A Pleasant Stroll Down Memory Lane – 1986; 1991; 1996; 2001 and, for fun, 2016

One way to enjoy the summer is to spend some quality time with some great Buff teams of the past. The 2021 season will be the 35th anniversary the 1986 season (with the greatest CU game in the past 50 years), the 30th anniversary of the 1991 season (Big Eight three-peat); the 25th anniversary of the 1996 season (the first season of the Big 12); and the 20th anniversary of the 2001 season (62-36, anyone?). Oh, and it’s already the fifth anniversary of the Buffs unexpected run to the Pac-12 South title in 2016.

Previously posted

*** Note *** … The CU at the Game Podcast has been dovetailing with this series. Episode 9 of Season Two, includes our discussion of the 1986 Nebraska game (20-10!!) and the 1991 “Ice Bowl” v. Nebraska (a 19-19 tie). Episode 10 of Season Two, meanwhile, includes our discussion of the 2001 Nebraska game (62-36!!) and the 2016 Oregon game (“The biggest play in Colorado football for years!!”).  Those episodes, along with every other CU at the Game Podcast, can be found here

Bowl Games …

1986 Season – “A Game For the Ages” 

December 31, 1986 … Houston, Texas  … Bluebonnet Bowl

No. 14 Baylor 21, Colorado 9 … It was great to be in a bowl game for the second consecutive year, but the game itself was yet another reminder that the 1986 Colorado Buffaloes, for all that they had accomplished, were still a young and unpolished team. Four turnovers killed the Buffs, as defenses ruled the day in the 21-9 Baylor win.

The game was played in front of 40,470 fans, mostly from nearby Waco, the home of the Baylor Bears. Colorado sold only 2,937 tickets for the game, making the contest for all practical purposes a Baylor home game.

Baylor came into the game ranked 14th in the nation, carrying a 8-3 record. What was more, the Bears were only ten points away from being 11-0, having fallen by less than a touchdown to USC, Southern Methodist, and Texas A&M. Baylor was a worthy opponent for the Buffs, and played as if they had something to prove.

The defense kept Colorado in the game, surrendering only one touchdown drive of over 21 yards. After the Buffs put together a 20-yard drive early in the second quarter, culminating in a 36-yard Dave DeLine field goal, Colorado was very much in the game. The score was 7-3 Baylor, but Colorado had the momentum.

Two turnovers took care of that.

Pushed back to their own eight yard line with 6:17 to go in the first half, the Buffs fumbled the ball away. Baylor required just three plays to score, pushing the lead to 14-3. After the half, Colorado again shot itself in the foot, as the Buffs’ fumbled on its second play from scrimmage. Baylor took over on the Colorado 21-yard line. Four plays later, halfback Derrick McAdoo scored his second one yard touchdown, and all of the sudden it was 21-3 Baylor with 12:56 to go in the third quarter.

Despite the deficit, there was plenty of time for the Buffs to get back in the game.

Finally, late in the third quarter, quarterback Mark Hatcher broke loose on a 31-yard touchdown run to make the score 21-9. Coach Bill McCartney opted to attempt a two point conversion in order to get the Buffs back within ten points, but the run failed.

Twice in the fourth quarter, Colorado threatened. On both occasions, however, the Bears were able to force a fourth down, and on both occasions the Buffs were unable to convert. The fourth quarter wound down without any additional scoring, and most of the 40,000 fans who were in attendance went home happy.

For the first time all year, the Buffs’ offense was led by the passing game. This was not due to big numbers being put up by Mark Hatcher and Marc Walters, who combined to complete seven-of-14 passes. Rather, it was because the 111 yards passing was simply more than the 83 yards the rushing game mustered.

The Bluebonnet Bowl was the only game in 1986 that the Colorado wishbone had been held under 100 yards rushing in a game.

… The 1986 team had finished 6-6.

It would prove to be the last non-winning season for Colorado football for the next decade.

Continue reading game story here

My Essay for the Bluebonnet Bowl … “On the Road Again” …

The 1986 season was a watershed in Colorado football history.

Yes, the Buffs had finished 1985 with a winning season (7-5), and had gone to a bowl game for the first time in almost a decade, but it is the 1986 season which is seen as the turning point in Buff fortunes. Still, when the Buffs opened the 1986 campaign 0-4, it was hard not to consider that 1985 was an aberration, and that the aura of losing was once again to permeate the Colorado campus. Colorado rallied, though, to post a surprising 6-1 Big Eight record, including an historic 20-10 win over Nebraska.

Even a 28-0 loss to No. 4 Oklahoma did little to dampen fans’ spirits. After the Buffs dominated Kansas State, 49-3, to post a 6-5 record and the right to participate in a bowl, Colorado fans didn’t care where the game was or who the opponent would be. We were just glad to be invited.

