November 26, 2004 – at Nebraska          Colorado 26, Nebraska 20

Senior running back Bobby Purify ran for 130 yards and a touchdown as Colorado stayed alive in the Big 12 title hunt with a 26-20 win over Nebraska in Lincoln.  As much the story of the day, though, as Colorado’s third straight win, was the loss which sent the 5-6 Cornhuskers to its first losing season in 43 years.

The Buffs, who have a long history of having the Cornhuskers jump out on top, set the tone early.  Nebraska recovered an onsides kick to start the game (try and remember the last time the Cornhuskers felt the need to do that!), but could not move the ball, punting after three plays.  Taking over at their own ten-yard line, the Buffs moved 90 yards in 14 plays, with Joel Klatt hitting sophomore wide receiver Blake Mackey for a six-yard touchdown.   A Mason Crosby 37-yard field goal and a nine-yard Bobby Purify scoring run pushed the Colorado advantage to 17-0 early in the second quarter.

Nebraska responded with a two-yard touchdown run by quarterback Joe Dailey, but a Mason Crosby 39-yard field goal put the Buffs up 20-7 as time expired in the second quarter.  Two Crosby field goals in the third quarter upped the lead to 26-7, and the 77,661 on hand, the 268th consecutive sell-out for Nebraska, could only sit and watch the carnage.

With the game well in hand, the Buffs allowed the Cornhuskers to make the contest interesting in the game’s final minutes.  An ill-advised pass by Joel Klatt was intercepted and returned to the Colorado four-yard line.  A touchdown pass from Dailey to Steve Kriewald ensued, making the score 26-13 with 3:53 remaining.  A second four-yard scoring pass, this time from Dailey to Ross Pilkington, came with 1:38 left.   The score at 26-20, Nebraska failed in its attempt at its third onside kick of the day, and the Buffs ran out the clock for the win.

Colorado accumulated 420 yards of total offense, with Joel Klatt passing for 222 yards.  Purify’s 130 yards gave him 1,010 on the season, and over 3,000 (3,009) for his career.  “I really pay it no mind,” said Purify.  “I don’t pay attention to individual statistics.  What matters is if we win – and today, we won.  That’s the big deal.  We came to Nebraska and won.”

While attention could have been paid to Purify’s efforts, or the two interceptions by linebacker Thaddaeus Washington, or the Colorado defense holding Nebraska to 67 yards rushing overall, or even Mason Crosby going 4-4 in field goal attempts, the attention was on the other locker room, closing up shop in November for the first time since 1968.

On the cover of the travel itinerary for the Buff players was the message: “Put the last nail in the coffin”.  Colorado had given post-season ending losses to Kansas and Kansas State in its previous two games, but giving Nebraska loss #6 was special.  “I’m really glad they’ll be home watching everyone else play,” said Buff defensive lineman Matt McChesney.  “I hope it feels good.”  Colorado head coach Gary Barnett was more diplomatic.  “There is such great tradition and fans there,” said Barnett.  “That’s probably a one-year deal.  I wouldn’t get too concerned about that.”

What the Buffs were concerned about was the outcome of the Missouri/Iowa State game.  The Cyclones were playing at home for their first Championship in well, ever.  Missouri entered the contest on a five game losing streak, with nothing to play for.  The result was as improbable as the rest of the Colorado season.

Iowa State kicker Bret Culbertson missed a 24-yard field goal with just over a minute left which would likely have sealed the Cyclone win.  Instead, the game went into overtime tied, 10-10.  Missouri made a field goal on its overtime possession, but Iowa State promptly drove back inside the Tiger ten-yard line on its possession.

Six yards from making a trip to Kansas City as Big 12 North champions, Iowa State, which had blundered away a chance at a win in Boulder in October, failed again.  Cyclone quarterback Bret Meyer lofted a pass towards the right end zone.  Waiting there was Missouri defensive back A.J. Kincade III, who leapt up and intercepted the pass, preserving an unlikely 17-14 Missouri win.

“Isn’t that something?”, said Barnett after the game.  “It just seems like we’re a team of destiny,” said senior defensive lineman Brandon Dabdoub.  “Nobody thought we were going to amount to anything.”

