October 26th – at Nebraska           No. 5 Nebraska 17, Colorado 7

“Resurgent Colorado”, as the Buffs were called in the Nebraska Homecoming program, met the Cornhuskers in a game televised to the western half of the nation by ABC. It was Colorado’s first nationally televised game since a newly-formed all-sports network by the name of ESPN had televised the 1979 Colorado/Oregon game (the first game ever for ESPN – but it was shown on tape delay).

At stake, as strange as it sounded, was nothing less than first place in the Big Eight Conference. Both teams came into the game 5-1 and undefeated in conference play, with Nebraska’s only loss coming at the hands of Florida State, 17-13, in the season opener.

Nebraska was on a five game winning streak and ranked No. 5 in the nation, but they couldn’t afford to take the Buffs lightly. The same Missouri Tiger squad which had been rolled by the Buffs, 38-7, just two weeks earlier, had bounced back to give the Cornhuskers a scare before succumbing, 28-20. After surrendering over 500 yards of offense to Colorado, the Tigers had forced Nebraska into tying an NCAA record by kicking seven field goals. The lone touchdown for the Nebraska against Missouri did not come until the fourth quarter.

The win over Missouri had represented yet another victory for the Big Red … but it was not an easy one.

It was enough to give the Colorado fans a glimmer of hope heading into Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium. (The betting crowd did not buy into this theory, making Nebraska a 21-point favorite for the game).

For an underdog on the road, it is essential to get off to a good start.

Colorado did just that, scoring on the Buffs’ second drive. A two-yard run gave Colorado an early 7-0 first quarter lead. Still, Colorado fans could not afford to be overly jubilant. The problem for the Buffs wasn’t the touchdown.

The problem was who scored the touchdown.

The two yard run putting Colorado on top came from senior quarterback Craig Keenan.

Craig Keenan?

Keenan had last been seen at quarterback in 1984, starting the last three games. A passing quarterback, Keenan fell to third on the 1985 depth chart in the newly implemented wishbone offense. Rick Wheeler, the second string quarterback, had played most of the Iowa State game after Mark Hatcher went down with an injury. With Hatcher still out, Wheeler earned the start against Nebraska. Wheeler, however, suffered a knee injury during the first quarter scoring drive, and did not return.

The rest of the game, the Colorado offense suffered, in part because of playing a third-string quarterback in Keenan, and in part because of an inspired effort by the Nebraska defense. The Buffs would muster only 218 yards of total offense on the day, with three fumbles muting any attempt at sustaining a drive. After the offense had staked the team to a 7-0 lead, it would fall to the defense and special teams to try and win the game.

CU star punter Barry Helton did his part.

Helton was called on to punt eight times, and the sophomore responded with a 50.5 yard average. Helton’s outstanding effort gave the Buffs’ defense a fighting chance. Nebraska running back Doug DuBose scored on a one-yard run just before half to knot the score at 7-7, but fullback Tom Rathman broke the Buffs’ back with an 84-yard scoring run late in the third quarter to give the Cornhuskers a lead they would not surrender.

A fourth quarter field goal gave the 76,014 in attendance the opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief in finally posting a two-score advantage, and the 17-7 score held up.

A hard fought game had earned the Buffs some respect, but not a win. Now 5-2 with two ranked teams in the next three weeks (Oklahoma State and Oklahoma), the mettle of the 1985 team would again be tested.


Road Trip

I do not recall the exact moment when we decided to make the road trip to Lincoln in 1985 for the Colorado/Nebraska game, but travel we did. Perhaps the inspiration came from a need to get out of town, away from the grind of my second year in law school. Perhaps it was the alignment of the planets which had Colorado playing Nebraska on Saturday, October 26th, and the Denver Broncos playing the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City, on Sunday, October 27th, giving us the opportunity to visit both venues in one weekend.

In all likelihood, though, it was the simple fact that, for the first time in my six years at Colorado, it seemed that the Buffs had a legitimate shot at beating the hated Cornhuskers.

(Our enthusiasm for the big game against the Big Red was not felt throughout campus, though. In a story by Terry Henion of the Denver Post, who interviewed students on campus the week before the game, the following quotes were typical: “I think they’ve been pretty lucky. They’re still a bad football team …. I got sick of football here a few years back”, and, “We think it’s great they’re winning and all that, but we’re not going to go around wearing the school colors or anything.” No, Buff-mania was not rampant in Boulder.)

