The Wrong Anniversary

The 2014 season for the University of Colorado marks a multitude of anniversaries.

It’s the 125 season of collegiate football in Boulder, and the game against No. 25 UCLA represented the 100th Homecoming in CU history. This fall also represents the 90th season of playing football in Folsom Field and the 80th anniversary of CU adopting the nickname “Buffaloes”.

On the field, the 2014 season marks the 40th anniversary of the Buffs taking down Alabama in the Liberty Bowl, the 35th anniversary of the first college game televised by ESPN (Oregon at Colorado), as well as the 25th anniversary of CU’s perfect 11-0 regular season in 1989.

This weekend, the 20th anniversary of the 1994 team was being celebrated. Heisman trophy winner Rashaan Salaam, who ran for 2,055 yards that season, was the grand marshal for Homecoming, with the “Miracle in Michigan” being celebrated last month on its 20th anniversary.

The 2014 Buffs has also gotten into the act of honoring the 1994 team. In the 40-37 double-overtime loss to No. 25 UCLA, the Colorado offense generated 500 yards of total offense. The Buffs have now posted over 400 yards of total offense in seven straight games, a streak not seen since the first seven games of the 1994 season.

Unfortunately, however, that’s where the comparisons between 1994 and 2014 end.

The 1994 team, in posting seven straight games with over 400 yards of total offense, roared out to a 7-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking. The 2014 team, meanwhile, has gone 2-5 over its seven game streak of offensive prowess.

So much for comparing 2014 to 1994.

A better anniversary comparison would be to pit the 2014 team up against its counterpart from 30 years ago, the 1984 Buffs.

Now, before you stomp off thinking rating this year’s 2-6 against the 1-10 team of 1984 is unfair and negative, let’s take a few minutes to dig a little deeper.

Bill McCartney was hired in 1982, taking over for Chuck Fairbanks, who had gone 7-26 in his three seasons in Boulder. In his first season, McCartney led the Buffs to a 2-8-1 record. In 1983, the mark was upped to 4-7, the best record for the Buffs in six seasons.

There was reason for optimism heading into the 1984 campaign. The team was young, but McCartney had the program moving in the right direction.

The biggest problem for the Buffs that fall was the schedule. Games against Michigan State, Oregon, Notre Dame and UCLA represented the non-conference slate, with traditional powers Oklahoma and Nebraska waiting in the Big Eight campaign.

“I think we are playing one of the great schedules in the country,” said McCartney before the start of the 1984 season. “We’re proud of it, and we eagerly await the opportunity to play some of these teams”.

Against Michigan State in the opener, the Buffs allowed the Spartans to race out to a 24-0 lead before mounting a comeback (not unlike the tendency of the 2014 Buffs). Colorado had a chance to tie the game late, but kicker Larry Eckel, who missed four field goal attempts on the day (insert: Will Oliver), missed a 32-yarder in the final minute.

In the second game, on the road against Oregon, the Buffs again fell behind at the outset before building a lead which they could not sustain. Colorado, down a touchdown late, had the ball in Duck territory, but turned the ball over on downs, losing 27-20.

The story of the 1984 Oregon game, of course, was Ed Reinhardt, Jr., who almost lost his life. Reinhardt, who had a school record ten receptions (for 142 yards and two touchdowns) against Michigan State the week before, had to undergo life saving surgery immediately after the game after a blood clot from the left side of his brain.

The rest of the season was a series of “almosts” for the Buffs. Yes, there were some blowout losses, but there were some painfully close losses as well. The Buffs held tough against No. 17 UCLA (more on that game later), and should have beaten Kansas (a 28-27 loss). The Buffs gave No. 10 Oklahoma State all it could handle, falling 20-14 in Stillwater.

And, there was the Nebraska game. Playing against the No. 5 team in the nation, a school the Buffs hadn’t beaten in 15 years, the 1-5 Buffs held a 7-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter, falling 24-7 after a 21-0 assault by the Cornhuskers in the final stanza.

