The 1994 Season – A Look Back

Adios, Southwest Conference

Quick – Name the last eight members of the Southwest Conference.

Not so easy, is it?

Entering the 1994 season, the long-anticipated demise of the SWC became official.  The 1994 and 1995 campaigns would be the last for the storied conference.  After 80 seasons, the Southwest Conference would fold up its tents; its teams left to a new future.

Arkansas, the only Southwest member outside of the state of Texas, had defected to the Southeastern Conference in 1990.  Now Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech, commencing with the 1996 season, would join the Big Eight to form the Big 12.  Southern Methodist, Rice, and Texas Christian, meanwhile, would join the Western Athletic Conference.  The Houston Cougars, originally set adrift to fend for itself as an independent, would eventually settle upon an affiliation with Conference USA.

Why would a conference as steeped in history as the SWC fold?  Several reasons were proposed:

  • 1) the increased popularity of the NFL in Texas had eroded the state’s college fan base;
  • 2) the widely-held belief that the conference was made up of two teams (Texas and Texas A&M) and a series of woeful second-tier teams; and
  • 3) the scandals which had plagued the conference had allowed marquee schools from around the nation to invade and pluck prime Texas high school talent.

All three theories had merit, but they ignored the bottom line.  What the fall of the SWC really boiled down to was money.  Houston, Rice, and TCU all averaged under 30,000 fans per game, and television money was more interested in the Big 10, the SEC, and the Big Eight.  A move had to be made.

While long-rumored, the announcement of the merger of the Big Eight with four teams from the SWC left me non-plussed.  I had long hoped that the Buffs would make a jump from the Big Eight to the Pac-10, either with BYU or Texas.  The new “Pac-12″ would present new and interesting match-ups, and yes, it would get Colorado out from underneath the shadow of Nebraska.

From my perspective, there was only one saving grave to the new configuration.  Nebraska would continue to play Colorado every year in the new Big 12, but the Cornhuskers would play Oklahoma only twice every four years.  Without the Sooners on the schedule every year, the door had been opened for a “rivalry” game between the Cornhuskers and Buffs on Thanksgiving weekend.

The fact that such a game would be given the label of “rivalry” by the national media, much to the chagrin of the Husker faithful, gave me at least one reason to smile about the new Big 12 Conference.

Preseason 1994 … Colorado looks to build on four-game winning streak

In Boulder, the CU Buffs and their fans had high aspirations, if not high hopes.  In 1993, Colorado head coach Bill McCartney had wanted a more balanced attack on offense. Mission accomplished: the Buffs cranked out 470 yards of total offense per game, 240 on the ground and 230 through the air. Still, the end result, an 8-3-1 record, was not all that McCartney had expected.

“We were disappointed that we didn’t play better at crunch time in close games,” said McCartney. “But we were encouraged by winning our last four games and getting a bowl victory. Ending last year on a high note provides us with good momentum heading into this season.”

On paper Colorado matched up well with the rest of the nation.  Quarterback Kordell Stewart returned, with the senior already holding two dozen school records, including the record for the most passing yards in school history. Charles E. Johnson was off to the NFL, but Michael Westbrook and tight end Christian Fauria, both All-American candidates, returned. Lamont Warren was also gone, leaving a year early, but Rashaan Salaam returned.

The reason the Colorado coaching staff could be optimistic about success for its “skill position” players was that the list of “Big Uglies” along the offensive line was very impressive. Outland trophy candidate Tony Berti returned, along with two year starters Derek West at tackle and Brian Stoltenberg at center. Guard Chad Hammond, who was an honorable mention All-Big Eight player in 1993 was recovering from back surgery. If Hammond couldn’t go, junior Heath Irwin and sophomore Chris Naeole were ready to go.

On defense, the Buffs had two outside linebackers to replace 1993 MVP Sam Rogers and Ron Woolfork, but senior Ted Johnson (who led the team in tackles in 1993) along with sophomore Matt Russell (number three in tackles) returned. Also gone were two starters in the secondary – Dwayne Davis and Dennis Collier – but All-American candidate Chris Hudson returned, joined by players with starting experience in junior Donnell Leomiti and junior Dalton Simmons. The defensive line would be strong, with starters Shannon Clavelle, Kerry Hicks, and Darrius Holland returned. The defensive line, as a group, was tabbed as the No. 1 defensive line in the nation by The Sporting News.

“We obviously have some holes to fill on defense,” said McCartney said after spring practice. “We’re strong and experienced up front and inside, but our outside linebackers are largely untested and the secondary will be mostly young with mostly sophomores back there. We have the ingredients for a good defense, and after watching these guys during the spring, I’m optimistic we’ll be improved.”