The location? Houston, Texas.

The game? The Bluebonnet Bowl against the Baylor Bears.

What was a Buff fan to do?

Two words: “Road Trip”!

Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” sings the praises of the open road. One would assume that Willie, being a country singer, has often traveled the open road across the Texas prairies.

He can have it.

Buoyed by the euphoria of the Nebraska game, and not dissuaded by the memory of long drives across the states of Nebraska and Kansas in 1985, plans were made to attend the 1986 Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, Texas. Rather than fly to Houston, however, three poor (you might prefer “financially challenged”) third year law school students set out to drive from Colorado to Texas for the bowl game.

What a dumb idea.

This trip would be without Brad, the one and only time I have not attended a bowl game with my cohort. For the journey to Houston, I would travel with Dave and Bill. Friends from law school, neither was as fanatical about Colorado football as Brad and I, but both were up for the adventure.

Our journey started at Stapleton International Airport in Denver, where Dave picked me up in his car. (I had spent Christmas at home in Bozeman, Montana). From there we headed south, leaving Interstate 25 to head southeast to La Junta, Colorado.

La Junta, where Bill was from and was staying over the holidays, is as close to the end of the earth as you can get without falling off the edge. I say this as someone who grew up in Montana, one who has driven across North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Kansas, and who has traveled across eastern Wyoming so many times that I know hundreds of antelope on a first name basis.

There was nothing in La Junta.

No snow. No horizon. No color. No people.

And no car.

No car?

Continue reading story here

1991 Season – “Kissing Your Sister”

December 31, 1991 … Miami, Florida … Blockbuster Bowl

No. 8 Alabama 30, No. 15 Colorado 25 … Alabama completed its best season since 1979 with its best offensive output in two months. Behind three long scoring drives, the 11-1 Crimson Tide held off the Buffs, 30-25.

Jay Barker threw three touchdown passes and David Palmer contributed two scores to lead Alabama to the win. Colorado was led by Darian Hagan, who passed for 210 yards and two scores.

The game was a tossup in the first half, with David Palmer putting Alabama on top 7-0 with a 52-yard punt return for a score in the first quarter. A Ronnie Woolfork blocked punt set up a  one yard touchdown run by sophomore fullback Scott Phillips to tie the score. Early in the second quarter, linebacker Ted Johnson tackled Martin Houston in the endzone for a safety and a 9-7 Colorado lead. Both teams managed field goals before the break, with Jim Harper’s effort for the Buffs going through from 33 yards out.

At the half, the Buffs were up, 12-10. The first half scoring was aided by a blocked punt, an interception, and a fumble. The longest scoring “drive” of the half by either team was three yards.

The Buffs’ new offense, which had a total of 31 yards of production at half, added quickly to the total with a 62-yard pass and catch for a score early in the third. Darian Hagan hit wide receiver Michael Westbrook over middle on a short pass which Westbrook turned into the longest scoring pass in Colorado bowl history. Meanwhile, Barker put the Alabama offense in gear, marching the Crimson Tide on 90, 75, and 71 yard drives in the second half. The third drive culminated with a five-yard pass to David Palmer with 8:10 left to put Alabama up 30-19.

Down two scores, the Buffs were still not done. Darian Hagan hit Charles E. Johnson on a 13-yard strike to pull the Buffs to within 30-25 with 3:30 left. The Buffs had one last opportunity, taking over with 1:49 to play. Any hopes of a comeback ended, however, when James Hill was stopped short on fourth-and-one at the Alabama 33-yard line with 45 seconds to play.

The new one-back, pass oriented offense had resulted in 210 passing yards, but the debut could not be called a success. Hagan completed only 11 of 30 passes, while the rushing game came to a complete halt. For the day, the Buffs ran the ball 30 times, with the total output being -11 yards.

The loss gave the defending national champions an overall record of 8-3-1. When the final polls were released, the Buffs fell to 20th. The 1991 season had given the Buffs a third straight Big Eight title, but there was no feeling of fulfillment. Three losses after two seasons with only one loss each seemed a step down.

The Buffs would lose Hagan and other major contributors like center Jay Leeuwenburg, a unanimous first team All-America selection. Also lost were long time starters in nose tackle Joel Steed and safety Greg Thomas. Still, the talent remained for a run at a four-peat as Big Eight champions.

If only the Buffs could get the taste of the 8-3-1 season out of their mouths.

Continue reading story here

My Essay for the Blockbuster Bowl“The Introduction of ‘Air Bill’ “

While not in the national spotlight of the Orange Bowl, the second annual Blockbuster had a marquee matchup.

