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

The 2021 season is now within our sights, and, with any luck, it will feel like a normal season.

As we wait for the September 3rd opener against Northern Colorado, let’s spend some quality time this summer 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.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a look back at the 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2016 seasons, posting the week-by-week results (if you want to read ahead, the CU at the Game Archives are always there for you). I look forward to your reading your comments, and hearing your stories …

Previously postedPreseasonGame OnesGame TwosGame ThreesGame FoursGame FivesGame SixesGame SevensGame EightsGame NinesGame Tens

*** 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

Game Elevens …

1986 Season – “A Game For the Ages” 

 

Game Eleven (CU came into the game 5-5, 5-1 in Big Eight play) … Colorado 49, Kansas State 3 … Colorado rebounded from the poor offensive showing against the Sooners with its highest scoring output of the season, routing the Wildcats from Kansas State, 49-3.

Quarterback Mark Hatcher did not play, but it didn’t matter, as backup freshman quarterback Marc Walters was perfect in the air, completing all four passes he threw for 111 yards and a touchdown.  On the ground, the Buffs rambled for 407 yards and six touchdowns.

Walters chipped in 88 yards and two touchdowns, while fellow freshman O.C. Oliver broke the 100-yard barrier for the first time in his career, cruising to 137 yards on only 15 carries.  For the defense, Solomon Wilcots contributed two interceptions.

The Buffs started slowly, taking a 7-0 lead after the first quarter on a 22-yard pass from Marc Walters to O.C. Oliver. A three-touchdown output in the second quarter, though, put the game out of reach. Two Walters’ touchdown runs, the first from 13 yards out, the second from 34 yards, was sandwiched between a four-yard scoring run by O.C. Oliver. Only a 50-yard field goal, the only score of the day for Kansas State, gave the announced crowd of 14,700 anything to cheer about.

Up 28-3 at the half, the Colorado fullbacks took over in the final two stanzas.

Anthony Weatherspoon scored on runs of 25 yards and two yards, followed by a one-yard score by freshman fullback Erich Kissick.

49-3, Colorado.

With the win, the Buffs finished the regular season with a 6-1 conference mark, good enough for second place after Oklahoma dispatched Nebraska, 20-17, Thanksgiving weekend.  Second place in the conference would normally guarantee a bowl, but Colorado was only 6-5 overall.  For the second year in a row, Colorado had to sweat out a bowl bid.

At kickoff, no bowl was guaranteed to the Buffs with a win.

With 11:04 left in the second quarter, destiny took a hand.  News came that Wake Forest had upset Georgia Tech 24-21.  Georgia Tech had been the Bluebonnet Bowl’s first choice to oppose Baylor in the bowl to be played December 31st in Houston.  Bluebonnet Bowl representative Bruce Conway, on hand for the Colorado/Kansas State game, informed Colorado officials that if they won, they would be traveling to Houston.  Up 14-0 over Kansas State at the time, the Buffs poured it on for the remainder of the game.

The Buffs were to go bowling in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1975-76.

Continue reading game story here

1991 Season – “Kissing Your Sister”

 

Game Eleven (CU came into the game 7-2-1, 5-0-1 in Big Eight play) … No. 15 Colorado 17, Iowa State 14 … Running back Lamont Warren capped the most successful freshman rushing season in Colorado history with a 168-yard performance against Iowa State in a 17-14 Colorado win.  Warren sprinted 74 yards for one score and carried the load on a ten-play, 80-yard drive as Colorado took the lead for good in the third quarter. Lamont Warren finished the 1991 season with 830 rushing yards, a Colorado freshman record.

The game conditions in Ames, Iowa, were horrendous, marking the third time in four weeks the Buffs had faced adverse conditions.  Iowa State sold 36,256 tickets for the game, but a crowd estimated at 2,500 was all that braved the blowing snow and minus-20 wind chill temperatures.

Iowa State jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, but Warren’s 74-yard touchdown run gave Colorado a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter. A 17-yard touchdown run by Cyclone Jim Knott, though, late in the second quarter, gave Iowa State a 14-10 halftime edge.  In the third quarter, the Buffs played against a 20-mph wind, keeping the ball in Warren’s hands.  Warren carried the ball five times for 39 yards on the drive, culminated with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Darian Hagan to senior tight end Sean Brown.  The 17-14 lead held up in the scoreless fourth quarter as conditions continued to deteriorate.

With the win, Colorado clinched at least a tie for its third consecutive Big Eight championship.  The Buffs, 8-2-1 overall, 6-0-1 in conference play, had strung together a 20-0-1 run in Big Eight play over three years.