The kicking game, long a strength of the Colorado program, was suspect in 1994. Mitch Berger, who had handled both the punting and kicking duties in 1993, was gone. In his place, junior Neil Voskeritchian would be the placekicker, while red-shirt freshman Andy Mitchell was penciled in as punter.

Overall, the team was loaded with talent, and ordinarily a team coming off of an 8-3-1 record could be expected to improve. The problem: the schedule was once again seemingly a production of the Marquis de Sade.  Road games loomed against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Texas in Austin, and Nebraska in Lincoln.  All three teams had national title hopes.  Throw in tough home games against Oklahoma, Kansas State and Wisconsin (which had shocked the Big 10 in 1993 by going 10-1-1 and going to the Rose Bowl), and anticipating an improvement on the Buffs’ 8-3-1 record seemed optimistic.

When the 1994 preseason polls came out, Colorado was ranked 8th in the nation. On the schedule were three preseason top ten teams – No. 4 Nebraska; No 5 Michigan; and No. 10 Wisconsin. Other ranked teams on the schedule were No. 16 Oklahoma and No. 18 Texas.

If Colorado was to be a top ten team at the end of the 1994 season, the Buffs would certainly deserve the ranking.

Scouting the Nation

With Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden finally released from the burden of being “the best head coach never to win a national championship”, the nation in 1994 could move on to new issues.

Questions for 1994 included:  Could Florida State repeat as national champions? Did Florida, behind Danny Weurffel, have what it would take to become champions of the State of Florida by beating Florida State (with the national title being an added bonus)?  Would All-World freshman quarterback Ron Powlus restore Notre Dame to its accustomed position among the nation’s elite?

When the preseason top ten was announced, it looked like this:

No. 1 – Florida; No. 2 – Notre Dame; No. 3 – Florida State; No. 4 – Nebraska; No. 5 – Michigan; N0. 6 – Miami; No. 7 – Arizona; No. 8 – Colorado; No. 9 – Penn State; No. 10 – Wisconsin.

Game One …

September 3rd – Boulder            No. 8 Colorado 48, Northeast Louisiana 13

The good news for Northeast Louisiana players as they looked up at the Folsom Field scoreboard with 14:56 to go in the second quarter was that the scoreboard read:  Colorado 7; Northeast Louisiana 6.

The bad news was that almost three full quarters of football remained to be played.

The remainder of the game was no contest as the Buffs rolled to a 48-13 opening-game win.  The Buffs gained the fifth-most yards in school history, 649, on only 69 offensive plays. The 9.4 yards per play average set a school record.  Rashaan Salaam led the way with 184 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while Kordell Stewart accounted for 291 yards of total offense.

After sleep-walking through the first quarter, the Colorado offense exploded for touchdowns on six consecutive drives. All but one of the drives covered 80 or more yards, as the Buffs toyed with the Indians.

Continue reading story here

Game Two … 

Badger Mania

The Wisconsin Badgers came to Boulder September 17th for a night game to be nationally televised by ESPN.

Like the Buffs, the Badgers were 1-0 on the 1994 season, having dispatched Eastern Michigan, 56-0.  Wisconsin, ranked 10th  in the nation, had been the feel-good story of 1993, having come from nowhere to post a 10-1-1 record.  Claiming a share of the Big 10 title for the first time in over three decades, the Badgers made their first trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl since 1962.  A 21-16 win over UCLA capped a magical year.

Out to prove that 1993 had been no fluke, the 1994 Wisconsin team was loaded.  Fifteen starters returned for head coach Barry Alvarez, who had turned around a program which had finished 1-10 only four years earlier.  Five All-Big Ten offensive players, including Big Ten MVP running back Brent Moss, returned to lead a potent attack.  Colorado would certainly have its hands full.

And that was just on the field.

Off the field, another battle was to take place, as the “Cheeseheads” from Wisconsin descended on Boulder.

Amongst the most legendary of all tailgaters, the Wisconsin faithful took to Boulder like, well, foam to beer.  “We’ve got seven cases of Wisconsin beer, a half barrel, and one Coors Light to give tribute to the state we’re partying in,” reported Donna Larsen to Rocky Mountain News reporter John Meyer.  Larsen’s group of around a dozen Badger fans arrived at a parking lot near Baseline Road some six hours before kickoff.

Continue reading story here

September 17th – Boulder                 No. 7 Colorado 55, No. 10 Wisconsin 17

“Swiss Cheese”, “Grated Cheese”, and “Grilled Cheese” were just some of the headlines after the Buffs ran over, around, and through the Wisconsin Badgers, 55-17.

