No. 9 Colorado v. No. 3 Texas – Big 12 Championship – Irving, Texas


The Bowl Championship Series, with a mixture of polls, computer computations, and a little confusion, had taken a body blow with the CU upset of Nebraska.  The Cornhuskers had been ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings, with undefeated Miami ranked No. 2.  Had Nebraska taken care of business against the Buffs, and handled the (presumed) rematch with Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game, the computers would have matched the best two teams in the nation.

The Colorado victory, however, set in motion a series of upsets wherein a number of title contenders had the opportunity to make reservations for the Rose Bowl, only to falter.  The first to fall was Oklahoma, which was surprised at home by Oklahoma State, 16-13, the day after the Colorado/Nebraska game.

The Big 12 upsets paved the way for 9-1 Florida, now ranked No. 2 behind Miami. On December 1st, top-ranked Miami took care of its business, holding off No. 14 Virginia Tech, 26-24, to finish its regular season as the nation’s only undefeated team.  But Florida could not follow through, falling at home to No. 5 Tennessee, 34-32.

The Florida/Tennessee game ended just before kickoff of the Colorado/Texas game.  As a result, the third-ranked Longhorns knew, as they ran onto the Texas Stadium field to face the Buffs, that a win over Colorado would mean a bid to the Rose Bowl and an opportunity to play for the national championship.

Colorado, though, was not interested in other team’s opportunities.  These Buffs had dreams of their own.

December 1st – Texas Stadium – Big 12 Championship Game

No. 9 Colorado 39, No. 3 Texas 37

Colorado running back Chris Brown followed up his record six touchdown performance against Nebraska with a three touchdown effort against Texas as the Buffs defeated the Longhorns, 39-37, to win CU’s first and only Big 12 title.

The Buffs turned four turnovers by Longhorn quarterback Chris Simms into 26 first-half points in eliminating yet another contender for the national championship.

The first quarter was dominated early on by the Longhorns, looking very much like a team destined to play for the national title.  Freshman running back Cedric Benson scored on a five-yard run to cap a six-play, 85-yard drive on the Longhorns’ first possession.  Two series later, Texas was again deep in CU territory, looking to pad its 7-0 lead.  Memories of the 41-7 rout of the Buffs by the Longhorns in October were being relived by the 7,000 CU faithful in the highly-partisan crowd.  Texas fans waved roses.

Then, the play of the game.

Junior linebacker Aaron Killion picked off a Chris Simms pass, returning it 73 yards to the Texas 12-yard line.  Three plays later, Chris Brown scored on a ten-yard run to tie the score and shift the momentum to the Buffs.  The Brown touchdown, with 2:21 left in the first quarter, tied the score at 7-7, and set in motion a 29-3 run by the Buffs to put CU in control.

Jeremy Flores gave the Buffs a lead they would never relinquish with a 39-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter.  Simms’ second interception, this one by linebacker Joey Johnson, set up a 64-yard scoring drive by the Buffs, highlighted by a 51-yard run by Bobby Purify.  Flores missed the extra point after Brown’s one-yard touchdown, but the Buffs were up 16-7.

After a Texas field goal, the Buffs received a gift from Chris Simms in the form of a fumble.  Simms was sacked by DeAndre Fluellen, with the Texas quarterback’s fumble being recovered at the Longhorn 22-yard line by Matt McChesney.  It took the Buffs only one play to score, with Bobby Pesavento hitting Daniel Graham for a 22-yard touchdown, putting the Buffs up 22-7.

It took the Buffs only three more plays to score again, as on the third play of the Longhorns’ next possession, Chris Simms was picked off again, this time by safety Medford Moore.  The Buff sophomore returned the interception 64 yards for a touchdown, and with 2:32 left in the first half, almost exactly a full quarter after being behind 7-0, Colorado had a 29-10 lead.

As had been the case with Nebraska a week earlier, however, the game was not done.  The Longhorns rallied behind quarterback Major Applewhite, subbing for the injured and ineffective Simms.  Applewhite hit B.J. Johnson on a 79-scoring strike moments after Moore’s interception, giving the Longhorn faithful hope for the second half.

The Buffs turned a 29-17 halftime edge into a 36-17 lead early in the third quarter on Chris Brown’s third touchdown run, this one from 11 yards out.  But it almost wasn’t enough as Texas scored the next 13 points of the game.

After two field goals, the Buffs were nursing a 36-23 lead with 9:10 to play.  On a fake punt gone awry, backup quarterback Robert Hodge took the snap and promptly passed the ball to Texas’ Roderick Barnes, who returned the interception 54 yards for a score to cut the Buffs’ lead to 36-30.  It was a game again.

It was then left for the Buffs, who had overcome adversity and negative press, to silence the critics one last time.

A 16-play, 51-yard drive, which included a successful fourth-and-one quarterback sneak by Bobby Pesavento and a personal foul against Texas for roughing CU punter Mark Mariscal, took all but 1:58 off of the game clock.  The time consuming drive was culminated by a 43-yard field goal by Jeremy Flores, giving the Buffs a 39-30 advantage.  A final touchdown pass by Applewhite to Johnson brought the Longhorns to within two points, 39-37.  But there were only 31 seconds to play, and when Daniel Graham fell on the ensuing onsides kick, Colorado was the Big 12 Champion for 2001.

