CU at Its Best – No. 1         November 23, 2001          No. 14 Colorado 62, No. 2 Nebraska 36

Note … This the final installment of the 20 game countdown of my favorite CU games of the past 35 seasons (apologies to those who have a favorite game before 1980). I hope you have enjoyed the series!

Previous submissions:

CU at Its Best No. 2 – October 25, 1986                Colorado 20, No. 3 Nebraska 10

CU at Its Best No. 3 – September 24, 1994           No. 7 Colorado 27, No. 4 Michigan 26

CU at Its Best No. 4 – November 3, 1990              No. 9 Colorado 27, No. 3 Nebraska 12

CU at Its Best No. 5 – January 1, 1991                    No. 1 Colorado 10, No. 5 Notre Dame 9

CU at Its Best No. 6 – November 4, 1989              No. 2 Colorado 27, No. 3 Nebraska 21

CU at Its Best No. 7 – December 1, 2001               No. 9 Colorado 39, No. 3 Texas 37 (Big 12 Championship)

CU at Its Best No. 8 – January 2, 1995                  No. 4 Colorado 41, Notre Dame 24 (Fiesta Bowl)

CU at Its Best No. 9 – September 30, 1989          No. 5 Colorado 45, No. 21 Washington 28

CU at Its Best No. 10 – September 23, 1995        No. 7 Colorado 29, No. 3 Texas A&M 21

CU at Its Best No. 11 – September 22, 1990         No. 20 Colorado 29, No. 22 Texas 22

CU at Its Best No. 12 – November 19, 1994          No. 7 Colorado 41, Iowa State 20 (Salaam goes over 2,000; McCartney retires)

CU at Its Best No. 13 – December 25, 1998         Colorado 51, Oregon 43 (Aloha Bowl)

CU at Its Best No. 14 – September 14, 1985         Colorado 21, Oregon 17

CU at Its Best No. 15 – November 18, 1995          No. 9 Colorado 27, No. 7 Kansas State 17

CU at Its Best No. 16 – September 29, 2007        Colorado 27, No. 3 Oklahoma 24

CU at Its Best No. 17 –  August 30, 2003              Colorado 42, No. 23 Colorado State 35

CU at Its Best No. 18 – September 16, 1989         No. 8 Colorado 38, No. 10 Illinois 7

CU at Its Best No. 19 – December 31, 1999           Colorado 62, No. 25 Boston College 28 (Insight.com Bowl)

CU at Its Best No. 20 – September 2, 1995           No. 14 Colorado 43, No. 21 Wisconsin 7

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No. 14 Colorado v. No. 2 Nebraska – November 23, 2001

 Nebraska – Pre-game

Everyone who knows me knows that when it comes to CU football games, I am a “glass is half empty” fan.  I can usually find a dozen reasons to worry about any opponent the Buffs face.  If you had asked me the week of the San Jose State game whether I was concerned, I would have countered with details of a  team with a Heisman candidate in Deonce Whittaker and a 7-5 2000 record.  The best you can usually get out of me before a game in terms of a prediction is that I am “cautiously optimistic”.

For some reason, though, the Nebraska game was different.  Where the confidence came from, I can’t say, but I just knew the Buffs were going to win.  Before I left Bozeman for the game, I asked my wife, Lee, to tape the game.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s, when the Buffs were just re-entering the national stage, and seeing the Buffs on television was still something of a novelty, I taped a number of games.  Since the ‘94 season, though, I hadn’t taped a single game.  For some reason, though, I knew before I left Montana that I wanted a tape of this game.

My outward confidence continued on gameday.  At a tailgate party before the game, Randy and I caught up with fellow season ticket holders Brad and Scott.  Scott is my opposite when it comes to predictions.  For him, the glass is always half full.  When he asked for my prediction, he was shocked at my answer.  “That’s the kiss of death”, he muttered, certain that my change of attitude would doom the Buffs.

