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 Sixes

*** 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 will be posted this Sunday, and will include 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 Sevens …

1986 Season – “A Game For the Ages” 


Game Seven (CU came into the game 2-4, 2-0 in Big Eight play) … Colorado 20, No. 3 Nebraska 10 … The Buffs entered the 1986 game against Nebraska 2-4.  Wins against Missouri and Iowa State had Colorado 2-0 in Big Eight play, but this was as much due to scheduling as to any improvement by the Buffs.  Nebraska, ranked third in the nation, was not impressed by Colorado’s unblemished conference record.

The Cornhuskers were also 2-0 in conference, but were 6-0 overall, having won their first six games by an average score of  41-16.  If that wasn’t daunting enough, the Buffs were faced with the fact that no Nebraska squad had lost to Colorado since 1967.  The last time the Buffs actually beat the Cornhuskers in Boulder had come way back on October 22, 1960, when Dwight David Eisenhower was packing up the White House, concluding his second term in office.

I had been in Boulder for six of those losses to the Cornhuskers. Now a third year law school student,  I was not confident that this would be the year that things would change.

Nor was the media.

Hard as it is to believe now, there was a time when not every game was televised. Far from the public eye, the 1986 CU/Nebraska game was not on television anywhere.  Not in Denver, Lincoln, or anywhere else.  (ABC was showing the game between 6th-ranked Penn State and 2nd-ranked Alabama).

No one foresaw the history which was to unfold.

As gametime neared on the afternoon of Saturday, October 25th, 1986, Brad and I, along with a few other stalwarts from the law school, took our place in the Senior Section.  We did not arrive in time for the pre-game pep rally, which included music and discount coupons for concessions.  (Colorado Governor Richard Lamm had even gotten into the act of trying to promote the Buffs, putting out an Executive Order proclaiming October 25, 1986, as “Gold Rush Saturday”).

We had excellent seats – just past the 40-yard line, about 10 rows up, right behind the Colorado bench.  A crowd of 52,440, seventh-largest crowd ever at Folsom to that time, crammed into the stadium on a warm October afternoon to see how long Colorado could stay with the mighty Cornhuskers.

Continue reading game story here









The Jeff Campbell reverse … 

The O.C. Oliver to Lance Carl halfback pass … 

Game Highlights … with the KOA play-by-play call by Larry Zimmer dubbed in (since the game was not televised) … 


1991 Season – “Kissing Your Sister”


Game Seven (CU came into the game 4-2, 2-0 in Big Eight play) … No. 16 Colorado 10, Kansas State 0 … The 1991 Kansas State team was different from the Wildcat teams which Big Eight teams had grown accustomed to playing.

Third-year coach Bill Snyder was building a program in Manhattan.  The joke of the conference throughout much of the ‘1980’s (and, in all honesty, for a number of decades), Snyder had taken a woeful team over in 1989, going 1-10 in first campaign.  The second team improved to 5-6, and in 1991 the Wildcats were 4-2, falling only to No. 3 Washington and No. 9 Nebraska.  The 38-31 scare put into the Cornhuskers in Lincoln put the world on notice that these Wildcats would have to be dealt with from here on as a serious threat.

It was all the Buffs could do to come away with a 10-0 win against a resilient Wildcat squad.  The Colorado defense carried the day, posting a shutout for the second time in a season for the first time since 1977.  Colorado sacked Wildcat quarterback Paul Watson nine times on the day, including three by sophomore defensive tackle Leonard Renfro.

Colorado’s offense could muster only one touchdown, and that coming after Kansas State’s Watson fumbled the ball deep in Wildcat territory early in the second quarter. Sophomore nose tackle Jeff Brunner recovered the fumble, giving the Buffs a golden opportunity.  Lamont Warren capped the 13-yard “drive” with a seven yard run.  Midway through the third, kicker Jim Harper connected from 29 yards out to post the final points of the game.

