How Will You React?

Adversity is coming.

It’s inevitable.

Since the final gun ending Ohio State’s win over Oregon in last season’s championship game, every team has received a clean slate. Every team has been undefeated. Every team has gone through Signing Day, Spring practices and Fall Camp with ever-increasing anticipation and expectations. We’ve gone from sipping the Kool-Aid to drinking it down in thirsty gulps.

But things will not work out as fans hope they will, and for teams like Colorado, adversity usually comes sooner rather than later.

I’m not saying that the Buffs will lose to Hawai’i, or even that Colorado won’t go through the non-conference part of their schedule undefeated. I’m just saying that a team which has found new and painful ways to disappoint its fans over the past decade isn’t likely to do a complete 180 in nine months. A team which went winless in conference play last fall isn’t all of the sudden going to stop finding new and agonizingly inventive ways to lose conference games in the future.

The question of the day: How will you react?

No one is suggesting that you will throw in the towel and quit your Buffs (you are, after all, on a website reading about a team without a winning season since 2005, so your loyalty is not at issue).

But what will be your reaction when CU misfires?

Will you sulk? Will you get angry? Will you try and laugh it off with false bravado?

Different people have different reactions to adversity. I got to witness that up close and personal Friday night at a high school football game I wasn’t even supposed to attend.

Mother nature intervened.

The Bozeman Hawks were scheduled to start their high school football season on the road this weekend against the Missoula Hellgate Knights. The smoke from the fires in Washington and Oregon, though, created too much smoke for the game to be played in Missoula, so the contest was moved 200 miles to the southeast and Bozeman, which had relatively better air quality.

For Bozeman home games, members of the Gallatin Empire Lions Club are asked to work the sidelines as the chain gang. As a 25-year member of the Club (damn, I’m getting old), I have worked many Hawk games, and consider the task to be one of the perks of being a member.

The chain gang works the sideline of the visiting team (so as not to be a distraction to the home team players and coaches), so I have had the opportunity to watch a myriad of coaching styles and player reactions over the years.

Which leads me to Friday night’s game in Bozeman …

The Knights of Missoula Hellgate had not won a game in two years, and while Bozeman has had decent teams in recent years (a state title in 2010; an undefeated regular season in 2013), the Hawks had fallen off to a 5-6 record in 2014. As is the case for every football team n the nation, there were no guarantees as to what would happen in 2015. Both teams entered the season with high hopes and great expectations.  The outcome of the first game of the season was very much in doubt.

For about three plays.

On the first play from scrimmage of the 2015 season, the Hawks blitzed up the middle, with the Hellgate quarterback being sacked before he had any opportunity to make a play. On second down, the rattled Missoula quarterback fumbled the snap, falling on the ball for a second consecutive three yard loss. On third-and-16, an open receiver was overthrown, forcing a punt.

The short punt was returned deep into Missoula territory, with the Hawks needing only three plays to make it a 7-0 game. Another three-and-out by the Knights – actually, a four-and-out, as the fake punt didn’t produce a first down – gave the Hawks good field position once again. A few plays later, it was 14-0.

It only got worse for the Knights thereafter.

By the time Missoula posted its first first down of the game, it was the second quarter, with the score up to 35-0. When Missoula ran its first offensive play on Bozeman’s side of the field, there were 17 seconds remaining in the third quarter. A 49-0 halftime score led to a quick and merciful second half, with the final being Bozeman 56, Missoula 7.

The relevance of this season opener to the Buffs’ season opener against Hawai’i has nothing to do with the score or the high school teams involved. The relevance comes from the fact that, less than five minutes into the first quarter, the game result was already known, giving me the opportunity to observe how the Hellgate Knights and their coaches reacted to the harsh reality of how much of the 2015 season was likely to play out.

Nine months worth of hard work, planning and dreaming were all derailed before one quarter of one game had been played. It was not even Labor Day, yet the Missoula Hellgate Knights had a very good sense that 2015 would play out much as did 2014 and 2013 … winless.

