Shirt of Shame

It’s been twenty-five years since I graduated from the CU School of Law.

It’s now been a full quarter century since my seven year stint as a resident of Boulder came to an end, and my 700-mile commute to home games from Bozeman, Montana, began.

For many years, I drove down for home games. I got to know every mile marker, every gas station, every rest stop across the very (verrry) boring expanses of eastern Wyoming. My wife, Lee, made a few of the trips, but quickly made it known that she was not interested in continuing the bonding opportunities provided by 22 hours of driving back and forth from Bozeman to Boulder. Our son, Adam, made a few trips, but also was able, in time, to find other ways to spend his weekends in pursuit of other distractions. I then recruited my friend Randy, who had no ties to Colorado – either the state or the school – to the Buff Nation, but was willing to endure the drive in exchange for a game ticket and some good football.

More recently, though, I have opted for flying down for games. The commute only takes an hour-and-a-half, and is much easier on the body and mind. With only two days out of town, packing is easy and routine. I wear my CU gear on the flight down, and have a wide assortment of CU gameday outfits to stow away, depending on the weather forecast.

For my Sunday ensemble, though, I pack two shirts. The first is a CU shirt, to be worn with pride as I stroll through Denver International Airport after a Buff victory. The second is just a regular polo shirt, devoid of logos or pronouncements of my allegiance to the University of Colorado. to be worn if the Buffs suffer an embarrassing loss.

My Shirt of Shame.

I almost didn’t pack an extra shirt for the Sacramento State game. There was no way … NO WAY! … that the Buffs would not respond to the devastating loss to Colorado State with anything but a dominating performance. There was no chance that a team, with a 3-11 record under Jon Embree, would be looking past the Hornets. There was not a scenario in which the CU players would not take control over a team which had only two victories – over Big Sky basement dwellers Northern Colorado and Idaho State – in the previous eleven months.

And, for the first half of the first quarter, it appeared that there had been, in fact, no reason to pack a Shirt of Shame.

The Buffs opened with a three-play, 75-yard drive, with freshman fullback Christian Powell out-racing the Hornets’ defensive backs for a 64-yard touchdown just over a minute into the game. The Colorado defense then quickly got the ball back to the offense, which responded with an eight-play, 72-yard touchdown drive.

Midway through the first quarter, Colorado was up, 14-0. The Buffs had 149 yards of total offense. Sacramento State had 14.

For just the briefest of moments, the 46,843 Buff fans on hand knew what it felt like to be a fan of USC or Oregon. The home team was in complete control, the score was to be what the coaches allowed it to be, and the greatest stress point for the fans was to decide where to have dinner after the game.

It was a sweet couple of minutes.

Little did we know that midway through the first quarter was not only to be the apex of the game, but, in all likelihood, the 2012 season.

Little did we suspect that Colorado, in the remaining 7/8th’s of the game against Sacramento State, would not generate as much total offense as the Buffs did in the first 1/8th.

Much could be said of the Buffs having every opportunity to have opened the season 2-0. The two losses, after all, were by a total of seven points. Had the Buffs not muffed the punt just before halftime against Colorado State (or scored on fourth-and-one in the third quarter), the outcome could have been different. Similarly, had either the Buffs’ offense or defense made one play – one play! – at some point in the fourth quarter against Sacramento State, the outcome would have been a victory, and the Buffs would be 2-0.

A sorry 2-0, mind you, but 2-0 nonetheless.

The fact remains, however, that the Buffs deserve the 0-2 mark. The team, despite Jon Embree’s protestations after the CSU game to the contrary, was deflated after the Ram touchdown in the last minute before halftime. Though up 14-9 at the break, momentum was gone, never to return. Against Sacramento State, the Colorado offense was given the ball and the lead three times in the fourth quarter, but failed each time to put together a time-consuming, game-clinching drive.

