Five Stages of Grief

For those dealing with a loss, the “Five Stages of Grief” has been a mantra for decades.

The Buff Nation has lost its football program, and, in the past month, has had to endure the Five Stages of Grief – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.


Remember August?

The rest of the college football was in agreement when it came to the fortunes of the University of Colorado football program.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, predicted the Buffs would finish last in the Pac-12 South. Never mind the fact that, since World War I, Colorado had never finished last alone in conference play. 2012 would be the year the Buffs would occupy their first basement since 1915.

Athlon had the Buffs as only the 84th-best team in the nation. CBSSportsline had the audacity to pick at No. 107. In the Pac-12 media poll gave Colorado a total of 164 points. The team picked to finish last in the Pac-12 North, Oregon State, garnered 205 points. The Buffs were not only the worst team in the Pac-12 South, according to those who followed the Pac-12 for a living.

The Buffs were the worst team in the Pac-12. Period.

“No”, cried the Buff faithful. Colorado had lost 28 seniors, to be sure, but there was new young talent everywhere. The coaching staff which had entered the 2011 season with a head coach and two coordinators who had never held those positions before had had a year to learn their trade. The schedule was much kinder than had been the 2011 gauntlet of 13 straight games. The Buffs had erased the road losing streak, and had won two of their final games in November.

Matching the three wins of 2011 was a certainty. Five wins and continued progress was a realistic possibility.

Six wins and a bowl game were the goal.

With the Buffs sequestered, closed away from peering eyes, there was no way to chart progress. Eyebrows were raised when Jordan Webb was annointed as the starting quarterback just eight days into fall camp, but, we reasoned, the coaches know what they are doing, and perhaps Webb will just be a care-taker to help all of the new young talent as the team got its feet wet in the early season, when the victories would come most easily.

We were in denial …


The anger came less than two quarters into the first game of the season.

Up 14-3 against Colorado State, the Buffs had turned the ball over near midfield.

No problem. The defense forced a three-and-out, with no damage done.

Less than a minute remained before halftime, and the Rams were forced into a punting situation. The Buffs had a two-score lead, and would get the ball back to start the second half.

Then, the inexplicable happened. Instead of allowing the ensuing punt to fall harmlessly to the turf, the Buffs attempted to field the ball. Fumble. One play later, the score was 14-10, and the momentum for the game, and perhaps the season, was turned.

Up in the stands, we talked about not doing anything silly (read: stupid) before the end of the half. When the punt was muffed, I took my CU at the Game hat and banged it multiple times against the seat in front of me – a rarity for me (I like to think of myself as being more the Hank Stram type, with a suit and tie and rolled up program in my hand). Colorado had taken a good situation, and, by poor coaching/communication/execution (take your pick), had given a team with an eight game losing streak new life.

Then, in the third quarter, the Buffs gave their fans additional reason to fear the upcoming season. Colorado coaches were selling CU as a power rushing team. Yet, on fourth-and-goal at the one yard line, the Colorado play call was a roll out pass. The play, much to CU fans anguish, failed miserably.

That the play could have worked is immaterial. That the Colorado coaching staff did not simply line up and muscle the ball in was a clear sign that the Buff Nation had been sold a false product.


I give you the Sacramento State game, fourth quarter.

The home game against the Hornets from the Big Sky Conference started out the way it was supposed to, with the Buffs taking a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.

All was not exactly right with the world, as the stench from the CSU loss still lingered, but a win was a win. The Buffs needed to work on their fundamentals for the remaining 52 minutes, pad their stats, and start worrying about Fresno State.

Instead, Sacramento State stayed in the game, clawing its way back, then taking the lead.

By the start of the fourth quarter, Colorado was back on top, 28-24. A dominating victory was now out of the question, and the Buff Nation was left to simply beg and plead for their team to pull out a victory.

Any victory.

Three times Colorado took possession of the ball in the fourth quarter, holding onto a lead. Three times the Buff fans pleaded with the offense to put together a drive, to put the game out of reach, to seal the victory.

Three times the offense failed.

When Sacramento State took over possession for the last time, with just over two minutes to play in the game, the bargaining began in earnest.

One play, we asked of the defense. Just make one play! We promise not to ridicule your making us sweat out a game which you should have won handily! We promise to praise your victory!

Just make one play!

Of course, it was not to be. Sacramento State 30, Colorado 28.


It was hard to find words which would console Buff fans.

It was hard to find reason not to believe that Colorado, which had never had a ten-loss season before 1980, was now looking at the first winless season for the program since Year One, 1890. That year, the Buffs lost all four games they played, and were out-scored by the ridiculous total of 217-4.