Perhaps my greatest show of confidence came as we were walking into the stadium.  Tony and Julie were going to the game, but the tickets I had obtained for them were in the bowl of the stadium.  Tony asked where we should meet after the game.  “The twenty-yard line”, I responded.  When asked to repeat my response, I assured Tony he had heard correctly.  “The twenty-yard line”, I repeated.  Thirty minutes before kickoff, I was so confident that the Buffs would not only win, but that we would be able to participate in the post-game celebration down on the field, that I didn’t allow for any additional possibilities.

It would be up to the Buffs to make me a prophet.

 November 23rd – Boulder      No. 14 Colorado 62, No. 2 Nebraska 36

The Colorado Buffaloes exorcised a decade’s worth of demons in one afternoon as the Buffs demolished the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 62-36, before a raucous crowd of 53,790 and a national television audience. #14 Colorado scored early and often against the nation’s #2 ranked team (#1 in the BCS standings), posting the highest point total ever allowed by a Nebraska team.

Chris Brown rushed for 198 yards and a school record six touchdowns to lead the long list of Buff heroes.  Bobby Pesavento completed only nine passes, but they went for 202 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Graham.  To compliment Chris Brown, Bobby Purify rushed 20 times for 154 yards and a score.  In all, Colorado put up 582 yards of total offense, including 380 yards on the ground against a defense which had been allowing only 93 yards/game entering the contest.

First Half

In the most recent CU/NU games, it was the Cornhuskers who habitually started quickly.  In fact, in seven out of the past 11 games between the Buffs and the Cornhuskers, Nebraska had scored a touchdown within the first four minutes of game time a mind-numbing seven times.  For the Buffs, who had lost the last five games to Nebraska by a total of only 15 points, a quick start was imperative.

Mission accomplished.

Nebraska took the opening kickoff, and on the first play from scrimmage, sophomore linebacker Sean Tufts tackled NU quarterback Eric Crouch behind the line for a three-yard loss.  Two plays later, the Cornhuskers were forced to punt.  Advantage, Colorado.

On third down after taking possession, the Buffs hit on what may have been the most important play of the early going.  Bobby Pesavento hit wide receiver Matt Brunson for a 26-yard completion to the Cornhusker 39-yard line.  The play was significant as the Buffs, rather than give the ball back to the Nebraska offense, kept the ball and the early momentum.  On the very next play, Bobby Purify dashed up the middle untouched.  7-0, Colorado.  12:17 left in the first quarter.

What happened next to the Cornhuskers was – in a sense – familiar.  The wheels fell off.  What was unfamiliar to Nebraska and its fans was that this time, instead of jumping all over an intimidated opponent, it was the opponent which was taking advantage of the Big Red’s mistakes.

On the Cornhuskers’ next possession, running back Dahrran Diedrick fumbled.  It took the Buffs all of one play to score, with Bobby Pesavento hitting Daniel Graham for a 21-yard score.  14-0, Colorado.  11:47 to play in the first quarter.

After driving to midfield on the ensuing drive, Nebraska went for a fourth-and-one.  Eric Crouch slipped and fell behind the line of scrimmage, giving possession back to the Buffs.  Pesavento promptly hit Graham on a 49-yard pass, and two plays later Pesavento did the honors from a yard out.  21-0, Colorado.  5:35 still to play in the first quarter.

A long kickoff return set up a Nebraska field goal, giving the Cornhuskers and their fans some sense of normalcy.  Then the Buffs turned to Chris Brown, and two drives later, both of which needed only five plays to cover 80 yards, Brown had two scores.  Brown’s touchdowns, (the first from 12 yards out, the second from the one), gave CU a commanding 35-3 lead early in the second quarter.

The remainder of the quarter was mostly left to Nebraska, with the Cornhuskers scoring three touchdowns to offset Chris Brown’s third score of the day.  At the half, everyone stopped to collect their breaths as the Buffs took a 42-23 advantage into the locker room.