Quarterback Kordell Stewart, who had endured almost a full year of second-guessing after his 8-for-28, three interception debacle against Nebraska in 1993, finally came through big in a big game.  “I heard all those questions about me in big games”, said Stewart, who accounted for 301 yards of total offense.  “I just wanted to put the past behind me and get on with this season.”

Making it easier for Stewart was the continuing domination of the Buffs’ offensive lineman and the ever-improving efforts of Rashaan Salaam.  Salaam tied a school record by scoring four touchdowns, the second of which put the Buffs up 17-3 early in the second quarter.

Later in the quarter, after Wisconsin pulled to within 20-10, Stewart led the Buffs on a six-play, 80-yard drive in the final two minutes of the half, culminated in a 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Westbrook with 57 seconds to play before the break.

Continue reading story here

Game Three … 

September 24th – at Michigan                      No. 7 Colorado 27, No. 4 Michigan 26

While there is much to be said about the final six seconds of the 1994 Colorado/Michigan game, the set-up is equally important.

Both teams had the opportunity to dominate the game, but both fell short. Momentum swayed back and forth before 106,427 fans, the largest crowd to witness a Colorado football game in school history. Midway through the second quarter, the Buffs were putting on a show for the Wolverine faithful. Up 14-3, Colorado threatened to make the game a rout after Kordell Stewart hit Michael Westbrook on a 27-yard touchdown with 7:54 remaining in the half.

For the next two full quarters, however, the game was all Michigan.

Wolverine running back Tim Biakabutuka scored on a four yard run to pull Michigan to within 14-9 with 1:14 before halftime. Going for a two-point conversion to pull the Wolverines to within a field goal of the Buffs, quarterback Todd Collins was intercepted by CU linebacker Matt Russell, preserving a five point lead for the Buffs.

The third quarter was a nightmare for the Buffs, as Michigan posted 17 unanswered points to take a 26-14 lead.

Less than five minutes into the quarter, Tyrone Wheatley capped a 62-yard drive with a six yard scoring run. A short field goal after the Buffs’ fumbled the kickoff return and a 65-yard bomb from Collins to receiver Amani Toomer gave the Wolverines their biggest advantage, 26-14, with just under three minutes remaining in the third. The Buffs were sluggish on offense, and the game appeared to be well in hand for the home team.

Now it was time for the Buffs to mount a comeback, but not before giving CU fans more reason to test their faith

Continue reading story here

3:52 remaining – Michigan 26, Colorado 14 – Colorado ball at its own 28-yard line

2:16 remaining – Michigan 26, Colorado 21 – Michigan ball at the CU 45-yard line

:14 remaining – Michigan 26, Colorado 21 – CU ball at its own 15-yard line.

:06 remaining – Michigan 26, Colorado 21 – CU ball at its own 36-yard line

You know what happens next …

Kordell Stewart remembers …

CU/Michigan Post Game

“I don’t care what anyone says”, said Christian Fauria in the post-game celebration. “That was divine intervention.” There were six Michigan defenders back when CU receiver Blake Anderson jumped up for the ball with Michigan free safety Chuck Winters. The ball was tipped back up into the air before falling into the waiting arms of Michael Westbrook. “The ball hit my hand,” said Winters. “I definitely hit it”, said Anderson, the son of former CU and NFL great Dick Anderson. “Westbrook was behind me. That’s a designated play. I just went up and tipped it.”

Colorado head coach Bill McCartney didn’t belief that Stewart’s pass would even travel as far as the end zone. “I was watching our receivers”, said McCartney. “hoping for a penalty. I thought we needed some more yards.”

As for Stewart, who rated the play’s chances at “Fifty-fifty”, was seventy yards away when the ball returned to earth. “All I saw was this big muscular arm hit the ball, and then I saw somebody fall down, and then I heard the crowd get quiet, and it looked like a big old truck just swept our whole sideline onto the field.” Stewart, who on the play became Colorado’s all-time career touchdown pass leader, “tried to yell” as he ran down the field, “but my Adam’s apple kept coming up in my throat.”

Continue reading story here

Game Four … 

October 1st – at Texas                          No. 5 Colorado 34, No. 16 Texas 31

Texas was more than anxious to take a crack at the No.5 Buffs.  Undefeated on the young season, the 16th-ranked Longhorns were 3-0 for the first time since 1985.  Playing at home in front of a sell-out crowd of 77,809 (the first non-conference sell-out for the Longhorns in ten years) Texas players looked to avenge the 36-14 pasting laid on them by the Buffs in 1993 season-opener.

Eight returning starters on offense and nine on defense gave Longhorn fans plenty of confidence that the media-drunk Buffs would leave Austin in a different mood than they had Ann Arbor.

