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Remember When … ?

It’s been a forgettable season for the CU faithful. The Buffs would be the laughingstock of major college football … if the rest of the college football world actually cared about what was going on in Boulder. Colorado fell in predictable fashion to No. 8 Oregon, 49-10 (CU was a 31.5-point underdog), with the Ducks scoring touchdowns on their first three drives. The Buffs did show some signs of life at times, but it was all too fitting that the final nails in the coffin were hammered in by CU defector Christian Gonzalez, highlighting the wide gulf between the haves and the have nots in the Pac-12 and college football.

A side benefit of Colorado wandering the desert of college football for the past decade and a half – perhaps the only benefit – is that the Buffs decline into the abyss has been met with a collective shrug by the rest of the nation. Sure, the Buffs this season have found their team ranked as the No. 1 team in both the CBS Bottom 25 and the ESPN Bottom Ten, but those rankings are more about humor than shame.

With the Buffs falling to 1-8, and really nothing in the way of hope for a win the remainder of the season, there isn’t much to look forward to this November.

May as well look back …

Remember When … 

… CU was a ranked team? 

Hard as it may be to believe, the last time Colorado was ranked, and considered one of the Top 25 teams in the nation … was less than two years ago. At the end of November, 2020, the Buffs were 4-0, and were ranked as the No. 21 team in the country. CU fans at the time were wondering how, in a pandemic shortened season, the Buffs could make it to the Pac-12 title game for the second time in five seasons. First year head coach Karl Dorrell was the toast of the town, and well on his way to earning Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors. Sophomore running back Jarek Broussard was well on his way to earning CU’s first conference Offensive Player of the Year award in almost 20 years after going for 301 yards in the Buffs’ 24-13 win over Arizona.

Then … the bottom fell out of the CU program.

Two losses to end the 2020 season were just the beginning. The Buffs fell to 4-8 last season, then opened the 2022 campaign with five blowout losses. Jarek Broussard is long gone, taking his talents to East Lansing, with a half dozen other starters off playing for winning teams in other cities. Karl Dorrell, meanwhile, is back at home, left to wonder whether he should spend time trying to work his way back into the NFL next fall as an assistant coach … or head off to Tahiti, where he can sit back lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills.

Remember When … 

… Buff fans were upset about a 5-7 record?

The frustration for the Buff Nation was real … and ultimately cost Mike MacIntyre his job.

The streak started in 2017. Fresh off of a 10-4 campaign in 2016, the Buffs opened the 2017 season with three straight wins. The Buffs were still in good position for consecutive bowl invitations for the first time since 2004-05 with a 5-4 record heading into November. One win in three games would have meant a bowl … but the Buffs lost three straight to finish 5-7.

In 2018, CU opened the season with a 5-0 record and a No. 19 national ranking. A bowl bid was a given – it was just a question as to whether the Buffs could contend for a Pac-12 South division title. Instead, the Buffs finished with seven consecutive losses, including an unfathomable meltdown against Oregon State, turning a 31-3 third quarter lead into a 41-34 overtime loss. Mike MacIntyre, the Pac-12 Coach-of-the-Year in 2016, was gone less than two years later.

In 2019, new head coach Mel Tucker opened with fan pleasing wins over Colorado State and Nebraska, but a five-game losing streak mid-season tempered the optimism. November wins over Stanford and Washington were not enough to keep the Buffs from a 5-7 finish, but at least there was hope for the future.

In all, the CU had ten games over three seasons where the Buffs had five wins in the bank, with a chance at a sixth win and a bowl bid … but ten times the Buffs lost, leaving the program with three straight 5-7 seasons.

How good does a 5-7 record sound now?

Remember When … 

… Colorado was a perennial Top Ten program, and Oregon was an afterthought?

Or, perhaps better put … Remember the game which lit a fire underneath one program, and lit a match which would burn down another?

On January 1, 1996, No. 7 Colorado faced off against No. 12 Oregon in the Cotton Bowl. On a cold afternoon in Dallas, the Buffs dominated, defeating the Ducks, 38-6, to finish off a 10-2 campaign in Rick Neuheisel’s first season as head coach in Boulder.

But there was this one play …

Up 32-6 with five minutes to play, Colorado faced a fourth-and-14 from its 43-yard line.  After seven consecutive running plays, a punt was certainly in order.  Instead, Neuheisel called for a fake punt, with punter Andy Mitchell hitting Ryan Black for a 28-yard gain and a first down.  The trick play led to the Buffs’ final score, and some hurt feelings on the Oregon sideline.

First-year Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti gave a stern “no comment” about the play, but Neuheisel was quick to explain.  “We faked the punt …. strictly because they were lined up to block the punt,” said the Buffs’ coach after the game.  “And if you have been following Colorado football, we’ve had five of ‘em blocked.”  Neuheisel concluded with an apology: “I apologize if there are any hard feelings.”

The play, if you want to watch it, occurs at the 2:38:00 mark of the game tape …

But, in the world of unintended consequences, the 1996 Cotton Bowl, largely forgotten now, changed the landscape of Oregon football. The Ducks had a good season in 1995, with the loss to Colorado leaving Oregon with a 9-3 record … just shy of Oregon’s first-ever 10-win season.