The Buffs were defending national champions, and Alabama was no pushover. The Crimson Tide, led by quarterback Jay Barker and all-everything David Palmer, were 10-1 and ranked 8th in the nation. After being shut out, 35-0, by Florida in the season’s second week, Alabama had run off ten straight wins.

It was clear that if the Buffs were to have any chance of posting a top ten finish, a convincing win over Alabama would be required. Logic required that it was time for the Buffs to go with their strengths – including a punishing rushing attack which had led the Buffs to a 20-0-1 Big Eight conference record (and a 30-4-1 overall record) over the previous three seasons.

Unless, of course, you are Bill McCartney.

Despite the undeniable success of the “I-bone”, Colorado head coach Bill McCartney decided that, if the Buffs were going to compete on the national stage in the 1990’s, the offense had to be upgraded. As a result, McCartney took advantage of the preparation time allowed for the bowl game to prepare for the 1992 season; not for Alabama bowl game. McCartney installed a new one-back, pass-oriented offense to replace the I-bone.

New offenses are normally installed during spring practice, when there is more time to focus on detail, with fall camp giving the offense the opportunity to fine tune the offense before the season opening game. But Coach Mac saw things differently. Why not start in December? With only one game to prepare for, the Buffs could get a head start on a successful 1992.

The only problem was that Alabama was still looking to finish off a successful 1991.

Continue reading Essay here

1996 Season – “Ooooh, So Close”

December 30th … at San Diego … Holiday Bowl         

No. 8 Colorado 33, No. 13 Washington 21

Lethargy was exactly what the Buffs suffered from at the outset of the 1996 Holiday Bowl.

The 9-2 Huskies, led by red-shirt freshman quarterback Brock Huard and junior tailback Corey Dillon, had scored 20 or more points in every game in 1996. Washington impressed the near-sellout crowd of 54,749 with two first quarter scores, both registered by Corey Dillon.

Down 14-0, the Buffs finally responded. On the Buffs’ third play from scrimmage after falling behind by two touchdowns, Koy Detmer hit Rae Carruth on a 76-yard bomb to pull the Buffs to within seven. After an exchange of punts, Colorado sophomore defensive end Nick Ziegler did his part to try and turn the Holiday Bowl around. Washington quarterback Brock Huard dropped back to pass, but Ziegler, rushing in on Huard, timed his jump perfectly, batting the ball into the air. Ziegler himself did the interception honors, plucking the ball out of the air at the Husky 33-yard line. Matt Russell took care of Huard, and Ziegler had clear sailing to the end zone.

14-14 with 11 minutes left in the half. The ship had been righted.

Or had it?

Husky Jerome Pathon took the ensuing kickoff back 86 yards for a Washington score, restoring the Huskies to a 21-14 advantage. The momentum of the Ziegler interception had been quickly returned to Washington. The Colorado defense, which had tied the game without the assistance of the offense, was not even given the opportunity to take the field with the score tied.

Enter the Colorado offense.

The Buffs responded to the sudden deficit with a five-play, 79-yard drive, culminating in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Detmer to sophomore wide receiver Darrin Chiaverini. A 42-yard field goal by Jeremy Aldrich gave the Buffs their first lead of the game 24-21, with just over two minutes remaining in the first half.

While the score indicated that the game was in doubt until Colorado scored a touchdown mid-way through the fourth quarter to go up 33-21, the game was in fact well in hand throughout the second half, courtesy of the Colorado defense. After Corey Dillon’s second touchdown run in the first quarter, Washington’s offense would not come close to scoring again (a blocked field goal attempt in the third quarter was the Huskies’ closest effort).

Colorado’s final touchdown of the 1996 season was fitting. It was a four-yard scoring strike from Koy Detmer to Rae Carruth. The pair teamed up to set a number of school records, including the most attempts, completions, and yards in a season by Detmer, and the most career touchdown receptions for Carruth. The pair also combined to set the standard for the most touchdown passes for a quarterback and receiver for a season (8), and a career (12). (Note: Colorado does not add bowl statistics to its career totals. As a result, the last touchdown pass from Detmer to Carruth only appears in the bowl statistics, not the career statistics).

Continue reading game story here  …

2001 Season – “Seems Like Old Times”

January 1, 2002 – at Tempe, Arizona … Fiesta Bowl                    

No. 2 Oregon 38, No. 3 Colorado 16

Oregon gave the nation reason to wonder if the nation’s second best team had been given the opportunity to play Miami in the Rose Bowl, dominating Colorado, 38-16.

Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington threw for 350 yards and four touchdowns as the Ducks routed what had been the nation’s hottest team.  “We made a statement today,” said Harrington, “We showed we deserved to be playing for a share of the national championship.”