But it was Texas and their fans that left the stadium displeased, as, for the second week in a row, Colorado scratched out a last-second win against a ranked opponent on the opponent’s home field.  Junior place-kicker Neil Voskeritchian booted through a 24-yard field goal with one second remaining on the game clock to give the Buffs a 34-31 win.

Sharing the spotlight with Voskeritchian was junior tailback Rashaan Salaam, who made a splash in the national media with a record-setting performance.  Salaam rushed for 317 yards on 35 carries, marking only the second time in school history that a CU player had eclipsed the 300-yard barrier (Charlie Davis ran all over Oklahoma State for 342 yards on 34 carries in 1971).  With his 45 yards receiving, Salaam also set a school mark for all-purpose yards at 362.

Continue reading story here

Game Five … 

October 8th – at Missouri                           No. 5 Colorado 38, Missouri 23

The Colorado Buffaloes could have been forgiven for being sluggish against the Missouri Tigers.

After all:

  • The game against Missouri represented CU’s third straight road game;
  • The game was the Buffs only game against an unranked opponent sandwiched between six games against nationally rated foes; and
  • Missouri was 1-3 after having lost to the likes of Tulsa.

Fortunately for Colorado fans, the Buffs were ready to play.  Cruising to a 21-7 first quarter lead, Colorado never allowed the Tigers within two scores the remainder of the game, coasting to a 38-23 win.

Kordell Stewart led the Buffs, completing almost 80 percent of his passes (16-21 for 228 yards and two touchdowns).  Rashaan Salaam continued to impress, posting 166 yards on 28 carries and two scores.

Continue reading story here

Game Six … 

October 15th – Boulder                 No. 4 Colorado 45, No. 22 Oklahoma 7

It was now official.

What had been dreamed of since the “Miracle in Michigan” could now be spoken of openly.  The Rocky Mountain News banner headline after Colorado dismantled Oklahoma 45-7 before a national ESPN audience said it all:  “Buffs make a run for No. 1?”.

Not to be outdone, the Denver Post headline proclaimed:  “Taking aim at No. 1?”.

Before the Buffs took the field to set about defeating the Sooners by the largest margin in the history of the series, the players and fans all knew that the No. 1 team in the nation, Florida, had been defeated 36-33 by Auburn.  The 45-7 thrashing of the Sooners before a night game crowd of 53,199 proved to the nation that the undefeated Colorado Buffaloes had to be reckoned with on the national stage.

Colorado dominated the game from the outset, and the line score for the first half look like a series of misprints.

The Buffs’ first three scores:

  • Salaam 7-yard run (Voskeritchian kick);
  • Salaam 7-yard run (Voskeritchian kick); and
  • Salaam 7-yard run (Voskeritchian kick).

For Colorado’s final score of the first half, the Buffs threw the Sooners a curve:  “Salaam 9-yard run”.  Salaam’s fourth first half touchdown came with 7:19 to play in the second quarter, and gave the Buffs a commanding 28-0 lead.  Overall, Salaam contributed 161 yards rushing, 153 of which were procured by halftime.

Here is the YouTube video of the Oklahoma game …

Game Seven …

October 22nd – Boulder               No. 2 Colorado 35,  No. 19 Kansas State 21

The Kansas State Wildcats were the real deal in 1994.

Coming off of a 9-2-1 season in 1993, Kansas State had re-established itself as the No. 3 team in the Big Eight in 1994.  The Wildcats only blemish coming into Boulder was a 17-6 loss to Nebraska, and Kansas State wanted nothing more than to knock off the 2nd-rated Buffs to make its own national statement.

They almost did.

The 5:30 p.m. kickoff represented the Buffs’ third nationally televised night home game of the season.  The 52,955 in attendance were unsettled at the outset, as Kansas State became the first team in 1994 to score on its opening drive against the Colorado defense. The Buffs quickly responded, with Rashaan Salaam scoring on a 53-yard run less than two minutes later.

Salaam’s run came on a pitch out play and after he broke an arm-tackle near the line of scrimmage, he flashed his all-world speed and he beat all other Wildcat defenders on a mad-jaunt to the end zone.

“I didn’t realize that I broke it,” Salaam said afterwards. “In fact, I was kind of nervous they would catch me. I didn’t want to look back so I just lifted up my knees and took off. I was actually shocked to be in the end zone.”

Then after a Kansas State punt, the Buffs took control of the game for the first time with an impressive 90-yard, ten-play scoring drive that had an inauspicious beginning. The drive opened with the Buffs gaining just two yards on the first two plays. Then, staring at a third-and-eight st the CU 12, Stewart found Westbrook for a first down, and the drive had new life.

