Top 40 of the Past 40 – No. 37

Previously posted:

As always, I look forward to your comments and suggestions …

Top 40 Favorite Games … No. 37

December 25, 1998 – Colorado 51, No. 21 Oregon 43 – CU out-scores Oregon; Neuheisel leaves for Washington

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

Duck Soup

As the Buffs licked their wounds from another close loss to Nebraska to end the 1998 regular season, two questions remained unanswered:

– Where would the 7-4, 4-4 Buffs be going bowling?; and

– Who would be the opponent?

As conference championship games were being contested, the 6-5 Washington Huskies seemed the most likely opponent for the Buffs.

Among the title games being played in early December, though, was a make-up game between Miami and UCLA. The game, originally scheduled for September 26th, had been re-scheduled to December 5th due to fears that a hurricane would hit the Miami area the last weekend in September.

For UCLA, playing the game in December proved disastrous, as the 3rd-ranked Bruins fell to the Hurricanes, 49-45. The loss eliminated UCLA from consideration for the National Championship game (once beaten Florida State being chosen to face undefeated and top-ranked Tennessee), with the Rose Bowl being the Bruins’ consolation prize.

UCLA being selected to host the Rose Bowl set off a chain reaction, as Arizona, which had hoped to head to Pasadena for the first time in school history, was now relegated to the Holiday Bowl and a match-up with Nebraska. Oregon, in turn, which had anticipated a trip to San Diego to face the Cornhuskers, was now in line for a Christmas Day bowl game, the Aloha Bowl, with Colorado.

Oregon’s loss was Colorado’s gain, as the Buffs were now facing a ranked (21st) opponent with an 8-3 record rather than a 6-5 unranked opponent.

There should have been little reason for animosity between the two schools.

The teams had only met 13 times, with Colorado maintaining a 7-6 edge. In fact, there had been a bond between the schools since 1984, when tight end Ed Reinhardt nearly lost his life playing against the Ducks in Eugene. Reinhardt suffered a near fatal head injury during the game, but was saved with the quick aide of Oregon doctors. Head coach Bill McCartney made a special point after Reinhardt’s recovery to thank the people of Eugene and the University of Oregon.

That was in 1984, however. This was 1998.

In the teams’ most recent meeting, in the 1996 Cotton Bowl, the Oregon coaching staff and some players left the game with a bad taste in their mouths. Colorado won the game, 38-6, but it was the final touchdown which irked head coach Mike Bellotti. The score, a five-yard run by Ayyub Abdul-Rahmaan, came as a direct result of a fake punt run by the Buffs with only a few minutes left on the clock and the game well in hand. Bellotti had first stated “no comment” after the game when asked about the play, later sarcastically calling the play “good coaching”.

Neuheisel, for his part, apologized after the Cotton Bowl about the play, explaining that he was simply trying to avoid Colorado’s sixth blocked punt of the season. The animus was hard to miss though, as many pre-game stories in the media centered on the controversial call. Neuheisel continued to apologize, but acknowledged that the play, along with the final score, would probably be used as a motivational tool by the Oregon coaching staff.

At the conclusion of the Aloha Bowl, though, the coaches for both teams were not in need of motivational tools – they needed oxygen.

December 25th – Aloha Bowl          Colorado 51, No. 21 Oregon 43

It was indeed Christmas for Colorado at the 1998 Aloha Bowl, as the Buffs converted six turnovers from charitable Oregon into 23 points on the way to defeating the Ducks in a record-setting game, 51-43.

Quarterback Mike Moschetti threw for 213 yards and four touchdowns, while Jeremy Aldrich kicked three field goals. It almost wasn’t enough, however, as Oregon posted 22 fourth quarter points to almost pull off the greatest comeback in Division 1-A bowl history.

All-Big 12 cornerback and kick returner Ben Kelly opened the game with a 93-yard kickoff return for a Colorado touchdown. The fireworks, though, were just beginning. In two of its first quarter possessions, Oregon fumbled, netting Colorado a season-best 48-yard field goal by Jeremy Aldrich and a five-yard touchdown catch by Javon Green prefaced by a 28-yard end around run by Marcus Stiggers.

The Buffs in the first quarter had only two first downs (with one coming by way of penalty), but had built a 17-0 lead.

And so it went the remainder of the game.

Oregon, behind co-Pac-10 player of the year (with UCLA quarterback Cade McNown) in quarterback Akili Smith, refused to go quietly. Smith, who had passed for 30 touchdowns on the year, completed 24-of-46 passes for 456 yards and two touchdowns as the Ducks continuously battled back.

Continue reading story here

1,000 – a nice round number

The 1998 Aloha Bowl represented Colorado’s 1,000th game in school history.

