September 29th – Boulder           No. 17 UCLA 33, Colorado 16

Colorado came into the UCLA game 0-3. Two close calls, against Michigan State and Oregon, had been followed by a rout at the hands of Notre Dame. The hope and optimism which had greated the 1984 campaign, on the heels of a 4-7 record in 1983, had been dimmed. Now, the Buffs had to face their first ranked team of the season, 17th-ranked UCLA.

The UCLA Bruins, though, came to Boulder licking wounds of their own.

Unimpressive wins over San Diego State (18-15) and Long Beach State (23-17) had been followed by a 42-3 rout at the hands of the No. 1 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers. That the Bruins were even ranked after such a sluggish start was likely a testament as much to the dominance of Nebraska as it was to the talents of the Pac-10 Bruins. Still, there may have been another reason. UCLA had started the 1983 campaign 0-3-1 before winning seven of their last eight games (behind quarterback Rick Neuheisel), including a rout of Big Ten champion Illinois in the Rose Bowl. This being the recent history, the ranking could have been based on the assumption of another late season rise.

The Buffs no longer were considered as having “potential”.

After three games, the Buffs offense had generated only 191 rushing yards total and had thrown five interceptions. The defense was surrendering an average of over 35 points per game and had zero interceptions. The kicking game, though, was not to be outdone. Colorado had zero field goals in four attempts, all four misses by kicker Larry Eckel in the Michigan State game. Eckel also had chipped in – pun intended – the missed extra point against Oregon. Senior punter Allen Braun had already punted 20 times in the Buffs first three contests. Perhaps tired from all of the exertion, Braun was averaging only 33.1 yards per punt.

Perhaps the Buffs best chance at an upset against UCLA faded before the game ever started. It snowed the day before the game, and the forecast was for more of the same on game day. The hope would be that the southern Californians would not like the snow, and not play as well.

No such luck.

While colder than the Bruins’ players were used to (44 degrees at kickoff), it was sunny and decent football weather in Boulder. Joe Romig was honored in pre-game ceremonies for his election to the College Football Hall of Fame. Many in the crowd of 38,925 thought that the Buffs would need Romig (’59-’61) and a few of his buddies for Colorado to give the Bruins a game.

As it turned out, the Buffs did more than give a fair accounting of themselves, but, for the third game in four attempts, Colorado left the field muttering about what should have been.

The game did not start out well for the Buffs.

UCLA took the opening kickoff and promptly marched down the field, with running back Gaston Green doing the honors from four yards out to cap a ten-play, 80-yard drive. With 10:28 still to go in the first stanza, Colorado was down 7-0. This game had all the appearances of a rout.

Still, the upset minded Buffs would not go quietly. Late in the first quarter, the Buffs drove to the UCLA four yard line. A score would have tied the game, and would have given renewed hope to the faithful.

Colorado did not tie the score, however.

Not only did the Buffs not score a touchdown, the 32-yard field goal attempt was botched when holder Derek Marshall could not handle Reid Long’s poor snap. It was to be just the first of several lost opportunities for the Buffs on the day. To-wit (CU law school education at work):

Blown Opportunity #2 – down 10-0 in the second quarter, Colorado had a first down on the Bruins’ 12-yard line. Apparently too close to the opponents’ goal line, the offense went in reverse. Three plays lost three yards, and the Buffs settled for their first field goal of the season, a 32-yarder by sophomore Dave DeLine;

Blown Opportunity #3 – down 13-3 with time running out in the half, the Buffs had a first down at the UCLA seven-yard line with 17 seconds to play. Two pass interference penalties put the ball at the one yard line with 10 seconds left. Out of time outs, McCartney opted for a field goal, and the score, which could have been an uplifting 13-10, was 13-6 at half-time (more on this sequence of plays below);

Blown Opportunity #4 – down 13-6 to start the second half, Colorado received the kickoff. Still within a touchdown, the Buffs had the ball and the momentum. Steve Vogel quickly deflated the crowd and its misplaced optimism, throwing an interception on the second play from scrimmage, setting up a Bruin score. The score was now 16-6, less than two minutes into the second half;

Blown Opportunity #5 – midway through the third quarter, the Buffs caught a break. A fumbled punt gave the ball to Colorado at the UCLA 18-yard line. Instead of moving closer to the Bruin goal, the Buffs again went in reverse. Three plays lost eight yards, and the Buffs settled for a third DeLine field goal, this time from 43 yards. 16-9.

The Buffs would not score again until the score was 33-9. The final of 33-16 came on Jon Embree’s first touchdown catch of the season, a 29-yard play with 5:39 left in the game.

Bill McCartney on the game: “I felt like we just mistaked ourselves right out of the ballgame. One mistake after another. It was a case of squandered opportunities”.

The Buffs were now 0-4, matching only the 1964 and 1980 squads for season-opening futility.