Second Half

Nebraska showed in the second and third quarters why they were the 2nd-ranked team in the nation.  Falling behind 35-3 in the second quarter, the Cornhuskers fought back to make the score 42-30 late in third quarter.  Nebraska dominated the third, holding the Buffs to three punts.  Meanwhile, the CU defense bent but did not break.  Nebraska drove to the CU one-yard line on its opening drive, only to have CU junior linebacker Drew Wahlroos force a Diedrick fumble.  NU did score on a Crouch six-yard run on its next drive, but the 42-30 score was as close as the Cornhuskers would come.

The play of the game occurred on the Buffs’ next drive.  Pinned down on its seven-yard line, with momentum clearly in favor of the visiting team, the Buffs were on the verge of allowing a 32-point lead to vanish.  Then quarterback Bobby Pesavento, who had been an afterthought coming into the 2001 season on the heels of Craig Ochs’ freshman campaign, made the play which turned momentum permanently back to Colorado.

Dropping back to pass close to his own goal line, Pesavento saw his two tight ends, both running crossing patterns, collide into one another.  Out of options, Pesavento took off.  Not known for his quickness, Pesavento nonetheless scrambled for 22 yards and a CU first down.  The Buff quarterback’s run put in motion a nine-play, 93-yard drive, culminated by a Chris Brown one-yard touchdown run, his fourth on the day, giving the Buffs a 49-30 lead with 12:50 to play.

The comfortable lead quickly turned into a record-setting rout soon thereafter, as Eric Crouch was picked off by safety Michael Lewis and linebacker Joey Johnson on NU’s next two possessions.  Both interceptions led to Chris Brown touchdown runs, and the scoreboard soon read an unbelievable 62-30.  The only score in the last ten minutes of the contest was a seven-yard touchdown run by Eric Crouch, who would amass a school-record 360 yards of total offense on the day.

Postgame

Of all the records set on the day, the number 62 received the most attention.  The most points ever scored against Nebraska.  Ever.  The previous high was 61 points posted by Minnesota in 1945.  “You never think it will go like this, obviously,” said Gary Barnett.  “But every once in a while, it all works.  Sixty-two points.  That’s almost too overwhelming for me.  It’s going to take a while to sink in.”

The Buffs’ offense had a field day against one of the nation’s best defenses.  But record-setting Chris Brown was quick to credit the offensive line.  “When you have guys up front like we do, who make dominating blocks and open those gaping holes, it makes it very easy for us tailbacks,” said Brown. “All I had to do was run through and get to the end zone.”  Said Barnett of the offensive line: “I don’t know that I’ve seen a more dominating performance from a team at CU.”

Where to go from here?  Colorado had earned its first-ever birth in the Big 12 Championship game.  The assumed opponent was Oklahoma, who only had to defeat Oklahoma State the next day.  Would the Buffs, who had satisfied the quest of reaching the title game in Dallas, be able to get up for the game?  “If we have trouble getting up for (the title game), we’re in trouble”, said safety Robbie Robinson.  “The stakes keep getting higher,” said senior offensive tackle Victor Rogers.  “You go from one great team to a team that is equally great or maybe even a little bit greater.  Believe me, it is not going to be hard at all.  You guys have no idea how badly this team, and especially these seniors, want to go out with a bang.”

The next afternoon, the BCS took another hit when Oklahoma State upset Oklahoma, setting up a rematch between Colorado and Texas.  Texas now had the Big 12 inside track to the national championship game at the Rose Bowl.

But the Buffs were not done wreaking havoc with the BCS computers.

Down on the Field

I had not been down on the grass of Folsom Field since the new turf had been laid in 1999.  I had not been down on the field to celebrate a CU win in over a decade.

It felt great to be back.