The location of the next Colorado game had now been decided – Colorado would play in Miami.  Yet to be determined, though, was whether the Buffs would play Alabama on December 28th in the Blockbuster Bowl as the Big Eight’s second place team, or against Miami in the Orange Bowl New Year’s Night as the Big Eight champion.

As the Buffs headed home from Ames, all thoughts turned to the Nebraska/Oklahoma game, to be played the following Friday in Lincoln.

Off to Miami

Thanksgiving weekend involved several traditional matchups of national significance. No. 3 Florida State traveled to Gainesville to take on No. 5 Florida. No. 8 Alabama hosted Auburn, while No. 11 Nebraska played host to No. 19 Oklahoma.  Only one game truly mattered to the Buff Nation, though – the matchup between the Cornhuskers and the Sooners.

The 8-1-1 Cornhuskers, with a win, would return to the Orange Bowl for the first time since 1988.  Oklahoma was shut out of the Big Eight race after the Buffs’ victory, but the Sooners, at 8-2, were looking for national and conference redemption after facing NCAA-imposed probation.

The Sooners held tough against the Cornhuskers, but finally succumbed, 19-14.  The win gave Nebraska a trip to Miami to face the #1 ranked Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl.  The Cornhuskers and Buffs each finished conference play 6-0-1, giving the Orange Bowl committee the option of choosing Miami’s opponent. No. 11 Nebraska was more attractive than No. 15 Colorado, so the Buffs were invited to play in Miami, but against a lesser opponent (Alabama) in a lesser bowl (Blockbuster). The consolation prize for the Buffs – Colorado did finish in a tie for the Big Eight title, joining the Cornhuskers and the Sooners as the only Big Eight programs to ever accomplish a “three-peat”).

Continue reading story here

1996 Season – “Ooooh, So Close”

 

Game Eleven (CU came into the game 9-1; 7-0 in Big 12 play) … No. 4 Nebraska 17, No. 5 Colorado 12 … The headlines said it all.

From the Buffalo Sports News: “Ooh, So Close”.

From the Billings Gazette: “Huskers outlast Buffs”.

Both statements were true.

The Buffs had their chances in the 17-12 loss to Nebraska on a cold 33-degree day in Lincoln. Rain turned to snow in the late afternoon as Colorado saw the light fade on its chances to beat the Cornhuskers for the first time since 1990.

The game started with great promise. Unlike the 1995 game, when the Buffs went three-and-out on the game’s opening drive, only to witness the Huskers score on their first drive, the first few minutes of the 1996 game played out about as well as the Buffs could have hoped. Taking the opening kickoff, the Buffs marched 52 yards in 10 plays, culminating in a 45-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Jeremy Aldrich. The distance of the kick, the fact that it was Aldrich’s first-ever field goal attempt, and the fact that the kick hit the cross-bar before tumbling over all served to give Buff fans a tingle. Perhaps this would be the year. 3-0 Colorado.

On the Cornhuskers’ third play from scrimmage, running back Ahman Green was stripped by linebacker Greg Jones. The fumble was recovered by Buffs’ safety Ryan Black at the Nebraska 35-yard line. Six plays netted 12 yards for the CU offense, and Aldrich nailed his second-ever attempt from 40 yards. 6-0 Colorado. Still only the first quarter, but confidence had to be growing in the minds of the Buffs.

How quickly things can change in a college football game.

The Colorado defense stopped the Nebraska offense on the ensuing kickoff after the second Aldrich kick, forcing a punt. Taking over late in the first quarter with a 6-0 lead, the Buffs’ offense had the chance to take charge of the game. Instead, a Koy Detmer pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Nebraska defensive tackle Jeff Ogard. The pass was then intercepted by linebacker Jay Foreman, who lumbered 21 yards for a score and a 7-6 Cornhusker lead.

Nebraska had no first downs on offense, but now had the lead.

The remainder of the first half was all Cornhuskers, as Nebraska built a 17-6 halftime edge. A 30-yard field goal and a seven-yard touchdown run gave the Cornhuskers a two-score advantage, one which could have been even greater had Nebraska kicker Kris Brown not missed a 41-yard field goal attempt just before halftime.

The second half was a study of defenses.

As had been the case in 1990, when the Buffs had last won in Lincoln, the Colorado defense was awesome. Nebraska’s vaunted offense, averaging over 46 points per game in 1996, had nine possessions in the second half. The first drive lasted five plays before the Cornhuskers fumbled. The next seven possessions were all three plays or less, resulting in two fumbles and five punts.

