National and Big 12 Recap – 1997

For the third time in eight seasons, the national polls split the National Championship.

For the Associated Press, the National Champion was the 12-0 Michigan Wolverines. Michigan, which had been ranked No. 1 in both polls heading into the bowls, defeated Cinderella Washington State 21-16 in the Rose Bowl to claim its first national title since 1948.

In the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll, however, 13-0 Nebraska changed the vote of just enough coaches to claim its third national championship in four years. The Cornhuskers defeated the Tennessee Volunteers and Peyton Manning 42-17 in the Orange Bowl to give out-going head coach Tom Osborne the best going away present possible.

In national awards, the biggest news was the presentation of the Heisman Trophy to Michigan defensive back Charles Woodsen. Woodsen became the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman in the 63-year history of the trophy.

In the Big 12, Nebraska’s domination of the new league continued. The Cornhuskers ran through Big 12 conference play undefeated for the second straight year (no other team had fewer than three losses over the 1996-97 campaigns), but in 1997 did not stumble in the Big 12 Championship game, mauling Southern Division Champion Texas A & M. Nebraska’s domination did not come without controversy, however, as the Cornhuskers needed a last-second miracle deflection for a touchdown catch against Missouri to stay undefeated.

In the remainder of the Conference, the most pleasant surprises came in the resurgence of Oklahoma State under Bob Simmons and Missouri under Larry Smith. OSU finished 8-4 and ranked 24th after a 33-20 loss to Purdue in the Alamo Bowl, while Missouri completed 1997  with a 7-5 record and a No. 23 ranking after losing, 35-24, to Colorado State in the Holiday Bowl.

Other bowl participants were Texas A & M and Kansas State (Texas Tech qualified for bowl participation, but declined in light of looming NCAA sanctions). Kansas State completed an 11-1 season with a 35-18 win over Syracuse to finish 8th, while Texas A&M finished 9-4 and ranked 20th on the heels of a 29-23 loss to UCLA in the Cotton Bowl.

Disappointments were Texas, which suffered its first losing season since 1990, and Colorado, which failed to have a winning campaign for the first time since 1984.

“Ralphie” and Me

Libby Hall is a centrally located dormitory at the University of Colorado. Close to the Engineering and Business Colleges, the library and central campus are only a short walk away. Libby Hall is also just one block distant from Folsom Field. In the early 1980’s, that block was an open field, and on gameday the ball field became a parking lot, filled with Buff faithful and their version of the collegiate tailgate party.

Not to be confused with the tailgate extravaganzas of the South, the CU pre-game parties were small and quiet by comparison. Still, the revelers came with varied methods of showing their support for the black (or, briefly, blue) and gold. In addition to the expected hats, shirts, and pom-poms, one large mobile home sticks out in my memory. Otherwise non-descript, the owner’s horn was unique. When blown, it would play a few chords of “Glory, glory, Colorado”. Proud of his horn, the owner would blare out the same notes several times an hour. For those in the dorms still sleeping off their Friday nights (not me, of course), the bellowings were more of an annoyance than a rallying cry.

Perched some fifty yards away, my dormmates and I from the second floor east of Libby Hall watched the tailgaters with bemusement. Never, never, never! we would laugh to ourselves. Never would we succumb to such silliness. Season ticket holders after we graduated? Sure. Support the team? Always. But dedicate vehicles to the cause? Nah.

Fast forward to 1997.

My 1989 Honda Accord, loyal and true, and a veteran of several dozen 1500 mile round-trips to Boulder, was ready for retirement. As a replacement, I purchased a Ford Explorer. Earlier in the year, when a new car was still in the discussion stages, our son Adam joked that I should get an Explorer and paint it black and gold.


On August 4th, I drove out of the Ford dealership with my new black Explorer. Soon, the Explorer sported gold trim (tasteful, not gaudy). All that was next to decide was what to put on the personalized license plate. (Author’s note: in Montana, personalized, or “vanity” license plates, carry only a one-time $25.00 charge, and so are more common than in other states.)

There were the obvious options: “CU FAN”, “BUFFS FAN”, “CU BUFFS”, “BUFFS NO. 1”, or even “HSKRHTR”. But “CU” could easily be misconstrued as “see you”, and “Buffs” could easily give the wrong impression. I finally settled on “RALPHIE”. Thus, my Explorer was christened in the name of the Colorado mascot, and my big, black, Buffalo was readied for its first pilgrimage to Boulder.

Heading out for the CU/CSU season opener, I couldn’t help but imagine driving through Boulder and being spotted by some CU freshmen.

They would point to my plates, snicker, then chuckle to themselves: “never, never, never!“.

Some things never change …

Leave a Reply

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