Continue reading story here

The preliminaries were now over

Undefeated and 3rd-ranked Nebraska had spent the afternoon toying with Missouri, 42-7.  Colorado and Nebraska would now clash in Lincoln in 1994’s “Game of the Year”.  At stake, the Big Eight Championship and the right to play for the national title.

A favorite?  Chad May, Kansas State’s quarterback, who had lost to the Cornhuskers and Buffaloes in successive weeks, had an opinion.  “Both teams are tough.  It’s going to come down to who wants it the most,” said May.  “But I’d say that all-around talent-wise, Colorado has better players.”

“But it’s in Lincoln”, noted May.

The 1994 Game of the Year would have all of the trappings. The ESPN’s GameDay crew would be on hand.  Pre-game shows devoted much of their attention to the game.  Much of the discussion centered around the kickoff time (10:00 a.m. MST), and how the early start might affect the teams.

“I expect a very difficult game,” said Salaam. “We’ll face a stronger defense. Basically, it is going to be a rough and tough four quarter game. We are going to Lincoln and we owe them something.”

No. 2 Colorado v. No. 3 Nebraska before 76,131 red-clad faithful crammed into Memorial Stadium.

Time for one of the most discussed games in Colorado football history.

Game Eight … 

October 29th – at Nebraska             No.3  Nebraska 24, No.2  Colorado 7

Like many over-hyped Super Bowls, the 1994 Game-of-the-Year failed to live up to advance billing … at least as far as Colorado fans were concerned.

No. 3 Nebraska methodically took care of business, defeating No. 2 Colorado, 24-7, to take the inside track to the Big Eight and National Championships.  Led by quarterback Brook Berringer, subbing for injured starter Tommy Frazier, the Cornhuskers built a 17-0 halftime lead and were never thereafter challenged by the Buffs.

Fullback Cory Schlesinger scored on a 14-yard run midway through the first quarter to give Nebraska a lead it would not surrender. Early in the second quarter, the Colorado defense made an impressive goal line stand against the Nebraska offense, but the Cornhuskers did come away with a 24-yard field goal by Tom Sieler to take a 10-0 lead.

Rashaan Salaam, who had three carries for eight yards in the first quarter, didn’t have much chance to get things going until the Buffs were down two scores. Trailing 10-0, The Buffs put together their most efficient drive of the first half led by the impressive exploits of Salaam who carried six times for 28 yards and gained three first downs on an 11-play drive that eventually stalled at the Nebraska 26-yard line. From there, with halftime fast approaching, the Buffs looked to move back within one score and establish a sense of momentum that might carry over to the second half. Instead, kicker Neil Voskeritchian was short on a 43-yard field goal attempt.

In the final minute of the first half, Nebraska culminated a nine-play, 73-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run by Clinton Childs to take a commanding 17-0 lead into the break.

Continue reading story here

Here is the YouTube video of the game … 

Game Nine … 

November 5th – Boulder                    No. 7 Colorado 17, Oklahoma State 3

The main distraction for the Colorado Buffaloes for Homecoming, 1994, was not the Homecoming festivities, nor was it the Oklahoma State Cowboys.  Rather, the Buffs greatest concern was lethargy.  Oklahoma State was 3-4-1 on the year, with its only wins coming in non-conference contests against the likes of Northern Illinois, Tulsa, and North Texas.

The glow of the national spotlight was gone, as, for the first time in a month, CU’s game would not be shown by a national network.

After opening the game as if the game was of no consequence, the Buffs played just well enough to secure a 17-3 win.  Oklahoma State took the opening kickoff and marched 73 yards down the field, taking up almost half of the first quarter before settling for a 24-yard field goal.  After Colorado punted on its first possession, the 51,059 in attendance at Folsom Field began to get a little nervous.

But the Colorado defense turned the tide.

On the Cowboys’ second series, sophomore safety Steve Rosga intercepted a Tone Jones pass and returned it 25 yards to the Cowboy 30-yard line.  Three plays later, Kordell Stewart ran the ball in from 27 yards out to give the Buffs a 7-3 lead with three minutes left in the first quarter.

Continue reading story here

Here is the YouTube video of the game … 


Game Ten … 

November 12th – at Kansas          No. 7 Colorado 51, Kansas 26

Kordell Stewart, who had the previous week become the first player in Big Eight history to pass for 6,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a career, piled up 249 yards of total offense against the Jayhawks as the Buffs rolled to an easy 51-26 win.