Only in its last possession of the game, when the Cornhuskers were running out the clock, did the NU offense produce a drive of any significance (an eight-play drive). Linebacker Matt Russell made his case for the nation’s best linebacker in the Nebraska game. The Butkus Award winner had 16 tackles (12 solo), two fumble recoveries, and two third-down quarterback sacks.

These defensive statistics could only mean that the Colorado offense had many opportunities to climb back into the game. Two more Aldrich field goals, the first a 38-yarder in the third quarter, the second a 27-yarder with 8:46 remaining in the game pulled the Buffs to within 17-12.

But the Buffs would get no closer in the game’s frantic final minutes.

After the fourth Aldrich field goal, sophomore linebacker Hannibal “The Cannibal” Navies blind-sided Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost, forcing a fumble recovered by Matt Russell at the Nebraska 24 yard line. Another Detmer, though, passed was tipped and intercepted, spoiling the Buffs’ golden opportunity.

One more chance. A sack by Russell led to another Cornhusker punt.

Colorado ball, down 17-12, at its own 44 yard line with 4:47 to go.

A 37-yard pass completion from Detmer to Rae Carruth on a third-and-19 play put the Buffs on the Nebraska 28-yard line with plenty of time remaining. Sadly for Buff fans, this was as close as Colorado would get to the Big 12 Championship game in St. Louis. A one-yard loss by Herchell Troutman was followed by three incompletions. Nebraska ball. The Cornhuskers successfully ran out the remaining game clock, securing a the first-ever Big 12 Northern Division title.

Rick Neuheisel was succinct. “If you like defense, it was a great college football game,” said the Buffs’ head coach, now 0-2 against Nebraska, 19-2 against all other foes, “Unfortunately, if you like the Colorado Buffaloes, it was a heart-breaking football game.”

For senior linebacker Matt Russell, it was a hard loss to take. “We were a highly rated senior class coming out of high school, and we’ve had some really great times with no regrets”, said the latest great linebacker produced by the University of Colorado, “but to have not ever beaten these guys is tough.”

While Nebraska was heading off to St. Louis to play Big 12 Southern Division champion Texas (which had rebounded with four straight wins after the loss to Colorado), the Buffs were relegated to watching television, waiting to see where the Bowl Alliance would lead them.

Here is a YouTube video of the game … 

Read full story here  …

2001 Season – “Seems Like Old Times”

Game Eleven (CU came into the game 8-2; 5-1 in Big 12 play) No. 14 Colorado 62, No. 2 Nebraska 36

Nebraska – Pre-game

Everyone who knows me knows that when it comes to CU football games, I am a “glass is half empty” fan.  I can usually find a dozen reasons to worry about any opponent the Buffs face.  If you had asked me the week of the San Jose State game whether I was concerned, I would have countered with details of a  team with a Heisman candidate in Deonce Whittaker and a 7-5 2000 record.  The best you can usually get out of me before a game in terms of a prediction is that I am “cautiously optimistic”.

For some reason, though, the Nebraska game was different.  Where the confidence came from, I can’t say, but I just knew the Buffs were going to win.  Before I left Bozeman for the game, I asked my wife, Lee, to tape the game.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s, when the Buffs were just re-entering the national stage, and seeing the Buffs on television was still something of a novelty, I taped a number of games.  Since the ‘94 season, though, I hadn’t taped a single game.  For some reason, though, I knew before I left Montana that I wanted a tape of this game.

My outward confidence continued on gameday.  At a tailgate party before the game, Randy and I caught up with fellow season ticket holders Brad and Scott.  Scott is my opposite when it comes to predictions.  For him, the glass is always half full.  When he asked for my prediction, he was shocked at my answer.  “That’s the kiss of death”, he muttered, certain that my change of attitude would doom the Buffs.

Perhaps my greatest show of confidence came as we were walking into the stadium.  Friends Tony and Julie were also going to the game, but the tickets I had obtained for them were in the bowl of the stadium.  Tony asked where we should meet after the game.  “The twenty-yard line”, I responded.  When asked to repeat my response, I assured Tony he had heard correctly.  “The twenty-yard line”, I repeated.  Thirty minutes before kickoff, I was so confident that the Buffs would not only win, but that we would be able to participate in the post-game celebration down on the field, that I didn’t allow for any additional possibilities.

It would be up to the Buffs to make me a prophet.

 November 23rd – Boulder      No. 14 Colorado 62, No. 2 Nebraska 36

The Colorado Buffaloes exorcised a decade’s worth of demons in one afternoon as the Buffs demolished the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 62-36, before a raucous crowd of 53,790 and a national television audience. No. 14 Colorado scored early and often against the nation’s No. 2 ranked team (No. 1 in the BCS standings), posting the highest point total ever allowed by a Nebraska team.

