September 27th – Boulder           Indiana 49, Colorado 7

Fresh off the near comeback at Baton Rouge, there was at least some cause for hope against visiting Indiana.  After all, the Buffs had beaten the Hoosiers the previous year in Bloomington, 17-16.  In the 1979 game, Colorado had given Chuck Fairbanks his first win as the Buffs’ head coach.  On that day, an 0-3 CU squad had beaten a 3-0 Indiana team, and had done so on the road.  With that backdrop of cautious optimism, a crowd of 40,219 came to Folsom Field to see if the Buffs could again achieve its first win of the season against the visiting Hoosiers.

Can statistics be misleading?

How’s this:  against the visiting Hoosiers, the Buffs set a school record for time of possession.  For the game, Colorado held the ball for 42:17 of the game clock to 17:43 for Indiana.  That sounds good, at least until the remaining game statistics are considered.  In the most important statistic, the final score, Indiana rolled, 49-7.  At halftime, the score was 35-0.

Unlike the LSU game the week before, however, there would be no comeback by the Buffs.

Indiana quarterback Tim Clifford, who was voted the Most Valuable Player in the Big Ten Conference in 1979, threw for five touchdowns, a new record for a Colorado opponent.  The irony was not lost on some in the Boulder crowd that the record which was broken, that of four touchdown passes, set on October 27, 1951, was held by an Oklahoma quarterback by the name of Eddie Crowder.

The same Eddie Crowder who was now the Athletic Director for Colorado.

The same Eddie Crowder who had hired Chuck Fairbanks.

Five turnovers gave the Buffs 15 miscues in three games, but it was the Buffs’ porous defense which lost the day.  For a team to score 49 points in less than 18 minutes of possession, scoring drives had to be short, and Indiana was just that efficient.  Quarterback Tim Clifford’s stat sheet for the day:  11-14, 345 yards, five touchdowns.

Just how remarkable are Clifford’s numbers?

Clifford’s passing efficiency rating points for the day:  403.4.  Since “passing efficiency rating points” is a statistic which can only be calculated by math majors from MIT, this means little.  Compare, however, that a normal rating for a quarterback is around 100, with an exceptional quarterback rating being around 150.  Throw in the fact that Clifford’s game rating against Colorado has lasted as an NCAA single game record since 1980, and the number 403.4 speaks volumes as to the futility of the Colorado defense against the Hoosiers on the day.

First home game

Knowing that CU had played to a 3-8 record the year before was the first clue that there was little to expect from my first season with the Buffs.  Still, Chuck Fairbanks was “the man”, and 1980 was to be his first full season as the Colorado head coach.

When the Buffs started off by losing the first two games of 1980, talk of a quick rebound under Fairbanks was quelled, although losing to LSU in Death Valley 23-20 gave some hope.  Whatever Buff “fever” I was able to generate was enhanced by my Boulder geography – my dorm was virtually in the shadow of Folsom Field.

Libby Hall was my home for 1980-83.  Libby Hall, one of some 23 dormitories on the Colorado campus, is the dorm closest to the stadium. At the time, there was only a open field – used for frisbee and pick-up football games during the week and as a tailgate parking lot during game days – which lay between Libby Hall and Folsom Field.

The football fan in me would like to report that I chose Libby Hall when selecting a dorm due to its proximity to the stadium, when in reality Libby was my choice because:  a) it was centrally located on campus; b) there was a city in Montana named Libby; and c) I knew a Libby in Bozeman.  As I had never set foot on the CU-Boulder campus prior to applying for admission, these reasons seemed to me to be as logical as any.  (I had had the opportunity to drive through beautiful Boulder the summer before my senior year in high school.  That, when coupled with Colorado’s academic reputation, was all it took for me to decide where I wanted to go to school.)

Living in Libby Hall allowed me to watch game-day in Boulder unfold.  Late morning saw the first tailgaters arrive for the 1:00 p.m. kickoff.  The day was bright and clear.  Looking down upon the alumni (literally – living on the second floor provided an excellent view of the arriving crowd) could only bring a smirk.  “Who are these people?” we thought.  “Don’t they have lives?” “What is it with their costumes?”  Little did I know that in the not too distant future I would become one of those oddly-costumed alumni, clothed from head-to-toe in school colors, rating smiles and smirks from the most recent generation of Colorado students.

Coming from Bozeman, Montana, I felt I had seen the intensity of college football.  After all, Montana/Montana State games are bitterly contested, and eagerly anticipated.  Still, a sellout at Reno H. Sales Stadium in Bozeman means a total of around 15,000 screaming partisans.  Coming to Boulder, I had never been a part of a crowd larger than those for Bobcat/Grizzly games.  My first game as a Buff fan in Folsom Field would serve as my introduction to my first Division I-A sized crowd.

Folsom Field in Boulder is named in honor of legendary CU Coach Fred Folsom, who amassed a record of 77-23-2 over 15 seasons in Boulder.  His record for wins would stand for decades, not passed until 1993 by Bill McCartney. Folsom’s winning percentage of .765 remains tops among CU coaches with more than two years on the job.

Capacity in Folsom in 1980 was 51,748, so a crowd of 40,219 for the Indiana game was not impressive to many, but it was to this native Montanan.  Problematical that day, even for me, was the large number of fans who were clad in Indiana red for the game.  I was unaware at the time that having a disproportionate number of fans clad in red was an all too common malady in Boulder in the early 1980’s, what with the traveling fans for both Nebraska and Oklahoma all too happy to show their colors in “enemy” territory.