Rashaan Salaam came into the final road game of the season on the brink of taking the leap from great to all-time legend. He needed only 65 rush yards and one touchdown in order to become the school’s all-time single-season leader in both categories. Salaam would take all suspense out of the chase almost immediately though as, less than seven minutes into the game, he already officially had both records.

The Buffs scored less than two minutes into the game. Kordell Stewart hit Michael Westbrook for a 51-yard gain in the third play of the game, setting up a 17-yard touchdown run by Salaam. Later in the first quarter, Stewart hit Christian Fauria for a nine-yard touchdown, culminating a 12-play, 97-yard drive.

After Kansas looked to make a game of it with a touchdown pass of their own late in the first, the Buffs put the game away with a 10-0 second quarter. A 23-yard scoring pass from Stewart to Rae Carruth made it a 21-7 game, with Neil Voskeritchian hitting a 28-yard field goal just before the break to make it a 24-7 game.

Continue reading story here


Most stories leading up to the regular season-ending game against Iowa State focused on Salaam and his attempt at becoming the first Colorado player to ever win the Heisman trophy.  One story, though, looked ominously to the near-future.  In the Buffalo Sports News in the week before the Iowa State game, there was an article entitled:  “Young Neuheisel atop MSU’s short list”.

The BSN article focused on the interest Michigan State had in the Buffs’ young quarterback/receiver coach, Rick Neuheisel.  While Buffalo Sports News editor John vonSchrader had high praise for Neuheisel’s efforts and noted “he has an extremely bright future in coaching”, von Schrader found “it hard to comprehend how a program such as Michigan State could be interested in Neuheisel at this point in his career.”  Neuheisel, the argument went, had never so much as held the post of coordinator, much less that of head coach.

The conclusion drawn by vonSchrader:  “Neuheisel’s future is so bright it’s blinding, but in this case I don’t think the future is now.”  An interesting article, leading the reader to believe the Buffs would likely be able to hold onto the hot coaching prospect for at least a few more years.

True, CU did hold onto Neuheisel … but not in the sense vonSchrader intended.

No one foresaw what was to happen just one week later.

Game Eleven … 

November 19th – Boulder                       No. 7 Colorado 41, Iowa State 20

A game between a 9-1 team and an 0-9-1 to finish off the regular season would normally not bear much attention.  The 41-20 final score, after the Buffs nursed a 20-13 lead into the fourth quarter, would not have merited much notice nationally.

For local writers, though, the game could presented a year’s worth of headlines:

“Christian Fauria snares six catches; becomes Big Eight all-time tight end reception leader” would have been apropos;

“CU posts 576 yards of offense, sets team record for season average – 495.3″ would have been good; or

“Kordell Stewart becomes Big Eight all-time leader for total offense”.

All worthy events, but they were all  overshadowed.  First by Rashaan Salaam, then by the team’s thirteen-year head coach.

Salaam was effective against Iowa State, rushing for almost 200 yards and a touchdown in the game’s first three quarters.  The Buffs, though, could not put away the winless Cyclones, leading only 20-13 at the start of the fourth quarter.

Salaam was still 13 yards shy of the 2000-yard mark as the Buffs, leading 27-13 after a 23-yard run by Kordell Stewart to open the quarter, faced a first-and-ten at the CU 33-yard line.  Salaam took the handoff from Stewart, cut to his right, and raced down the sideline in front of his teammates for a 67-yard touchdown and front-runner status for the Heisman.  Salaam’s run gave him 2,055 yards on the season, and also gave him the titles of the nation’s leading rusher, scorer, and all-purpose runner.

Salaam’s final run of the day also gave Colorado its first real comfortable lead of the day, at 34-13.

Here is the YouTube video of Salaam’s run into history …

… McCartney’s Surprise Announcement … 

Back from the store

In Bozeman, I received updates from ABC and ESPN throughout the afternoon (concerning the 41-20 romp by 7th-ranked Colorado over Iowa State). Frustration with the Buffs’ inability to put away ISU was quickly forgotten when the highlight of Rashaan Salaam’s touchdown run flashed across the screen.

The play made for perfect theater. Salaam reached the 2,000 mark at home, running right in front of the CU bench, on a 67-yard touchdown run to clinch the win. If Salaam had not already clinched the Heisman, that highlight alone may have sealed the deal. It would be replayed numerous times in subsequent weeks as college football analysts debated the issue.

Content with the afternoon’s events, I went to the store with my wife, Lee. Some time later, we returned to find the answering machine blinking. It was Charlie Bellinger, my college roommate, calling from Nashville. “What is McCartney thinking?”, Charlie asked me by way of tape. “What is going on?”

