Reflections at Fifty
On Monday, I hit a half century.
Fifty years on planet Earth, with about 2/3 of those years wearing the black-and-gold.
Since I became a Colorado fan in 1980 – my freshman year in Boulder – Colorado has posted 16 winning seasons (counting 1986, when the Buffs went 6-5, but lost their bowl game), and 16 losing seasons (counting 2011, which isn’t a losing season … at least not yet).
And the Buffs are right back where I started.
In 1980, Colorado went 1-10. Included in that season of infamy was a 56-14 loss to UCLA in the season opener (it was 56-0 at halftime), the record-shattering 82-42 loss to Oklahoma, and the mind-numbing loss to Drake (for the second year in a row).
Sound anything like what the Buff Nation is enduring this fall?
The bad news: After posting a 1-10 record in 1980, Colorado would not post a winnning season until 1985, my sixth season as a Buff fan.
The good news: This year’s CU freshmen will not have to wait that long.
With Age Comes Wisdom
Okay, I’m not really sure about that particular phrase. Either it isn’t true, or I have yet to reach the age where it does become true.
That being said, I will state that I have confidence that this coaching staff will be able to turn things around in Boulder, and let you decide if this fifty year old knows what he is talking about.
Was I devastated when the Buffs couldn’t make five yards at the end of regulation against Cal, when those five yards would have meant a touchdown and a victory instead of a game-tying field goal and a loss in overtime? Yes.
Was I crushed when the Buffs couldn’t make five yards at the end of regulation against Washington State, when those five yards would have meant a first down and a few kneel downs before celebrating a victory? Yes.
Do I believe these are errors which will be corrected in time by this coaching staff?
Yes. Yes, I do.
Jon Embree was critcized in some corners for his post-game comments after the frustrating loss, in which the Buffs turned a 27-17 loss into a 31-27 defeat in the last few minutes of the game. Still emotional after the game, Embree was asked what he told his players after the game.
“I asked them: ‘When is it going to be enough? When is enough, enough? You put in all this work, you do all this stuff that you have done from spring ball to training camp … For this? This is what we did the work for?’ “, Embree said. “So when is it enough? When are they going to get tired of losing? When are they going to get tired of finding a way to lose?
“Because you know what? This staff, we’ve been here for five weeks, and I’m tired of it. So if you’ve been here for five years, you’ve got to be tired of it, too.’ ”
While some may not have appreciated Embree’s blunt comments, his players did.
“We know where he’s coming from, we know what he meant by that,” said senior quarterback Tyler Hansen. “He wasn’t trying to attack us at all. He was trying to relay a mesage to us. We know that”.
“I think it just shows that he’s sick of losing. I definitely am, too,” said senior wide receiver Jason Espinoza. “Coach Embree tells us we’re a good team, and that we need to just know it, and be confident about it. Once we’re confident, we’ll be able to execute.”
When will the turnaround come? Will it come as early as this November, when Colorado has some winnable games upon which to build some momentum for 2012? Will it come next fall, when the Buffs will have seven home games, including five Pac-12 home games? Or perhaps in 2013, when Colorado will not have to leave the state of Colorado in non-conference play?
The “if” is not hard to predict; it’s the “when” that is elusive. Colorado is enduring just the second six-straight losing season streak in 121 years of college football. What Buff fans are enduring now is the anomaly, not the norm.
And it says here that Jon Embree is the right guy to turn things around.
But, I’ve been wrong before …
The year: 2006.
The date: September 10th, the day after Colorado had fallen to 0-2 in Dan Hawkins’ debut as head coach.
The Buffs had opened, inexplicably, with a 19-10 loss to Montana State. That disaster was followed by a listless 14-10 loss to Colorado State. The 0-2 start, coupled with four losses to end the 2005 season (including the 70-3 mauling by Texas in the Big 12 championship game) had left the program with its first six-game losing streak since – you guessed it – 1980.
Still, the Buff Nation kept the faith. The Boulder Daily Camera columnist Neill Woelk penned an article entitled, “Nothing has changed at CU, Hawk still the right guy”. The Camera Sports writer opened his column with the statement: “Feel free to clip this column this morning. Tuck it away in a safe place, then check back with me in a couple of years.” Woelk’s opinion was that Dan Hawkins was still the “right guy” for Colorado, going on to list how Hawkins was the right coach, with the right attitude to correct the mediocrity which had become the CU football program.
Yes, Woelk conceded, the Buffs had won four division titles in the past five seasons, but he went on to correctly point out that those rings were earned as much the result of the slides of the Nebraska and Kansas State programs (not to mention the inability of Iowa State to find a reliable kicker) as it was any heroics of the home team. Nebraska had shocked the college football world some two seasons earlier by removing Frank Solich before a bad situation had gotten worse, but the move made the Cornhuskers dip into the pool of the common a short one, and Nebraska was again a nationally ranked team.
I point this out not to belittle Neill, for whom I have the upmost respect. Rather, I bring it up to point out that, at the time, I was in full agreement with Neill. I thought Dan Hawkins was going to bring his success at Boise State to Boulder, and take the program to the next level.
And just how well did that work out for the Buff Nation?
With Age Comes Patience
I’ve been in the depths. I’ve been with a program when there were more fans in Folsom Field wearing the red of Oklahoma or Nebraska than the black-and-gold of Colorado. I’ve been frustrated with come-from-ahead losses, and embarrassed with losses to inferior oppostion.
I’ve also been to the heights. I’ve been with a program when they played for a national championship, and been a mainstay in the national polls. I’ve been thrilled by come-from-behind victories, and exhilarated by unlikely victories over superior opposition.
My favorite game? The 20-10 upset over Nebraska in 1986. No other game comes close. That signature win set the stage for everything good which came to the program over the subsequent ten seasons.
Other favorites (in no particular order): the two trips to the Orange Bowl to play for the national championship; “The Catch” against Michigan in 1994; the 62-36 demolition of No. 2 Nebraska in 2001; and every other victory over Nebraska.
My least favorite game? The 2006 loss to Montana State. Again, no other game comes close. Even if Mike Bohn were to schedule Montana State for every “TBA” non-conference game over the next ten years, and even if the Buffs won every single game in that series by a score of 56-7, I would still hear about the 2006 game here in Bozeman.
Other forgettable games (in no particular order): the 52-7 debacle in Lincoln in 1992; the 70-3 loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game (with the other Big 12 title game losses thrown in as well); the 82-42 game in 1980; and the loss to Drake the following week.
If there is one thing that the 16 losing seasons have taught me, it is to appreciate the 16 winning seasons.
Patience does not come easy. Faith in better datys to come is difficult to preach in the midst of a road losing streak with no end in sight.
But I will continue to have patience. I will continue to have faith.
The Buffs will be back, and the victories will be all the sweeter for having endured the losses.
So says this old guy of 50 …