“Student Athletes

Much was made during my years at the University of Colorado of the high academic standards and the many achievements of CU’s alumni. The local paper, the Boulder Daily Camera, did not miss an opportunity to laud the academic heroics of the hometown school. Even the Colorado Daily, the student newspaper affectionatley referred to by the student body as the “Boulder Pravda”, would take note of the astronauts and Nobel Prize winners who hailed from Boulder.

In order to maintain the established pattern of excellence (so the story went), the admission standards for Colorado needed to be kept high. This, as we were to discover, was not just to inflate our egos or to help magnify the value of our degrees.

It was also used to help explain away the failure of the Buffs on the football field.

Most of us in Boulder, as in most other campuses across the country, joked that the term “student-athlete” was as much a contradiction in terms as “military intelligence”. (Underwater basket weaving was said to be a favorite of many a student on an athletic scholarship). Yet when the failings of the Colorado teams on the field were questioned, the response from the coaches and administration often included the justification that Colorado had the highest academic standards in the Big Eight. Ergo, came the reply, the Buffs could not recruit and keep some of the athletes that other institutions, most notably Nebraska and Oklahoma, could recruit. The other schools had the fast but – presumably – moronic and immoral players; Colorado was left to compete with the slow yet hard-working academics.

Our failure to compete, therefore, was more due to an unbalanced playing field than to inept recruiting or coaching.

This theory/rationale was not unique to Boulder. Schools such as Stanford in the Pac-10, Northwestern in the Big 10, Vanderbilt in the SEC, Duke in the ACC, and Rice in the SWC had similar stories to tell. Chants during the game of: “That’s all right. That’s okay. You’ll all work for us someday”, were the only consolation for many students in the stands.

Well into my fifth losing season in five years, I was well versed in the mantra:

It was just not our destiny to win. We had to be content with academic, not athletic, superiority.

This justification made sense when recruiting was analyzed. Consider yourself an athlete with your pick of Big Eight campuses (campi to the academics from Boulder in our reading audience). Boulder, Colorado, from almost any objective measurement, is a beautiful city. At the base of the Rocky Mountains, the city has spectacular views, and a campus of open space and beauty. Boulder itself, with its liberal leanings, has a cosmopolitan feel without being metropolitan. The benefits of a major city, when needed, are only an hour’s drive away in Denver. With all due respect to the cities of Lincoln, Nebraska, and Norman, Oklahoma, and in fact all of the cities of the Big Eight/12, none compared favorably with Boulder. This being the case, there had to be another reason why athletes would volunteer to spend five years at Oklahoma or Nebraska and not in Boulder. It had to be the stringent academic requirements.

With this background, with five years of losing under my belt, with five years of having our only consolation prize being cheers such as “Better to live and lose in Boulder than win and be from Nebraska”, and “Better dead than red”, it was perhaps not surprising that I lost my cool and was ready to storm the field just before half-time of the UCLA game.

Coach Whitehair

One final note before I retell Brad Geiger’s favorite story.

On gameday, Brad Geiger, with whom I have attended the most Buffs games I have been to over the past thirty-plus years, drops his attorney facade and becomes a fan’s fan. This is not to say that Brad paints his face or goes bare-chested when the temperature dips below freezing. Rather, all you need to know about Brad is that he rarely leaves the stadium with his voice in tact.

Brad yells at the opposing players. Brad yells at the opposing coaches. Cheerleaders and mascots? No immunity. Fans for the opposing team are also fair game. (An example: well before the players broke out into fights on the field against Miami in 1993, Brad was in fine form. Brad was so vociferous that some Hurricane fans who had been seated near us felt compelled to leave our area – and this was before the opening kickoff!)

No one is immune from Brad’s verbal blasts. If the situation warrants, Brad will even go after Colorado players and coaches. Still, for all of Brad rants at those groups listed above, there is nothing as fun as watching Brad when he feels an official has blown a call.

I, in comparison, am mild mannered at the game (mind you, I said “in comparison”). I like to think of myself of being a coach in the stands: always looking to the next play instead of the last; knowing the stats; predicting the plays. More of a Tom Landry than a Jimmy Johnson. Stoic, contemplative, focused. For most of the better part of three decades as a Colorado fan, I have maintained this status. Brad is the fanatic; I am the fan.

But there was that one play against UCLA ……

Getting Reacquainted with Coach Bill

Other than a brief encounter in the fall of 1982 (See: Nebraska, 1982), I have not had the occasion to meet former Colorado head coach Bill McCartney. Just before the half of the UCLA game, though, I had to be restrained from climbing down onto the field to renew our acquaintance.

I was so livid over what had occurred on the field that I decided I needed to discuss the matter personally with Bill. Fortunately for me, I had friends in the stands who held me back before security personnel were necessary.

The scene: less than two minutes to go before half. 17th-ranked UCLA on the ropes against winless and pitiful (again) Colorado, leading only 13-3. The Bruins had just been pinned back deep in their own territory. Holding UCLA to a ten point lead at half seemed a certainty, which was not bad considering the 38-0 deficit the Buffs had faced at half the week before against Notre Dame. Better still, there was the very real possibility that the Buffs, if they could hold the Bruins and force a punt, could pull even closer.

