October 4th – Boulder          No. 21 Texas A&M 16,  No. 16 Colorado 10

The headlines from the Denver newspapers the morning after the CU-Texas A&M game spoke volumes:  “Agg-ony of defeat -CU’s hopes for season go poof” proclaimed the Denver Post; “Feeling Buffa-low – League opening loss to Texas A&M sends Neuheisel searching for answer, offense” charged the Rocky Mountain News.

Yes, it was “Agg-ony”, and I was feeling “Buffa-low”.  But more than anything, it was frustration.  The chances were there to win this game.

Rich Coady’s interception of a John Hessler pass with 2:15 remaining ended a Colorado rally as the Buffs lost their inaugural Big 12 game.

Early in the first quarter, the Buffs twice had the ball inside the Aggie ten yard line.  The net result:  three points.  A recovered fumble at the A&M seven yard line produced only a 22 yard field goal by Jeremy Aldrich.  On the second drive, Herchell Troutman was denied on fourth down at the Aggie one yard line. After the Buffs opened the scoring with a 3-0 lead, the Aggies took a 6-3 halftime lead on two second quarter field goals.

Turnovers (two) and penalties (nine) matched the total number of first downs (11) mustered by the CU offense on the day.  The big play of the game came in the third quarter, when Troutman fumbled on the Colorado seven yard line.  Three plays later, Texas A&M had a touchdown and a 13-3 lead. The advantage was 16-3 when Herchell Troutman finally got the Buffs into the end zone on a one yard run with 13:26 still left to play in the game.

Despite the Buffs best efforts to lose the game, CU still had a chance to pull out a win, taking over at its own 21 yard line with 5:28 remaining.  Down 16-10, the Buffs received a huge boost from a spectacular 37 yard catch by Darrin Chiaverini.  Two plays later, however, quarterback John Hessler was picked off.  By the time the Buffs got the ball back, a last second Hail Mary effort was all the Buffs had to hope for.  Hessler’s pass fell far from any Buff, and CU was 2-2 on the season, 0-1 in Big 12 Conference play.

Both teams defense shone on the day (or the offenses for both teams struggled, take your pick). Texas A&M managed only 332 yards of total offense, but that was still better than the 299 yards of total offense put together by the Colorado offense.

The Colorado defense forced six fumbles, but recovered only two.

It was that kind of day for the Buffs …

Yell Practice in Denver

Work on CU at the Game began in the spring and summer of 1996.  If there was a chance that this effort would not be seen to conclusion, or that I would find the time commitment or the overall folly to be too great, it came the weekend of the Texas A&M game in 1997.

No, not at around 5:00 p.m., slowly filing out of Folsom Field on the heels of Colorado’s first conference opening loss in nine seasons.  Rather, it came around 17 hours earlier, on the steps of the Colorado State capitol building in Denver.

Friday midnight?  In Denver?

Yes, for it was at that time and place that the Aggie faithful, some 1,000 strong who had traveled from Texas for the game, conducted yell practice.

For the uninitiated, yell practice is serious business at Texas A & M.  I had first heard about yell practice at the 1995 CU-A&M game at College Station.  In the two year interim, I had read Saturday Afternoon Madness, by Bob Waldestein and Phil Silverman, which chronicles a season traveling cross-country to witness the sights and sounds of college football.  Armed with the knowledge of what I might experience, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to observe even a watered-down version of yell practice (I would finally make it to College Station to witness the event first hand in 2008).

Waldetein and Sliverman, who did make the pilgrimage to College Station, captured the essence of yell practice well.  Picture yourself at Aggie stadium, midnight before the game:

“The entire procession seemed to be led by three guys (there were five in Denver) clad in overalls and carrying axe handles (not present on the Capitol steps).  For a lack of a more descriptive name, we’ll call them the ‘Hee Haw Boys’.

“As we looked on in complete amazement, one of the Hee Haw Boys stepped up to the microphone and let out a thunderous ‘Howdy!’  We nearly jumped out of our shorts when the entire student section responded in unison with an even more deafening ‘Howdy!!”  Then the Hee Haw Boys told some jokes about the University of Texas (a joke told about CU coach Rick Neuheisel is reprised below), during which, the students continually intervened with assorted yelps, whoops, and hisses ……

“If this wasn’t bizarre enough, every now and then, the Hee Haw Boys would start waving their hands in crazy spastic motions, except that they couldn’t have been totally crazy, because within moments, the entire student section would be making the same inexplicable motions.  After finishing their seizures, everyone again assumed the please-sir-may-I-have-another position (leaning forward, hands on knees) and let forth another mighty yell.  Despite being clueless, we were incredibly impressed.”

