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.

Colorado kicker, Neil Voskeritchian, started the scoring with a 33-yard field goal in the first quarter, to give the Buffaloes the early 3–0 lead. Later in the 1st quarter, Kordell Stewart tossed a 1-yard pass to tight end Christian Fauria for a touchdown, and a 10–0 Colorado lead. Scott Cengia got Notre Dame on the board with a 29-yard field goal to make it 10–3.

In the second quarter Colorado sealed its win, by scoring three consecutive touchdowns. Kordell Stewart started by rushing 9 yards for a touchdown, then Rashaan Salaam scored two 1-yard touchdown runs to increase the lead to 31–3. Ron Powlus threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mayes to cut the lead to 31–10 before halftime.

Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Mayes to cut the lead to 31–17, early in the third quarter, but that was as close as the Irish would get. Voskeritchian kicked a 48-yard field goal to extend Colorado’s lead to 34–17 before Rashaan Salaam put the exclamation mark on the game with a 5-yard touchdown run, increasing Colorado’s lead to 41–17. Notre Dame scored one last time on a 7-yard pass from Powlus to Leon Wallace to provide the final margin.

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.

Bill McCartney was emotional after the game. “I’d like to say publicly how much I appreciated having the opportunity and privilege to coach at Colorado” said the Buffs’ head coach. “I feel very humble and very appreciative. You’re going to make me choke up here. As I was going off the field, I just had so much appreciation and gratitude that I, a really average guy, should have had this extraordinary opportunity.”

McCartney left CU with an 11-1 record and a No. 3 national ranking in the final polls. His 93 wins were 16 more than the legendary Fred Folsom. With the Buffs’ appearance in the final poll, CU had now been ranked in 100 consecutive AP polls, dating back to the opening of the 1989 season. The teams’ previous best had been 32 consecutive polls, spanning the 1971-72 seasons.

Bill McCartney was always controversial, from his stand on abortion to his play-calling. His record on the field, however, is unmatched in CU history. As McCartney left center stage in Boulder to pursue the Promise Keepers, a national organization for men which exploded in popularity under McCartney’s tutelage, he kept telling anyone who would listen how thankful he was for the opportunity to coach at Colorado.

Thank you, coach.

Game Notes –

– The win gave Colorado a 7-12 record all-time in bowl games, with a 2-1 record against Notre Dame in the post-season.

– The 1995 Fiesta Bowl marked the first time in 19 bowl games in which the Buffs did not commit at least one turnover.

– Colorado amassed 472 total yards on just 23:43 of possession time, averaging just under eight yards per play. The Buffs scored on five of their first six possessions, racing out to a 31-3 lead in the first half.

– Colorado switched from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense for the game, with the result being relentless pressure on Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus. Colorado had seven sacks on the game, including three by defensive MVP Shannon Clavelle. Butkus Award runner-up Ted Johnson led all defenders with 20 tackles, including two for losses, and threw in an interception.

– Rashaan Salaam tied his own school bowl record with three touchdowns (Salaam also had three scores against Fresno State in the 1993 Aloha Bowl; Bobby Anderson had three touchdowns against Alabama in the 1969 Liberty Bowl). Salaam’s six career touchdowns in bowl games set a new school standard.

– Kordell Stewart had 205 yards passing against the Irish, going 11-for-20. His career total of 546 passing yards, set over three games, added to his existing school record.

– Michael Westbrook’s four catches for 70 yards was not a bowl record, but his four bowl game career totals – 14 catches for 283 yards – were CU bowl records, with no other Buff having accumulated any more than Charles E. Johnson’s eight catches for 111 yards (also spread out over four games)


Here is a YouTube video of the entire game, located by CU at the Gamer Paul:


One Reply to “Fiesta Bowl – Notre Dame – McCartney, Stewart & Salaam go out winners”

  1. So many things for me to remember about this game. Once again I was sporting a wicked hangover. I would write a narrative, but it would be terrible. So, a list:

    1 – Notre Dame wore their special green jerseys, which meant they new they shouldn’t have been in the game and were desperate. I forget if they came out with them to start the game or if they changed at the half (hangovers will do that to a memory).
    2 – The CU crowd chanted ‘Rudy, Rudy, Rudy’ sometime in the 3rd quarter when CU had the game sealed. That was hilarious.
    3 – I was in the band (bass drummer). Some sponsor came up to us during the first half and asked if we would help give away a car. Why not?!?! We went down to the field and waited to go on the field prior to halftime. While waiting, a really drunk (but really hot) Notre Dame chick started hassling us about how CU sucks. We just pointed to the scoreboard (CU was killing ND). Then she said the band sucked. We agreed (what else would we do?!?!). She claimed victory. I asked her out to get a drink after the game. She laughed at me (as did my other drumline buddies) – hey, you have to take a shot! We helped give away a car. CU killed Notre Dame. Most importantly, a good time was had by all!

    We had such a good time, I am amazed I remember anything about this trip or game!

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