First down. UCLA runs into the middle of the Buff defensive line for short yardage. Timeout, Colorado. In the stands, we in the Senior Section were going nuts.

Second down. A repeat of first down. Short yardage. Time-out, Colorado. It was clear that UCLA was hoping to just run out the clock, but the Buffs had different ideas.

Third down. If the Buffs could hold here, we would get the ball back with plenty of time to score.

In an attempt to cross up the Buffs and succeed in securing a first down which would run out the half, the Bruins decided to pass on third down. Such a maneuver, if unsuccessful, would play right into our hands.

A pass in this instance is risky for an offense. The quarterback could be sacked, pushing the offense further back towards its own goalline. Or, the pass could be intercepted, guaranteeing good field position for the opposition. Finally, the pass could fall incomplete. Normally, an incomplete pass is not a tragedy, but in a situation where the offense wants to keep the clock moving, throwing an incomplete pass, which automatically stops the clock, serves to help the defense by saving a timeout.

Bruin quarterback Matt Stevens, subbing for the injured Steve Bono, dropped back and threw the ball about twenty yards downfield, right in front of the Colorado bench and our vantage point in the Senior Section. The receiver dived – INCOMPLETE! The Buffs defense had held and forced a punt! There was still over a minute on the first half clock. Still time to score!

The euphoria of the moment lasted just that – a moment. Just as we let out our first yells of approval, a Buff safety ran up to the official to call timeout.


Every ten year old in midget football knows that when there is an incomplete pass, the clock stops automatically. Yet here was the STUDENT ATHLETE from prestigious University of Colorado running up to an official after an incomplete pass and calling a timeout. The official dutifully complied, and the Buffs had squandered their last timeout of the first half.

I was absolutely incredulous. This was the last straw. For five years, I had endured losing teams. Colorado had yet to win more than four games in any of my years in Boulder. My sole consolation in dealing with friends back home (Montana State University would go on to win the Division 1-AA National Championship in 1984) was that Colorado could not win because we had all of those slow, hard-working academics on our side. The other teams had the athletes; we had the brains.

But it was a sham.

Only a STUDENT ATHLETE would be moronic enough to call timeout after an incomplete pass.

I could not be consoled. It did not help matters when the Colorado offense was able to drive down the UCLA one yard line, first-and-goal, but had to settle for a field goal with ten seconds left because the offense did not have a timeout. The half-time score was 13-6 instead of 13-10, and the team was booed off the field by the 38,000+ Buff fans in attendance.

I had had enough.

No more than thirty feet from where Coach Bill patrolled the sidelines, I let loose with a verbal tirade not heard from my mouth before or since. It was a farce! I cried. If our athletes were at least as inane those on the opposite sideline, why couldn’t WE win a few games? If our athletes were in fact no smarter than their foes, why couldn’t they at least be as fast? Once again, the Buffs had the opportunity to stay with a ranked opponent, but had managed only to demonstrate how inept the program had become.


In all fairness, the player, who shall remain unidentified, was caught up in the moment. The Buffs had called time to stop the clock the previous two plays, and the coaches had undoubtedly reminded the players to call timeout again after third down. The safety was acting on reflex, and surely knew the stupidity of his actions immediately after the play. For some reason, though, that play brought out all of the frustration I had been experiencing for the first five seasons following Colorado football.

I snapped.

At that time, it was my fervent desire to climb down onto the field to discuss the concept of “STUDENT ATHLETE” with Coach McCartney during halftime. It was as “fanatical” as I have ever been at a football game.

Ever since that day, I have been unable to criticize Brad’s histrionics on gameday. Whenever I make an attempt to chastise Brad for his verbal assaults at a game, he will remind me of a particular afternoon in 1984 when the Bruins of UCLA were in Boulder.

Game Notes –

– Sophomore kicker Dave DeLine, who would go on to be a three-year starter, connected on the first three field goals of his career against UCLA.

– Sophomore tight end Jon Embree had his best game of the 1984 season against UCLA. Embree had eight catches for 145 yards and a touchdown against the Bruins. Embree would go on to earn first-team All-Big Eight honors in 1984. In the process, Embree set new school records for catches (51, besting the 45 of Monte Huber in 1967) and receiving yards (680, seven better than 1984 teammate Ron Brown, and over 100 yards better than the 557 yards of Loy Alexander in 1983).

– UCLA would go on to post a 9-3 record in 1984 (5-2 in the Pac-10), culminating in a 39-37 Fiesta Bowl win over Miami. The Bruins finished 1984 as the 9th-ranked team in the nation.

One Reply to “UCLA – “Coach Whitehair” gets re-acquainted with Coach Bill”

  1. On this day at this game I proposed to my wife by having a plane fly over with the proposal on a banner. It was a fun day.

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