Back to the Future

Doc Brown and Marty McFly would have been proud.

Hell, we even had enough lightning at Folsom Field for the Colorado/Oregon game to generate 1.21 gigawatts of electricity.

In the movie, Back to the Future II, Doc, Marty, and Marty’s girlfriend, Jennifer (who was different from the actress who played Jennifer in the first movie, though we were not supposed to notice) take off in the Delorean, leaving 1985 for 2015 so that Marty and Jennifer can save their children from a terrible future.

The date the trio travels to … October 21, 2015.

So, the movie was a little bit off in terms of dates, as the Colorado Buffalo program went “Back to the Future” Saturday night in Boulder, trying to turn October 3, 2015, into September 14, 1985.

Here’s the thing … what almost took place in Folsom Saturday night was almost a clone of the Colorado/Oregon game from 1985.

In short, we’d seen this movie before – and in 1985 it had a happy ending.

Same teams, same location … thirty years apart, just like the in Back to the Future franchise.

Talk about life imitating art.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Colorado football program in the dark ages of the early 1980’s, let me set the stage.

September, 1985 …

The Buffs were coming off of a 1-10 season in 1984, a season in which the Buffs were mauled on a consistent basis (55-14 by Notre Dame; 52-7 by Missouri; 42-17 by Oklahoma … you get the idea).

To make matters worse, the 1984 season was not an anomaly. The program had just endured its school record sixth straight losing season, which included the first two 1-10 seasons (1980 being the other) in school history. The coach, Bill McCartney, had posted a 7-25-1 record in his first three seasons, only a fraction better than the 7-26 record Chuck Fairbanks had posted before slinking out of town in June of 1982.

Compare September, 2015 …

The Buffs were coming off a 2-10 season in 2014, a season in which the Buffs were handled on a consistent basis (56-28 by USC; 38-20 by Arizona; 44-10 by Oregon … you get the idea).

To make matters worse, the 2014 season was not an anomaly. The program had just endured its ninth straight losing season, breaking the school record of six straight losing seasons set three decades before. The coach, Mike MacIntyre, had posted a 6-18 record in his first two seasons, not a huge improvement over the 4-21 record Jon Embree had posted before being ridden out of town in November of 2012.

In 1985 …

The Buffs did have an early win over CSU on the resume. A welcome victory for the CU fan base, to be sure, but not a win which garnered much national attention.

In 2015 …

The Buffs did have an early win over CSU on the resume. A welcome victory for the CU fan base, to be sure, but not a win which garnered much national attention.

In 1985 …

Oregon was coming to Folsom Field, giving the Colorado program a chance at making a statement that the Buffs were ready to put losing seasons behind them.

In 2015 …

Oregon was coming to Folsom Field, giving the Colorado program a chance at making a statement that the Buffs were ready to put losing seasons behind them.

In 1985 …

Colorado not only stayed with Oregon, they played well enough to take a first half lead. The Ducks, though, took control in the third quarter, forging a 17-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.

In 2015 …

Colorado not only stayed with Oregon, they played well enough to take a first half lead. The Ducks, though, took control in the third quarter, forging a 31-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Here, sad to say, is where the stories lose their continuity.

From the 1985 recap of the Colorado/Oregon game in the CU at the Game Archives:

Quarterback Mark Hatcher scored on a 22-yard run early in the fourth quarter to put the Buffs back on top, 21-17. After that, the defense was asked to take over. Specifically, the game, and the fragile confidence of Colorado’s young team, came down to the play of two sophomore defensive backs, David Tate and Mickey Pruitt.

With the Buffs holding on to a tenuous four-point lead after Hatcher’s run, Oregon drove down the field. The drive was thwarted, however, by an interception by David Tate at the Buffs’ 10 yard line. After the pick, the Buffs were held deep in their own territory and were quickly forced to punt. Punter Barry Helton did his part, with a 68-yard kick down to the Ducks 13-yard line.

5:23 still remained. Colorado 21, Oregon 17.

The Ducks, led by future NFL quarterback Chris Miller, methodically drove from its own 13 to the Colorado three-yard line as the clock ticked off the final minutes of the game.

Oregon had a first-and-goal at the Colorado five yard line with a minute left to play. Three plays netted only two yards, however, with Buff fans pleading with the defense to hold on for one more down.

Faced with fourth-and-goal at the Colorado three yard line, Chris Miller called time out.

Only nine seconds remained on the game clock.

The game would come down to one play.

What would it be for the Buffs? Would Colorado double its 1984 win total in only the second week of the season, or would the black cloud which had hung over Folsom Field for the previous six years again rain upon the Buffs and their faithful fans?