“When we left the hotel I told them we were a team of destiny,” said Gary Barnett.  “We have great resolve, spirit, and team chemistry.  We’ve had the attitude that there’s no excuse for not winning.”

Chris Brown, who rushed for 182 yards on 33 carries, shared the spotlight with Bobby Pesavento and Jeremy Flores.  Pesavento, who outshone counterpart Chris Simms with his solid effort, was actually injured in the second quarter but refused to come out.  “I didn’t want to come out of this game,” said Pesavento, who received a pain-killing shot at halftime.  “I would have done anything to stay.”

Jeremy Flores saved his coach from some embarrassing questions after the game.  Flores’ second field goal, coming from 43 yards out with 1:58 to play, gave CU its winning margin, allowing Gary Barnett to joke about the ill-advised fake punt with 9:10 left.  “I’m thankful for Jeremy Flores kicking that field goal to save my butt,” said Barnett.  Flores, who had lined up for a 38-yard field goal before the Buffs were called for delay of game, was unshaken, just as the Buffs had been all season.  “I was just telling myself, I said, ‘Jeremy, this is what you’ve been waiting for your whole life.  You’re prepared for this, let’s do it, let’s knock it down,’ ” Flores said.

He did, and the Buffs were Big 12 Champions.

Conference Call

Brad couldn’t wait.

As Texas took time out to stop the clock and ice CU kicker Jeremy Flores, the phone rang.  I was watching the Colorado/Texas game at home in Bozeman with Randy, and hadn’t expected to talk with Brad until after the contest.  I had spoken with Brad at halftime, and all I remember from that conversation was saying that I was as nervous as anyone could rightfully be with their team up 19 points at the break.  The pessimist in me feared Major Applewhite and the spark he had provided the Longhorns just before the half, and what that might mean for second half momentum.

Now the Buffs were lining up for what would be a game-clinching field goal.  Three points which would give CU a two-score lead with less than two minutes to play, and Brad couldn’t wait.  He wanted to be on the phone with Scott and I as the Buffs clinched their first Big 12 championship.  He got Scott connected on a conference call, and we watched together as Jeremy Flores kicked his way into CU football lore.

The feeling of euphoria was tempered as Applewhite quickly drove Texas down the field.  The Buffs’ defense held off the Longhorns long enough that everyone in the stadium knew that a Texas comeback would hinge on a successful onsides kick.  There was silence on the phone line after Texas scored with 31 seconds left and took the field for the onsides effort.

It was only fitting that Daniel Graham, one of the most heralded Buffs (he would go on to be honored as the nation’s best tight end with the John Mackey award two weeks later) would recover the onsides kick.  Game over.  One very satisfying kneel down by quarterback Bobby Pesavento later, the Buffs were not only winners, but champions.

Our feelings as fans were echoed by the players.  Senior guard Andre Gurode, looking up through the hole in the roof of Texas Stadium, stared at the full moon.  “Is it really true?” Gurode asked no one in particular.  “I’ve never seen anything so beautiful in my life.”    Defensive lineman DeAndre Fluellen rushed back to the locker room right after the final gun, only to return with a video recorder.  “And 50 years from now, when I’m sitting around with my kids and grandkids watching this tape,” Fluellen said, “this night will look every bit as good as it does right now.  It’s better than I ever could have imagined.”

“Better than anyone could have imagined”.  A team which had gone 3-8 the season before, and which had fallen at home in its opener against an unheralded Fresno State team, had no reason to believe that an opportunity to play for a championship was possible.  But this team believed in itself. Winners of five in a row, including the last two against teams ranked in the top three in the nation, the 10-2 Buffs were Big 12 champions.  Colorado had earned the right to represent the conference in the Fiesta Bowl.

Was there any reason to expect more?  All of the sudden, with the rash of losses by title contenders, the Buffs were in a position to look beyond Tempe.  “Right here, right now, there is no better college football team in the country,” said senior safety Michael Lewis.  “I know it in my heart: The Colorado Buffaloes are No. 1.”

Brad, Scott, Randy and I, connected by phone lines and the ABC television network to the celebration going on down on the Texas Stadium floor, were not about to argue.

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

Here is a YouTube highlight reel for the entire 2001 season … 

Game Notes:

– The Buffs held on to the ball for 35:09 of possession time, taking 53 rushing attempts. It was the highest possession time tally of the season.

– With the 2001 title, Colorado could now boast a conference championship in 11 of the 12 decades the program had played football, dating back to the 1890’s. The lone exception was the 1950’s, a decade dominated by Oklahoma, both in conference and nationally.

– Tight end Daniel Graham, as noted, went on to win the 2001 John Mackey Award, given to the nation’s best tight end. Graham was also voted a first-team AP All-American, and was joined on that squad by center Andre Gurode. The pair represented the first time Colorado had two first-team All-Americans in the same season since 1996, when linebacker Matt Russell and offensive lineman Chris Naeole were so honored.


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