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 Fours

*** Posted *** … The latest CU at the Game Podcast has been posted. In addition to a discussion of the Sam Noyer announcement, with Brad and I looked back at the memorable CU/Nebraska games in 1986 (“20-10”!!) and the Ice Bowl of 1991 … This episode for the podcast, which is now well into its second season, can be found here

Game Fives …

1986 Season – “A Game For the Ages” 


Game Five (CU came into the game 0-4) … Colorado 17, Missouri 12 … The bye week between the non-conference slate and the commencement of Big Eight play could not have come at a better time for the Colorado Buffs.  The Buffs were reeling at 0-4, though they could easily have been 3-1.  “It (the bye week) gives us a chance to regroup and get a new perspective on the season”, said Coach Bill McCartney, “I think we need to regroup emotionally as much as anything.”

Whatever the coaching staff devised to rejuvenate the team, it worked.

Playing more like the 1985 team which had won seven games, the offense and defense came off of the Buffs’ week off to play well during the same game for the first time all season.  Mark Hatcher and O.C. Oliver both scored in the second quarter with runs of 27 and five yards, respectively, to give Colorado all of the points it would need in a 17-12 victory.

Oliver’s touchdown run was set up by a trick play.  On fourth-and-one at the Buffs’ own 29 yard line, punter Barry Helton threw a pass to safety Mickey Pruitt for a 17-yard gain.  “You gotta take chances when you’re 0-4”, said McCartney of the fake punt, “That was a big play.”

The Buffs were up 14-6 at half, but the lead would have been 14-3 if not for a Big Eight record 62-yard field goal by Tiger kicker Tom Whelihan (a kick aided by a 15 mph tailwind).

Still, Colorado’s offense against Missouri was again its own worst enemy.  Amassing a season high 391 total yards, the Buffs could have (and should have) scored more, but four turnovers halted Colorado drives.

The defense, stingy all day, proved up to the task late in the game.  Colorado’s defensive unit, given a lead to protect in the fourth quarter for the third time in five games, for once held on.

Allowing only 65 rushing yards all day, the defense did allow the Tigers to pull within five points with nine minutes left.  Time still remained for another Colorado lapse.  With its final drive, Missouri drove to the Colorado 49-yard line.  All appearances were that the Buffs were to come up short once more.

That, however, was before junior linebacker John Nairn picked off a pass by Missouri quarterback Jeff Henningsen.  The interception secured Colorado’s first win of the year.  “There was no way it was going to happen again,” said Nairn.  “We worked on it all week.  We designated a special period at each practice to work on stopping drives at the end.”

Colorado was now 1-4 on the season, but to coach McCartney and the Buffs, all that mattered was that the Buffs were 1-0 in Big Eight conference play.

Continue reading game story here

1991 Season – “Kissing Your Sister”


Game Five (CU came into the game 2-2) … No. 25 Colorado 55, Missouri 7 … There is nothing like a loss to bring out the frustrations of a good team.

After being surprised by Baylor in the second game of the season, Colorado had responded with a 58-0 rout of Minnesota. On the heels of the disappointing setback at Stanford in game four, the Buffs again bounced back, this time with a 55-7 mauling of Missouri.

In 101 years of football, Colorado had accumulated over 600 yards in total offense only seven times. Now, the Buffs surpassed 600 for the second time in three games, rolling up 656 yards against the Tigers. The 656 yards represented the fourth highest total in school history.

Quarterback Darian Hagan connected with Michael Westbrook from 21 yards out on Colorado’s first drive of the game, and the Buffs never looked back. A five-yard touchdown run by fullback James Hill near the end of the first quarter pushed the lead to 14-0.

After a 21-yard field goal by Jim Harper, Hagan connected with senior tight end Sean Brown on an 11-yard score as Colorado moved to a 24-0 lead late in the second quarter. On the day, in limited duty, Hagan passed for 119 yards and rushed for 101 more.

In the second half, a number of players saw action as Colorado continued to dominate.

The Buffs scored on their first five possessions of the second half, holding Missouri scoreless until the scoreboard read 55-0. Backup quarterback Vance Joseph ran for one score (for 15 yards), and connected with Michael Westbrook (for 35 yards) for another. Red-shirt freshman wingback Erik Mitchell and senior fullback Tony Senna each scored their first career touchdowns for the Buffs. Mitchell took the ball in from 15 yards out; Senna from the one. In all, six different Buffs scored touchdowns in the rout.