Now, Colorado fans had to face the reality that the Buffs were on pace for an 0-12 season. The season was not only going to be bad, but it was going to be bad in historic fashion.

The easiest two games were in the books, and they were both losses. Five Pac-12 foes were now ranked, including teams which had posted losing seasons in 2011, fired their coach, and then scored upset victories over ranked teams in the second game of their new coaches’ tenures. Why could other programs turn things around in two games, while Colorado was going backward in two seasons?

It was one thing to be smoked by USC and Oregon. Now, Colorado was looking at being smoked by everyone on the schedule.

A loss to a 1-AA team? Again? How in the name of all that is Holy was that possible?

The Colorado football program had prided itself in being one of only a handful of schools which had never dipped its toes into the 1-AA/FCS pool. Let Kansas State play the directional schools, Buff fans sniffed, we’ll take on all comers.

In 2006, Colorado lowered its standards for the first time … and lowered its caliber of play.

The 19-10 loss to Montana State in the first game of the Dan Hawkins’ era was a shock. But the Buffs were not done. Colorado had to rally to defeat Eastern Washington in 2008, and had now fallen to a Sacramento State team which had won only two FCS games in the past 11 months, and those victories were over Northern Colorado and Idaho State, teams which posted a combined 2-22 record in 2011.

As Bill Murray famously said at the beginning of Stripes, after he had lost his job, his girlfriend and his apartment all in the same day …

“And then, depression set in”.


It took less than one half of one quarter of the Fresno State game to end all reasonable expectations for the University of Colorado football program.

Colorado was already down 21-0, and had done pretty much everything wrong it could have.

Then, it got worse.

The Buffs sent me scrambling for the record book, in order to find out how bad the beating was, as records were being set on almost every play.

The longest rushing play against Colorado? 90 yards, by Walter Mack of Kansas in 1980.

Not anymore … Robbie Rouse, 94 yards for a touchdown to make the score 28-0 in the first quarter.

The longest passing play against Colorado? 98 yards, Kelly Donahue to Willie Vaughn, again Kansas, this time in 1987.

Still a record … Derrick Carr’s pass to Isaiah Burse covered only 97 yards, making the score 35-0 in the first quarter.

The most points in the first quarter? 29, by Oregon in 2011 (I had remembered the record as being 28, by UCLA in 1980, in my very first game as a CU freshman, but I stand corrected).

Not a record any longer … as Fresno State, a 4-9 team in the WAC in 2011, put up 35.

The most points in the first half? 56, again by UCLA in 1980 (by the way, the Bruins pulled in the reins in the second half. The final was 56-14).

Almost, but not quite a new record, as the Bulldogs had to settle for a 55-7 halftime lead.

There is simply no other way to put it … Colorado is the worst team in Division 1-A football.

The remainder of the 2012 season will be a quixotic run to see if the Buffs can find someone willing to overlook them long enough for Colorado to avoid an 0-12 finish. Fans of other teams will ridicule us, mock us. Some will do even worse … pity us.

That’s okay. We have reached the final stage of grief, acceptance.

We know that the Buffs are beyond repair. We know that the coaching experiment with Jon Embree, as much as we wanted (hoped?) it would work, is a failure of epic proportions.

Can Colorado fire a coach in September? Not realistically.

But, barring a miracle – the experiment will last only two years.

The Colorado football program as we have known it has died. We need to accept that.

We need to push through the final stage of grief … and move on.

38 Replies to “Five Stages of Grief”

  1. I was so excited to see Embree and EB in Boulder leading the Buffs. It’s obvious if we don’t earn a couple wins the current staff will be fired. 1-11 or 0-12 will happen and we need to prepare for it. Also, who should our new coach be?

  2. At the least, with this coaching staff, this is a seven to eight year rebuilding program to get to respectability, not superiority. This coaching staff is OJT (on the job training). It will take several years for them to learn to coach, and then they could start the rebuilding process. I am at a total loss on what is the next step. Do I give up my 45 yard line tickets (40 year season ticket holder) at the end of this year, or do I wait one more year? I may wait a year since I think I may wake up from this nightmare, and discover the 2012 season really does not exist.

  3. What a disgrace. My coworker is a USC alum, and all he said was I feel sorry for you guys. We might loose by 100pts. playing Stanford, USC, and Oregon even if they put in their third string for the entire game.

    What a disgrace to the PAC 12 and to College Football. We haven’t hit rock bottom yet, cause we have 9 more games to get blown out by.

