September 23rd – at Georgia           No. 9 Georgia 14, Colorado 13

Freshman backup quarterback Joe Cox connected with tight end Martrez Milner on a 20-yard touchdown pass with 46 seconds remaining in the game, lifting the 9th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs to a 14-13 win over Colorado. Cox was inserted late in the third quarter in place of an ineffective Matthew Stafford, leading Georgia to two fourth quarter touchdowns before a crowd of 92,746 at Sanford Stadium in Athens.

After Ralphie led the Buffs onto the field to start the game, the underdog Buffs continued the stampede. Two long first quarter drives, though, netted only a 3-0 lead. Colorado’s first drive came up empty after Mason Crosby’s 26-field goal attempt was blocked. After holding the Bulldogs on their first drive, the Buffs quickly moved downfield again. An apparent touchdown was called back, however, when the Buffs were called for a false start penalty. Colorado did put points on the board, though, when Crosby hit from 26 yards out to give the Buffs a 3-0 lead.

Colorado stretched the lead to 10-0 on a one yard sneak by quarterback Bernard Jackson early in the second quarter, culminating a 63- yard drive. Georgia’s only scoring threat of the first half came up empty when a 53-yard field goal attempt by kicker Brandon Coutu was wide right.

The second half began well for the Buffs, when sophomore defensive tackle George Hypolite sacked Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, causing a fumble George Hypolite recovered. Four plays later, the Buffs were up 13-0 on a 36-yard Crosby field goal.

Colorado continued to move the ball in the second half, but did not score again. Late in the third quarter, Cox replaced Stafford at quarterback for the Bulldogs. Cox helped the Bulldogs avoid their first shutout since 1995 in leading the comeback. Georgia’s first score came with 9:11 remaining, when Cox connected with fullback Brannan Southerland on a 23-yard screen pass for a score.

Twice in the fourth quarter, Georgia drove inside the Buffs’ ten yard line, only to turn the ball over on downs. Then, with less than two minutes remaining, Georgia took over at the Colorado 43-yard line, setting the stage for Cox’s winning throw to Milner in the back of the Colorado end zone.

“It was a heck of a bullet we dodged,” said Milner, and the statistics backed Milner’s assessment. Colorado led Georgia in rushing yards, total offense, and time of possession. The Buffs posted 159 yards of total offense in the first quarter alone, but could only post three points.

At the end of the warm afternoon in Athens, Georgia was 4-0, Colorado was 0-4.

“This loss tears your guts out,” said Dan Hawkins after the game. “We did not come here to just show up, we came here to play. We came here to win.”

The question now was where the Buffs would go from here. Colorado was 0-4 for the first time since 2000, and on an eight game losing streak for the first time since the 1963-64 Buffs lost ten games in a row. Mired in the longest losing streak in 42 years may have been reason for despair, but the Buffs and their coach remained upbeat. “We’ve got to move on to our Big 12 schedule,” said running back Hugh Charles, who rushed for 72 yards on 18 carries against the Bulldogs, but also had a costly fourth quarter fumble. “We still have a lot of goals to accomplish, and we can take a lot from this game.” Echoed Dan Hawkins, “We are never down. We are fighters and not quitters.”

If Colorado was to start fresh in conference play, their next opponent would give the Buffs and their fans a good opportunity to see if the progress over the past few weeks would continue. The Buffs would open Big 12 play on the road, against Missouri. The Tigers were the last team the Buffs defeated in 2005 (by a 41-12 margin), but had won six of seven games since the two squared off in Boulder, including a 4-0 mark in 2006. With a 31-6 win over Ohio the same afternoon the Buffs were in Athens, the Tigers moved into the Top 25 for the first time since 2004.

If the Buffs were to make a statement that the effort against Georgia was a sign of things to come, and not an apparition, the Missouri game would be a great opportunity. A win would give Colorado something to play for – a fourth Big 12 North title in five years.

A loss would erase the sense of optimism generated against the highly rated Georgia Bulldogs.

The Quiet Bus Ride

Georgia had been on my mind for several months before Ralphie led the Colorado players onto the field at Sanford Stadium in Athens. My longtime best friend, Brad, had suggested the road trip to the Georgia game in the spring of 2006. I was willing to go, but my Bozeman travel buddy, Randy, had long before expressed a desire to make the pilgrimage to Lincoln in 2006 for the Nebraska game.

Unable to convince either of my friends of the merits of the other’s wishes, I took the only reasonable step.

I agreed to make both trips.

Brad and I traveled to the Georgia game as part of a group package put together by Boulder Travel. I flew down from Bozeman to Denver, where I met up with Brad and a plane load of Colorado fans. My initial reaction to the sight of so many Buff fans was that of surprise. I found it hard to believe that there were this many fellow sufferers willing to run the Bulldog gauntlet. I had to remind myself that most of these fans were in the same predicament as Brad and I – we hadn’t dreamed we would be flying 1,500 miles to support an 0-3 Buff team against a 3-0 (and 9th ranked) opponent.