The Buffs’ only victory of the 1984 season came against woeful Iowa State, 23-21, securing the victory only after the Cyclones jumped offsides on a fourth-and-one call in the final minutes.

A 1-10 season. A series of close losses and hard fought games.

But, at the end of the season, it was still a 1-10 record, and that is largely what that team is remember for.

Bill McCartney, who was hired to replace Chuck Fairbanks and his deplorable 7-26 three year run, had a three year record of 7-25-1. Rather than being fired, though, McCartney was given a contract extension.

The rest – as they say – is history.

The Buffs bounced back with a 7-5 record in 1985, the biggest turnaround in Division 1-A football that season, and McCartney did not have another losing season in his remaining ten years at the helm in Boulder.

Fast forward 30 years.

The 2014 Buffs, against a difficult schedule, are experiencing similar results to the 1984 squad. Colorado has been blown out (but just once), and has given ranked teams all they can handle. The team is young, and is making agonizingly painful mistakes which young teams make, but there are also undeniable signs of progress.

I lamented last week that, even if Colorado was the 30th-best team in the nation, the Buffs would still be last in the Pac-12 South, a division in which the other five teams are all ranked in the top 25 nationally.

Well, the Buffs gave the No. 25 team in the country all it could handle. Week in, week out, if Colorado can play like the 30th-best team in the nation – and do it for four quarters, not just three – there will be a great deal of success to celebrate in the near future.

… Just for fun (or irony, depending on your humor), there is another comparison to the 1984 team which bears noting …

Colorado fans will long remember and discuss the time mismanagement which cost the Buffs points late in the first half of the 2014 UCLA game. The Buffs, down 24-14, had just recovered a Brett Hundley fumble, and were driving in the final minute before the break. A completion to D.D. Goodson at the UCLA four-yard line had given the Buffs a first-and-goal with 24 seconds to play. Mistakenly believing that Goodson had been pushed out of bounds, the Buff coaching staff and players did not notice the game clock had been restarted (the side judge had clearly indicated that forward progress had been stopped, and that the clock would be restarted when the chains were set). When they saw the clock moving, they did not get a play going, choosing instead to argue with the referee. Too late, Mike MacIntyre frantically called for Sefo Liufau to spike the ball. With confusion reigning, a false start call against Stephane Nembot was all but inevitable. The penalty resulted in the final second being taken off the clock, and the Buffs were left at the Bruin four yard line with no points … in a game which they lost in double-overtime.

Now, I take you back to 1984.

Same opponent – UCLA.

Same venue – Folsom Field.

UCLA was ranked 17th in the nation (compared to 25th in 2014).

Colorado was 0-3 heading into the 1984 contest, and coming off a blowout loss to Notre Dame (compared to the 2-5 Buffs in 2014, coming off a blowout loss to USC).

In that 1984 game, the Buffs … will wonders never cease? … blew a chance at scoring a touchdown late in the first half due to poor time management.

From the CU at the Game Archives:

Other than a brief encounter in the fall of 1982 (See: Nebraska, 1982), I had not had the occasion to meet former Colorado head coach Bill McCartney.

Just before the half of the UCLA game, though, I had to be restrained from climbing down onto the field to renew our acquaintance.

I was so livid over what had occurred on the field that I decided I needed to discuss the matter personally with Bill. Fortunately for me, I had friends in the stands who held me back before security personnel were necessary.

The scene: Less than two minutes to go before half … 17th-ranked UCLA on the ropes against winless and pitiful (again) Colorado, leading only 13-3. The Bruins had just been pinned back deep in their own territory. Holding UCLA to a ten point lead at half seemed a certainty, which was not bad considering the 38-0 deficit the Buffs had faced at half the week before against Notre Dame. Better still, there was the very real possibility that the Buffs, if they could hold the Bruins and force a punt, could pull even closer.