“This whole team was more intense”, said junior nose tackle Joel Steed. “We had an incredible level of belief in what we were doing, and we had to send a message to the rest of the Big Eight.”

The sell-out homecoming crowd of 52,315 left Folsom Field satisfied, but there was no time to dwell on the success. Up next was Oklahoma. The Sooners were the Big Eight favorites, having opened the season 4-0 and climbing as high as No. 5 in the polls after opening the season with three routs.

It would be a long two weeks.

Continue reading game story here

1996 Season – “Ooooh, So Close”


Game Five (CU came into the game 3-1; 1-0 in Big 12 play) … No. 9 Colorado 35, Oklahoma State 13 … Former Colorado assistant head coach Bob Simmons brought his 3-2 Oklahoma State Cowboys to Boulder for Colorado’s first-ever Big 12 Conference home game.

Simmons was in his second season at Oklahoma State (7-10 overall), and was building for the future. His young team (on defense, OSU listed nine freshman and seven sophomores on the two-deep chart) was 3-0 against the likes of Southwest Missouri State, Utah State, and Tulsa, but 0-2 against conference foes, including a 71-14 humiliation at the hands of Texas the week before the Colorado game.

Ninth-ranked Colorado, which had moved back into the top ten during the Buffs’ second bye week, was installed as a 32½-point favorite for the 8:07 p.m. kickoff (the latest start in Colorado regular season history to that time).

The Buffs, after falling behind 3-0 early, put together perhaps their best overall effort of the season.

The offense, led by Koy Detmer’s 402 passing yards, scored on three Detmer touchdown passes to take control. On the Buffs’ first possession, the CU offense marched 85 yards in nine plays, scoring on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Detmer to Chris Anderson. After the Buff defense forced a three-and-out, CU scored on the next play from scrimmage, a 62-yard pass from Detmer to Rae Carruth.

The two teams traded touchdowns in the second quarter. Just before the half, the Buffs used just three plays to cover 66 yards. Detmer hit junior tight end Desmond Dennis for 18 yards  before connecting with tight end Brody Heffner for 26 yards down to the Oklahoma State 22-yard line. On the next play, Detmer hit Phil Savoy for a 22-yard touchdown, and the Buffs had a 21-10 cushion at halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, with the score still 21-10, the Buffs’ defense put the game away. Oklahoma State drove deep into CU territory, and faced a third-and-nine at the Colorado 19. There, Cowboy quarterback Tone Jones lofted a pass into the Buff endzone. Instead of finding a teammate and making the game a four-point contest, Jones’ pass found CU senior safety Steve Rosga. Eschewing the touchback, Rosga ran the ball out from five yards deep. Some 105 rumbling yards later, Rosga had a CU touchdown and a 28-10 CU lead. Although over 20 minutes remained to be played in the game, Rosga’s score, for all intents and purposes, decided the game.

On the Buff sidelines, head coach Rick Neuheisel, like most of the 53,005 in attendance, held their breath as Rosga took off with the interception. “As he was coming out of the endzone I was saying, ‘Gosh, he should’ve just taken a knee’ “, Neuheisel said after the game, “And when he got to the 15, I go, ‘Great decision, Roz.’ He, obviously, is a gifted athlete that can make good plays.”

Continue reading game story here

2001 Season – “Seems Like Old Times”

Game Five (CU came into the game 3-1; 1-0 in Big 12 play) Colorado 16, No. 12 Kansas State 6 … The Buff players handed 3rd-year head coach Gary Barnett his first big win as CU head coach, manhandling Kansas State, 16-6.

The Buffs allowed only a late fourth-quarter touchdown to a team which had torched the Sooners for 37 points in Norman a week earlier.  In moving to 2-0 in Big 12 play, the Buffs made a statement.  “I felt like we dominated them all around,” said CU redshirt-freshman defensive tackle Brandon Dabdoub.  “I think we showed the Big 12 and the whole country we’re for real.”

