Top 40 of the Past 40 – No. 15

Previously posted:

As always, I look forward to your comments and suggestions as we count down my favorite 40 games and favorite 40 players of my 40 years as a Buff …

Top 40 Favorite Games … No. 15

September 16, 1989 – No. 8 Colorado 38, No. 10 Illinois 7 – Buffs take down Jeff George; A Farewell to Sal

From the Game Story in the CU at the Game Archives …

The University of Colorado served notice to the football world that the 1989 Buffs were for real, dominating No. 10 Illinois, 38-7.

For the third straight game, the Buffs scored on their first possession.  A 74-yard pass from Darian Hagan to wideout Jeff Campbell set up a one-yard scoring run by Eric Bieniemy to give Colorado the early lead, 7-0.  After the Illini tied the score on a two-yard run by Howard Griffith, Colorado took the lead for good as Bieniemy took a pitchout from Hagan, then lofted a halfback pass to a wide-open M.J. Nelson for a 48-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead.  Later in the first quarter, halfback J.J. Flannigan celebrated his 21st birthday with a 45-yard run to put the Buffs up 21-7.  Colorado never looked back after that, posting its first win over a top ten team since the 1986 upset of Nebraska.

The Colorado defense completely negated quarterback Jeff George and the Illinois’ offense. After the Illini tied the score at 7-7 on an 80-yard drive, the Buffs did not allow Illinois to cross midfield again until midway through the fourth quarter.  George was sacked four times and intercepted twice, with both picks leading to Colorado touchdowns. The second half was more of the same for the Buffs, as a 45-yard field goal by Ken Culbertson was supplemented by touchdown runs of nine yards (by J.J. Flannigan) and four yards (by Bieniemy).

On the afternoon, Colorado out-gained Illinois 475 yards to 193, completely dominating both sides of the ball.  In a radio interview earlier in the week, quarterback Jeff George had made the mistake of calling the Buffs “an average team” and perhaps overrated.  “I think for an ‘average’ team, we did pretty good – even by his standards,” said outside linebacker Alfred Williams after the game.

It was now proper to consider Colorado as a national championship contender.  “We proved to the nation we’re for real,” said tailback Eric Bieniemy.  “It’s fun.  Top 10 and moving up.  You can’t beat that.”

Continue reading story here

Farewell to Sal

On Saturday, September 23rd, shortly after 9:00 p.m., Sal Aunese died.

The 21-year old honorary captain of the 1989 Colorado Buffaloes finally succumbed to the cancer which had been diagnosed in March.  Although not unexpected, the announcement hit the team hard.  “He was the heart and soul of this team,” said senior wide receiver Jeff Campbell.  “He meant a lot to us”, said defensive co-captain Michael Jones, a senior linebacker.  “God, it hurts, just to see him go like this … I just can’t imagine him being gone.”

Aunese had attended each of the Buffs’ first three games, watching from a private box high above Folsom Field.  Colorado players had saluted him before the Illinois game, and Jeff Campbell saluted Aunese after his 74-yard catch on the game’s first series.  It would become the signal for the remainder of the year that the Buffs were thinking and remembering their fallen leader.  An emotional memorial service was held the next Monday, a service wherein Bill McCartney spoke not only as a coach, but also as the grandfather to Aunese’s child.

While the Buffs were saying the right things about preparing for Washington “I know Sal would want us to win this one (against Washington),” said Michael Jones, “so there’s no reason to lay down now” – it could only be speculated that the distraction would take its toll on the Buffs.  Colorado was playing after a bye week, were playing for the first time on the road, and were up against a quality opponent.  But the Buff players had a secret weapon –  a twelfth man – in Aunese.  Aunese dictated a letter to the team before his death.  Each Colorado player was given a copy before the Washington game:

Dear Brothers and the family whom I hold so close ….”  it began.

Aunese closed the letter:

Hold me close to your hearts as you know I do you.  Strive only for victory each time you play and trust in the Lord for He truly is the way.  I love you all. ‘Go get ‘em’ – and bring home the Orange Bowl.

 Love, Sal”

Continue reading Essay here (including Alfred Williams’ reminiscing about Sal Aunese) …


Top 40 Favorite Players … No. 15

Tight End Jon Embree (1983-86)

A native of Englewood, California, Embree lettered four seasons (1983-86) as a tight end at the University of Colorado and ended his career in the top five in both career receptions (80) and yards (1,116) along with five touchdowns. He graduated with a degree in communications in 1987.

From 1993-2002, Embree was at the University of Colorado where he spent 10 years serving in a variety of roles. He was the tight ends coach for two seasons (1993-94) before moving to defensive ends coach for four years (1995-98). Embree returned to his role as tight ends coach for two years in 1999 before spending two seasons as the wide receivers/kickers coach (2001-02).

Embree was named the Buffaloes head coach on December 6, 2010, succeeding Dan Hawkins. He is only the third CU alumnus to head coach the football team and the first in nearly a half century.

Notable Players Recruited … Daniel Graham, Tyler Brayton, Andre Gurode, Victor Rogers, Cedric Cormier, Justin Bannan, Mark Fenton, Sean Tufts, Hannibal Navies, Donald Strickland, Damen Wheeler, Rashidi Barnes, and Ben Kelly.

Notable Players Coached … Christian Fauria (All-Big 8), Matt Lepsis (All-Big 8 2nd team), Daniel Graham (2001 John Mackey Award Winner).


3 Replies to “Top 40 of the Past 40 – No. 15”

  1. Something I have wondered and there isn’t an answer, but what if Sal hadn’t gotten sick? Was he he good enough to hold off Hagan as the starter? Would that 1989-90 stretch have been as successful with Sal? I didn’t see enough of Sal to know and I’ve never heard any of the players on that team asked or answer that question. What is your opinion Stuart? Maybe a topic for your podcast?

    1. Great question, Mark.
      We are actually taping our Mailbag tonight, and we’ll include your question … but I can tell you right now I don’t know if there is a great answer.

  2. This rounds out my 4 all time favorite games.
    1. Bobby Anderson blitzkrieging Bryant and Alabama
    2. Branch’s lighting strikes vs Penn State and all their future NFL stars
    3. 62-36
    4. and this game against Jeff “the jerk” George. Also had subsequent satisfaction watching George’s struggles in the pros. (yeah I’m a vindictive SOB)
    Yeah the NC game, the “miracle”, among others. were exciting too but I always like better the punishing of overblown teams by the underdogs….especially when the Buffs are those underdogs.

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