For Brad, Randy, and I, yell practice on the steps of the Colorado state capitol, though more limited in size, was no less impressive.  (For the record, the Neuheisel joke went along these lines:  Neuheisel has passed on, and is being led through a tour of Hell by the Devil.  Neuheisel is given the choice of three rooms, within one of which he must spend eternity.  The first two have the Texas A&M fans and players, loud and raucous.  The third has a quiet group of men, all waist deep in manure, sipping coffee.  Not wanting to spend eternity with the Aggies, Neuheisel opts for the third room.  Upon Neuheisel’s entry, the Devil closes the door behind the CU head coach, but not before yelling to the assembly – “End of coffee break.  Back to standing on your heads.”  Not exactly Tonight Show material, but it brought a huge laugh from the Aggie faithful, who had probably heard variations on the same joke for years.)

We stood back at a respectful distance during yell practice (our intent was never to disrupt or mock).  The “Hee Haw Boys” would go through some gyrations, the crowd would dutifully repeat the motions in unison, with all involved thereafter emitting the prescribed cheer.  None amongst appeared to think of this as anything but the most serious of business.

At the conclusion of the forty minute demonstration, I must admit I was speechless.  Literally speechless.  This is what college football was all about, I thought.  It made me proud to be a college football fan.  At the same time, it also made me upset to be a Colorado fan.  When I was first able to form words, a block or so away from the Capitol, all I could get out was “we haven’t got shit for tradition at CU”.

A part of me has always known this, of course.  Other than Ralphie running out onto the field to start home games, Colorado has done little to create, enhance, or preserve anything which could be called tradition.  Even with the team rising to national prominence in the 1990’s, no continuity of devotion or emotion ever really emerged.

A part of this problem has to do with a lack of a traditional rival.  The logical choices, Colorado State, Air Force, and Wyoming, all played in the Western Athletic Conference, and were never played on a regular basis.  Conference rivalries, meanwhile, never truly formed.  Nebraska has always had Oklahoma, and Colorado never won on the field against the Huskers often enough to create a real feud.  Kansas? Kansas State? Iowa State?  Puhleeese.

The other major factor in Colorado’s failure to create tradition had to do with its decent, but spotty history.  When CU was good, either Nebraska or Oklahoma (or both, as in 1971, when CU finished No. 3 in the polls, only to find itself behind the Huskers and Sooners in the rankings) were just a little better.  On other occasions, CU has been bad.  The continuity has not been there, and so the support and subsequent tradition has been lacking.

Witness the “Decade of Excellence“, a book describing the period from 1985-95, illustrated by J. David Kennebeck and Jeffrey M. Potts.  During “Colorado’s Finest Football Era”, as described by Kennebeck and Potts, CU never had a season where each of the home games were sold out.  Not once.  During that span, Colorado had 66 home games, but only 29 of were sell-outs.  This in a stadium of a capacity of less than 52,000, or less than half the size of Michigan’s stadium in Ann Arbor.

So why is there a lack of support, even when the Buffs are consistently good?

One reason was noted in the Buffalo Sports News (Vol. 6, No. 5) the week after the 1997 Texas A&M game.  Despite temperatures over 80 degrees for home games against Wyoming and Texas A&M, and despite the Buffs coming off of three straight seasons of ten wins or better, neither game was a sell out.  Two large sections were noticeably vacant in the student section the Aggie game, prompting the reporter from BSN to quote from an article in the Boulder based entertainment weekly called InSite.  The InSite article had been headlined “The Buff Report:  Buffs Simply Out of Fashion”.  Apparently, there was just too much else to do in Boulder to merit six afternoons of support a year from its students.

Perhaps it would take adversity followed by success to shake up the lethargic student body.  After all, most of the students had never seen fewer than 10 wins in a season, much less a losing campaign.

Resurgent Oklahoma State lay in wait in Stillwater to administer the adversity portion of the equation.

Game Notes …

– The victory for the Aggies was the first for Texas A&M against Colorado (the Buffs won the first two games in the series, played in 1995 and 1996).

– Safety Ryan Sutter continued to lead the Colorado defense, picking up 15 more tackles. He was joined by senior linebacker Mike Phillips, who also had 15 tackles against Texas A&M. Phillips also contributed the Buffs’ only interception on the afternoon.

– Senior safety Ryan Black, who set a school record for tackles by a defensive back in 1996, with 154, had a season-high 12 tackles against Texas A&M. In 1996, Black had eight games with 12 or more tackles.

– John Hessler passed for 194 yards against the Aggies, his third straight game with less than 200 yards passing.

– Two Buffs made their first career starts against Texas A&M, both on defense. Junior Brandon Southward started at linebacker, while red-shirt freshman Brady McDonnel started at defensive end.

– Texas A&M would go on post a 9-4 record in 1997, winning the Big 12 South division. Losses to Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game and to UCLA in the Cotton Bowl dropped the Aggies to a No. 20 final ranking.


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