First down. UCLA runs into the middle of the Buff defensive line for short yardage. Timeout, Colorado. In the stands, we in the Senior Section were going nuts.

Second down. A repeat of first down. Short yardage. Time-out, Colorado. It was clear that UCLA was hoping to just run out the clock, but the Buffs had different ideas.

Third down. If the Buffs could hold here, we would get the ball back with plenty of time to score.

In an attempt to cross up the Buffs and succeed in securing a first down which would run out the half, the Bruins decided to pass on third down. Such a maneuver, if unsuccessful, would play right into our hands.

A pass in this instance is risky for an offense. The quarterback could be sacked, pushing the offense further back towards its own goalline. Or, the pass could be intercepted, guaranteeing good field position for the opposition. Finally, the pass could fall incomplete. Normally, an incomplete pass is not a tragedy, but in a situation where the offense wants to keep the clock moving, throwing an incomplete pass, which automatically stops the clock, serves to help the defense by saving a timeout.

Bruin quarterback Matt Stevens, subbing for the injured Steve Bono, dropped back and threw the ball about twenty yards downfield, right in front of the Colorado bench and our vantage point in the Senior Section. The receiver dived – INCOMPLETE! The Buffs defense had held and forced a punt! There was still over a minute on the first half clock. There was still time to score!

The euphoria of the moment lasted just that – a moment. Just as we let out our first yells of approval, a Buff safety ran up to the official to call timeout.


Every ten year old in midget football knows that when there is an incomplete pass, the clock stops automatically. Yet here was the STUDENT ATHLETE from prestigious University of Colorado running up to an official after an incomplete pass and calling a timeout. The official dutifully complied, and the Buffs had squandered their last timeout of the first half.

… I could not be consoled. It did not help matters when the Colorado offense was able to drive down the UCLA one yard line, first-and-goal, but had to settle for a field goal with ten seconds left because the offense did not have a timeout. The half-time score was 13-6 instead of 13-10, and the team was booed off the field by the 38,000+ Buff fans in attendance …

The Buffs went on to lose that game to UCLA, 33-16 (the full write-up of the game, including my rant about “Student Athletes”, can be found here).

One can only wonder what might have happened in that 1984 game against UCLA, had Colorado scored a touchdown late in the first half, instead of having to settle for a field goal.

One can only wonder what might have happened in the 2014 game against UCLA, had Colorado scored a touchdown late in the first half, instead of coming away with no points.

The 1984 season ended with one victory and a series of near misses. The 1985 team, though, went to a bowl game.

The 2014 season may come to an end with only two or three victories. The 2015 team, though, …

Perhaps there is something to celebrating these anniversaries, after all.



2 Replies to “The Wrong Anniversary”

  1. Gotta hand it to you Stuart, I don’t remember that play in ’84. Your memory is better than mine. I also had season tickets in 1984 (and ’80), but was probably too drunk by the end of the first quarter to care. I just remember once wondering why Embree had committed to CU when they were frustratingly losing every week. He saw something I didn’t, and I’m glad he decided to be a Buff.

    This season, like ’84 has also been one of frustration, but because of what could have been, not the actual record. Many said this years team could be better than last years, and still have a worse record. I am hoping that recruits see that this team is close, and one or two great recruits can take this team over the top.

    Also hope the injuries sustained against UCLA were not too serious, although it doesn’t appear that way.

  2. Stuart, while the similarities are ironic, I would like to draw a distinction. In the 1984 game, the student athlete really did mess up by calling a timeout. There was no way to put responsibility on anyone else not wearing a CU uniform. In 2014, at least I thought Goodson really was out of bounds — after the UCLA tackler fell Goodson stepped backwards out of bounds. Yes it was the Buffs fault for not paying attention to the call at that moment, but in my opinion the situation was instigated by a terrible judgement by our fine Pac-12 officials.

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