I would never have considered making the trip alone, and fortunately, I didn’t have to. My best friend Brad was equally nuts about the Buffs. The day before the game, Brad and I packed everything we owned which was black and gold into my car (a 1981 Chevy Citation), and headed off for Huskerland.

Traveling all day Friday, we made it to Lincoln in time to pick up our friend Mark, who was flying in from Dayton, Ohio.

I had known Mark since 1980, my freshman year at in Boulder. Mark is yet another lifelong friend I met on the second floor of Libby Hall. Mark was a brilliant aerospace engineer, and blazed through college with little effort. Please allow me to digress with an example: When Mark was allowed out of the Engineering building to take a few elective courses as an upperclassman, he and I took some political science classes together. My method of studying was to make an outline of the required material, then memorize my outline for the test. Mark’s method of studying was much easier. Mark would listen to me as I attempted to recite my outline from memory. From this exercise alone, Mark would proceed to ace the test. It always amazed me that, for me to do well, I had to spend hours pouring over material, hours more formulating an outline for the test, then even more hours memorizing the outline. All Mark had to do was read through my outline the night before, and he would do just as well as I did. And this was in a class in my major!

By 1985, Mark had graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering, and was working for the Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio.

Mark worked on systems for – get this – Air Force One.

While waiting for Mark that Friday night at the Lincoln airport, Brad and I felt like the proverbial sore thumbs. Awash in a sea of red, we seemed practically neon decked out in our black and gold. This being said, I must report that there was nary a bad word said. The waitress at the airport restaurant, in fact, seemed to go out of her way to be cordial.

After picking up Mark, we retired to our hotel. Turning on the late local news, we hoped to pick up a sports report discussing the upcoming Nebraska/Colorado game. What we saw was in depth coverage of football, but it wasn’t about the Buffs. It was coverage of the Nebraska Junior Varsity game played that afternoon.

(Another digression: Since eliminated due to a reduction in the number of scholarships allowed football programs, junior varsity teams were at one time an integral part of major college football. Despite its importance to the future success of the team, though, most JV games were rarely worth of mention, much less television news coverage. For comparative purposes I, who most would consider to be a faithful Buff fan, did not even know Colorado had a JV team until I came across some statistics for the 1984 JV team while doing research for CU at the Game).

I remember shaking my head as the sports anchor relayed to the Nebraska fanatics the statistics from that afternoon’s contest. This was our first real taste of how truly committed the Husker fans were to their team.

We certainly weren’t in Kansas, Toto.

Gameday – Lincoln, Nebraska

I have aspirations of visiting all of the hallowed venues of college football. I would love to take in such games Alabama/Auburn; Michigan/Ohio State; and USC/UCLA, just to name a few. I have watched these rivals wage war on television countless times, but, as I learned in 1985, you have to be there in order to appreciate the sights and sounds of a major college football stadium.

While in 1985 the Colorado/Nebraska game was not the major event it would later become – after all, the Buffs hadn’t beaten the Cornhuskers since 1967 – you couldn’t tell the difference from the size of the Husker crowds. The 1985 game was a sell-out. This was not unusual. Every single Nebraska home game since 1962 has been sold out. Let me repeat myself: every…single…home…game…since 1962 has been sold out. It’s one NCAA record for which Nebraska fans can rightly be proud.

Having been witness to the traveling hoards of Cornhusker fans when they came to Boulder, Mark, Brad and I thought we were prepared for red-clad home fans.


If anything, the hometown Huskers were clad in even more red than their traveling brethren. The sea of red visible on television does not do justice to this crowd. Nebraska fans are numerous, loud, and proud. When they did the wave, it was almost scary.

Yet, for the most part, Nebraska fans – and it may pain some Buff fans to hear this, but it is true – are friendly. There have been many incidents of trash-talking and fan bashing on both sides over the years, but in 1985 we were treated well. (I know, I know. An argument can be made that the Nebraska faithful were nice to us back then only because they did not see Colorado, and, by extension their fans, as a threat. Perhaps.)

One more nice thing about the Husker fans – blasphemy, but the truth hurts sometimes. I must admit that the Nebraska Cornhusker fans are some of the most knowledgeable football fans I have ever encountered. Again, some may qualify this. The argument: well, what else do the people in Nebraska have? There are no professional sports teams to draw attention away from their team, and pride in the team gives the state an identity (not unlike Alabama and its fans). Still, I left Lincoln impressed.