Not understanding the message, and assuming Charlie was merely upset about Bill McCartney’s play-calling on the day, I returned the call. It was then that I learned the reason for the tone in Charlie’s voice. I quickly clicked on the television, turned to ESPN, and quickly had confirmed for me what Charlie was telling me.

Colorado head football coach Bill McCartney was resigning.

Press Conference

Shortly after the Iowa State game had come to an end Bill McCartney came to the post-game press conference, something he had done 162 times before. His opening remarks were standard fare: “I want to celebrate all of these things that happened out there today …. Rashaan’s tremendous abilities and the support he had was just extraordinary …. And I felt really good about Kordell getting that record in the Big Eight (Stewart became the all-time total offense leader on the day – Stewart would finish his college career with 7,770 yards in total offense) because he hasn’t really received his due in my opinion.”

Then Coach Mac dropped his bombshell.”I have an announcement to make. Lindi (McCartney’s wife), would you come up here? I have a lot of family here, and I’m resigning effective this year. I’m going to see us through the bowl game, if I’m permitted, and through the school year. But, we really need to get a new coach named prior to going out and recruiting.”

The questions from the astounded and unprepared press were predictable:

Why? “It’s time. I’ve been here 13 years and I just feel it’s time.”

Going to another school? The NFL? “There’s going to be rumors, or whatever. I’m not going anywhere.”

When did you decide? “Recently. Recently. I didn’t know how it would work out today, but I knew that today was the day to announce this.”

Colorado fans and players were shell-shocked. McCartney had been given a “lifetime” 15 year contract after the 1989 season. As it turned out, though, the contract was for five years with extensions. The first term of the contract expired January 1, 1995, and that was when Bill McCartney was to step down.

In his book, “From Ashes to Glory“, McCartney explains his decision:

“On the field I had succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. But on the home front, as a husband and father, I often felt like a failure. I was so busy pursuing my career goals that I was missing out on the Spirit-filled life that God wanted me have.”

McCartney caught a great deal of flak from the media because of the timing of the announcement. Rashaan Salaam had just a few minutes earlier capped perhaps the greatest single season in Buff history; Kordell Stewart perhaps the best-ever career. But the headlines the morning after the Iowa State game were all about McCartney and his announcement. McCartney’s explanation: “I’d already told so many people that I knew the news would get out soon, and I wanted to be the one to tell the players.”

Marolt’s Bold Move

Colorado Athletic Director Bill Marolt was now faced with a difficult decision.

Replacing a head coach is always difficult, but in most instances the team needing new leadership is one in disarray, suffering from a string of losing seasons. McCartney was going out on top, with ten wins already posted with a bowl game still to play. Marolt received letters and faxes from “too many applicants to count”, and while several former CU assistants who were now head coaches (Illinois’ Lou Tepper, Northwestern’s Gary Barnett, and Vanderbilt’s Gerry DiNardo included) were considered, there were only four official candidates for the job. All four were in-house.

Four existing CU assistants were considered, each bringing different assets to the table. Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz had seniority, with ten seasons in Boulder. Offensive coordinator and guards and centers coach Elliot Uzelac had the distinction of being the only candidate with head coaching experience (Western Michigan, 1975-80 and Navy, 1987-89). Assistant head coach and defensive line coach Bob Simmons already had the title of assistant head coach on his resume. Only Rick Neuheisel, the 33-year old quarterback and receivers coach, did not possess at least the title of coordinator.But Marolt chose Neuheisel.

“The thing I like about him is that he’s got a tremendous competitive background,” said Marolt of the 21st head coach in Colorado football history. “He’s been very successful at every level, but the thing that impressed me is that he didn’t accomplish those things as a celebrated athlete coming out of high school. He was somebody that walked on, somebody that took the challenge.”

Marolt’s reference to Neuheisel’s upbringing would become a familiar story to Buff fans. After leading his Tempe, Arizona, high school team to the state championship, Neuheisel walked on at UCLA, only to lead the Bruins to a Rose Bowl win his senior year (with Neuheisel being named MVP of the game). Brief stints in the USFL and NFL led to a job as an assistant at UCLA before being named to the CU staff February 28, 1994. Nine months later, Neuheisel was the Buffs’ head coach.

Head coach Bill McCartney, who had endorsed Bob Simmons for the post, was nonetheless was supportive of the choice: “He’s a very gifted young man who is equipped to do what is necessary.” All that was left was for Neuheisel to head out on the recruiting trail, convince 18 year olds that the winning tradition established by Bill McCartney would continue.

No small task.

Picking up the Hardware

Oh, by the way …

After the nine-day whirlwind which struck Boulder on November 19th with McCartney’s announcement and ended with Neuheisel’s hiring, CU players and fans had the opportunity to turn their attention to matters more immediate, like the awarding of the Heisman and other year-end awards.