With the win, Colorado’s record stood at 601-363-36. The bowl win represented the school’s 10th overall, and fifth consecutive. The Buffs’ under Rick Neuheisel were now 33-14 after four seasons. Many young players had been forced into the breach during 1998, and the win over Oregon to the Buff coaches, players, and fans, was not seen so much as the last win of 1998, but as the first win of 1999.

Not so fast.

In 1994, after witnessing Rashaan Salaam’s touchdown run put him over the 2,000-yard mark and put Iowa State away, I went to the store with my wife, Lee. When I returned, there was an anxious message on my machine from a college roommate, Charlie. “What is McCartney doing?” Charlie incredulously asked on the tape. It was then I learned for the first time that Bill McCartney had stepped down as head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes.

Fast forward to January 9, 1999.

The 1998 college football season had come to an exciting end, culminated a few days earlier with Tennessee’s Fiesta Bowl win to claim its first national title since the Truman administration. Colorado was still basking in the glow of its Aloha Bowl win a few weeks earlier. Most college football fans had moved on to other pursuits, with only the die-hard fans focused on the national letter of intent signing day the first week of February.

Other than reading up on verbal commitments from high school seniors, there was little excitement in the air.

Not so fast.

Returning home on a Saturday night after going to the movies with Lee, we noted the answering machine was blinking. It was Charlie. I flashed back to 1994 as I heard Charlie inquire of the machine: “What is Neuheisel doing? What is this about Washington?”

I instructed Lee to turn on ESPNews while I took the dogs out. “Washington?”, I thought, as I stepped out into the January darkness. It didn’t make sense. Colorado was 8-4, with an abundance of talent returning for the 1999 season, whereas the 6-6 Huskies were losing their star quarterback, Brock Huard. Did Charlie mean the Washington Redskins? Perhaps. I hadn’t heard that Norv Turner had been fired by the NFL squad, but a move to the NFL by Neuheisel made more sense than a lateral move in college football.

I returned to the house convinced that Charlie had just heard a rumor.

But it was true.

Continue reading story here

(For Dave Plati’s story on the departure of Rick Neuheisel … “Nobody realizes – Rick would have stayed” … can be found here)

The Search is on

The next week was a whirlwind of activity.

Almost immediately, Northwestern head coach Gary Barnett became the front-runner for the Colorado post. Barnett, an assistant to Bill McCartney at Colorado from 1984-91, seemed to be a good fit. At perennial doormat Northwestern, Barnett had fashioned unlikely back-to-back Big Ten titles for the Wildcats in 1995 and 1996, and had strong ties to Boulder and Colorado. Still, the details could not apparently be worked out, and Barnett, whose teams had fallen to 5-6 and 3-9 records in 1997 and 1998, fell out of the race.

Other names mentioned included Oklahoma State coach Bob Simmons and LSU coach Gerry DiNardo, both former Colorado assistant coaches. Also discussed were Purdue coach Joe Tiller, Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick, and Texas Christian coach Dennis Franchione. Other names were offered, some drifting towards the extreme, including local sports announcer (and former Colorado Buff and Denver Bronco) Dave Logan, Bill McCartney, and even Tom Osborne.

By the end of the week, though, the choice was Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

Continue reading story here

Top 40 Favorite Players … No. 37

Linebacker Greg Biekert – 1989-92

There have been two players to date to lead the Colorado Buffaloes defense in tackles three straight seasons. The first was Barry Remington (1982-84), who was the best player on lousy teams.

The second was Greg Biekert, who was playing with some of the best Colorado defensive players in school history.

Another way of putting it … Greg Biekert was an exceptional player.

From Biekert’s bio … One of 10 semifinalists for the Butkus Award as a senior in 1992, when he was a unanimous All-Big Eight selection and an honorable mention All-American by UPI… CU’s Most Valuable Player as selected by his teammates… Was only the second player in school history to lead the team three straight seasons in tackles, and finished his career as CU’s second all-time leading tackler (trailing Barry Remington, who was the first three-time tackles leader)

Biekert was also All-Big Eight as a junior in 1991, when he was the first and to date only player in school history to score a defensive extra point, as he rambled 85 yards for two points in a 19-19 tie with Nebraska… Set a school record with 19 solo tackles (20 total) at Illinois in 1990… Led the Big Eight in tackles as a sophomore with 150, with his 105 solo stops the second most in the nation. for 1990… Had three career games with 20 or more tackles

A seventh round selection by Oakland in the 1993 NFL Draft, Biekert played nine seasons with the Raiders before moving on to Minnesota for two more before retiring after the 2003 season.


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