Not a convincing win, but for the 5-2 Buffs (3-0 in conference play), a win was a win.

The next poll saw the Buffs move up only one spot, to No. 15, but rankings were no longer the focus.  Four games remained in the season, and the three teams remaining on the Buffs’ schedule not named Nebraska had a combined record, as October came to a close, of 6-13-2.  The season, and the chance to three-peat as Big Eight champions, then, would come down to one game.  The Cornhuskers, despite a 63-6 mauling of hapless Missouri, held at No. 9 in the polls.  Nebraska was also 3-0 in Big Eight play.

It was pretty clear to anyone who looked at the Big Eight standings as the 1991 calendar turned to November:  The winner of the Colorado/Nebraska game would become the prohibitive favorite to represent the conference in the Orange Bowl.

For a Colorado team which struggled out of the gate to a 2-2 non-conference record, the thought of returning to Miami as the three-time defending Big Eight champions had a nice ring to it for the Buffs and their fans.

And there was this salient fact:  Nebraska had to travel to Boulder for the showdown.

Continue reading story here (including Essay entitled: “Nerves of Spaghetti“) …

1996 Season – “Ooooh, So Close”


Game Seven (CU came into the game 5-1; 3-0 in Big 12 play) … No. 8 Colorado 28, Texas 24 … The Texas Longhorns, who in 1995 closed out the final season of the Southwest Conference with a 10-2-1 record, including a 7-0 record in conference play, bottomed out in 1996 on the last Saturday in October in Boulder, Colorado.

After succumbing to the Buffs, 28-24 in Boulder, Texas fell to 3-4 on the 1996 season. No one knew at the time that the next loss for the Longhorns would not come until New Year’s Day in the Fiesta Bowl.

Early in the game against the Buffs, Texas appeared to be anything but a 3-3 team.

An interception thrown by Colorado quarterback Koy Detmer led to a Texas field goal early in the first quarter. A few minutes later, a 66-yard punt return quickly resulted in a 13-yard touchdown pass from quarterback James Brown to receiver Wane McGarity. With the Buffs already down 10-0, Detmer threw another interception, returned by Longhorn cornerback Bryant Westbrook to the Buffs’ 20-yard line.

Things looked bleak indeed for the 5-1 Buffs.

Steve Rosga to the rescue … again.

Just as he had against Oklahoma State, the Buffs’ free safety picked off an opponent’s pass to the CU end zone. There was no 105-yard runback for a touchdown this time, but the interception did save the day for Colorado.

A 54-yard touchdown connection between Detmer and Rae Carruth early in the second quarter pulled the Buffs to within 10-7. Only five plays later, though, Texas was back up on top by ten, courtesy of a 50-yard bomb from Jones to Michael Adams.

The Buffs responded with a Lendon Henry run from four yards out to pull within 17-14 at halftime. The drive, taking six plays and covering 45 yards, was highlighted by a 28-yard pass from Detmer to Chris Anderson on a fourth-and-two to keep the drive alive.

Down only three after the disastrous opening few minutes, a 17-14 deficit at half would normally not seem that bad. Unfortunately for the Buffs, though, quarterback Koy Detmer was crunched on the Buffs’ final drive before halftime, giving him a second-degree concussion.

As in 1995, quarterback John Hessler would be called upon to rescue the Buffs in a big game.

Continue reading game story here (including Essay entitled: “Poll Watching”) …

2001 Season – “Seems Like Old Times”

Game Seven (CU came into the game 5-1; 3-0 in Big 12 play) No. 9 Texas 41, No. 14 Colorado 7 … Looking to secure their return to the national spotlight, the Colorado Buffaloes instead stumbled badly, falling to No. 9 Texas in Austin, 41-7.

With the loss, the Buffs absorbed their worst drubbing since a 52-7 disaster against Nebraska on Halloween, 1992.  Freshman Longhorn running back Cedric Benson rushed for 100 yards and two scores as Texas cruised to 425 yards of total offense.