How would you react if you were a Hellgate Knight, knowing full well that all of the off-season work to improve had proven to be without any foreseeable benefit?

There were three Knights I observed as the game unfolded, two players and one coach.

They each dealt with the humbling defeat  and their sobering reality in different ways:

The wide receiver

One of the star players for the Knights was a tall, well-proportioned wide receiver. You could tell by the way he carried himself that he was an athlete’s athlete, probably a star on the basketball team and track teams after football season came to an end. At the beginning of the game, he was fired up, encouraging his teammates. He was frustrated after the first pass of the game – the aforementioned third-and-16 overthrow – missed its mark. He yelled at the side judge about being pushed out of bounds on punt coverage on the very next play, even though the alleged offense took place on the other side of the field from that official.

As each Missoula offensive possession resulted in a punt or a turnover, and every Bozeman offensive possession turned into touchdowns, the star wide receiver lost interest in making plays or being a teammate. Each subsequent possession was more and more about him. He loudly proclaimed that he was wide open on every play (neglecting to notice, perhaps, that his quarterback was constantly running for his life). If the play didn’t involve him, he didn’t complete his routes. On running plays, his blocking was indifferent at best.

Less than halfway through the first half of the first game of the season, the star wide receiver had checked out.

The linebacker

While the Bozeman offense continued to score at will against the Missoula defense, there was a linebacker who refused to give up the fight. Not very tall, and not very quick, he nonetheless seemed to be in on almost every tackle.

As the second half began, and the Hellgate defense was being summoned for the Hawks’ first possession, one assistant coach turned to another, inquiring as to the whereabouts of the linebacker, as he was not on the field. The linebacker, as it turned out, was standing next to the assistant, helmet off. I didn’t hear the complete explanation, but it sounded as if the player’s helmet and a locker room locker had had an interaction, and that, as a result of the one way dispute, the linebacker would not be participating in the second half.

The lack of equipment was not the issue, but rather the linebacker’s temperament. When asked what had happened by the out-of-the-loop assistant, the only part I heard directly was the linebacker saying, “… and I’m still pissed”. Whether the player was angry at himself, his teammates, or his coaches (or all three) I don’t know, but I do know that the player’s taking out his frustrations on his equipment led to him watching the second half from the sidelines.

The assistant coach

The Knights had one assistant coach who was a very large man. Clearly a player himself a few decades back, here on the Hellgate sideline was a jovial individual who clearly loved being a part of the game. I couldn’t discern which unit he was responsible for during the game – perhaps he was the designated morale coach – but he remained upbeat throughout the contest. He joked with the referees, he joked with us on the chain gang … he had a good time, despite the devastation.

Perhaps this assistant was just putting on a brave face to hide the pain. Perhaps he was just trying to keep the players upbeat in a program where that was most certainly a difficult task.

I would like to think that this coach would be just as friendly and easy-going if the game was for the state championship.

But with the team they have at Missoula Hellgate, it’s not likely we’ll ever get a chance to find out.

So, the question I pose to you, Buff fan, is how will you react when (okay, “if”) the Buffs fail to live up to expectations?

After all, this is a team which has disappointed us many times in recent years.

We have been painting an ever brighter picture on the 2015 season as the 2014 season recedes ever further into our memories.

Yes, the Buffs have a new defensive coordinator, one with a track record of turning around poorly producing defenses.

Yes, the Buffs are a year more experienced, and have many quality returning starters.

Yes, the schedule does set up well for a potentially momentum-building 4-0 non-conference start.

But, this is also …

– A team which went winless in conference play last season, a low mark not matched in 99 seasons;

– The team enters the season on an eight-game losing streak, and was held scoreless – at home – in the second half against the team in faces on the road in the opener, Hawai’i; and

– A team with a defense which gave up 39 points a game last year, and one which hasn’t posted an interception in almost a full calendar year.

We’ve done the point/counter-point for the past nine months. Late next Thursday night/Friday morning, we will start to get some answers.

Perhaps the Buffs will come out strong against Hawai’i, and post a strong victory which propels them to a season Colorado fans have longed for for the past decade. Perhaps the Buffs will be an undefeated team heading into its matchup with Oregon, coming in with a 4-0 record, with the Ducks still stinging from a loss to Michigan State.

Or, perhaps, the Buffs will lay an egg on the islands, as they did against the Rainbow Warriors in the 2010 season opener. Perhaps the Buffs will stink it up against UMass … or Colorado State.

History suggests the latter scenarios are more likely than the former. Colorado, like Missoula Hellgate, has posted far more losses in recent years than it has wins.

If the Buffs do stumble out of the gate, and all of our pent up hopes and dreams are once again dashed before the leaves turn …

How will you react? …



15 Replies to “How Will You React?”

  1. I for one would not be surprised if we stumble out the gate against Hawaii and lose. CU, even when good, struggles in tropical, sea level locations. The players are likely to be jet lagged and tired. It’s going to be much more humid than the players are used to. I think if we win, it’ll show that our team is resilient. The opponent may not be the toughest, but the logistics of the trip make it tough to beat them at their stadium.

  2. The previous comments demonstrate the quality of true buffs. The comments are thoughtful and well expressed, as one would expect from a buff.

    Nonetheless, I believe that some posters on other sites along with some media that cover the buffs, and even RG, have created an atmosphere of unrealistic hope along with excessive and unfair expectations.

    In order to build something properly it must be well conceived, properly planned, meticulously executed by the right people, and most importantly, built to last. there can be no compromise on quality. there must be patience.

    I see those qualities in the rebuilding of Colorado athletics. the administration, if not fully awake is no longer comatose. the football staff is doing it the right way. last year’s team made big strides. it appears this squad will do so also. it may not be a bowl game but this program is regaining its character, from which all else flows.

    we must note quality in ways other than the win total. it may not be this year that the total rises but the program is moving steadily – and correctly – in the right manner.

    that said, I look forward to this season. the buffs are beginning to be again the University of Colorado Buffaloes. They won’t be the complete version for a little while yet.

    an apt quote(s):

    Coach Norman Dale: If you put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can be, I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.

  3. Been with the Buffs through thick and thin for 30 years. Every loss is agonizing, and yet every week, I believe they have a chance to win.

    Id be a fool to give up on them now. I support the Buffs no matter what.

  4. Recent disappointment leads to reasonable doubt, but I do believe that this team will exceed expectations. That does not mean that they will have a winning record, although I can foresee the possibility. I just think that the team will be able to compete with almost everyone. This current coaching staff gives me hope especially after the last two head coaches.

  5. If they don’t win in Hawaii, it will be a let down, but not something to judge the whole season by. MacIntyre has already shown that his teams get better as the season progresses. And our Defense is going to be better and better as they grow into Leavitt’s schemes each week.

    So a close loss in Hawaii will be disappointing, but does not make a season. A huge loss in Hawaii means I will wait until the end of the season to see if Hawaii wins the Mountain West before I decide we are no good.

  6. Of the many reasons for athletic programs, probably the most important is the potential to build character. Vince Lombardi never said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” Although that is the quote most often attributed to him, his actual words were: “Winning is not everything, but making the effort to win is.” Great coaches understand this. Winners are those who give it their all, even if the score shows they lost the game.
    While attending the Annual Football Kickoff luncheon last week, I had the privilege of shaking hands with Coach MacIntyre. I had heard and read that he is a genuine great coach. The look in his eyes and smile confirmed that for me. I have no doubt that he genuinely cares about people and wants everyone to become a winner – especially his players. As quoted by Brian Howell in an article on Buffzone, he said, “”I truly believe that if you help develop the person, you get a better player”.
    Like every Buff fan I’m hoping this is the year they finally turn the corner. But I’m realistic about the competition they face. For good reason many sports writers are predicting another losing season: 3-10 (0-9 Pac-12) – with Nicholls and Massachusetts the only “sure wins”. We all know that our Pac 12 competition will be fielding “superior” athletes than our Buffs. But we also know that in football – like in life – how the Buffs handle their emotion will be a big part of whether they can pull off a winning season.

    Thanks Stuart for another very thoughtful article to kick off the 2015 season. Go Buffs!

    1. BTW Stuart, being that you are from Montana did you see last nights game between Montana and N. Dakota? (They won with 1 sec. left on 4th down 38-35 WOW, what a game!!).

      Montana debuted their new coach – the offensive guru even Leach listens to – Bob Stitt from Colorado School of Mines. I know his name was bandied about before Coach MacIntyre was hired.

      It goes to show that brilliant, creative coaching and play calling can win games on the backs of “inferior” athletic players. Do you believe – as I suspect – that Brian Lindgren has many of the same qualities and potential that we see in Coach Stitt? Do you think our offense will likely move back into the top ranks this year?

      1. I did watch the game, with mixed emotions at the end.
        As a Montanan, it was nice to see the Griz beat a school from North Dakota.
        Living in Bobcat country, however, it is never easy to root for the Grizzlies.
        I hope that Lindgren will prove to be the equal of Stitt. It was a good move for him, going to Montana from Mines. It may have worked out if he had been hired by CU, but it would have been quite a leap to 1-A and all that comes with it (recruiting, donors, etc.)

  7. I will react the same way I have reacted since 1981. I’m a Buff fan through and out. Win or loss. I’m the fan that’s still in the stands as the clock expires in the fourth quarter. I witnessed 84-42 and 62-36 in the same section. I love these kids like they are my own and my loyalty is to them, not the university. In 2012 it was different than any season I have seen. The players did not stop to chat, they avoided all eye contact and went straight to the locker room. Maybe because EB screamed at them from the second he stepped foot back on campus. Every practice and in the booth during every game.
    The atmosphere has changed. This is not 2012. I will still continue to support these guys even if they poop out early but if you have spent anytime at practice the last two years, then you have noticed the wave of change. It is not the fancy uniforms and the sparkling fortress that changed this teams attitude, it has been the coaching. I am more concerned that the Buffs are going to lose their coach when the wins start piling up than I am about McIntyre being on the hotseat. Black and Gold baby, I am not a Fairweather fan!

  8. Stuart,
    Let’s talk you off the ledge. Grade this program by its storied history, not its recent past. The hope and excitement this season stems from that imprinted emotion and support for a program that has been great, and will be great again. These players look more the part than in recent years past. They are focused, they are determined, they are more mature and they will finish…

  9. Damn Stuart, good thing I took Dr. Kevorkian off of my speed dial.

    I really can’t foresee a 56-7 drubbing on the island, or the main land for that matter. The players you observed on the Hellcats seemed undisaplined and had poor focus. That comes from coaching or the lack there of. They say coaches don’t throw, catch or run with the ball. While this is true, it is the coaches responsibility to get everyone moving in the same direction. Hearing that the Hellcats coach was alof, is concerning as well.

    If our mighty Buffs lose, they lose. But I will almost guarantee that this team will be the most disaplined team that we have seen in quite some time. I don’t know coach Mac, but everything I’ve read (from you especially) I can’t foresee a disaster of a year.

    So to answer your question, I will support this team, just as I have since 1987.
    GO BUFFS!!!

  10. I am a Buff! I have been one since my parents took me in ’86 and I will always be a Buff. I am at this point a die hard I know every player, every coach and all the numbers, stats and everything else in between. If they lose they lose, if they win they win but no matter what I will always be there.

    1. I’m with Scott. Originally I was inspired as a kid to become a CU fan by the ’89 and ’90 seasons. The excellence of the program earned the interest of my family and our friends. Through some unfortunate events, our program has been down for awhile. I believe in this coach and our players. For those of us who have been so loyal, it is going to be spectacular to have a respectable season. The investment in our program has been made and with some positive momentum, our program will return to prominence once again. College football in cyclical in nature, just ask the University of Texas with all of its resources. I strongly believe this is the beginning of being relevant and respected again. Go Buffs!

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