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Farewell, Mile High – A Look Back at the RMS in Denver

On September 5, 1998, a sold-out crowd of 76,036 crammed their way into the old Mile High Stadium to witness a novelty. The largest crowd to ever watch a college sporting event in the state of Colorado were on hand to witness the first neutral site game in the 105-year, 70-game history of the series between Colorado and Colorado State.

Colorado State came into the 1998 game, billed as the “Rocky Mountain Showdown” as the preseason No. 15 team in the nation, coming off of an 11-2 campaign in 1997 which witnessed the Rams finish with an 11-2 record and a No. 17 final ranking. Colorado, meanwhile, came into the season unranked for the first time since 1988, with the Buffs having posted a losing record in 1997 (5-6) for the first time since 1986. The Rams were heavy favorites.

The result?

Colorado 42, No. 15 Colorado State 14.

Welcome to the Rocky Mountain Showdown.

Over the 22 years the Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver (three games were played in Boulder over that span), the Buffs posted 13 wins, to six for the Rams. There were upsets, overtime games, lightning delays … and some tear gas.

A look back …

The 1998 surprise 42-14 win by the Buffs was just the first in a series of upsets between the two teams over the next six years. Between 1998-2003, the Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver featured a ranked team against an unranked team. In all six of those games – all six!– the unranked team prevailed.

Three times, including the 1998 opener, Colorado State entered the game with a preseason ranking … and the Buffs won. Three times Colorado entered the game with a preseason ranking … and the Rams won.

Such was the unpredictable nature of the series in the early years of the games played at Mile High.

1998Colorado 42, No. 15 CSU 14 (CU 1; CSU 0) … New quarterback Mike Moschetti was all that the Buffs could have hoped for, completing 21-of-32 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns. The Buffs dominated from the start, ending CSU’s one-week run in the national polls.

1999CSU 41, No. 14 Colorado 14 … (CU 1; CSU 1) … The “Tear Gas” game … “Return to Dominance” put on hold as Buffs are embarrassed in Gary Barnett’s first game as head coach at Colorado. The Rams finally beat the Buffs for the first time since 1986. 

2000CSU 28, No. 23 Colorado 24 … (CSU 2: CU 1) … “Mile High Farewell” … Rams come from ten points down to defeat the Buffs in the final game played between the teams in the old Mile High Stadium. 

2001Colorado 41, No. 24 CSU 14 … (CU 2: CSU 2) … “Relief” … Bouncing back from a season-opening loss to Fresno State, the Buffs rushed for over 300 yards (Bobby Purify, 191; Chris Brown, 121) to give Buff fans a taste of what was to come in what would prove to be a Big 12 championship season. 

2002CSU 19, No. 7 Colorado 14 … (CSU 3; CU 2) … “A Repeat – But of What Year?” … Gary Barnett lost his third straight opener as CU head coach as CSU Bradlee Van Pelt scored on a 23-yard run with 6:20 remaining to give the Rams their third win in four years in the series. The scoring play became perhaps the most infamous in the series. From the CUBuffs.com account of the game: “Van Pelt turned 180-degrees and backed into the end zone, and then fired the ball into the face of CU safety Roderick Sneed in truly one of the classless displays of sportsmanship the rivalry has ever seen”. (See “The Spike” replay in the series video recap -at about the 12:30 mark, below).

2003Colorado 42, No. 23 CSU 35 … (CU 3; CSU 3) … “An Electrifying Experience” … Unranked teams made it a perfect six-for-six in upsetting their ranked opponents as the Buffs withstood a 28-minute lightning delay to overcome the ranked Rams. Joel Klatt completed 21-of-34 passes for 402 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in leading the Buffs to victory. 

2004Colorado 27, CSU 24 (Boulder) … “Win One for the Stripper” … While part of the Rocky Mountain Showdown, this game was played in Boulder. The “Marcus Houston” game came down to the final play, as a pitch from Colorado State quarterback Justin Holland to running back Tristan Walker was stopped at the Colorado three-yard line by defensive backs  J.J. Billingsley and Lorenzo Sims as time expired. (The replay of the play can be seen at about the 16-minute mark of the BuffsTV video at the bottom of the page).

2005Colorado 31, CSU 28 (Boulder) … “Three-Peat” … For the second year in a row, the Rocky Mountain Showdown was played in Boulder, and, for the second year in a row, came down to the final play. CU kicker Mason Crosby connected from 47 yards out with four seconds remaining to give the Buffs the victory. (The replay of the kick can be found at about the 16:30 mark of the BuffsTV video at the bottom of the page)

The 2005 game included a short touchdown run by Lawrence Vickers, which has become symbolic of CU fans about the series:

2006CSU 14, Colorado 10 … (CSU 4: CU 3) … “How Much Worse Can It Get?” ... After opening the Dan Hawkins’ era at Colorado with a humiliating 19-10 loss to Montana State at home, the Buffs compounded their issues by posting all of 146 yards of total offense in falling to the Rams. 

2007Colorado 31, CSU 28 (OT) … (CU 4: CSU 4) … “Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures” … Kevin Eberhart, who had waited two years to replace two-time all-American Mason Crosby, kicked the game tying field goal with 13 seconds remaining in regulation, then booted a 35-yarder in overtime to lift the Buffs to a 31-28 win, the sixth-consecutive close game between the two teams. (The CSU interception in overtime, and the winning field goal, can be seen at the 19:30 mark, below)

2008Colorado 38, CSU 17 … (CU 5: CSU 4) … “Weathering the Storm” … Cody Hawkins scored on two short touchdown runs and connected with Scotty McKnight for a third score as Colorado wore down Colorado State, pulling away late in what, at the time, appeared to be the ninth and final edition of the Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver. (The teams would go on to sign a ten-year contract shortly thereafter).

