Reflections at Fifty

On Monday, I hit a half century.

Fifty years on planet Earth, with about 2/3 of those years wearing the black-and-gold.

Since I became a Colorado fan in 1980 – my freshman year in Boulder – Colorado has posted 16 winning seasons (counting 1986, when the Buffs went 6-5, but lost their bowl game), and 16 losing seasons.

And the Buffs are right back where I started.

In 1980, Colorado went 1-10. Included in that season of infamy was a 56-14 loss to UCLA in the season opener (it was 56-0 at halftime), the record-shattering 82-42 loss to Oklahoma, and the mind-numbing loss to Drake (for the second year in a row).

Sound anything like what the Buff Nation is enduring this fall?

The bad news:  After posting a 1-10 record in 1980, Colorado would not post a winnning season until 1985, my sixth season as a Buff fan.

The good news: This year’s CU freshmen should not have to wait that long.

With Age Comes Wisdom … 

Okay, I’m not really sure about that particular phrase. Either it isn’t true, or I have yet to reach the age where it does become true.

That being said, I will state that I have confidence that this coaching staff will be able to turn things around in Boulder, and let you decide if this fifty year old knows what he is talking about.

Was I devastated when the Buffs couldn’t make five yards at the end of regulation against Cal, when those five yards would have meant a touchdown and a victory instead of a game-tying field goal and a loss in overtime? Yes.

Was I crushed when the Buffs couldn’t make five yards at the end of regulation against Washington State, when those five yards would have meant a first down and a few kneel downs before celebrating a victory? Yes.

Do I believe these are errors which will be corrected in time by this coaching staff?

Yes. Yes, I do.

Jon Embree was critcized in some corners for his post-game comments after the frustrating loss, in which the Buffs turned a 27-17 loss into a 31-27 defeat in the last few minutes of the game. Still emotional after the game, Embree was asked what he told his players after the game.

“I asked them: ‘When is it going to be enough? When is enough, enough? You put in all this work, you do all this stuff that you have done from spring ball to training camp … For this? This is what we did the work for?’ “, Embree said. “So when is it enough? When are they going to get tired of losing? When are they going to get tired of finding a way to lose?

“Because you know what? This staff, we’ve been here for five weeks, and I’m tired of it. So if you’ve been here for five years, you’ve got to be tired of it, too.’ ”

While some may not have appreciated Embree’s blunt comments, his players did.

“We know where he’s coming from, we know what he meant by that,” said senior quarterback Tyler Hansen. “He wasn’t trying to attack us at all. He was trying to relay a mesage to us. We know that”.

“I think it just shows that he’s sick of losing. I definitely am, too,” said senior wide receiver Jason Espinoza. “Coach Embree tells us we’re a good team, and that we need to just know it, and be confident about it. Once we’re confident, we’ll be able to execute.”

When will the turnaround come? Will it come as early as this November, when Colorado has some winnable games upon which to build some momentum for 2012? Will it come next fall, when the Buffs will have seven home games, including five Pac-12 home games? Or perhaps in 2013, when Colorado will not have to leave the state of Colorado in non-conference play?

The “if” is not hard to predict; it’s the “when” that is elusive. Colorado is enduring just the second six-straight losing season streak in 121 years of college football. What Buff fans are enduring now is the anomaly, not the norm.

And it says here that Jon Embree is the right guy to turn things around.

But, I’ve been wrong before …

The year: 2006.

The date: September 10th, the day after Colorado had fallen to 0-2 in Dan Hawkins’ debut as head coach.

The Buffs had opened, inexplicably, with a 19-10 loss to Montana State. That disaster was followed by a listless 14-10 loss to Colorado State. The 0-2 start, coupled with four losses to end the 2005 season (including the 70-3 mauling by Texas in the Big 12 championship game) had left the program with its first six-game losing streak since – you guessed it – 1980.

Still, the Buff Nation kept the faith. The Boulder Daily Camera columnist Neill Woelk penned an article entitled, “Nothing has changed at CU, Hawk still the right guy”. The Camera Sports writer opened his column with the statement: “Feel free to clip this column this morning. Tuck it away in a safe place, then check back with me in a couple of years.” Woelk’s opinion was that Dan Hawkins was still the “right guy” for Colorado, going on to list how Hawkins was the right coach, with the right attitude to correct the mediocrity which had become the CU football program.

