September 11th – Boulder           California 31, Colorado 17

There was renewed optimism as the Colorado football program opened the 1982 season with a new head coach.

Gone was Chuck Fairbanks, who, with his 7-26 record, had left for the USFL. In his place was the unknown Bill McCartney.

While there was renewed optimism, it would take wins to put fans back in the stands. Only 35,103 showed up for the opener in the rain against the California Golden Bears, coached by former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Joe Kapp.

Kapp was also making his coaching debut, giving the game the rare distinction of having two coaches entering the game with 0-0 lifetime records. In fact, according to the NCAA, the 1982 Colorado/California game marked the first time in at least twenty years in which there was a match-up of first time head coaches.

With the help of three first quarter turnovers, the Bears jumped out to an early lead before holding on to take down the Buffs, 31-17.

Junior Randy Essington returned as quarterback for Bill McCartney and the Buffs, with sophomore Lee Rouson and junior Guy Egging in the backfield. The Colorado defense was the strength of the team, but the defensive depth was thin at virtually every position. The best unit was the secondary, with senior three-year letterman Ellis Wood returning at safety, supported by a trio of juniors: Clyde Riggins, Jeff Donaldson, and Victor Scott.

The specter of Chuck Fairbanks and CU’s recent history loomed ominously over the Buffs as the California Golden Bears ran out to a 21-0 first quarter lead thanks to three early turnovers by the Buffs.

The Colorado defense could not really be faulted for the deficit, as the Bears, in order to score their second and third touchdowns of the quarter, needed only to cover one yard and then eight yards to score.

Turnovers turned what had promised to be a even battle into an insurmountable lead for Cal.

To the Buffs’ credit, the team did rally. Playing in sloppy conditions (thanks to the rain, there were six turnovers and 14 possessions in the first quarter alone), Colorado slowly chipped away at the lead.

A 30-yard field goal by Tom Field on the last play of the first half got Colorado on the board. Two nine-play drives by Colorado resulted in a four-yard touchdown run by Richard Johnson and a ten-yard pass from Randy Essington to Guy Egging. Cal netted a field goal during the quarter, leaving the Bears with a 24-17 lead going into the final stanza.

Twice in the fourth quarter, the Buffs had a chance to tie the game.

One drive ended at the Cal eight-yard line, as a fourth down pass from Essington to tight end Dave Hestera fell incomplete; while the second drive ended with a sack on fourth down. Colorado did have one last chance, taking over with 40 seconds to go, but an Essington pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown, accounting for the 31-17 final score.

“When you look at the films, you see a different picture,” said new head coach Bill McCartney. “It really was a game we could have – should have – won. It’s one that got away from us.”

McCartney had the Buffs passing, with Essington completing 20-of-35 attempts. Acceptable numbers, but the 20 completions went for only 172 yards. The rushing game contributed a mere 72 yards. The Buffs had been lucky that the defense had kept the team in the game as long as it did. On the day, Colorado had five turnovers – three fumbles lost (out of seven total) and two interceptions.

It was again clear that in Boulder, even before the leaves had had a chance to turn, that this would be another long year for Colorado football fans. The Buffs, though, had shone signs of having a fight in them. After falling behind 21-0, the Buffs stayed in the game, something which hadn’t always happened during the Chuck Fairbanks’ era.

Coach McCartney, despite the disappointment in the loss, did take the time to acknowledge the long-suffering Buff fans, especially those who remained throughout a September afternoon which produced uncharacteristically foul weather (49 degrees and rain): “When I came out for the second half and the fans were still there, I felt I should have applauded them. They showed as much character as our defense and were a big factor in the game.”


– Game Notes –

– Randy Essington’s main targets on the afternoon were tight end Dave Hestera (six catches for 62 yards) and running back Guy Egging (six catches for 35 yards).

– The Colorado defense was led by linebacker Ray Cone, who registered sixteen tackles (Cone would go on to post double digits in tackles in every game in 1982).

– Colorado dressed all of 84 players for the 1982 opener … including 11 walk-ons.

– Cal won by two touchdowns, but had only a slight edge in first downs (19 to 16) and total yards (304 to 239).

– Cal would go on to a 7-4 record in its first season under Joe Kapp, concluding the year with one of the most famous plays in college football history. Stanford, behind senior quarterback John Elway, took a 20-19 lead against Cal with just four seconds to play after Mark Harmon connected on a 35-yard field goal (no, not that Mark Harmon. The actor Mark Harmon did play college football, though, playing quarterback at UCLA – but I digress). On the ensuing kickoff, a five-pitch, 57-yard kickoff return gave the game to the Bears. Not only did the Bears score against the Stanford players, they scored against the Stanford band which had come out onto the field. The Cal radio announcer, Joe Starkey, tried to describe the unbelievable 25-20 Cal win. “And the Bears … the Bears … have won! The Bears have won!. Oh, my God! The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heart-rending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football!!” (Side notes: the player who scored the winning touchdown was Kevin Moen; the trombone player for Stanford who Moen met in the endzone was Gary Tyrrell. Tyrrll’s trombone is in the College Football Hall of Fame, and Tyrrell later tried his hand at being an amateur brewer, featuring, of course, Trombone Guy Pale Ale).



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