October 17th – Boulder           Colorado 11, Oklahoma State 10

A homecoming crowd of 36,101 came out to watch one of the most improbable finishes in Colorado football history, with the Buffs prevailing, 11-10, on a last minute score against Oklahoma State.

The Colorado offense was stifled for most of the day by an Oklahoma State defense which came into the contest ranked No. 2 in the nation, having allowed a paltry 180 total yards per game. The Cowboys, coached by Jimmy Johnson (later of University of Miami, Dallas Cowboy, and Miami Dolphin fame), were 3-1 on the season, and held the Buffs to just three points for the first 59 minutes of the game.

Enter Steve Vogel.

Sophomore Steve Vogel had thrown precisely four passes in 1981 coming into the game, completing two for 14 yards. Starter Randy Essington went down early in the third quarter with bruised ribs, setting the stage for Vogel’s heroics.

Taking over on the Buffs eight yard line with 1:28 remaining in the game and down 10-3, Vogel engineered a ten-play drive, completing seven of ten passes, culminating in a nine yard touchdown pass to split end Brad Parker with 11 seconds remaining. Foregoing the tie (which probably would have been forgiven under the circumstances – one win in 1980, only one win through the first half of 1981), Chuck Fairbanks decided to go for two.

The play, which Oklahoma State coach Jimmy Johnson declared to be “illegal”, called for the Buff wingback to come in motion, and, upon the snap, cut into the middle of the Cowboy defense. Singleton, playing at halfback, ran out of the backfield and cut behind the wingback. The linebacker assigned to cover assigned to cover Singleton was, in effect, then blocked off by the wingback. Singleton sprinted to the corner of the endzone, where Vogel found him.

With the two-point conversion, Colorado had its second win of 1981, 11-10.

Jimmy Johnson was quoted in the Rocky Mountain News the next day as saying: “They pulled off an illegal pick on the play. You can’t block a defensive man in the manner they did in man-to-man coverage. It was a pretty good play, and I guess we’ll have to put that one in our playbook.”

Singleton defended his score: “He (the wingback) can’t block anybody because it’s illegal. But the idea is he might clog up the linebacker and shut off that side, and then I can go outside.”

It didn’t matter to the Buff faithful. A win was a win. Homecoming could be celebrated with a win for the second year in a row.

The comeback – how exciting was it?

I would like to say that for the great comeback win, only the third in a season and a half of being a Colorado fan, that I was in the student section, cheering for every pass dear old Steve Vogel threw. I would like to say that I look back at this game as a turning point, or, at the least, as one of the highlights for an otherwise dismal period of Colorado football.

In fact, as my season tickets for the 1980 and 1981 seasons attest, this was the one game I did not attend. As things turned out, it was the only Colorado home game I missed in my seven years in Boulder.

(Author’s note: yes, I was in Boulder for seven years. This is not to say that I was on the “six-credits-a-semester” plan. I received my B.A. in 1984 – with a double major in History and Political Science – and my J.D. in 1987. On the off chance that you did not read the “About the Author” tidbits before diving into this book, I have withheld the attorney part of my story in hopes of avoiding any undue prejudice against myself and my brethren. Now that you are hooked, let us proceed to find just why in the hell I wasn’t at Folsom Field for this special occasion.)

So … Where was I?

Back home in Bozeman, Montana, or, more precisely, 16 miles down the road in Manhattan, Montana. I was home that weekend for a wedding. One of my best friends from high school, Bob Hoth, was getting married, and I had been asked to be the best man. Had the invitation to be in the wedding party occurred during a home game from 1989 on, there might have been second thoughts. Had it been against a ranked opponent from 1989 on, I would have had to discuss the choice of dates with Bob. As it was, CU was 1-4, coming off a 59-0 thrashing, and playing against a 3-1 team with the second rated defense in the country.

It did not seem I would be missing much.

Perhaps, though, Bob can take some credit for the Buffs win. After all, the groom and his entourage (that’s a nice way of saying Bob’s brother and I) were dressed in -get this – baby blue tuxedos. While not at the game, I was at least in school colors. Looking at the wedding pictures, that is pretty much my only pleasant memory of the nuptials. I was 19, and wasn’t aware that the best man’s duties included more than just propping the groom up and not losing the ring.

I feel I can be forgiven for not organizing a bachelor party, as I only got into town the day before the wedding, and because I was underage to arrange for anything which would have been good at a bachelor party. But I still feel bad about the toast. I hadn’t been to a wedding since attending my uncle’s wedding when I was 10, so I was woefully unprepared to give the emotional sendoff to Bob and Sondra. Bob’s dad bailed me out with a more traditional rendition of the toast (as I recall, my speech went something along the lines of: “Best wishes. Thanks for inviting me.”). The reception was less than exhilarating, being held in basement of the church. I went home that night without any knowledge of – remember, this was pre-ESPN – nor real concern for, the outcome of the Colorado game.

The next morning, the sports pages of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle were primarily concerned with the account of the MSU Bobcat game the day before, but there was also this headline: “At last, CU’s a winner“.

The Associated Press story opened with:

“Colorado’s football team had been working hard on the two minute drill for three weeks in practice but when you get blown out 59-0, as the Buffs did last week against Nebraska, you don’t get much chance to use it. Saturday, the opportunity arose….”

Even in a wire service story, Colorado could not avoid being reminded of how far the program had fallen.

To this day, my feeling at the moment I read the Chronicle’s account of the Oklahoma State game has become my yardstick for defining “mixed emotions”. I was thrilled to read that Colorado had won a game, and excited by the means by which the upset was accomplished, but I knew that I would be hearing about it from my dormmates when I returned to Boulder. I was not to be disappointed. The accounts proved even more colorful than I had anticipated. “You had to be there” became the phrase of the next few weeks. I was often greeted in the hallway or the cafeteria with greetings such as “well, we finally won a close one” or “what about that comeback?” only to followed with a “oh, I’m sorry. I forgot you weren’t there”, accompanied by a laugh and a slap on the back.

Now, more than ever, I wanted the Buffs to start a winning streak.

Yeah, right. Like that was going to happen any time soon.


One Reply to “Oklahoma State – Steve Vogel leads improbable comeback”

  1. I was there. Much of the crowd had left, so I got in for free when it was supposed to not matter. But there was Steve Vogel marching our Buffs down the field, and then Derek Singleton, at the time a prized recruit, scoring on the 2-point conversion. It was so sweet to see it happen, but bitterweet at that. Singleton died later that year of spinal meningitis. The hope that the Fairbanks Era had a shot was short-lived. But nonetheless, I’ll never forget it. It was a great comeback.

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