The Buffs had gotten what they asked for – the Iowa Stae loss gave Colorado its third Big 12 North Division title in four years.  The Missouri win also meant the Buffs were to play undefeated and second-ranked Oklahoma for the Big 12 title.  The 7-4 Buffs were installed as 21-point underdogs.  “We’re sort of used to it,” said Barnett.  “We went into the season huge underdogs and found a way to prevail.  We’ll work to try and find a way to prevail next week, too.”

Here is a YouTube video of Bobby Purify’s two long runs early in the second quarter, giving CU a 17-0 lead (thanks to CU at the Gamer Paul for this find):

Payback

There is always something special about beating Nebraska.  The 1986 20-10 game lives on so vividly in my memory that it may as well have been played yesterday.  Only six times (plus one tie) in my 25 years as a Colorado fan had the black and gold emerged victorious over the Husker Nation.  Now Colorado had wins in three of the past four years over the Cornhuskers.  Had the joy faded?  Had the enjoyment been diminished?

Not a chance.

What made the 26-20 win over Nebraska special in 2004 was what it meant in historical terms.  Always the stats junkie, I can’t watch a Colorado game without there being some reference to other games; other players; other seasons.  But this win also represented payback.  The 5-5 Cornhuskers needed a win to become bowl-eligible.  The same scenario had faced the Buffs in 1997 and 2003.  Both seasons came down to the Nebraska game. A win, and Colorado would play on.  A loss, and the season was over.

The results?

1997: Nebraska 27; Colorado 24.  The Buffs finish at 5-6, CU’s first losing season since 1984; first bowl-less season since 1987.

2003: Nebraska 31, Colorado 22.  Colorado stayed home for the holidays with a 5-7 record.

After the Kansas State win, two weeks before the Nebraska game, I was on the phone with Randy.  “Bowl-freakin’-eligible!!” I kept repeating about the now 6-4 Buffs.  Colorado would not have to go to Lincoln in need of a win to play in the post-season.  No possible repeats of the disappointments of 1997 and 2003.  How great was that?

Apparently it was not so great, at least not to others.  Randy pointed out a few days later that in all of the articles he had read online about the Colorado/Kansas State game, very little mention was made of the “bowl-eligibility” of the Buffs.  Attention still focused on winning the Big 12 North, and all the permutations it would take to make that a reality.  Yes, I conceded, bowl-eligibility was not the focus when loftier goals were still obtainable, but I was soooo relieved that it was the other guys – the Cornhuskers, of all people – who would need the win to go bowling.

Now, with the victory in hand, the 7-4 Buffs and their fans were riveted to their televisions, watching the drama unfold between Missouri and Iowa State. There was time to reflect on the enormity of the Buffs’ win.  Or, more precisely, there was time to reflect on the enormity of the Cornhuskers’ loss.

First and foremost, with the Colorado win, two major milestones halted in Lincoln:  the first losing season for Nebraska since 1961; and the first season without a bowl game since 1968.  They were huge records, and Colorado had played its part in sending the now 5-6 Cornhuskers home for the holidays for the first time since the Johnson administration.

“I feel like it hasn’t really set in all the way yet”, Nebraska junior defensive tackle Titus Adams was quoted as saying after the game.  “I know that it is a shock.  There’s just a lot that’s been going on, and it don’t really feel right.”

There was a great deal of “it don’t really feel right” going on in Husker-land.  Starting in 2002, the walls of the empire had begun to crack:

40 consecutive winning seasons: ended in 2002 with a 7-7 record;

33 consecutive nine-win seasons: ended in 2002;

33 consecutive years ranked in final Top 25: ended in 2002;

348 consecutive weeks ranked in Top 25: ended in 2002;

36 consecutive games unbeaten against Oklahoma State: ended in ‘02;

24 consecutive wins over Missouri: ended in ‘03;

And now:

35 consecutive bowl bids: (an NCAA record): ended in 2004; and

42 consecutive non-losing seasons: ended in 2004.

For Colorado, there were also impressive milestones:

The first back-to-back wins in Lincoln since 1951-53; and

The first stretch of winning three-of-four over Nebraska since winning five out of six between 1956 and 1961.