It took some time to get down to the floor of the stadium.  The students rushed the field as the final seconds ticked off, making quick work of the goal posts.  For us in the 79th row, though, there would be a wait.  No one moved towards the exits.  No one moved at all.  We just stood and watched. And yelled.  And savored.

By the time the four of us – Randy, Brad, Scott, and myself – made it to the stadium floor, many of the celebrants had moved on.  That was fine with us.  I took a run out to the 20-yard line, where I had told Tony and Julie to meet us, just to stomp the grass.  It felt wonderful.  Tony and Julie weren’t there, having more sense than the four of us than to fight there way down to the field, but we did take the time to have our pictures taken with the scoreboard in the background.  (On seeing the pictures later, my wife Lee couldn’t help but remark how the grins on our faces made us look as if we were convinced that we had dispatched the hated ‘Huskers ourselves).

Big smiles all around after the game!
Big smiles all around after the game!

It was sweet.  We caught up with Tony and Julie at the site of our tailgate party, and the celebration began anew with the group assembled there.  Whereas the win over CSU almost three months earlier had brought a sense of relief, this win brought nothing but joy.  62 points – against Nebraska!  It couldn’t possibly get any sweeter than that!  Big 12 North champions after going 3-8!

The bad weather predicted for the game had never materialized.  It was cool, but pleasant.  Still, it was late November, and the sun was long gone.  After a quick beer and a few hugs, it was time to move on.  Everyone was hungry, so we were off to dinner and more celebration.

As we left the tailgate party, we walked in front of my old dorm, Libby Hall, just a few hundred feet from the stadium.  I paused for a moment as the group started off for the parking lot.  I looked back at the now nearly quiet stadium, brightly illuminated by flood lights.  An occasional whoop or holler cut through the night.  I heard a honk of a horn, but somehow I just knew it was a celebratory sound, not one made in anger.  How could anyone be impatient at a time like this?

Final score: 62-36. I just wanted to soak it in for a moment longer. I closed my eyes. I felt a smile cross my face. It was perfect.

Through the cool night air I heard Brad call my name. I opened my eyes and hurried to catch up with my friends.

Here is the full game video, courtesy of CU at the Gamer Paul:

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 Game Notes:

Where to start?

Records set by Colorado as a Nebraska opponent

(some of these records have been surpassed since 2001):

Most points: 62 (old record, 61, Minnesota, 1945)

Most points in a half by an opponent: 42 (38, UCLA, 1988)

Most points in a quarter by an opponent: 28 (28, UCLA, 1988)

Most touchdowns by an opposing team: 9 (8, Oklahoma, 1954, 1956)

Most touchdowns by an opposing player (Chris Brown): 6 (5, Steve Owens, OU, 1968)

CU records set against any opponent:

Most touchdowns, rushing, game: 6, Chris Brown (old record 4, on 11 occasions)

Most touchdowns, game: 6, Chris Brown (4, on 13 occasions)

Most points scored, game: 36, Chris Brown (27, Byron White v. Colorado Mines, 10/30/37)

Most touchdowns rushing, team, game: 8 (tied record – three times. Latest v. KSU, 11/18/89)

CU records set in Colorado/Nebraska series (60 games up to 2001):

Most points: 62 (36, 11/15/51)

Most yards, total offense: 552 (504, 11/26/99)

Most yards rushing, individual: 198, Chris Brown (165, Rashaan Salaam, 10/30/93)

Most yards receiving, individual: 112, Daniel Graham (107, Phil Savoy, 11/28/97, Donnie Holmes, 10/9/82)

In case you haven’t gotten enough, here are the video highlights:

9 Replies to “CU at Its Best – No. 1”

  1. After so many heart wrenchingly close losses to NU in the years before 2001, I decided to just tape the game and go skiing at Alyeska. I figured I’d watch it if CU won and be spared the agony if they lost.
    We wandered into the bar at halftime, just to check the score. I could not believe it. I figured it must be a mistake by the graphics guy. As a result, I didn’t see the game live on ABC. But watching the tape was a pure joy. It must have been amazing to see it in person.

  2. Great stuff as always, Stuart! I had gone home for Thanksgiving, then woke up on Friday at 6a to make the 3 hour drive to Boulder, drop off my stuff (clean laundry!) at my apartment, then make my way over to Folsom because I think the game began at 11a. Overcast, but that was the only gloom I recall sensing that day. We got there early, landed in the student section about 10 rows up at the 5 yard line, and gave Tracy Winstorm (NFLer Grant Winstrom’s younger brother) hell as Nebraska warmed up in front of us. Then, it was out and out euphoria from kickoff. It was admittedly a bit unsettling when Nebraska fought back and added some intrigue in the 3rd quarter, but I was confident that we had this one. I was absolutely shocked (and elated) with how it went down. I was confident, but never did I think it would happen the way it did. I remember a buddy of mine calling and telling me that they were showing the Nebraska fans, inconsolable and crying. I will never forget that day, that game, rushing the field, running around like a madman, see the joy on the faces of the students and players and coaches, and observing the absolute shock and despair on the faces of the ‘husk. And although CU has struggled the last decade, I will always stick by my Buffs, and there is undoubtedly a sense of pride that this was the game the re-wrote Nebraska’s script that they still haven’t recovered from. For those that went out partied that night, more power to you! After 4 hours of sleep the night before, a 3 hour drive, standing and yelling and jumping around for what I believe was 7 hours (seriously, this game took forever- I know for sure that the sun had set by the time this one was over), then sprinting and zig-zagging the field, I got home and crashed for 10 hours. I felt like I had played in this game.

    Shoulder to shoulder!

    And seriously, Stuart, any idea what the actual duration of the game was?!

    1. According to the official stats from the game, it took 3:31 to play … Weather was 45 degrees, cloudy skies, 10 mph winds from the NE. If I remember correctly, this was when we were switching back-and-forth with the Texas/Texas A&M game on ABC on the Friday after Thanksgiving. So kickoff would have been around 2:30 p.m., finishing around 6:00.

  3. Simply awesome.

    Stuart, out of curiosity, do you remember what gave you the confidence about the game that day? Was it that CU came so close in Lincoln the year before? Had you seen Nebraska play earlier in the season and thought their #1 BCS ranking was false? I am just curious because I remember when this game started I was VERY glass half empty, and even after our great 1st half, started to get that sinking feeling in the 3rd quarter (too much history of “so close” I guess).

    Thanks for the great write up about a fantastic game!

    1. Thomas,
      I wish I could tell you (because, as noted, I am usually a glass half-empty pessimist). Perhaps it was just a feeling that we were due (recall that it wasn’t just one close loss. We had lost to Nebraska the last five seasons … by a total of 15 points). Perhaps it was just optimism/relief that we were able to walk into the stadium dry (since it was supposed to be cold and wet by kickoff).

      Still, even with my “optimism”, I shared your fears even after CU went up big. I remember yelling “don’t let up” to the CU sideline (from the 72nd row) after CU took a 35-3 lead. After all, it was only the second quarter, and there was still plenty of time for the Huskers to catch up …

  4. One of the best days in my life for many reasons. I want the feeling from that day again. I NEED the feeling from that day again. I believe again! Go Buffs!

  5. I remember watching this game at my brother’s apartment in Smiley court and hearing the cheers from the stadium before seeing the plays on the broadcast. Some of the best offensive line play that you’ll see. Here’s hoping they can capture some of that magic this season.

  6. Terrific recitation Stuart. I sat 2/3 of a continent away – on the floor of my den in central New Jersey not believing what it was that I was seeing. At some point during the game (I cannot recall when) they showed several firefighters from the FDNY who were at the game on the CU sideline. The whole experience – even relegated to watching it on TV – was surreal.

    …and to follow up one week later with the Big XII Championship win over Texas – in Texas! – just added to the experience.

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