Three first half turnovers and a missed field goal from short range doomed the Buffs to a long afternoon.  Still, Colorado was down only 17-7 late in the second quarter.  Senior quarterback Bobby Pesavento started for injured Craig Ochs, who was out with recurring symptoms from a concussion suffered a month earlier. For his part, Pesavento was efficient if not effective.

The Buffs, despite the turnovers, had moved the ball, and had put up a nine-yard scoring run by Cortlen Johnson to make the score 10-7 in the second quarter.

With just under two minutes to play in the first half, though, the game changed for good.

Texas was up, 17-7, but was pinned inside its five-yard line.  The Longhorns seemed content on going into halftime with a ten-point lead, when a safe screen pass to Cedric Benson turned into a fifty-yard gain.  A few plays later, Benson scored from four yards out, and the rout was on.

The Buffs briefly showed signs of life in the second half.

After stopping Texas on three plays to open the third quarter, the Buffs marched to the Longhorns’ 30-yard line, only to be stopped on fourth-and-two.  This failure seemed to take the life out of the Buffs, and the remainder of the game was a formality.

“That was a meltdown,” said Gary Barnett, absorbing his worst loss as the Buffs’ coach.  “It’s been a while since nothing went right.  This was one of those days.”

For Colorado, it was suddenly time to regroup.  A five game winning streak, the Buffs’ best since opening the 1998 season 5-0, was history.  Up next was Oklahoma State, 2-5, 0-4 under first year head coach Les Miles.  The Buffs had taken nine of the last ten contests against the Cowboys, but Colorado, now with a loss in Big 12 play, could not take anyone for granted.

Continue reading story here

2016 Season – “Welcome to The Fight”


Game Seven (CU came into the game 4-2; 2-1 in Pac-12 play) Colorado 40, Arizona State 16 … Phillip Lindsay rushed for 219 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Colorado Buffaloes to their first win over Arizona State in their history, 40-16.

Lindsay averaged 8.4 yards on 26 carries and his big day included a 75-yard rumble on the first snap of the second half. He also scored from 13 yards out, capping off a memorable evening with a 4-yard run in the final minute.

The Buffs ran for 315 yards overall.

“We didn’t play very well and my hat goes off to them because they ran the ball on us unlike anyone has ever run it the whole time I’ve been at Arizona State,” said Sun Devils fifth-year coach Todd Graham.

Sefo Liufau threw for 265 yards on 23 of 31 passing against the nation’s worst pass defense in his return to the Buffs starting lineup for the first time since spraining his left ankle at Michigan on Sept. 17th.

His biggest play came when he slipped a sack, rolled left and found Bryce Bobo all alone for a 66-yard gain to the Sun Devils 9. Three plays later, Liufau took it in himself from the 3 to snap a 10-10 tie.

“We can enjoy the win tonight, but we have to go back to work on Monday and prove ourselves all over again,” Liufau said.

Continue reading game story here

My Essay for the game,  “Making A Statement” … Just so we are clear, the 40-16 win over Arizona State was, in my opinion, not a “statement game”. It was not a “signature win”. It did not merit a Gatorade bath for coach MacIntyre, nor should the fans have stormed the field after the game.

“I thought tonight was a break-through win”, said Mike MacIntyre. “Sefo [Liufau] getting to come back and get his start tonight, and this team he played four years ago was the first time he ever played and it didn’t go great. I kept telling them they built the water up in the dam and the dam had cracks in it. I said you got to go punch it one more time, and now the water’s going to flow”.

A break-through game? Okay. I’ll give you that.

But it wasn’t a “statement game”.

What the Buffs did, however, in taking down Arizona State in dominating fashion, was to make a “statement”.

They made a statement to their fans, to the national media, and, most importantly, to the rest of the Pac-12.

Continue reading Essay here

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


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