An encounter early in the 1985 game solidified this feeling. Heading into the Nebraska game, we already knew that quarterback Mark Hatcher was hurt and would not play. Then, in the first quarter, Colorado’s second string quarterback, sophomore Rick Wheeler, also went down with an injury. From our vantage point, high in the bowl of Memorial Stadium, Brad, Mark, and I looked at each other quizzically as number 14 jogged onto the field. Who was this guy? Who was the Buffs’ third string quarterback?

It was Craig Keenan.

Keenan had subbed for Steve Vogel in 1984, actually starting the last four games of the season. In the off-season switch to the wishbone, however, Keenan, who was a passing quarterback, had fallen to third on the depth chart (it had even been speculated in the Denver media that a sophomore with no varsity experience, Alan Strait, was being considered as a possible replacement over the senior Keenan). By midseason of the Buffs improbable 5-1 season, Keenan had been forgotten by most fans, including Brad, Mark, and myself.

Not to worry. The couple behind us filled us in on the particulars, reminding us of Keenan’s strengths and weaknesses.

The couple, however, was not from Boulder.

They were from Lincoln.

Think about that for a second. Brad, Mark, and I, were Buff fans to the core, yet the Nebraska fans behind us knew more about the Colorado third string quarterback, a quarterback their team had never faced, than we did.

Leaving the game, weary but not totally defeated, we sought out fraternity row. Not to get our faces beaten in, mind you, but to find Cindy.

Cindy is yet another Libby Hall alum. Now a physician (attorneys, engineers, doctors – Colorado alums seem to do pretty well in the real world), at the time Cindy was in a sorority, and had made the trip to Lincoln with a number of her sorority sisters. We were seeking out Cindy as she and a friend of hers from the sorority were going to go to Kansas City to see the Broncos game with Brad, Mark, and I.

Road Trip Part II – Did you say “World Series”?

I am not a fan of major league baseball. I do follow the Atlanta Braves, and have since Hank Aaron was hitting homers out of Atlanta Fulton County Stadium in the early ’70’s. Still, baseball never caught my fancy like football.

Why bother to mention the sport, then? Well, as fate would have it, as our little band was heading south out of Lincoln, Nebraska, we were heading right for the Show-Me-State showdown, the 1985 World Series matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals. Game 6 of the series was being played in Kansas City that very Saturday night, October 25th, 1985.

For those of you who follow baseball, you recall that Game 6 of the 1985 Series was pivotal, and involved a controversial play. Down three games to two in the Series, Kansas City was down to its last few outs. A “safe” call at first base, when the replay showed the runner was clearly out, spurred the Royals on to a come-from-behind win. The Royals won game 7 in a rout, capturing the 1985 World Series.

Over the years, we have told several versions of our brush with the 1985 World Series, including a story wherein we make it to Royals Stadium around the seventh inning, sneak in, and watch the historic and controversial ending to Game 6. In fact, truth be told, all we did was drive by the stadium on Interstate 70, noting the illuminated stadium as we drove on, trying to figure out which exit to take in order to find our hotel.

Kansas City Chiefs

From the safety of time and distance, I can admit from here in Bozeman, Montana, to what my friends already know and have come to accept – I am Kansas City Chiefs fan. Ever since Jan Stenerud put Montana State University on the map in 1967 by being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, I have been a Chiefs fan.

Brad, however, was a die-hard Denver Broncos fan.

In 1985, though, Brad and I were able to put our differences aside for one afternoon. We strode into Arrowhead Stadium together – he in his Broncos shirt, I in my Chiefs hat. We each had our source of support. For the game, I had the home crowd majority. Our seats, though, were amongst the Denver fans.

The game itself, I am sad to report, was a Broncos win. In one weekend, my Buffs had lost to my least favorite college team, Nebraska, and my Chiefs had lost to my least favorite pro team, the Broncos.

This, and we still had the entire state of Kansas and an all-night drive before us.

We drove all night, listening initally to the Royals rout of the Cardinals in Game 7 of the Interstate 70 series. We reached Boulder around 7:00 a.m. on Monday, October 28th.

Believe it or not, I did attend my 8:00 a.m. class in the Fleming Law Building that day.

I can’t say for certain that I took good notes.



2 Replies to “No. 5 Nebraska – Road trip to Lincoln and Kansas City”

    1. No. I used to, but lost it (taped over it) somewhere along the way.
      I’ll post this, though, to see if anyone else who checks out this game in the Archives might be able to help you out.

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