Despite the anticipation, the game was less than exciting.  Losing 49-7 at home is not a great way to be introduced to a football program.  Still, the atmosphere in the student section was, well, interesting.  Bare-chested in the 80-degree sunshine, the beer-swilling and beer-spilling frat boys were a constant source of amusement and entertainment as the IU rout unfolded before our eyes.  Mike Madigan of the Rocky Mountain News captured the scene in the lead story the next morning:

“With less than a quarter remaining in the Colorado-Indiana football game Saturday, CU’s student section broke out into a major beer fight.  Whether they were bored stiff or got that way on their own, they nevertheless threw everything in the air they could get their hands on.

“Indiana quarterback Tim Clifford had long before set the example.”

CU was now 0-3, and had been out-scored in the first half of its games 56-0, 20-0, and 35-0.  With 12th-ranked Oklahoma coming to town, it seemed there was little reason for anyone outside of Boulder to take an interest in the Buffs, and it seemed little could happen to make the 1980 season any worse.

I was wrong on both counts.

Sports Illustrated – Making the wrong headlines

The Sports Illustrated article entitled “There Ain’t No More Gold in Them Thar Hills” came out with the October 6th edition, but the story which was to come in that edition hit Boulder the week between the Indiana debacle and the Oklahoma invasion of October 4th.  It couldn’t have come at a worse time.  The program was already reeling, and this type of publicity did nothing to foster hope of future improvement.

The article was penned by longtime Boulder resident and SI writer Douglas S. Looney  (Looney also has written many other reports on college football, and incurred the wrath of Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz and Irish fans in the late 90’s with his best seller “Under the Tarnished Dome”, written with Don Yaeger, reviewing the less than holy way Lou Holtz handled the Notre Dame program).  The secondary headline read:  “The Colorado football team is winless, the sports programs are going bust, but Chuck Fairbanks has his $50,000 office”.


Looney opened his article by setting the scene for the Indiana game:

“Here was the University of Colorado, a beautiful campus in a splendid setting, bathed in clear, dry, 80 degree weather.  Sunlight glistened off the Front Range of the Rockies, the changing aspen were at their peak of glory in the high country, and the students were everywhere, doing everything.  A collegiate Camelot.

“Whoops.  Not quite…”

Looney then proceeded to give the Sports Illustrated readers a laundry list of that which was wrong in Boulder’s paradise.  First, of course, there was the 49-7 mauling by Indiana, indicative of how bad matters had become on the field.  Then, there were the reported accusations that Athletic Director Eddie Crowder was guilty of “fiscal and administrative incompetence”, resulting in President Arnold Weber placing Crowder on “probation”.  Finally, there were the indictments of the head coach, Chuck Fairbanks.

To illustrate the financial difficulties the Colorado athletic program was facing, Looney recited how, on June 11, 1980, seven “minor” sports, including baseball, wrestling, and gymnastics, were dropped in order to help balance the athletic department’s budget.  Crowder blamed the cuts on Title IX (passed by Congress, requiring equal spending on women’s athletics) and the debt associated with the new Events/Conference Center (to be used primarily for basketball).  The image left by a picture attached to the article, though, was powerful.  The photo was of a former CU baseball player, Mike Wing, pushing a roller across an infield with the assistance of his wife in order to prepare the field for a club game.  The impression:  the little guy was being ignored in order to feed the big dog – football – at the University of Colorado.

The most chilling aspects of the article were left for the indictment of head coach Fairbanks.  There was the office, which was pictured along with the article.  It cost $50,000 to redecorate, which, as Looney pointed out, would have been more than enough to keep the gymnastics team going for a year. Fairbanks bristled at the criticism of his apparent free-spending in times of fiscal difficulties, being quoted as saying:  “I don’t even understand this line of questioning.  It chaps my ass.” Fairbanks was cited as being nicknamed “Stone” for his lack of personality, with the joke being that Fairbanks was the world’s only successful recipient of a charisma bypass operation.

“Wait a second!”  I thought as I read the article. Wasn’t this supposed to be the man who would take Colorado to the promised land of a National Championship?  CU supporters had forked over big bucks to bring Fairbanks to the Buffs, and, in return, Fairbanks was supposed to take a team on the verge of greatness and mold it into a champion.  Now the program was 0-3, hadn’t scored yet in the first half of a game, and was clinging to a ledge. All with the highly ranked Oklahoma Sooners rolling into town.

Perhaps what happened next was inevitable.

Game Notes –

A number of individual and team records were set in the 49-7 loss to Indiana. As you might expect, most were negative (some records have since been passed):

– Most third down conversion attempts, game:  26 (made 11)

– Most fourth down conversion attempts, game:  8

– Most fourth down conversion made, game: 6

– Passing touchdowns, opponent, game: 5 (Tim Clifford)

– Most reception yards, opponent, game: 258 (Nate Lundy)

– Most receiving touchdowns, opponent, game: 3 (Nate Lundy)

– Most points accounted for, opponent, game: 30 (Tim Clifford)

Plus, there was this NCAA record:

– Highest passing efficiency rating points, game: 403.4 (Tim Clifford)

– 11-14 345 yards, five touchdowns