    Fire Jon Embree now and the entire CU Athletic Program. The recruits that have verbally committed now, won’t stick.

  4. I have no words to match what Stuart has already written. I was out, so I followed the “game” on my phone. It is an interesting way to view a blow out, as the score rises, the yards against climb and the drive summaries demonstrate in a cold detached way a team being destroyed. I deleted the recording without watching a minute. Why torture myself. This is the worst team in my three decades as a fan. It will take years to rebuild this razed program and Embree is not the man to do it.

  5. I was not able to see the game as my cable provider does not offer CBS SN. After seeing all the stats, I think I was lucky! I too was in stands when we lost to Drake 2 years in a row and the infamous 82-42 to OU. I am not going anywhere, I will die a Buff fan, but as I get older it is much harder. Still keeping the faith though…..

  6. As a freshmen, I was in the stands for the 0-35 loss to Oregon in 1956. We went on to the Orange Bowl that year. The game I watched Saturday was the most disgusting CU game I have ever seen. The same problems seem to have existed for the past several years, no offensive line and terrible tackling. Even Bud Davis put a better team on the field.

  7. Just like the race for the presidencey it takes more than one year to fix what Hawkins did. We are talking 8 seniors on the team and 2 are injured and 16 freshman on 2 man depth chart. So get over it there is going to be more days like this and lets rally around our Buffs nation coaching staff. I’m still here lets go BUFFS!!!

  8. It was obvious to me after the Sac State game that there are major problems with the program. I think they start at the top, meaning the Colorado law limiting multi-year contracts. I also suspect that the Regents and senior CU administrators have a perception that CU should be an academic/research powerhouse, and that sports, particularly football, are an irritating sideshow. They are willing to provide only limited support. One would think they’d recognize the value of publicity in attracting students and faculty, and the Flatirons only go so far. CU should have two Phil Knight’s or Boone Pickens’ given the difference in schools.

    Until these problems are addressed and fixed, we won’t attract high end coaches and recruit top notch kids. We’d better get into the acceptance stage fast.

  9. That was the first time I ever turned off and stopped watching a CU game. I have been watching for more than thirty years. This went well beyond disappointing. Other schools have fired coaching staff in the first month and gone on to be successful. We need to do that now. The feckless administration need to go as well.

  10. Stuart –

    All good points but they raise other questions. If we as fans are depressed, then what of the Buffs? Clearly this team (coaches and players) are shellshocked and psychologically fragile. There must be some serious soul searching and psychoanalysis going on in the Dal Ward Center. What can be done to figure a way out of this funk? The 3 teams CU lost to so far are not more talented across the board than the Buffs (Carr excepted). Firing the coach in September cannot happen. What little recruiting momentum that was built up in the offseason would be destroyed. Staff issues are not likely to happen at the end of the year unless they go 0-12 with weekly blowouts. A real but not necessarily palatable scenario.

    Like every other Buff fan I am at a loss to explain the current state of affairs and am searching for answers. I appreciate your analysis and agree that we are in dire straights. CU football mirrors the national economy right now, both may take a generation to rebound to prior levels. How patient can you be? Mine is running out and it’s becoming harder to justify 4 club level season tickets year after year to my wife, a Udub grad.

  11. Stuart, help me. You are about the most level headed, pragmatic, analytical Buff fan I know. I don’t know what to think or feel or do about this team. What is the right answer? Will it get better? Can it get better? If so, how? Or are we now Minnesota/Army/Cornell/Chicago, a former national powerhouse whose time has come and gone?

  12. How do you think that recruiting will be going during an 0-12 season. Why would any talented player that could play a for quality program come to this
    Loser program. Can’t wait till the mloghty buffalo basketball team takes the floor,they will Rock the events center.

  13. Thank goodness I could not get the game. This regime ranks lower than the Fairbanks and Hawkins era together.. Not going to go to a single game until the administration opines up and pays for real coach!

  14. Couldn’t watch the game after the first quarter. All CU “gear” has been packed up and put in storage. CU flag has come down. What an embarrassment to everyone associated with CU football. It’s time for a house cleaning, from the top down, maybe Caoch Mac will come in a volunteer his services until a real coach can be found.

    All home game tickets have been put on Stub Hub. The UCLA, ASU, and Udub, have already sold at full price. I guess their fans want to come to Boulder and watch the slaughter of the buffaloes.