After Colorado seized a 7-0 first quarter lead on a one-yard plunge by fullback Brandon Drumm, Oregon scored the next 38 points.  Receiver Sammie Parker caught nine passes for 162 yards, including a 79-yard touchdown in the second quarter to put the Ducks up for good.  In routing the Buffs, the Ducks never had a touchdown drive longer than three minutes.

The Buffs did have their chances.

With the score tied 7-7, the Buffs had the ball at the Oregon 40-yard line.  The Duck defense held on second-and-two and third-and-one, though, and the Buffs were forced to punt.  One play after the CU punt, Harrington hit Parker for a 79-yard score and the game’s momentum was shifted for good.

That Joey Harrington had success against the CU secondary was not a complete surprise.  What was unexpected was how the Oregon defense, ranked 81st in the nation, shut down the Buffs.  Colorado was held to 49 yards rushing, forcing the Buffs to throw.  Neither Bobby Pesavento nor Craig Ochs could generate any success through the air, combining for three interceptions.

“Oregon did not get our best shot tonight … and I don’t have an explanation,” said Gary Barnett.  “They stepped up to the challenge,” said Buffs’ receiver and return man Roman Hollowell.  “We’d been running the ball really well, and they just stopped us.”

Some 18,000 CU fans made the trip, but had little to cheer for on the afternoon.  The 38-16 setback was the Buffs’ worst ever in a bowl game, and put an end to a six game winning streak for Colorado in bowl games.

Continue reading game story here


2016 Season – “Welcome to The Fight”

December 29th … at San Antonio, Texas … Alamo Bowl

No. 13 Oklahoma State 38, No. 11 Colorado 8

No. 13 Oklahoma State went for 527 yards of total offense in dominating No. 11 Colorado in the 2016 Alamo Bowl, 38-8. Cowboy quarterback Marcus Rudolph passed for 314 yards and three touchdowns as Oklahoma State gave the Buffs two lopsided losses to close out an otherwise successful 10-4 season.

Sefo Liufau threw for 195 yards and scored CU’s lone touchdown, a consolation six yard run in the fourth quarter after OSU had built a 31-0 lead. Phillip Lindsay led the Buffs in rushing and receiving, with 14 carries for 63 yards to go with six receptions for 103 yards.

The Buff offense struggled throughout the night, with neither Sefo Liufau nor Steven Montez able to consistently move the ball. Head coach Mike MacIntyre said he saw in Liufau “a bummed up quarterback on an ankle that couldn’t throw as accurately as he would like”, while in Montez, he also inaccuracy: “He wasn’t where he usually is. I don’t know why, so we put Sefo back in and tried to go.”

The loss left the Buffs with a 10-4 final record, ending the season on a two-game losing streak. The final two games, ending with a combined score of 79-18, left a sour taste in the mouths of the Buffs, but a renewed dedication to return and defend their Pac-12 South title in 2017. “Everything is kind of new for a lot of us,” said junior running back Phillip Lindsay. “Now we kind of got our feet wet, been in the Pac-12 championship, the Alamo Bowl. Now it’s about going back to the drawing board. Now we know how to get there and it’s about finishing. It comes down to finishing.”

Continue reading game story here

From my Essay for the game, “Thanks, Sefo” …

He was right there, not more than 20 feet away.

The scene: the San Antonio airport … Friday night, the day after the Alamo Bowl, around 6:15 p.m.

Two Delta flights were preparing for boarding. My flight was heading out of gate B-4, heading for Salt Lake City, the first leg on my trip back to Bozeman.

The flight heading out of gate B-3 was heading to Seattle.

In the waiting area, there were more than a few Colorado coats and sweatshirts to be seen. There were perhaps some “Shirts of Shame” being worn the day after CU had lost to No. 13 Oklahoma State, 38-8, in the Alamo Bowl, but there was still plenty of Buff Nation pride on display as well (as for me, I was wearing my “Pac-12 South Champions” sweatshirt, thank you very much!).

And he was right there, not more than 20 feet away.

The main reason the black-and-gold faithful were there in the San Antonio airport that night.

The main reason the Buffs had snapped a ten-year drought of losing campaigns. The main reason why #TheRise was more than just a slogan in the 2016 season.

He was right there, waiting for his ticket group to be called. Just another traveler, sitting around, anxious to board and get on their way home.

Sefo Liufau.

Now, I did have an “in” to go and say hello. I had met Sefo in February, when I was on a tour of the new Champions Center. Hell, I had even met his father, on a chance meeting on the shuttle train at the Denver International Airport after the Arizona State game. Both men were polite, quiet, and humble – like father; like son.

I wanted to go over to Sefo, shake his hand, and just say, “thank you”.

Continue reading Essay here


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