Enter Mickey Pruitt.

Sophomore strong safety Mickey Pruitt was a member of Bill McCartney’s first recruiting class. It was fitting then, that it was Pruitt who broke through on a blitz, flushing Miller out of the pocket, sacking the Oregon quarterback before Miller could get off the pass.

Ball turned over on downs.

Game over. Colorado 21, Oregon 17.

Here is the YouTube video of the final play, with KOA’s Larry Zimmer call:

The victory over Oregon gave Colorado a 2-0 record on the 1985 season. Not great, but a significant improvement over the 1-10 campaign of 1984. With the momentum generated by the win over the Ducks, the Buffs went on to a 7-4 regular season, and CU’s first bowl game since 1978.

After the game, CU head coach Bill McCartney made a prophetic statement: “I think that could be a turning point for our program”.

The Buffs, after not posting a winning season in six years, went on to go the next 12 seasons without a losing campaign, including five ten-win seasons and a national championship.

Back to 2015 …

Instead of claiming the lead against the Ducks, and holding on at the end for a dramatic victory, the Buffs gave up a costly turnover. Oregon took advantage, turning a precarious 31-24 lead into a 38-24 lead, finally settling for a 41-24 victory.

The Buffs did have their chances, but three turnovers and some ill-timed penalties were too much to overcome.

“I definitely thought we could win the game and we had some opportunities to do it”, said coach Mike MacIntyre. “Especially when we got it back to 31-24 and we stopped them and they go for it on third down and two and do the reverse and we were just inches away from making the play. That would have been a huge play there”.

Now, the 2015 Buffs are left with “could have beens” and “should have beens”, and the reality of a Pac-12 conference game losing streak which now totaled 12 straight games. The Buffs, despite clear improvement on both sides of the ball, were still faced with the harsh truth that Mike MacIntyre record in Pac-12 games had fallen to 1-18. The Buffs’ next opportunity for a Pac-12 win would come against Arizona State, on the road, against a team which had mauled the Buffs, 48-14 and 54-13, in games played in Tempe.

The stars … and even the weather … were aligned for the Buffs against Oregon. C’mon. Lightning? How fitting was that?

Thirty years after a “turning point” win against Oregon, the Colorado football program had a chance to repeat history.

The Buffs had their chances to go “Back to the Future” Saturday night, but the clock struck midnight (literally) when the fourth quarter comeback was thwarted.

If the Buffs just had that damned Delorean …


Note … For those interested, the full recap of the 1985 Colorado/Oregon game, including a story of Ed Reinhardt’s return to Folsom Field a year after being injured in the Oregon game in Eugene, can be found here

7 Replies to “Back to the Future … Almost”

  1. Stuart,

    Great as always, thank you so much for what you do,

    Needed to write about my experience this past Saturday, I had a great time tailgating out in the rain and getting an extra hour in for pregame rituals, food and fun.

    I also had the pleasure running into both Ed Reinhardt Junior and Senior. Senior was sporting some Oregon gear ad Junior was in CU gear. It was awesome to meet them both before the game, what an inspiration they both are. Apparently after telling my dad about meeting them both he reminded me that I met them in high school which apparently I had forgotten…

    What a great game in my opinion, it’s a bummer the 2nd half didn’t go our way but if you would have told me we would be tied with Oregon at the half at the beginning of this season I would not have believed you , also I disagree with some commentators saying we matched up with Oregon’s size. I still think we looked undersized compared to OU. However I think the first half was a clear reflection of the grit this team has and compared to two years ago the team is definitely on the upswing!!

    1. Mark:

      Mine too. 1985 was my freshman year. I remember the Oregon game as if it happened yesterday. Not simply because of Mickey Pruitt’s sack of Chris Miller on the game’s final play, but because of Ed Reinhardt and his family riding around the field in convertibles with him waving to the crowd – just about one year after he almost died due to injuries he suffered during the 1984 CU v. UO game in Eugene. Remarkable afternoon.


  2. Stuart: Any information on the penalty against “the Colorado Team”? Coach Mac was having an animated conversation with Tumpkin and the sideline – Did Tumpkin say something to an official? or what happened? Do you know?

    1. It sounds as if Tumpkin went ballistic on a non-call when safety Ryan Moeller was hit after the play. Tumpkin got after the ref, which led to the unsportsmanlike call on the bench, which led, in turn, to MacIntyre going at it with Tumpkin.
      I wouldn’t read anything extra into the MacIntyre/Tumpkin exchange – two passionate coaches caught up in the moment. I wouldn’t expect to see Tumpkin disciplined (at least not externally), and would not expect to see him leave at the end of the season due to a strained relationship with the head coach.

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