along with Don Yaeger, was Douglas S. Looney, the same Douglas S. Looney who had written the scathing Sports Illustrated article about CU coach Chuck Fairbanks back in 1980. (Here is a link to that story).

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