October 20th – Boulder           No. 5 Nebraska 24, Colorado 7

All too soon for Buff fans, it was time again to face the Huskers.

Nebraska came into the contest ranked 5th in the nation, with the only blemish in the Huskers 5-1 record coming in a upset loss to Syracuse, 17-9, on the road. Since the non-conference loss, Nebraska had posted two Big Eight wins against Oklahoma State and Missouri, and was not looking for a difficult game against the 1-5 Buffs.

The game, however, did not turn out to be the rout the sellout crowd of 51,124 (including a good 20,000 red-clad Husker fans) expected to see.

You tell ’em, Bill!

The Husker red in the stands for the 1984 game was not new, nor unexpected. But don’t blame Colorado head coach Bill McCartney. During the summer leading up to the 1984 campaign, McCartney wrote a letter to all of the Buff season ticket holders, imploring the fans not to sell their tickets to Nebraska fans. The letter, which was published in the local papers and even received mention in Sports Illustrated, reminded season ticket holders that there would be no public sale of tickets for the Nebraska game. Season ticket holders would control the entire Colorado allotment. “I am asking you not to sell or give your tickets to Nebraska followers”, wrote McCartney. “Please give this your sincere consideration. I am available to discuss this with you personally.”

By gameday, 1984, it seemed that only Nebraska fans would want to attend this particular game. The Cornhuskers were installed as 30-point favorites. Nebraska boasted the third rated defense in the country, while Colorado had the 105th (that’s last, folks) rushing offense in the nation. Nebraska came in averaging over 30 points per game, while Colorado was surrendering an average of over 35 points a contest.

Both sides acknowledged that emotion was Colorado’s main, and perhaps only, ally.

Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne: “If emotion could play football, Colorado would play as well as it could play. This is a game they have pointed for more than any other.” Bill McCartney: “Obviously, we’ll have to be very emotional to pull this off, and we will be.”

To add to the emotion, the Buffs would play in black and gold for the first time in five years. Also, Ed Reinhardt returned to Denver the week leading up to the game, showing some signs of coming out of his month-long coma.

Emotion can be a powerful tool. Without emotion, there would have been no reason to suit up for this, or for that matter any other, game. But emotion has its limits.

In 1984, the limits were three quarters.

At the end of the third quarter of the 1984 Colorado/Nebraska game, the Folsom Field scoreboard read: Colorado 7, Nebraska 3. It was not a typo. The Nebraska offense had been held to three points. All the more remarkable, the Colorado defense, which had failed to hold any of its first six opponents to less than 20 points, had corralled the mighty Cornhuskers.

All of the scoring had come in the second quarter. After Dan McMillen recovered a Nebraska fumble, the Buffs drove 63 yards in nine plays, capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass from Steve Vogel to split end Loy Alexander on the first play of the second quarter. A 38-yard Cornhusker field goal just before halftime did little to subdue the Colorado fans, nor did it much to appease the red-clad Husker faithful.

After a scoreless third period, the Huskers put the Buffs away.

Quarterback Travis Turner put Nebraska on top for the first time, 10-7, with a one yard touchdown run less than a minute into the final stanza. Colorado quarterback Steve Vogel then was picked off by safety Bret Clark at the Buffs’29-yard line. (For the day, Vogel was an ineffective 10-of–35 for 84 yards and two interceptions). Five plays later, it was 17-7 Nebraska, and the game was over.

An 11-yard touchdown pass made the final score 24-7, a score somewhat more palatable to the Nebraska fans who had managed to find Colorado tickets.

The gutty Colorado defense had held as long as it could, but received no support from the offense. The Buffs mustered only 137 yards of total offense, compared to 452 for Nebraska. (Small consolation Department – the 452 yards gained and the 24 points scored by the Huskers were the fewest against the Buffs since 1976). Still, the opportunity was there. Bill McCartney: “If ever there was a day when we had a chance (at beating Nebraska), it was today. We just couldn’t get it going on offense.”

Red Swarm

When Bill McCartney came to Boulder in 1982 and designated the hated Huskers as the mortal enemy, few took him, or the “rivalry”, seriously. What McCartney did not know at the time, but was soon to learn, was that in the early to mid-1980’s, Folsom Field represented a home game for the Huskers. Sure, Colorado sold out each Nebraska home game, but that was due more to the Nebraska faithful crossing the border to watch their team as to any sense of rivalry in Boulder.

Geography played a part. Many of the Husker faithful in western Nebraska were actually closer to Boulder than they were to Lincoln. More to the point, however, was the fact that the Cornhuskers sold out every home game, and had since 1962. For many who “bled Red”, the Colorado game represented their only opportunity to watch their beloved team play in person.

Look at the numbers. In 1984, the Buffs failed to draw over 40,000 fans for any other game, yet hosted a sellout crowd of 51,124 for the Nebraska game. In fact, from 1979 to 1985, Folsom Field was at capacity for only four games, and three were games against the Huskers (the lone exception being the Notre Dame game in 1983).

How did this play in Boulder? For motels and restaurants, it was a boon. For those of us who were early risers (and there are not too many college students who fit this category on a Saturday morning), it was actually fun to go down to the Pearl Street mall to watch the spectacle. It was not hard to pick out the Husker fans. They were clad in red from head to toe. Every possible article of clothing which could be marketed by Nebraska had been, and had been purchased without hesitation. Hats, shirts, pants, socks, earrings, belts, and shoes all carried the Nebraska logo.

It was great comedy to make fun of these fanatics, but we kept our comments to ourselves. There was little verbal jousting. The Huskers were better. Nothing could be said by either faction that would change that simple fact.

(Author’s Note: to be fair, I myself have been accused of possessing only two types of clothing – work clothes and clothes with the CU logo. While this is not entirely accurate, I do admit to possessing a significant amount of Colorado paraphernalia. Still, I am not as funny looking as those Nebraska fans … am I?)

In the stands during the game, all civility came to an end. The stadium, while full, was not a photo opportunity for the Media Relations office at CU. Most of the bowl in Folsom Field was red, and many areas in the rest of the stadium were pock-marked with Nebraska red. The only area where red was not welcome, and indeed suspect, was the student section. When the Cornhusker fans would cheer, we would boo. When the Nebraska fans began chanting the familiar “Go Big Red! Go Big Red!”, we would try and drown them out with “Go C U! Go C U!”. When the games were out of hand, though, our chants were more from resentment than enthusiasm. All too often, beer-influenced fights would break out in the stands where red met gold. As often as not, after the cries of “better dead than red” grew old, the only consolation for the students became “we may have lost the game on the field, but at least we won the fights in the stands”.

Game Notes

– The 7-3 lead at the opening of the fourth quarter represented the first time since 1967 in which Colorado led Nebraska after three quarters.

– The final score gave Nebraska a 17-point advantage, but the stats would lead you to believe the spread was greater. Nebraska had 24 first downs, to ten for Colorado. Total yards: 452-137. Time of possession: 36:57 to 23:03. Punts: Nebraska five; Colorado ten.

– Nebraska would go on to win its next three Big Eight games, with only Oklahoma to beat to head to the Orange Bowl as the nation’s No. 1 team. The Cornhuskers, though, fell to 6th-ranked Oklahoma, 17-7. A 28-10 win over No. 11 LSU in Sugar Bowl gave Nebraska a 10-2 record and a No. 4 final ranking.

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