How did this sit with the Husker Nation?  Bill Callahan, Nebraska’s first-year head coach, the first to preside over a losing team since John Kennedy’s first year as President, had no comment on the streaks discontinued after the Colorado loss.  “I have no comment on that,” said Callahan.  “I really don’t.  We did the best we could today.  It was one game, one season … ”.

Tom Shatel, columnist for the Omaha World-Herald, declared that the honeymoon for Callahan was over.  “Six losses don’t kill you in the NFL,” wrote Shatel.  “They don’t happen, period, at Nebraska.”  Shatel concluded his piece: “Merry Christmas.  Happy Next Year.”

In my first six years at Colorado, Nebraska out-scored the Buffs, 254-54, or an average of roughly 42-9.  Bill McCartney had inspired the Buffs to play hard against the Cornhuskers, and Colorado had hung tough for a half or three quarters in his first four seasons, but there were still no wins.

Then, from out of nowhere, came that delicious day in 1986.  20-10.  The Buffs’ first win over Nebraska since 1967.  Now Colorado had three wins over Nebraska in four years, and, with the help of Missouri, three Big 12 North titles in four years.

Was I satisfied? Satiated?  Filled with empathy for the Nebraska faithful?

Not a chance.

Here’s a great YouTube  (with thanks to CU at the Gamer Paul for finding this) with highlights from the game (from a Lincoln television station, so it’s all about the Huskers … which makes it that much more fun) …

Game Notes:

– The 26-7 lead over the Cornhuskers represented the largest lead the Buffs had held over a Nebraska team in Lincoln since 1957 (a 27-0 Buff victory).

– Colorado held Nebraska under 100 yards rushing on the afternoon. It was the first time since 1966 that the Buffs had accomplished that feat (a 21-19 Nebraska win).

– With Bobby Purify’s 130 yards rushing, and Blake Mackey’s 116 yards receiving, the Buffs posted a 100/100 game for the 25th time in school history (and for the third time in 2004 and the second game in a row).

– Other successful runs the Buffs have had in the Nebraska series: 4-1-1 (1948-’53); 5-1 (1956-’61); and 2-0-1 (1989-’91).

6 Replies to “Nebraska – Cornhuskers finish 5-6; numerous records fall”

  1. The 26-7 lead over the Cornhuskers represented the largest lead the Buffs had held over a Nebraska team since 1957 (a 27-0 Buff victory).

    CU led Nebraska 35-3 in 2001 at one point.

    1. My bad.

      It should say, “largest lead the Buffs had held over a Nebraska team – in Lincoln – since 1957”.

      The text has been corrected. Thanks!

  2. This was the only road trip I ever took to see the Buffs.

    I was just out of undergrad and suffering from the tumult of my first year of grad school (and teaching) at CU. As one of my last years in Boulder — and as a die-hard Buff — my father suggested that I take a little vacation to get my mind off of school. His idea of a vacation was a road trip through the Midwest.. to Lincoln, Nebraska! At first, I didn’t realize the significance of the gesture, and I think I might have even laughed. My father had to hear about the “big red” and the many myths of Lincoln for most of his life. (My grandfather was the class of 1932, a Nebraska alum, and sat in his red leather custom-Nebraska recliner every Saturday to watch his and supposedly my father’s Huskers) So after he passed away, my dad thought it was his last opportunity to take a road trip with his son, to make a pilgrimage in honor of the biggest Husker fan in all of Northern California.

    When we arrived in Lincoln, we were both shocked by the lifelessness of the town. The stadium felt like a big metal bleacher-like monster, with fans monotonously chanting “Go. Big. Red.” To tell you the truth, I don’t remember much about the game. Only that it was an odd feeling that Colorado was favored. I guess this started happening after the best game in all time CU history (the 62-36 ass-kicking of Nebraska!), and this turned into something CU fans started to expect. God the pre-Hawkins’ days felt good.

    In any case…the buffs ended up beating Nebraska! And in their own house!

    At the end of the day, before the long drive back to Boulder, I got the impression my father had changed his allegiances. Walking to the care, he looked at me and shook his head, “Good. Now we don’t ever have to come back to this place,” and almost as if he had finally put his father (my grandfather) to rest, he concluded affirmatively, “Go Buffs.”

    Thank God we can all put Nebraska behind us. And now bring the Black and Gold to California this time around.

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