2009CSU 23, Colorado 17 (Boulder) … “We Waited Nine Months for This?” … In CSU’s first victory over the Buffs in Folsom Field since 1986, the Rams raced out to a 20-3 halftime lead, never looking back in taking down the Buffs. (Witness the CSU fans rushing Folsom Field, at the 21:00 mark, below).

2010Colorado 24, CSU 3 … (CU 6: CSU 4) … “Wake Me When It’s Over” … Led by junior quarterback Tyler Hansen and record-setting wide receiver Scotty McKnight (McKnight became CU’s all-time receptions leader during the game), the Buffs were the better of two teams coming off of 3-9 campaigns in 2009. 

2011Colorado 28, CSU 14 … (CU 7; CSU 4) … “E Pluribus Unum” … Quarterback Tyler Hansen accounted for all four CU scores (two passing; two rushing) in leading the Buffs to the first win in the Jon Embree experiment (the Buffs had lost on the road to Hawai’i in the opener).

2012CSU 22, Colorado 17 … (CU 7: CSU 5) … “Fourth Down, Forever To Go” … Jim McElwain became the first Colorado State coach to win his debut in 42 years, as the Rams rallied for a 22-17 win. CSU quarterback Garret Grayson out-dueled Kansas transfer Jordan Webb who was 22-of-41 for 187 yards and two touchdowns for the Buffs.

2013Colorado 41, CSU 17 … (CU 8; CSU 5) … “A Will To Win” … CU matched its win total for all of 2012 with the win in the first game of the Mike MacIntyre era. Junior quarterback Connor Wood became just the third Buff quarterback in CU history to pass for 400 yards in a season opener, going 33-of-46 for 400 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns came on bombs to junior wide receiver Paul Richardson, who became the first Buff receiver to post two career 200-yard receiving games, collecting ten catches for 208 yards.

2014CSU 31, Colorado 17 … (CU 8; CSU 6) … “Gashed” … CU quarterback Sefo Liufau completed 24-of-39 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns (no interceptions), with Nelson Spruce collecting both scoring passes in going for 104 yards, but the Buffs couldn’t hold leads of 10-0 and 17-7, watching the Rams finish the game on a 24-0 run. 

2015Colorado 27, CSU 24 (OT) … (CU 9; CSU 6) … “A Matter of Trust” … Buff kicker Diego Gonzalez, who had missed a 48-yarder a few minutes earlier which would have won the game in regulation, got a shot at redemption in overtime. The 32-yarder in the extra period was perfect, giving CU an unlikely come-from-behind 27-24 overtime win. 

2016Colorado 44, CSU 7 … (CU 10; CSU 6) … “Welcome to The Fight” … The Buffs got off to a fast start, storming out to a 21-0 first quarter lead, never looking back in a 44-7 domination. Sefo Liufau went 23-for-33 for 318 yards and a touchdown, with Phillip Lindsay going for 20 carries for 95 yards and two touchdowns to lead a 260-yard rushing attack. In all, Colorado went for 578 yards of total offense, holding Colorado State to 225 yards (including only 63 yards passing). The Buff defense forced four turnovers, and surrendered only 12 first downs.

2017Colorado 17, CSU 3 … (CU 11; CSU 6) … “We’ll Correct It. We’ll Move On” … Colorado State out-gained Colorado in total yards, 397 to 345, but the Buff defense made plays when it counted, keeping the Rams out of the end zone in a 17-3 victory. The Buffs raced out to a 17-0 lead less than two minutes into the second quarter, but were held scoreless the remaining 43 minutes of the game. Phillip Lindsay led the CU rushing attack, with 19 carries for 140 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Quarterback Steven Montez went 21-for-29 for 202 yards and a touchdown. 

2018 – Colorado 45, CSU 13 … (CU 12; CSU 6) … “Coming Out Party” … Colorado scored on its first three possessions of the game, and the outcome was never thereafter really in doubt. For the first time in school history, the Buffs had a 300-yard passer (Steven Montez; 338 yards passing, four touchdowns), a 200-yard receiver (Laviska Shenault; 11 receptions for 211 yards and a touchdown) and a 100-yard rusher (Travon McMillian; 103 on only ten carries) in the same game.

 

By the numbers: 

— Colorado won 13 of the games played in Denver; Colorado State won six. As part of the “Rocky Mountain Showdown”, the Buffs also won two of the three games played in Boulder (with the series finale coming in Ft. Collins in 2020);

— Longest winning streak during the series in Denver: Colorado – five games (2015-19); CSU – two games (1999-2000);

— CU playing as a ranked team in the RMS series: 0-3. CSU playing as a ranked team in the RMS series: 0-3 (with all six games being played between 1998-2003). Neither team has played the game as a ranked team since 2003;

— CU has won both of the overtime games played in the RMS (with one of those games being played in Boulder);

— A total of 12 of the 22 games in the series were night games, including the last six, with the last day game in the series taking place in 2013;

— First-year CU coaches in the Rocky Mountain Showdown … Gary Barnett (1999), lost 41-14 (debut as CU coach) … Dan Hawkins (2006), lost 14-10 (second game. Lost to Montana State in opener) … Jon Embree (2011), won 28-14 (second game. Lost to Hawai’i in opener) … Mike MacIntyre (2013), won 41-17 (debut as CU coach) … Mel Tucker (2019), won, 52-31 (debut as head coach).

Here is a 23-minute YouTube production by BuffsTV, covering the history of the CU/CSU rivalry:

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