Salaam’s 2,055 yards rushing seemingly guaranteed the Heisman, but there were other candidates. Penn State’s tailback Ki-Jana Carter and quarterback Kerry Collins led the undefeated and second-ranked Nittany Lions, while quarterback Steve McNair was putting up gaudy numbers for Division 1-AA Alcorn State. In the week leading up to the presentation, the media was convinced the race would be close.

When the announcement was made, however, it was a landslide.

Salaam tallied 400 of 792 first-place votes, totaling 1,743 points. Carter was a distant second with 115 first-place votes, 901 points overall. Salaam, media-shy from his first days at Colorado, tried to down-play the honor. “Everybody is always singling me out. I don’t like that. I just want to be part of the group.” Salaam, though, was no longer part of a group. In addition to becoming the first-ever Buff to be awarded the Doak Walker Award (to the nation’s top running back) and the Walter Camp Award (to the national player of the year), Salaam was now to be forever linked to the Heisman. From his performance in the Fiesta Bowl to his position in the NFL draft, he would forevermore be referred to as: “Rashaan Salaam, Heisman Trophy Winner”.

Game Twelve … 

A bowl game against Notre Dame – An Afterthought, but still fitting

It would have been appropriate for Bill McCartney to go out playing for the National Championship. The 24-7 loss to Nebraska, however, eliminated the possibility, as Nebraska ran out the string and headed off to the Orange Bowl undefeated and ranked No.1 in the country. By the time the bowl matchups were announced, CU was ranked 4th, trailing only Nebraska, Penn State, and Miami. Such high standing would normally afford the Buffs a worthy New Year’s Day opponent.

The bowls, however, are run by money, not rankings.

Enter Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish carried with them to the January 2nd Fiesta Bowl the tradition of multiple National Championships and multiple Heisman Trophy winners. In 1994, they also carried with them to Tempe a 6-4-1 record. Notre Dame had been beaten by 7th-ranked Florida State, 20th-ranked Michigan, 22nd-ranked BYU, and unranked Boston College. None of the six wins by the Irish had been over teams ranked at the end of the season. Yet due to the large fan following possessed by Notre Dame, Fiesta Bowl representatives invited the Irish to be CU’s Fiesta Bowl opponent.

The matchup was still meaningful to the Buffs. CU had played Notre Dame twice for the National Championship in the previous five seasons, winning on the second attempt to claim Colorado’s first national title.

Defeating Lou Holtz and the Irish in Bill McCartney’s final game would bring a sense of closure. A win would also guarantee a top five ranking.

Not a bad way to head out the door for a man who inherited a woeful team in 1982, only to become the most successful coach in school history.

January 2nd – Fiesta Bowl          No. 4 Colorado 41, Notre Dame 24

Notre Dame teams have always been noted for overcoming the odds and winning games they are not supposed to. This tradition continued under the direction of fiery head coach Lou Holtz. With several weeks to prepare, Holtz was often able to overcome long odds. Despite the mediocre record of the Irish in 1994, the Buffs had to take Notre Dame seriously.

For a half at least.

With 1:45 remaining in the second quarter, the Fiesta Bowl scoreboard read: Colorado 31, Notre Dame 3. That the Irish were able to make the final score more respectable, at 41-24, was of little consequence to the Buffs as they won for Bill McCartney his 93rd game. McCartney was given a ride off the field on the shoulders of his players as the winningest coach in Colorado history, compiling a 93-55-5 record in 13 seasons.

The Buff players did all they could to ensure McCartney would have time to soak in the atmosphere of his final game, dominating the contest early. Offensive MVP Kordell Stewart amassed 348 yards of total offense, 268 yards of which came in the decisive first half. Heisman trophy winner Rashaan Salaam, determined to break the jinx of former Heisman winners who faired poorly in their bowl games, rushed for a modest 83 yards, but his 27 carries included three touchdown runs. In all, CU scored on five of its first six possessions to eliminate any question on the final outcome.

Here is the YouTube video of the game …


2 Replies to “A Look Back: A Game-by-Game Snapshot of the 1994 Season”

  1. In my opinion this was our best team ever. All from memory…Kordell at Lincoln that year was awful, the look he had all game on TV, his eyes were glazed over and the moment was too big for him at the time. Throwing balls in the ground all day. Unfortunately everything after that game was anticlimatic…and even remember the ISU game…when Rashaan set the record Folsom was already a quarter empty.

  2. Still remember where I was that day (Michigan game), in the middle of the Saudi desert watching it at 2am since it was the “live” game of the week.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *