The Colorado/Nebraska rivalry means something different to every Buff coach, player, and fan.

For the players, most of whom were in elementary school the last time the Buffs and Cornhuskers played, having Nebraska on the schedule didn’t carry with it a great deal of extra meaning.

“A lot of the guys on the team know about the history. They have been playing all of the highlights and the clips around the Champions Center this whole week now”, said quarterback Steven Montez before the game. “To us, we just treat it like another game. They are just another team wearing a different color than us. We have to go in and do what we do best, play our game, and hopefully it will work out for us in the end.”

Added running back Travon McMillian, himself just a Buff for one game before the showdown in Lincoln, “We don’t know much about it because it has been so long since Colorado and Nebraska have played, but we are taking this game really seriously. We are preparing as hard as we can in practice so when we go out there we can execute to the best of our ability.”

Even head coach Mike MacIntyre, who acknowledged hearing about Nebraska from Buff fans the entire off-season, wasn’t caught up in the hype. “(Film clips of CU/Nebraska) were just on when I got here early Sunday morning,” said MacIntyre at his Tuesday press conference. “I don’t know who put it on, but all the televisions were on. The one in my conference room was on so I watched a few minutes of it, but then I turned it off because I need to go watch film”.

For older Buff fans, though, the game has much deeper meaning, and much of that is thanks to the efforts of former CU head coach Bill McCartney (1982-94).

McCartney was on the CU campus this past week. He had no problem getting excited about Nebraska week.

“It is game week. I would rather be dead than red,” said McCartney. “Seriously, here is what you have to understand about Nebraska. Here we have CU, CSU, Air Force, and the Broncos. You know what they’ve got in Nebraska? Nothing. Just that team that’s coming. There is nothing else there for them to do. When they get up every day, that is the only option they have is to get behind that big red thing. We have to beat them. That’s the only thing they understand. They understand that. If you beat them, they’ll salute. If you don’t you will hear about it. We don’t want to hear about it, especially from their media. They don’t stop. You know what the media can be like right? You know how media gets a little out of control here in Denver, and wears out their welcome? It gets worse there. Sorry.”

While Nebraska fans are loath to call Colorado a rival, there is definitely some dislike for the Buffs (if you have the stomach for it, check out this article from SB Nation, “Colorado Suffers from Mediocre-Program Syndrome“, posted this past week).

My history with the Colorado/Nebraska rivalry goes back to my freshman year, 1980, but my hatred for Nebraska can be traced to Husker Week, 1982, Bill McCartney’s first season in Boulder.

My first two seasons in Boulder, the Buffs had lost to Nebraska 45-7 and 59-0, and no one expected a different result in 1982.

No one except for Bill McCartney, that is.

The story of my first encounter with Coach Mac I can be found here (“No. 7 Nebraska – In Search of a Rival – Meeting Coach Bill McCartney“).

Suffice it to say, I have had a strong dislike for all things Cornhusker for decades.

For every warm memory, however, there has been any number of mind-numbing defeats (the five losses between 1996 and 2000, by a combined 15 points, were especially tough to take).

The Buffs, and the Buff Nation – which has suffered mightily for the past decade – has been in desperate need of a morale boost. The Nebraska game provided just such an opportunity.

The Buffs and Cornhuskers haven’t played since 2010. Neither team has won a conference title in their new conferences. Both teams are looking to re-establish their identities as a national program.

The game had a 1:30 p.m., kickoff (MT), and was nationally televised on ABC.

For a team which has had most of its games in recent years relegated to the (unavailable or unwatched) Pac-12 Networks, it was a golden opportunity to make a statement.

And the Buffs rose to the challenge.

Was it pretty? No. You can’t witness an offensive line which surrenders seven sacks and not cringe. You can’t watch an offense go three-and-out four consecutive possessions in the second quarter and not wonder if the 2017 team (and the 2015 team, and the 2014 team …) was back.

Instead, the 2018 Buff team showed heart, showed grit, showed resolve.

“The thing that I kept saying and I’ve seen in this team, and you guys might have felt my vibe a little bit as I’ve gone through since January, that is what I saw – a mentally tough football team, a team that is never going to quit and never give in”, said Mike MacInytre. “I didn’t have to say a word (when the team fell behind), and when I’m not having to say a word that means the coaching staff has done an excellent job and the kids have bought in. They didn’t flinch one bit and that’s what I see in this football team.”

“It’s definitely easy to get down and be like ‘oh, what if”, said linebacker Nate Landman, in line for his second consecutive Pac-12 Defensive Player-of-the-Week candidate after his 12 tackle (including two crucial fourth down stops), one interception game. “You always have that question in the back of your mind. We had guys on the sideline encouraging us, keeping our heads up, trying to get that ‘what if’ out of the back of our mind. And just ‘we’re gonna win this game.’ So it definitely crosses your mind, but once you get past, then we just kept going forward.”

This win has the same feel as did the 2016 road win over Oregon. The Buffs that season used the improbable win over the Ducks as a springboard to a ten-win season and a Pac-12 South title.

The Buffs are 2-0 … and have yet to play a home game. There are six Folsom Field weekends on the slate, and, based upon the first two weeks of the season, the most difficult of those games will be against … Arizona State (2-0 after a surprising 16-13 win over No. 15 Michigan State).

Granted, there is much work to be done. The offensive line remains a liability, and the defense must rebound from a game in which the opposition gained 329 yards rushing.

Still, a win is a win. For a program bereft of notable victories over the past decade, a road win, especially one coming in such a hostile environment, is more than welcome.

The fact that it came against the hated Huskers makes the victory all the more enjoyable.

Having lived through his first Nebraska game, star linebacker Nate Landman not only now gets to enjoy the win, but is beginning to understand its importance of the Nebraska rivalry to the Colorado football program.

“I just heard a couple of alums out there say ‘thank you’ for the alums,” said Landman in the locker room after the game. “That just proves how big this game is, has been in the past, how big it is now for not only us here, but for everyone back in Colorado”.

I’ll give Coach Mac I the final word.

As he told his team in the locker room after the 20-10 win over Nebraska in 1986, breaking a streak of losses dating back to the ’60’s:

“Men … This is as sweet as it gets” …


6 Replies to ““We have to beat them. It’s the only thing they understand””

  1. I entered CU in September, 1985 and graduated in May, 1989. On October 25, 1986, as a sophomore I saw Coach Mac’s Buffs upset #3 ranked and undefeated Nebraska 20-10, which remains as great a sports memory as I’ve had in my life. I was back in Boulder in the fall of ’89 when Coach Mac’s undefeated Buffs took the Huskers out – again – to clinch the Big 8 title and a trip to the Orange Bowl.
    While I knew – from the time CU announced its 2018/2019 home-and-home series with the Fuskers – that I was looking forward to both games, I had forgotten just how much I loved this rivalry and just how much I wanted the Buffs to win until kickoff drew near on Saturday afternoon. Back here in New Jersey I was glued to the TV (while listening to Mark Johnson and Coach Barnett on the live stream). When the Buffs won, I was happier after a CU game then I had been in – hell, I don’t know how long.

    I delighted in the fact that we only were afforded a national TV slot because of our presumptive status as attendees at the coronation of big-time college football’s next great coach, which coronation did not proceed in a manner either Nebraska or ABC hoped that it would.

    What’s the “N” stand for on their helmets? “No wins vs. CU in the Scott Frost era.” Already looking forward to next September’s resumption of hostilities in Boulder.

    Great stuff, Stuart, as always. Go Buffs!

  2. Living in Omaha as a Buff fan has been trying to say the least. Since January all I have heard is “Frost Warning” to the point I want to hurl! After Saturday I get to say “Frost Warning Cancelled.” GO BUFFS!

  3. Stuart, great article. I am from roughly the same era you are. I went through the Chuck Fairbanks debacle as a student, watching Drake hang 55 on the Buffs. At that time, I even had to look up where Drake was from. One of the lowest points for CU. Then, the progress through the McCartney years and the high points including the national championship and the 1994 team. Then suffered through a decade of near misses with the Cornhuskers in the 90’s, culminating in the excruciating loss in 2000 (I was one of the few CU fans that day in the stands in Lincoln) when players were crying on the field and made the vow to not lose again. That led to my favorite football game ever, the 62-36 thrashing of the Huskers.

    Has Nebraska historically been a better program than CU? Of course. But what about right now? As Parcells said: you are as good as your record says you are. What irritates me is the demeanor of the Husker fans who are supposedly some of the best fans in the nation. They have come into Folsom, arrogant and drunk, and one literally fell in the stands and came crashing into our row. Any apology? Nope. They got escorted out. They are gracious until they lose, then the excuses and rationalizations begin. In reading some of the post-game comments today, it is the same. About how magnificent they were. Limited credit to the opponent. Even classless rumor mongering about Buffs twisting ankles and the cancelled game hurting their chances (otherwise they would have beat us).

    Husker fans need to own up to their so-called sportsmanship. Own it. You lost. Maybe next year you win. Maybe we do. Exhibit grace in losing and winning.

    Go Buffs!!!

  4. Whoa here we go

    AP Poll Buffs have 25 points……#25 has 104

    Coaches Poll Buffs have 20 pints …..#25 has 92


  5. That article on SB nation is hilarious. Saying we can’t be a big time program but since the start of 2016 cu is 17-11 and Nebraska in that same time is 13-13. Cu has won a division championship and Nebraska hasn’t been relevant since urban Meyer joined Ohio state. Nebraska is a good program and historically better than the buffs. But if you want to know the real reason for the Nebraska hate, it’s because of bull crap articles like that.


  6. I read the SB nation article and I think you nailed it Stuart. Aside from buckets of mashed potatoes and gravy their sacred football team is all they have which makes it hurt that much more when they are beat by, their own definition, a mediocre team. The extreme butthurt tone of that article says it all. The fact that they have been a mediocre team for years brings out the hypocrisy and overwhelming insecurity in them. These guys will be like the old rebel civil war soldiers in their rocking chairs at the nursing home relying only on past glory.
    and BTW
    My Colorado plates get me the finger every time I am in Lincoln. So far none of those corntoads have taken me up on my invitation to talk about it man to man.

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