As long as we’re being honest, it is also true that the Buffs were actually lucky to even be in the position to win both games. Recall that, moments before the ill-fated fourth-and-one rollout call against Colorado State, the Ram fans were in delirium, a fumble having been returned 99 yards for a touchdown. The call was reversed by instant replay, but the Buffs failed to capitalize.

Against Sacramento State, the Buffs put together only one scoring drive in the second half, and that was only with the help of the officials. Down 24-21 in the third quarter, the Buffs drove down to the Hornets’ six yard line, where a Jordan Webb pass to tight end Nick Kasa fell incomplete. Pass interference was called, then reversed, then reversed again on instant replay. Instead of a fourth down and a field goal attempt, the Buffs were given the ball and a first down at the two. Three Christian Powell runs later, Colorado had its final points.

The remaining drives of the second half, with the game – and a potential winless season – in the balance, the Colorado offense put together the following drives:

Five plays, 25 yards, punt

Four plays, 16 yards, punt

Five plays, 10 yards, punt

Three plays, four yards, punt.

And this was against a Sacramento State defense, which, against New Mexico State the weekend before, had given up 21 fourth quarter points.

Sigh. Very heavy sigh …

So, where do the Buffs, and their fans, go from here?

“I’m sorry,” Jon Embree said when asked what he had to say to CU fans, who were left to wonder if the Buffs are destined to finish a season without a victory for the first time in over a century. “I’m going to do everything we can to make it right and fix it, just like I tried to do last week. You guys know me, know that I’m a competitor and I’m going to fight until there is nothing left.”

Many fans would argue that there already is “nothing left”. Colorado will face much more talented teams than Colorado State and Sacramento State the remainder of the season. Had the 22-17 and 30-28 losses come on the road against a Hawai’i team coming off of a ten win season and against an Ohio State team in the Horseshoe, fans would have been much more understanding. The Buff Nation would have bought into the notion that freshmen will be exploited, and that the young Buffs would need time to learn how to win.

But CU doesn’t have the luxury of coming off of close losses to better teams. The Rams and the Hornets were the easiest games on the schedule. Based upon the first two weeks of play, there is not a game remaining on the 2012 schedule in which the Buffs will be favored.

And it doesn’t help matters that the other teams in the Pac-12 are improving.

After a lackluster first weekend of play, the Pac-12 fared well in week two, going 9-3. Oregon State, with an embattled head coach, upset No. 13 Wisconsin, 10-7. First-year head coach Jim Mora, Jr. ran his record at UCLA to 2-0 with a 36-30 victory over No. 16 Nebraska. Another first-year head coach, Rich Rodriguez, upped his Arizona record to 2-0 with a 59-38 win over No. 18 Oklahoma State. Arizona State and Washington State also have new head coaches, and they are a combined 3-1.

So, four teams changed coaches in the Pac-12 in the off-season. All four teams had losing records last season. The combined record of those four teams, two weeks into the season: 7-1, with two victories over ranked teams from the Big Ten and Big 12.

Jon Embree inherited a 5-7 team in 2011, but went backward, falling to 3-10 in in first season. A modicum of improvement was expected in Year Two, with six wins seen as the maximum; three as the minimum.

Now, after back-to-back debacles against Colorado State and Sacramento State, three wins seem optimistic.

The rest of the Pac-12 is moving forward. Colorado is moving backward.

With no visible light at the end of the tunnel.

I’ve gotta go. Time to go and catch my flight. Time to return the rental car, patiently wait my turn in line at the security checkpoint, time to take out my Kindle for some in-flight distraction.

Just another traveler. Just another anonymous face in the crowd.

Wearing my blue polo shirt.

My Shirt of Shame.




25 Replies to “Shirt of Shame”

  1. CU at the game comment

    Stuart, my brother, I do not own a ‘shirt of shame’. Win or lose, I wear CU colors and logos on game day and to church the following [except on weekends when I’m wearing my uniform for Reserve drills]. I wear Buffs lapel pins on my business suits, year round; CU dress watches, when appropriate; and I wear my class ring, every day. Team photos, framed posters, buffalo (bison) statues, and a “CU Proud” t-shirt decorate my office. My oldest daughter thinks she wants to attend CSU and become a veterinarian; she’s playing with her inheritance.

    I think everyone makes some valid points; of course, I don’t agree with all of them. My loyalty to the program is as strong as ever, yet I remain loyal to my friend and former teammate, Jon Embree. If he leaves as Head Coach, I want it to be on his terms. Of course, I want the program to be successful and – as a business/military professional – I recognize that hard decisions have to be made for the benefit of the organization. At some point I may (emphasis on “may”) see his departure as a necessary part of the improvement process. Until then, however, I have to side with him and his staff and remain patient.

    I’m curious about the color of this shirt, Stu. You described it as a blue polo – what shade of blue? I ask because the jersey hanging in my closet – the one I wore during the 1984 season, the one with my name stitched across the back – is “Colorado sky blue”. So far as I’m concerned, it’s a badge of courage. I endured the last year of the “Fairbanks era” and the first three under Coach Mac as a student. Seven years later, and unbeknownst to me, my future wife was in the Orange Bowl stadium when the Buffs brought home a National Championship. We met later that spring.

    I think I can give Jon a chance and wait a little bit longer.

    1. Dale,
      My polo was a navy blue. I do still have, though, my “Colorado sky blue” wind breaker, circa 1984. I, too, consider it to be a badge of courage for maintaining my season tickets through two 1-10 seasons on the way to a national championship!

  2. This past week has been a tough one for Buff fans. Perhaps it is easier for me sitting in the Middle East and unable to actually see the games, but I am keeping my hope and throw out a couple of thoughts for consideration.

    Many people want to look to the pass to show that patience is warranted here. The Beloved Bill McCartney did not win immediately.

    Others have suggested that looking to the past doesn’t mean anything. Coach M. did not have to deal with the instaneous gratification society with Twitter, Facebook, etc. and may not have lasted had he had to. That was then, this is now. Other coaches are having success after coming off losing seasons.

    I remain hopeful because I believe we are better now than when Hawkins left talent wise. For those coaches having success in their first year at their new school, I wonder if they inherited the level of mediocrity or just plan crap that Embree did.

    If you chose to ignore all of the expert analysts who predicted that Colorado would not do much this year than I propose that that is your issue. Show me one analyst, who is paid and does it for a living, who thought CU would be anything this year. All of us fans don’t want to hear that because this is our team and we love our Buffs. If 6 doctors told you that you had cancer would you dispute that you have cancer. No, because we trust that they know what they are talking about based on education and experience.

    With that being said, I did not expect to lose to Sac. State. I never know how to feel about CSU since I don’t think our guys take it as seriously as CSU does. But that does not move us from the fact that we are still the team that many do not believe is ready to make any noise.

    My heart is as heavy as anyones when it comes to where we are with the Buffs this season. But I will always stand “Shoulder to shoulder” with the players and wear my CU colors and everyone else can point, laugh, feel pity for the crazy loser fan all they want. Black and gold, deal with it.

    Fight, fight for victory!


    1. One other thought. The instaneous news feed society that we live in today has not changed the fact that you cannot build a program from the ground up in one year. It has simply changed our expectation that you can.

  3. Anyone calling for Embree to be fired has lost their marbles. If you do ask for Embo to be fired, you better see to it that Bohn departs first. As far as I can tell Bohn fell bass ackwards into the Pac12 deal and the Boyle hiring. Beyond that he kept Patton too long, can’t finance capital improvements and didn’t have enough pull with the admin to get Hawkins out when he should’ve been out. Bohn before Embo or foget it.

  4. Fire Embree right now. Cabral rest of the season, see what happens. Can’t be worse. E is already a lame duck coach after this. No recruit will come into this situation, those committed probably won’t stay. What we learned from keeping Hawkins too long is 100% applicable right now. The ship is sinking, get off it now.

    I get the argument of needing time to evaluate a coaching staff. I get that Mac took years, and that was the expectation for this staff too. This a colossal trainwreck on a slippery slope though. In this day and age, other new coaching staffs are doing fine, quickly. The current industry standard is what ours should be held to too, not the standard set by a couple guys decades ago. Take action now.

    On a deeper note, Bohn’s hiring of Boyle was prescient. That can’t be taken from him. However, I place the football program’s demise squarely on his shoulders. I believe he should be relieved of all duties involving selecting a new coach for football.

    The new hire after the season MUST be a proven, high profile guy. We have the $ now if appropriately budgeted. What we DON’T have is the $ to NOT do so. Our only option is immediate positive vibes. Action needed.

    In conclusion:
    fire JE, EB, SM, promote BC
    then pray

    Oh, and Webb is NOT the answer, but anyone other that JE will see that. Bigger fish to fry.

  5. Are we to go back to being the lovable losers, the team that when you wear your gear people just shake their heads and admire your ridiculous loyalty? The Hawkins hiring (and more important the delay in firing him) continues to haunt this program and the hope of Embree’s hiring has proven so far to be a false one. With perhaps one or two exceptions, where are the playmakers, the kids the other team has to plan for? Where is the place coaching or talentwise, that you point to and tell folks “yeah but look at the future”? It is not just the losses, it is that there is little reason to believe that next year will be better. Hope is hard now, but it will be even harder as we face the rest of the year never to be favored, always just muttering “hang in there guys”. I have been through those days with this program. I wish I could believe it will change, but nothing these last two weeks says otherwise.

  6. Stuart,

    I proudly wear my CU colors almost all the time. Starting this past Sunday, I just couldn’t do it – I was so embarassed… I didn’t even throw on my CU hat for my commute this morning. I will wear my gear and fly the flag on gamedays as usual…

    I have been a season ticket holder ever since I moved back to CO in 1999 and was in the drumline in ’93, ’94, and ’95 (so I sat through and cheered to the end of every game no matter what). I don’t think anyone would ever consider me a fairweather fan. That being said, I can almost guarantee that this season is my last as a season ticket holder. I will still cheer the team and attend some games, but I have much better things to do with my $$$ and time than go through what I went through on Saturday. I swear, watching that game finally broke me. Simple as that.

    I hope, HOPE, Embree and staff can turn it around, but I don’t think even the strongest kool-aid will actually let me believe it…

    1. Mike ~ I make it week to week by falling back on words Coach Neuheisal shared with me over a beer following his radio show back in the day. It was midway through that disappointing 1997 (5-7)season, and he had recognized our group for attending the show every Wednesday night that fall. He walked up to us, said it was great to see us every week, and asked if we were going to the away game that weekend at OK State. To that point we had also not missed a home or away game for two years, but we were all thinking that maybe it was time we should give up our away game expenses. Neuheisal balked when one of us shared that opinion and followed up with something along the line of:

      “Do you want the team to win because: (a) you love to be a winner? Or, (b)of your connection/devotion to this School? If you answer the question with the (a), then it is your personal baggage and come if you want. However, if you answer it with the (b), then we NEED you there.”

      I am still plus minus on Neuheisal’s time at CU (mostly minus), but his words that day put my devotion to CU football in perspective. I moved away in 2000, and each and every game that my group of friends attend without me leaves a hole. I make it back whenever I can, and every day I get to sit in Folsom is a good day.

      On a more personal note Mike, all of us in the ’93 to ’95 trumpet line always knew it was you screwing up the cadence. 🙂

      1. Hey Eric,

        Very, very interesting perspective. It’s amazing how one interaction with someone like Neuheisal (or anyone who is actually involved with the program) can make such an impression. I can say that it would affect me.