Chris Brown rushed for 198 yards and a school record six touchdowns to lead the long list of Buff heroes.  Bobby Pesavento completed only nine passes, but they went for 202 yards, including a 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Graham.  To compliment Chris Brown, Bobby Purify rushed 20 times for 154 yards and a score.  In all, Colorado put up 582 yards of total offense, including 380 yards on the ground against a defense which had been allowing only 93 yards/game entering the contest.

First Half

In the most recent Colorado/Nebraska games, it was the Cornhuskers who habitually started quickly.  In fact, in the past 11 games between the Buffs and the Cornhuskers, Nebraska had scored a touchdown within the first four minutes of game time a mind-numbing seven times.  For the Buffs, who had lost the last five games to Nebraska by a total of only 15 points, a quick start was imperative.

Mission accomplished.

Nebraska took the opening kickoff, and on the first play from scrimmage, sophomore linebacker Sean Tufts tackled Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch behind the line for a three-yard loss.  Two plays later, the Cornhuskers were forced to punt.

Advantage, Colorado.

On third down after taking possession, the Buffs hit on what may have been the most important play of the early going.  Bobby Pesavento hit wide receiver Matt Brunson for a 26-yard completion to the Cornhusker 39-yard line.  The play was significant as the Buffs, rather than give the ball back to the Nebraska offense, kept the ball and the early momentum.  On the very next play, Bobby Purify dashed up the middle through a gaping hole for a 39-yard touchdown.  7-0, Colorado.  12:17 left in the first quarter.

What happened next to the Cornhuskers was – in a sense – familiar.  The wheels fell off.  What was unfamiliar to Nebraska and its fans was that this time, instead of jumping all over an intimidated opponent, it was the opponent which was taking advantage of the Big Red’s mistakes.

On the Cornhuskers’ next possession, running back Dahrran Diedrick fumbled.  It took the Buffs all of one play to score, with Bobby Pesavento hitting Daniel Graham for a 21-yard score.  14-0, Colorado.  11:47 still to play in the first quarter.

After driving to midfield on the ensuing drive, Nebraska went for a fourth-and-one.  Eric Crouch slipped and fell behind the line of scrimmage, giving possession back to the Buffs.  Pesavento promptly hit Graham on a 49-yard pass, and two plays later Pesavento did the honors from a yard out.  21-0, Colorado.  5:35 still remaining on the first quarter clock.

A long kickoff return set up a Nebraska field goal, giving the Cornhuskers and their fans some sense of normalcy.  Then the Buffs turned to Chris Brown, and two drives later, Brown had two scores. Both drives needed only five plays to cover 80 yards, with Brown’s touchdowns (the first from 12 yards out, the second from the one), giving Colorado a commanding 35-3 lead early in the second quarter.

The remainder of the quarter was mostly left to Nebraska, with the Cornhuskers scoring three touchdowns to offset Chris Brown’s third score of the day.  At the half, everyone stopped to collect their breaths as the Buffs took a 42-23 advantage into the locker room.

Continue reading game story here

Down on the Field

I had not been down on the grass of Folsom Field since the new turf had been laid in 1999.  I had not been down on the field to celebrate a CU win in over a decade.

It felt great to be back.

It took some time to get down to the floor of the stadium.  The students rushed the field as the final seconds ticked off, making quick work of the goal posts.  For us in the 79th row, though, there would be a wait.

No one moved towards the exits.  No one moved at all.

We just stood and watched. And yelled.  And savored.

By the time the four of us – Randy, Brad, Scott, and myself – made it to the stadium floor, many of the celebrants had moved on.  That was fine with us.  I took a run out to the 20-yard line, where I had told Tony and Julie to meet us, just to stomp the grass.  It felt wonderful.  Tony and Julie weren’t there, having more sense than the four of us than to fight there way down to the field, but we did take the time to have our pictures taken with the scoreboard in the background.  (On seeing the pictures later, my wife Lee couldn’t help but remark how the grins on our faces made us look as if we were convinced that we had dispatched the hated ‘Huskers ourselves).

Big smiles all around after the game!
Big smiles all around after the game!

It was sweet.  We caught up with Tony and Julie at the site of our tailgate party, and the celebration began anew with the group assembled there.  Whereas the win over CSU almost three months earlier had brought a sense of relief, this win brought nothing but joy.  62 points – against Nebraska!  It couldn’t possibly get any sweeter than that!  Big 12 North champions after going 3-8!