The Buffs’ defense limited the Wildcat offense to just 196 total yards.  Kansas State quarterback Eli Roberson, who passed for 257 yards against Oklahoma, hit just 10-of-29 passes for 107 yards and two interceptions.  He was also sacked six times by the Buffs, including two sacks each by sophomore defensive end Matt McChesney and junior defensive end Tyler Brayton.

But the Buffs’ offense was merely adequate against the Kansas State defense, which entered the game ranked eighth nationally.  Quarterback Craig Ochs connected with tight end Daniel Graham from 21 yards out in the second quarter to give the Buffs a 7-0 halftime lead. Graham’s circus catch would be the only contact the Buffs would have with the Wildcat endzone on the day.  It was then left to Jeremy Flores to extend the lead, hitting on field goals of 31, 20, and 22 yards.

Flores’ last field goal came with 2:37 left in the game, and capped a final flourish by the Buffs which was indicative of their play on the day.

With just under six minutes left, the Wildcats took possession at their own 31-yard line.  With their team trailing 13–6 (K-State missed the extra point attempt on its fourth quarter touchdown), the 51,101 purple-clad faithful on hand expected a quick score from their explosive offense to tie the game.

Instead, the Colorado defense rose to the occasion.

On first down, Brayton sacked Roberson for a nine-yard loss.  On second down, junior linebacker Joey Johnson stopped a screen pass for a two-yard loss.  Sophomore defensive end Marques Harris then sacked Roberson on third down, and the Wildcats were forced to punt.  Roman Hollowell returned the ensuing punt 41 yards deep into Wildcat territory, setting up Flores’ third field goal and the game’s final points.

“Obviously, it was important for this season,” understated Gary Barnett after the game.  “When something’s really important to you and you’re really committed, anything can happen, and that’s what happened today.”

Continue reading game story here

2016 Season – “Welcome to The Fight”


Game Five (CU came into the game 3-1; 1-0 in Pac-12 play) Colorado 47, Oregon State 6 … Steven Montez and Shay Fields hooked up for three first-half touchdowns, leading the Buffs to a 47-6 rout of Oregon State. Montez went 19-for-27 for 293 yards in three quarters of action, with Fields collecting seven of those passes for 169 yards. Fields tied a school record for touchdown receptions in a game, with 160 of his 169 yards coming in the first half as the Buffs turned an early 3-0 deficit into a 37-6 blowout by halftime.

Phillip Lindsay was the leading rusher for the Buffs, with 90 yards and a score in 16 carries. The defense was also stellar, holding the Beavers to 226 yards of total offense. While holding the Oregon State offense out of the end zone, the Colorado defense was able to get there on its own, with linebacker Rick Gamboa scoring on a 20-yard interception return.

“It proves we’re legitimate, maybe, that we can do it,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. “Everybody kept asking me all week, `Are they going to have a letdown? Did they play out of their minds?’ Like I said since Day 1, we’re a good football team.”

The win gave Colorado a 4-1 record overall, with a 2-0 record in Pac-12 play. In defeating Oregon State (1-3, 0-1), the Buffs equaled their 2015 win total, and made a claim for a national ranking for the first time since 2005.

Continue reading game story here

My Essay for the game, “A Let Down? Not so Much” …

It’s not like we haven’t been here before.

It’s just that we haven’t been here in a long time.

The University of Colorado Buffaloes, the laughing stock of the Pac-12 since joining the league, find themselves atop the South division two weeks into conference play. The Buffs are 4-1, 2-0 … the only team in the Pac-12 South without a conference loss after completing the sweep of the Oregon schools with a dominating 47-6 win over Oregon State.

“We’re a good football team. That’s the good thing, we don’t have any kids anymore; we’ve got some men,” said Mike MacIntyre after the rout. “They listen, they come prepared to practice, they ask questions, they come over after class, they do more studying, they’re involved. They say all the time, ‘Players make plays, players win games.’ They’re understanding that now. They’re taking their coaching. We don’t have guys late for things. They’re getting more professional. As you mature, that’s what happens. The less teenagers you have playing the better off you are.”

The Buffs kept the Folsom Field crowd of 46,839 (the largest of the Mike MacIntyre era) wondering about a letdown from the 41-38 win over Oregon …

… for about half a quarter.

Continue reading Essay here

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


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