        I guess I am just at a turning point in my life. I have two young children and going to all the games can be very tiring (at least for my wife and I). Justifying the $$$ for 4 tickets and having the games be the way they have been has become more and more difficult – the tailgate is the best part usually! I guess I am just reconsidering how to use my $$$ and would probably rather attend a few games a year than fork over the cash for a full season(plus it will allow me to do other things with the kids) – it’s not like I would stop being a fan (trust me, I am loyal to a fault!). I would probably have these thoughts even if the team was winning, although it would be a harder decision. The fact that CU will likely be selling tickets at substantially lower prices for games later in this season doesn’t help. Oh well. Just because you buy a ticket doesn’t guarantee a win (and it shouldn’t matter). I guess we’ll just see.

        As far as the cadence goes – I was the only one keeping it together because everyone else was so serious! Without me, well… 😉

  7. Amen to what everyone has written. This coaching staff is clueless. I do not believe there is any hope for the staff to turn it around. You either have it or you do not. Let us select a coach for 2013 who is the most qualified for the job rather than a CU insider. (I do understand the frustration of finding someone to restore CU tradition after Dan Hawkins did everything he could to destroy it.)

    I am a 40 year season ticket holder, and I am very seriously considering this is my last season. I have lived through two Drake losses and Dan Hawkins, but I am at my wits end with this coaching staff and program. There appears to be no end in sight. There is absolutely no sign of progress being made. Even last year, there were several games our coaching staff snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

  8. What can anyone at this moment say as the results on the field speak for themselves? I don’t know how many of these type deals I have sat through. First there was the rebuilding with Crowder, some initial excitement with Mallory but then 5 mediocre years then the 3-year debacle that was Fairbanks. Things went fairly well with Rick then GB but by the end of the GB era the Hawkins hire looked pretty good. That Hawk deal turned out about as bad as we have experienced, partly due to the personality of the coach and is inability to take any responsibility for the lack of success.

    Going back to McCartney the 3 Mac years were just as brutal as the last two years with the 3rd year the worst. The 4th year started looking good (7-5) but least everyone forgets we lost our first 4 games in Mac’s 5th year and only finished 6-6.

    I can’t say if JE and this bunch will get this thing turned around as Mac eventually did. I guarantee you there were moments in the years 82-86 when the team and program more times than not looked under coached, out coached, out performed, under talented, embarrassing, and just appeared at times to be making no progress at all, but in fact, in many game seemed to regress. Just like now.

    Although I don’t like it I plan on gritting my teeth sticking with this staff that really does have some good bona fides, as there is no other solution at this moment. A lot of people don’t think that these coaches at times know what they are doing including me, but there have been many times in the past as I recounted above that I had that same feeling. This will just have to work itself out over time, and it has been what seems a long wait for the last 7 years or so.

    I guess I just have to tell you Stuart to not wash that “shirt of shame” in harsh detergents, or hard water as sadly you most likely need to preserve it, and might want to plan on packing it for this year and maybe next.

  9. Nothing will change until Embree gets of his ego trip and benches Webb, i twas a major mistake A big waste of a scholarship Embree was told this by many people and did it anyway if he could not watch Kansas film and figure that out he is neither a judge of talent or a good coach, for him not to bench Webb was stupid and stubborn, I used to think that he could learn but now no his ego will never let that happen, i give them a little credit for making the move with Powell at running back but very little because of the continued use of Tony Jones who could not break an arm tackle by Gumby. The entire offensive line is pathetic and Marshall should be fired tomorrow,Nick Kasa couldn’t block his Grama and should be benched for any other te. I think Bienamey is in over his head, maybe things will change I have my doubts because of Embrees Know it all attitude. THIS IS A BLACK DAY FOR THE BUFFS FANS THE SCHOOL AND THE STATE OF COLORADO.