Yes, Woelk conceded, the Buffs had won four division titles in the past five seasons, but he went on to correctly point out that those rings were earned as much the result of the slides of the Nebraska and Kansas State programs (not to mention the inability of Iowa State to find a reliable kicker) as it was any heroics of the home team. Nebraska had shocked the college football world some two seasons earlier by removing Frank Solich before a bad situation had gotten worse, but the move made the Cornhuskers dip into the pool of the common a short one, and Nebraska was again a nationally ranked team.

I point this out not to belittle Neill, for whom I have the upmost respect. Rather, I bring it up to point out that, at the time, I was in full agreement with Neill. I thought Dan Hawkins was going to bring his success at Boise State to Boulder, and take the program to the next level.

And just how well did that work out for the Buff Nation?

With Age Comes Patience

I’ve been in the depths. I’ve been with a program when there were more fans in Folsom Field wearing the red of Oklahoma or Nebraska than the black-and-gold of Colorado. I’ve been frustrated with come-from-ahead losses, and embarrassed with losses to inferior oppostion.

I’ve also been to the heights. I’ve been with a program when they played for a national championship, and been a mainstay in the national polls. I’ve been thrilled by come-from-behind victories, and exhilarated by unlikely victories over superior opposition.

My favorite game? The 20-10 upset over Nebraska in 1986. No other game comes close. That signature win set the stage for everything good which came to the program over the subsequent ten seasons.

Other favorites (in no particular order): the two trips to the Orange Bowl to play for the national championship; “The Catch” against Michigan in 1994; the 62-36 demolition of No. 2 Nebraska in 2001; and every other victory over Nebraska.

My least favorite game? The 2006 loss to Montana State. Again, no other game comes close. Even if Mike Bohn were to schedule Montana State for every “TBA” non-conference game over the next ten years, and even if the Buffs won every single game in that series by a score of 56-7, I would still hear about the 2006 game here in Bozeman.

Other forgettable games (in no particular order): the 52-7 debacle in Lincoln in 1992; the 70-3 loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game (with the other Big 12 title game losses thrown in as well); the 82-42 game in 1980; and the loss to Drake the following week.

If there is one thing that the 16 losing seasons have taught me, it is to appreciate the 16 winning seasons.

Patience does not come easy. Faith in better datys to come is difficult to preach in the midst of a road losing streak with no end in sight.

But I will continue to have patience. I will continue to have faith.

The Buffs will be back, and the victories will be all the sweeter for having endured the losses.

So says this old guy of 50 …

17 Replies to “Reflections on Turning Fifty”

  1. Happy birthday! You do a really great job with this site, and I’m looking forward to following some winning seasons on here soon!

  2. Happy Birthday Stuart! We share the same birthday, but I have just a few years on you. Moved here in ’85 and have been a Buff fan ever since. After beating NU 20-10 in ’86 I was hooked. Thanks for perspective!

  3. Stuart:

    Happy Birthday. Started at CU the same year and turn 50 in a few months. I agree with all of you observatons but sitting in the Orange Bowl after the loss to Notre Dame for the National Championship is the single worst CU experience I have had, only compounded by having to wait for what seemd like two hours for the bus to finally leave the Orange Bowl. CU will be back and the tough times will only make the victories that much more special.

  4. 50th for me is in Nov. Started at CU frosh year 1979, saw all of these, feel the same, and made some great road trips to never forget. 1989-OU “Come on OU, just get a first down!” is a quote heard that will leave my head. 1990-NU through the blizzard and into Lincoln and, fortunately, out without our heads attached!
    1994-Michigan, enough said.
    ‘Good Times, Bad Times, you know I’ve had my share” but all memories not for sale or trade. GO CU
    Come to UW this weekend if you can CU fans, this town rocks and the stadium will be renovated after the year; it shakes when the fans get going, feels like MILE HIGH used to do!
    The coaching staff will get it right and we have to have faith and allegiance in this tough transition period.

