September 13th – at Michigan                     No. 14 Michigan 27,  No. 8 Colorado 3

Hail, No!

During the week leading up to the rubber game of the three-game match between Colorado and Michigan, much was made of the first two games in the series.

The Hail Mary pass from Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook in 1994 received considerable air time, as did the “Fail Mary” pass thrown by quarterback Koy Detmer to end the 1996 Michigan game.  For an intersectional contest being played for only the fourth time (Michigan defeated Colorado 31-0 in 1974), the feeling of a “rivalry” was certainly there.  ESPN had its Gameday crew on hand Saturday morning, and ABC had the dean of college football broadcasting, Keith Jackson, there for the national broadcast.  (The color commentator was legendary Bob Griese, put in the unenviable position of critiquing his son Brian’s first starting performance).

Michigan came into the game with questions of their own.  The last Division 1-A team to kickoff its season, the 1997 team was untested.  The 1992-96 records were inauspicious – four consecutive four-loss seasons.  The quarterback battle between Scott Dreisbach and Brian Griese was not settled in Griese’s favor until the week leading up to the CU game.  Other than cornerback Charles Woodson, a consensus All-American who moonlighted as a kick returner and wide receiver, there were few stars on the Wolverine sideline.

It would be left to the University of Colorado to make Michigan look like world beaters.  In the process, Colorado allowed the Michigan marching band perform a season’s worth of “Hail to the Victors” in one afternoon.

The 27-3 final score fairly sums up the day.

The largest home-opening crowd in Michigan history, 106,474, went home very happy, as the Wolverines dominated all phases of the game.  If not for Jason Lesley’s 52 yard field goal late in the third quarter, the Buffs team-record string of 101 games without being shutout (dating back to a 7-0 loss to Nebraska in 1988) would have come to an end.

This is not to say the Buffs were without hope during the day, however.  Receiving the opening kickoff, Herchell Troutman burst up the middle for eight yards on the Buffs first offensive play.  For those of us buying into the concept of balancing the CU offensive attack by utilizing a two back set, the next step seemed obvious.  Show the Wolverines that Colorado intended to control the line of scrimmage.  Run the ball for the first down, reduce the crowd noise, and set up the passing lanes.

Instead, the Buffs shunned the run.  Two incompletions and a short punt by sophomore Nick Pietsch later, and Michigan was in business on the Buff side of the 50.  The ball would remain on that side of the field for most of the remainder of the first half.

Still, Colorado was still in the game until the waning moments of the first half, with the score at 7-0, Michigan.

Michigan managed to partially block a Nick Pietsch punt with 15 seconds remaining before halftime, taking over at midfield.  Inexplicably, the Buffs left two-way man Charles Woodson all alone in the Buff secondary.  Griese connected with Woodson on a 29-yard gain, allowing Michigan kicker Kraig Baker to put through a 37 yard field goal as the first half expired.

10-0 at half, but any momentum the Buffs might have carried with them to the locker room (after all, the Buffs had trailed CSU by seven a week earlier, and had come out like gangbusters to start the second half) with a 0-7 deficit had dissipated.

To start the second half, instead of repeating the heroics of the CSU game by returning an interception for a touchdown, the Buffs allowed Michigan to put together an 11-play, 89 yard drive for a 17-0 lead.  The remainder of the game was a demonstration of the effectiveness of the Michigan running game, combined with the inability of either quarterback John Hessler or quarterback Adam Bledsoe (seeing his first collegiate action) to produce a sustained drive.

The aftermath of the Buffs’ debacle in Michigan was a fall from 8th to 15th in the Associated Press poll.  It could have been worse.   Colorado’s fall in the polls was lessened by upsets of 11th-ranked Texas (66-3 by previously 0-2 UCLA -at Austin), 12th-ranked Notre Dame (17-28 to Purdue), and 13th-ranked Miami (12-23 to Arizona State).

Here is the YouTube video of the game, courtesy of CU at the Gamer Paul:


Down and Out?

The end of the world?  Perhaps not.

The cover of the following week’s Sporting News, which had tabbed CU as the preseason number one team in the nation, proclaimed:  “ONE DOWN … but not out”.  In their College Football Report, TSN reporters Tom Dienhart and Mike Huguenin outlined a “prescription” for what would “cure” the Buffs over the course the remainder of the 1997 season:  1.  “Run, Buffaloes, run” commenting on the promised, but as yet undelivered, improved running game; 2.  “Compose yourself, John” noting that it was mandatory for quarterback John Hessler to regain his composure.  Hessler’s four interception performance against the Wolverines of helped contribute to the Buffs smallest yardage output (224 total yards) since 1992; and 3.  “Hold that line” referring to the necessity of the offensive line taking control of the line of scrimmage in upcoming contests.

There was consensus on what needed to be done.  Now the Buffs had a bye week to figure out how to accomplish what needed to be done.

Mixed Emotions

Saturday, September 13, 1997, had been circled on my calendar for many months, but not just for the Michigan game.

That Saturday also was the wedding day for my best friend, Brad Geiger.  Brad married Shawna some four hours after the Michigan debacle had come to a close.  The wedding party gathered in Shawn’s hometown of Cheyenne, Wyoming, for the nuptials, with the 10:00 a.m. kickoff a part of the official itinerary.  A crowd of Buff faithful, once numbering around 40, dwindled to three by the end.  If Colorado was to suffer its worst non-conference defeat since 1984 (a 54-10 thrashing at the hands of Notre Dame), it was perhaps for the best that it took place on an otherwise glorious day.  Our sadness was quickly replaced by joy for the newlyweds.

Brad and Shawna, though, had a honeymoon to look forward to.  The rest of us had a bye week.

The rest of us had two weeks to wonder whether the Michigan game was an aberration, or a precursor of bad days to come.

Game Notes –

– Senior safety Ryan Sutter set a school record for tackles by a defensive back in the Michigan game, finishing with 28 on the afternoon.

– The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak for Colorado in games played on grass, and marked the first time since 1991 in which the Buffs did not win the first two games of the season.

– Jason Lesley’s 52-yard field goal was the longest of his career, and was the only successful field goal for Lesley all season (the other four misses were from 47-53 yards in length).

– John Hessler’s four interceptions against Michigan proved to be a season high.

– Three Buffs earned their first career starts against Michigan: junior wide receiver Darrin Chiaverini (who had one catch for five yards against the Wolverines); sophomore fullback Tavon Cooper (used primarily as a blocking back, Cooper would only have four carries all season); and sophomore offensive tackle Shane Cook (unfortunately, Cook suffered a torn MCL late in the first quarter, and would miss the next six games)

– Michigan would go on to an undefeated season in 1997, sharing the national championship with Nebraska. Defensive back Charles Woodson would go on to become the first defensive player to ever win the Heisman trophy.


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