  10. I, too, am a CU alum/Bozeman transplant/law school grad, and while I just moved to Bozeman and haven’t made the trek back for a game this season, I empathize completely. Well said.

  11. Question: Under what scenario should Embree be fired at the end of the season? Or as a Buff Nation should we give him another year no matter what?

    I’ll throw this out – much like in the Hawkins era, we saw enough early on to know he wasn’t our guy, the same is true of Embree….he has shown his cards as a coach and it simply isn’t enough. Hire a new guy at the end of the season, lets cut our losses and move on.

    1. Andy check out some of the coaches that have been successful starting with McCartney’s first 5 years. You ask a valid question but I don’t think there is a 100% valid answer to your query.

      1. AZ you are the real deal as a buffalo fan, and I know you have an incisive mind, That is clear to all. Analyzing the quality of the coaching staff , honestly, is not tantamount to treason. It is simply seeing things as they are, as ugly and unvarnished as the truth often is.

        1. The only difference in the past when the Buffs have been down like this is that there were no forums like these that are now available to us. Therefore while you write very well thought out reasons to criticize these current guys the previous staffs that eventually succeeded looked just as bad and the calls, and moves they made back then were just as questionable. Some of the coaches made it others didn’t. Im not predicting this staff will eventually be successful, but what is presently occurring right now is no worse than what has happened at CU in the past. We might even have been more down as fans as there was no outlets to rant on like we have today.

  12. We need an OC who knows what he is doing when calling plays. When you don’t have the talent on the field to do certain plays, then you do not call those plays. Period. Not only did the coaches not put the team in a situation where they could win in the 4th quarter, but they did it with the most vanilla play-calling. Terrible!

  13. Oh, and Stuart, I check into this web-site every day! Thanks – you and your commitment are a bright spot in this otherwise dreary scenario.

  14. I was excited when Embree was hired. But I think he may be an example of the Peter Principle! The old saying about Bear Bryant (I think): He can take his players and beat your players and he could take your players and beat you if you were coaching his players. It seems that this coaching staff has performed the opposite of that. I know that Embree bleeds Black and Gold like the rest of us (maybe more so) but I don’t hold out much hope for success under him at this point! A sad response to a couple of pathetic performances! BUT, I won’t stop caring and cheering and watching when I get a chance!

  15. Very well said my friend. Obviously disappointing in all aspects. The lone bright spot was some decent play from some of the freshmen. But the fact that the seasoned starters are getting manhandled at the point of attack is depressing. We’ll be lucky to win a game after watching UCLA, asu and Arizona yesterday. This team won’t win on the road so rule out Washington st too. Our only shot may be against Utah to end the season. Truly pathetic. If Embree’s team fails to show any signs of life it is time to cut the cord. We are talent depleted with a young roster but there are never any adjustments made during the game and the playcalling is atrocious. If CU is serious about football they will actually put some money into the hire instead of hiring a good old boy who only got the job because he played here and was cheap. Like wazzu’s hire of wulff. Time to pony up and spend some of the PAC12 money so that we don’t fall further behind. UCLA, wazzu and Arizona did it this past off season. This year it is our turn.

  16. Very good write up brother. We both come from the same era, seen the same highs and too many lows. I have CU license plates on my trucks, I wear CU gear through thick and thin, but tell you what….. I’m tired of taking it. I can take the abuse from fans of other schools, what I can’t take is being sheet on by my own school. I can believe the optimism I had with the new coaching staff is just about gone. (Note that I still feel playing all these freshman, if they don’t transfer, will pay dividends)

    This is where I go from here. If Embree makes changes, real live changes to show he isn’t so stubborn he doesn’t recognize things are wrong, then I continue my support of the Buffs this year. I think he made one change already with Powell. Now he needs many more. Play calling on both sides of the ball. Change it now. Spark of a new QB, Change it now.

    If there are no changes, real changes made before the next game I’m going to make a change myself, and that will be Saturday’s free to do other things.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *