Shirt of Shame
It’s been twenty-five years since I graduated from the CU School of Law.
It’s now been a full quarter century since my seven year stint as a resident of Boulder came to an end, and my 700-mile commute to home games from Bozeman, Montana, began.
For many years, I drove down for home games. I got to know every mile marker, every gas station, every rest stop across the very (verrry) boring expanses of eastern Wyoming. My wife, Lee, made a few of the trips, but quickly made it known that she was not interested in continuing the bonding opportunities provided by 22 hours of driving back and forth from Bozeman to Boulder. Our son, Adam, made a few trips, but also was able, in time, to find other ways to spend his weekends in pursuit of other distractions. I then recruited my friend Randy, who had no ties to Colorado – either the state or the school – to the Buff Nation, but was willing to endure the drive in exchange for a game ticket and some good football.
More recently, though, I have opted for flying down for games. The commute only takes an hour-and-a-half, and is much easier on the body and mind. With only two days out of town, packing is easy and routine. I wear my CU gear on the flight down, and have a wide assortment of CU gameday outfits to stow away, depending on the weather forecast.
For my Sunday emsemble, though, I pack two shirts. The first is a CU shirt, to be worn with pride as I stroll through Denver International Airport after a Buff victory. The second is just a regular polo shirt, devoid of logos or pronouncements of my allegiance to the University of Colorado. to be worn if the Buffs suffer an embarrassing loss.
My Shirt of Shame.
I almost didn’t pack an extra shirt for the Sacramento State game. There was no way … NO WAY! … that the Buffs would not respond to the devastating loss to Colorado State with anything but a dominating performance. There was no chance that a team, with a 3-11 record under Jon Embree, would be looking past the Hornets. There was not a scenario in which the CU players would not take control over a team which had only two victories – over Big Sky basement dwellers Northern Colorado and Idaho State – in the previous eleven months.
And, for the first half of the first quarter, it appeared that there had been, in fact, no reason to pack a Shirt of Shame.
The Buffs opened with a three-play, 75-yard drive, with freshman fullback Christian Powell out-racing the Hornets’ defensive backs for a 64-yard touchdown just over a minute into the game. The Colorado defense then quickly got the ball back to the offense, which responded with an eight-play, 72-yard touchdown drive.
Midway through the first quarter, Colorado was up, 14-0. The Buffs had 149 yards of total offense. Sacramento State had 14.
For just the briefest of moments, the 46,843 Buff fans on hand knew what it felt like to be a fan of USC or Oregon. The home team was in complete control, the score was to be what the coaches allowed it to be, and the greatest stress point for the fans was to decide where to have dinner after the game.
It was a sweet couple of minutes.
Little did we know that midway through the first quarter was not only to be the apex of the game, but, in all likelihood, the 2012 season.
Little did we suspect that Colorado, in the remaining 7/8th’s of the game against Sacramento State, would not generate as much total offense as the Buffs did in the first 1/8th.
Much could be said of the Buffs having every opportunity to have opened the season 2-0. The two losses, after all, were by a total of seven points. Had the Buffs not muffed the punt just before halftime against Colorado State (or scored on fourth-and-one in the third quarter), the outcome could have been different. Similarly, had either the Buffs’ offense or defense made one play – one play! – at some point in the fourth quarter against Sacramento State, the outcome would have been a victory, and the Buffs would be 2-0.
A sorry 2-0, mind you, but 2-0 nonetheless.
The fact remains, however, that the Buffs deserve the 0-2 mark. The team, despite Jon Embree’s protestations after the CSU game to the contrary, was deflated after the Ram touchdown in the last minute before halftime. Though up 14-9 at the break, momentum was gone, never to return. Against Sacramento State, the Colorado offense was given the ball and the lead three times in the fourth quarter, but failed each time to put together a time-consuming, game-clinching drive.
As long as we’re being honest, it is also true that the Buffs were actually lucky to even be in the position to win both games. Recall that, moments before the ill-fated fourth-and-one rollout call against Colorado State, the Ram fans were in delirium, a fumble having been returned 99 yards for a touchdown. The call was reversed by instant replay, but the Buffs failed to capitalize.
Against Sacramento State, the Buffs put together only one scoring drive in the second half, and that was only with the help of the officials. Down 24-21 in the third quarter, the Buffs drove down to the Hornets’ six yard line, where a Jordan Webb pass to tight end Nick Kasa fell incomplete. Pass interference was called, then reversed, then reversed again on instant replay. Instead of a fourth down and a field goal attempt, the Buffs were given the ball and a first down at the two. Three Christian Powell runs later, Colorado had its final points.
The remaining drives of the second half, with the game – and a potential winless season – in the balance, the Colorado offense put together the following drives:
Five plays, 25 yards, punt
Four plays, 16 yards, punt
Five plays, 10 yards, punt
Three plays, four yards, punt.
And this was against a Sacramento State defense, which, against New Mexico State the weekend before, had given up 21 fourth quarter points.
Sigh. Very heavy sigh …
So, where do the Buffs, and their fans, go from here?
“I’m sorry,” Jon Embree said when asked what he had to say to CU fans, who were left to wonder if the Buffs are destined to finish a season without a victory for the first time in over a century. “I’m going to do everything we can to make it right and fix it, just like I tried to do last week. You guys know me, know that I’m a competitor and I’m going to fight until there is nothing left.”
Many fans would argue that there already is “nothing left”. Colorado will face much more talented teams than Colorado State and Sacramento State the remainder of the season. Had the 22-17 and 30-28 losses come on the road against a Hawai’i team coming off of a ten win season and against an Ohio State team in the Horseshoe, fans would have been much more understanding. The Buff Nation would have bought into the notion that freshmen will be exploited, and that the young Buffs would need time to learn how to win.
But CU doesn’t have the luxury of coming off of close losses to better teams. The Rams and the Hornets were the easiest games on the schedule. Based upon the first two weeks of play, there is not a game remaining on the 2012 schedule in which the Buffs will be favored.
And it doesn’t help matters that the other teams in the Pac-12 are improving.
After a lackluster first weekend of play, the Pac-12 fared well in week two, going 9-3. Oregon State, with an embattled head coach, upset No. 13 Wisconsin, 10-7. First-year head coach Jim Mora, Jr. ran his record at UCLA to 2-0 with a 36-30 victory over No. 16 Nebraska. Another first-year head coach, Rich Rodriguez, upped his Arizona record to 2-0 with a 59-38 win over No. 18 Oklahoma State. Arizona State and Washington State also have new head coaches, and they are a combined 3-1.
So, four teams changed coaches in the Pac-12 in the off-season. All four teams had losing records last season. The combined record of those four teams, two weeks into the season: 7-1, with two victories over ranked teams from the Big Ten and Big 12.
Jon Embree inherited a 5-7 team in 2011, but went backward, falling to 3-10 in in first season. A modicum of improvement was expected in Year Two, with six wins seen as the maximum; three as the minimum.
Now, after back-to-back debacles against Colorado State and Sacramento State, three wins seem optimistic.
The rest of the Pac-12 is moving forward. Colorado is moving backward.
With no visible light at the end of the tunnel.
I’ve gotta go. Time to go and catch my flight. Time to return the rental car, patiently wait my turn in line at the security checkpoint, time to take out my Kindle for some in-flight distraction.
Just another traveler. Just another anonymous face in the crowd.
Wearing my blue polo shirt.
My Shirt of Shame.