The bad weather predicted for the game had never materialized.  It was cool, but pleasant.  Still, it was late November, and the sun was long gone.  After a quick beer and a few hugs, it was time to move on.  Everyone was hungry, so we were off to dinner and more celebration.

As we left the tailgate party, we walked in front of my old dorm, Libby Hall, just a few hundred feet from the stadium.  I paused for a moment as the group started off for the parking lot.  I looked back at the now nearly quiet stadium, brightly illuminated by flood lights.  An occasional whoop or holler cut through the night.  I heard a honk of a horn, but somehow I just knew it was a celebratory sound, not one made in anger.  How could anyone be impatient at a time like this?

Final score: 62-36. I just wanted to soak it in for a moment longer. I closed my eyes. I felt a smile cross my face. It was perfect.

Through the cool night air I heard Brad call my name. I opened my eyes and hurried to catch up with my friends.

Continue reading Essay here (including all of the records which were set during the Nebraska game) …

Here is the YouTube video of the entire game … 

In case you only have 15 minutes, here are the video highlights:

 

2016 Season – “Welcome to The Fight”

 

Game Eleven (CU came into the game 8-2; 6-1 in Pac-12 play) No. 12 Colorado 38, No. 20 Washington State 24 … Sefo Liufau passed for 345 yards, rushing for another 108 yards and three touchdowns, leading No. 12 Colorado to a 38-24 victory over No. 20 Washington State. The victory, the first for head coach Mike MacIntyre against a ranked team, witnessed 603 yards of total offense from the Buffs, while holding the Cougars to a season-low 24 points.

“He’s the poster boy of our team,” Buff cornerback Chidobe Awuzie said of Liufau. “Everyone from the outside looking in, that’s what Colorado football looks like. He never quits.

“On the interior, in the locker room, we look at him like the guy who’s going to lead us to the promised land. He goes down, but he always comes back. That tough mindset, that gritty mindset — that’s what this team is built on because that’s who he is and that’s who we are.”

Phillip Lindsay had 31 carries for 144 yards and two touchdowns, with the receiving corps being led by Devin Ross, who had eight catches for 121 yards.

Luke Falk went 26-for-53 for 325 yards and three touchdowns for the Cougars, but was held at bay for most of the final three quarters despite the fact that the Buffs were without defensive backs Afodabi Laguda (ejected for targeting in the first quarter) and Ryan Moeller, out with an injury for all of the second half.

Continue reading game story here

YouTube highlights from the game … 

My Essay for the game,  “Giving Thanks” … The 2016 Redemption Tour by your Colorado Buffaloes continued this weekend with yet another victory. Before a national television audience on Fox, No. 12 Colorado took down No. 20 Washington State, 38-24, to run its record to 9-2, 7-1 in Pac-12 play.

There are, of course, the latest additions to the list of “not since” or “first time since” to add to the ever-growing pile of superlatives being posted by these Buffs … First win over a ranked team since 2009 … First five-game winning streak since 2002 … First nine-win season since 2002 … First 5-0 home record since 1994 …

And that’s before we get to the heroics of the individual players.

Rather than pile on the statistics, though, let’s talk about this historic ride, and what it means to those closest to the fray … the coaches and players who are making this run possible.

First, there is head coach Mike Macintyre and his coaching staff.

The meteoric rise of the Buffs this fall is looking more and more like the seismic shift the program took in 1985.

That season, in the fourth year under Bill McCartney, Colorado went from a dismal 1-10 record in 1984 to a 7-5 season, ending a stretch of six straight losing campaigns. McCartney, for his part, was named national Coach of the Year.

This season, in the fourth year under Mike MacIntyre, Colorado has gone from a disappointing 4-9 record in 2015 to a 9-2 season, ending a stretch of ten straight losing campaigns. MacIntyre, for his part, is looking more and more like a lock to be named national Coach of the Year.

Continue reading Essay here

As is usually the case, Drew Litton of the Daily Camera caught the moment perfectly. His cartoon posted on the day before the Washington State game:

litton-wahington-state-2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

… Up Next … Game Twelves for the 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2016 seasons … coming soon … 

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3 Replies to “A Pleasant Stroll – Game Elevens”

  1. You can never get enough of that game.

    But I gotta say the last to wins over the kornholers sit high on my list

    Bowl Bound Buffs

    1. I agree wholeheartedly VK. I always say we beat the Cornholers on the road in two consecutive years. A note about that 2016 season. I think of Sefo, Phil, and the Defense. The way Mickey Mac cried his way through that season and then did nothing to continue the momentum always leaves that season a little bit tarnished for me.

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