  15. I understand that coaches need time and talent BUT usually there is progression not regression, even if it is in small steps.
    And comparing to the early 80’s McCartney team that struggled, there is no comparison, they were better.
    Then the excuse of using Freshmen “we are young”. REALLY!!! I am SO TIRED OF HEARING THAT! UCLA used 9, yes 9, true freshmen to beat Nebraska. Hell, the Fresno St WRs that burned the so called future stars were freshemen.
    Also if you noticed in the Fresno St debacle their DBs were on the line pressing and shutting down the WRs. CU, they play 10-15 yds back and give up the easy pass EVERY FREAKING TIME!! It’s not just Embree, it’s the O-line coach, the DB coach, the off and Def coordinator. If they have to wait until season’s end then fine, but fire the ENTIRE coaching staff, there is no one worth saving.

    1. Not sure if anyone else saw the stat they showed during the game, I think it was late in the 1st half or early in the 2nd half. It was a list of the 1-A teams with the fewest seniors. Tied for the top spot with the fewest seniors, with 8, our Colorado Buffaloes (no surprise). Tied for second with 9 seniors… wait for it… ALABAMA!!!

      Uhh… what the…?

        1. I did see that stat and thought the same thing, Bama is really that young?!?! Ouch.. Doesn’t matter is they are 5 star recruits. We have had a few and look how they turned out-D Scott, Kasa, Kotoa. Look at Boise St and TCU last couple of yrs-NOTHING but 2-3 star recruits. It comes down to good coaching, which we haven’t seen in a decade.

  16. I’m at a lost for words after watching that game. I didn’t go to CU, but have been a fan most of my life. (I even have a CU room in my house full of memorabilia.). The Buffs are so bad my friends don’t even give me a hard time about losses, they feel sorry for me.

    I’ll always root for the Buffs, but it’s not easy. I don’t expect National Championships, but CU should be able to field a respectable team.

    On a sidenote, the U.S. government should show last nights game to suspected terrorist as a form of torture instead of waterboarding…that was PAINFUL!!!!!

  17. Sorry for the typo (gotta love auto correct). That should read Embree, not embrace. Nothing to embrace with this team, aside from the cheerleaders perhaps.

  18. Agree with Brent. It’s the old adage, you get what you pay for. We selected a coach on the cheap because quite frankly we didnt have the money between paying off the big 12 and coach hawk, and this is the result. As much as we hoped it would work out, perhaps none of us should be all that surprised by this circus. Good coaches bring the best out of their players, mediocre ones put together a game plan and hope the players can execute. The reason that Boise state was so good all those years is not because of superior talent, but because the coaches saw what they had and built a game plan around it. In my opinion, embrace built a game plan/system before considering whether the players can execute.

  19. I have been a embree supporter since the beginning but I thought we hit rock bottom with the sac state loss but I was wrong. We are clearly outmatched on every point and coaching is the worst. Embree better pull wins out of his ass or this ship will sink at the end of the season.

  20. this was way worse than Hawkins loss to CSU to start his 3rd year…..and the subsequent Toledo embarrassment put together. I saw absolutely no want from the D from the first play….the kick return by Fresno to open the game. No one was even trying. The offensive line acted like they were on some kind of hallucinogenic drug.
    I hope Hawkins never finds another job. I feel bad for Jon but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t step down.

  21. Just look at how Bohn does things. The Buffs are a Pac 12 school, and the first womens sport they add is (drumroll) womens’ lacrosse. Call me crazy, but I thought softball would have been a much better decision (probably more good softball players in Colorado then there are lacrosse players).

    1. Thats crazy Colorado is the best lacrosse state west of the mississippi. Look at DU for the perfect example of in state kids playing well at the national level. Colorado probably produces more quality high school lacrosse players then any other sport including football.

  22. This is what you get when you do things on the cheap. $700k for a HC at a BCS school. I know there are few people that care about that program as much as Embree and Bienemy do, but this was a disaster from the get go. Until the administration makes a commitment to having a Top 20 football program, and actually makes decisions based on that commitment, they will struggle. Get used to this, because its not going to change anytime soon.

    1. Brent,
      You are right on the money! No pun intended. Usually in life you get what you pay for and the Buffs got just that. Until the Buffs go find 3 to 4 Million for a coach they will continue to be on the road to disaster.

  23. In over 25 years of watching football, hands down the worst game I have ever watched. My wife is begging me to turn it off.

  24. Worst team in the history of organized football. Would lose to practically any competitive Texas highschool program. Vomit.

  25. There is no doubt Embree has lost this team. You pull the plug, let Cabral take it the rest of the season, but you have to do something different.

    If Embree hasn’t lost the team, he sure has lost me.

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