  5. Happy Birthday Stuart.

    I really appreciate all the insight you provide on the program. Just like many of the other individuals on this site, I believe the current staff will do a great job. Unfortunately it will time to change the culture and attitude of the program.

    I’m confident better days are around the corner.

    Thanks again for all your work.


  6. Birthday congratulations Stuart. I got in trouble a number of years ago for my 50th as my mother wanted my wife to throw a big blowout party. The big day happened to be on a Sat. in late Sept. when the Buffs were playing at home and I refused. My mother hardly spoke to me until around Christmas. The Buffs won on that day so I was happy.

    I have been through various rebuilding eras since Eddie Crowder first took over and have seen and experienced the ups and downs. I too was willing to give Hawkins time and if I remember so were Eddie Crowder, and Mac. It just became apparent after about 2 1/2 years it wasn’t ever going to happen. I do feel that this current staff will get the job done in due time and we might even see some progress by next year. Patience and realism has got to be the watchword for at least a couple of years or more and I’m convinced the good times will return to the Flatirons.

  7. Happy Birthday Stuart!

    You are about 8 months older than me, and we share the same CU football memories. Unfortunately, as my son is now a freshman at the Engineering School, it appears that he will have a similar football experience that you and I had (at least as freshman). I am confident though that the future years as a student/ fan will be better than ours were.

    This program will turn around. The passion, knowledge, and desire are there. The results will be there too.


    P.S., Let’s be glad ISU didn’t have a kicker in 1984 either, or it would have been a winless year for JE, Coach Mac, and the Buffs! I thought Embree made a big mistake in coming to CU over the other schools that recruited him, but he knew better. I trust his judgement now.

  8. Happy Birthday, Stuart!

    I too lived through end of the Fairbanks era as student. Our family will always be Buff fans and we think Embree will get this program back on track.

    Go Buffs!

  9. Happy Birthday! Great Post and may the next 50 bring on better times being a Buff! Growing up in PA with a grandfather who coached at Notre Dame under Leahy, I was always a huge college football fan. Though I wasn’t a Buff fan growing up, I did have an infatuation with the state and, due to early enrollment, CU was the only school I applied to – enrolling as a frosh in ’87. I watched from afar as the program started to grow and was able to witness from the student section what supporting a nationally ranked program was like. I was truly sadened when I heard coach Mac was stepping down, but figured we’d just move on, as our foundation had been laid. (What would have happened if Bob Simmons were hired over Nuehiesel? We’ll never know). It’s been tough being a fan over the last 10 + years, but I bleed black and gold and wouldn’t have it any other way. I truly hope Coach Embo and staff will get us back – I believe in their plan and can’t wait to see it play out. It will take time and I will be patient. The one thing I’ve learned is to not take success for granted – so I’ll continue to plan road trips and support our team – and savior each victory and moment with joy. Go Buffs!

  10. Stuart –

    Happy Birthday, sir! Congratulations on reaching this important milestone! Having hit the magic # myself in August, I share your insights and perspectives. As you usually do, you’ve nailed the state of affairs in BuffNation. Patience and faith are the hallmark of any true Buff fan and there’s no greater Buff fan than you!

    Go Buffs! I’ll be watching the Buffs Break the Streak next week at UW, my wife’s alma mater.

  11. I’m with you Stuart – on every point. I’ve been a Buff fan since 1965 and the Wilmer Cooks/Anderson brother days. I had great hope for Hawkins – but should have recognized that his aversion to ALL of the tradition of CU was a red flag. Anyway, I really think that this staff has the stuff to get it done. So – SHOULDER TO SHOULDER, my friend!

  12. I hope you have a great birthday Stuart. I will be 52 in a couple of weeks so I can relate to everything you just said. GO BUFFS AND KEEP THE FAITH, IT WILL GET BETTER.

  13. Great perspective Stuart. Have been a fan as long as you, was at the 82-42 OU game in 1980 as a 14 yo kid. Will always be a Buff!

  14. Same age, same year starting at CU, same game highs, same game lows. I agree with everything you just said.

    Just one more insight though, I hope I live long enough to see it all!

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