The die had been cast.

My goals for the weekend were modest. Brad and I set out to have as much fun as we could, soaking up an SEC venue for the first time. My goal for the team was even more straight forward – score. Colorado was averaging all of 7.7 points per game, and Georgia had shut out its last two opponents. Putting just a few points on the board seemed like a worthy pursuit, regardless of the final score.

The first goal – having fun – was easily met. It was of some comfort that we traveled with a group, and it turned out that the Buff fans were great. On the trip out, I met a couple from Arvada who had been Colorado season ticket holders for over 40 years (40 years!). I learned that several of their 26 grandchildren (and two great-grandchildren) would be meeting them for the weekend. The Boulder Travel staff was enthusiastic and helpful (the bus drivers, both to and from the airport and to and from the game, were a pain, but that’s another story).

The best part of the trip, though, was the pre-game and game interaction with the local fans. In Athens, Georgia, southern hospitality is not just a catch-phrase. Brad and I wanted to take in the SEC tailgaiting experience, so after a brief stop at the CU Alumni Association breakfast (the game kicked off at 12:30), we were on our way.

We were not disappointed.

We didn’t wander far before we realized we were nowhere near Boulder, Colorado, either in color or scale. Of course, with a stadium which held 93,000, we expected to encounter more tailgaters than we would at a Colorado home game, but we were astonished at the quantity and quality of the party. Red, naturally, was everywhere, and the dollars and creativity devoted to the venture demonstrated that tailgating in the SEC was serious business. The Georgia Bulldog logo was emblazoned everywhere – on tents, flags, grills, coolers and vehicles – not to mention the shirts, hats, and other adornments worn by the locals.

Brad and I made friends quickly. We were offered beer and food, and were greeted warmly by almost everyone. Yes, there were a few suspicious looks along the way, but when your opposition is a 27-point underdog, there was little need for posturing. Our journey through the old part of campus, past the law school and the library, was slow and relaxed.

The game itself brought about two new friends. Two Georgia gals sat down behind us. One was a Georgia graduate; the other an Auburn transplant who rooted for the Bulldogs except when they played her beloved Tigers. Both were in their mid-twenties, and were more than willing to share in the history and lore of Georgia football.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Colorado led for most of the game. This gave Brad and I the chance to be gracious as our Georgia friends suffered. In the last minute, though, after the Bulldogs pulled out the win, our hosts – to their credit – remained friendly. They acknowledged that we had been good company, so much so that they had long since forgotten their early plans to abandon their assigned seats in favor of more friendly environs. They readily accepted our invitation to show them an equally hospitable time if they came to Boulder for the Colorado/Georgia rematch in 2010.

The southern hospitality continued after the game. Yes, the home team had won, making it easier for the red-clad fans streaming out of Sanford Stadium to utter the perfunctory “good game”, “good playing”, and “hang in there”. Still, I truly believe that had Colorado won the game, we would have received much of the same treatment.

The most disappointing part of the afternoon came on the two hour bus ride back to our hotel (don’t get me started on the bus drivers!). The Colorado contingent at the game, some 3,100 in all, had been loud and proud throughout the game. For just a few precious moments during the game, I had allowed myself to dream of what the upset win would feel like – singing the school fight song multiple times on the bus and plane, hanging out in the hotel bar with fellow revelers, cheering with every ESPN replay of the highlights, proudly displaying my Buff Club visor back in Bozeman (the freebie we received with “CU v. Georgia, 9/23/06” stitched on the side).

Instead, the bus ride was very quiet. These fans – Buff fanatics just like me – understood how close the Buffs had come to an historic win. Exhausted from the 86 degree heat (coupled with humidity foreign to most of us), drained from the stress and strain of the three hour battle, the Buff faithful silently took their seats, each of us staring out the window at the slow moving traffic, contemplating what might have been.

Later that night, Brad and I were walking back to the hotel from Corky’s, a local rib joint, where we had feasted on all-you-can eat ribs. It was dark, but still warm and muggy. “You know”, I said to Brad as we walked across the grass in front of the Marriott, “I guess we had about as much fun here as we can have with a one-point loss.”

Brad turned and smiled. “Yea,” he said, patting me on the back. “You got that right”.

Game Notes –

– The crowd of 92,746 represented the third largest crowd to see Colorado play, surpassed only by two games in Ann Arbor against Michigan (1994 and 1997)

– Ralphie’s trip to Athens represented the first time the Buffs’ mascot left the state of Colorado since Ralphie III went to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to help the Buffs defeat the Cowboys, 41-17, in 1989.

– Hugh Charles had 72 yards rushing against Georgia, and 22 yards receiving. His revised totals moved him up to 40th on the all-time rushing list, and into the top 100 on the all-time receiving list.

– Colorado scored only three points in the second half against Georgia, and that came after a one-yard drive. Still, Mason Crosby’s third quarter field goal represented the first second half points for the Buffs in 2006.


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