Yup … in the first 100 years of Oregon football, the entire 20th century in fact, no Oregon team hit double digits in wins in a season.

And Colorado had five 10-win seasons in eight seasons between 1989-96.

The humbling loss to the Buffs lit a fire under a certain Duck fan …

From USA TodayPhil Knight remembers drinking adult beverages with Mike Bellotti, then head coach of the University of Oregon football team, at a scheduled victory party that felt more like a wake.

Colorado had just buried the Ducks 38-6 in the 1996 Cotton Bowl, and Knight, the founder and chairman of Nike who ran track for Oregon in the late 1950s, had a question for Bellotti.

“What do you need to get the program to the next level?” he asked.

An indoor practice facility, Bellotti replied.

So Knight kicked in almost $10 million to build a facility that protected the Ducks from the elements in rainy Eugene.

“It’s kind of grown from there,” Knight told USA TODAY Sports, adding that he grew intrigued with the notion of helping the program in 1995 after Oregon reached the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1958. “I wasn’t really looking at a national championship. I thought we had a chance and could return to the Rose Bowl over a reasonable period of time instead of taking a while.”

The gift of Rick Neuheisel just keeps giving and giving …

Remember When … 

… Buff fans still had hope? 

I received an email from a CU at the Gamer this week. It was short and not-so-sweet …

Hey Stuart,

This is a letter of resignation from being a Buff Fan.  Graduating in 2001 from CU was an amazing time in my life, but since then the football team is just a joke and we constantly get lied to from the administration.  I’m just going to listen to Mike Leach press conferences from here on out, but I’m seriously done with the buffs.  Sorry, good luck. 

I’m not sure why he felt compelled to send me the note … but it’s not an uncommon sentiment among the Buff faithful right now.

Then there was this …

There was a thread on the Rivals message board this week about interim head coach Mike Sanford making a plea at his weekly press conference for fans to donate to the new Buffs4Life Collective, saying:

“I’m calling on former Buff players; I’m calling on people in this CU community that support football and want us to have a great product on the field. This is where we have to go. This is not something that’s just going to happen organically. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a small gift or a major gift. Everything is going to help get us to where we want to get.”

I usually don’t post on message boards, but I feel very strongly that this Collective might well be CU’s last best chance to get back to respectability. But, for the most part, instead of enthusiasm, there is pushback, including this from a law school classmate:

Sorry Stu. Between tickets, souvenirs, donations, beer, food, all in, I’ve dumped over $40,000 into CU athletics over the 35+ years I’ve had season tickets. And for the last 15 years it’s been a financial and entertainment weekly kick in the balls from September to December.

But now, buying tickets isn’t enough. I have to keep buying season tickets AND donate to a jock slush fund so 18 year olds can get paid and don’t transfer.

F that. If well heeled boosters want to capitalize an NIL fund, go for it. Me?

Hard pass.

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Buff fans had hope, even enthusiasm for the future. We are just two years removed from CU being in the Top 25, but it may as well be 25 years ago, considering how bad it has gotten.

There is still the opportunity to get it right. CU fans have to get involved in the Collective, and the CU administration has to get it right, not only with the coaching search, but by fixing the transfer policy.

If not, games like the Oregon game will continue to be the norm (see, for example, USC; next weekend).

And Buff fans will be left with nothing but old stories of “Remember When … “.

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14 Replies to “Remember When … ?”

  1. Again? The amazing thing was Knight and Nike wanted to move to Boulder… and the city and CU Regents shot it down. We’d be living in a totally different world and would still be a regular Top 10 Team.

    Think it’s wonderful to look back, but let’s look forward. Please get Garrett Riley (OC of TCU). That team has been down going into the half and he makes adjustments against ranked teams Defenses and win. I think he has the same offensive genius as his brother Lincoln at USC. It we pick him up, he’d be the same age as Lincoln when he took the head coach position with the Sooners. He’s been OC at SMU and TCU so he has solid recruiting contacts in Texas. His brother is the head coach of USC who haves the best scouting report of California. USC will be in a different conference and can recruit only so many players… Garret will be the big winner on inside intel for recruits from California. We need someone young, dynamic… don’t F this up CU. TCU have 3 difficult games left on schedule but if they run the table (which is likely) Sunny Dykes will win coach of the year based on righting the ship and although he deserves a lot of credit it will be Riley who is the true catalyst.

    1. At least my reference to Nike and Knight has a link to a national publication.
      We’ve been waiting for some time for a journalistic reference to Nike wanting to come to Boulder …

      1. Dude, someone looked it up and posted a link. Seriously, call Rick George or anyone In the athletic department. I worked for W+K at the time. I was there. The brand wanted to move to Boulder. I don’t need to send a link, you actually should do Tate some $ to the foot program so you actually know people in the athletic department and can ask someone within the department and ask them “this jackass on the board says Nike wanted to move to Boulder is this true.

        PS – is this Stuart who hosts CU At The Game. If so, dude… what the F. Do you know anybody in the athletic department? Also, look at comments, someone fact checked me and found it but it was know where close to the length and extent NIke wanted Boulder. Again, I worked for W+K. Sadly, you don’t even know what that means. Please tell me your not he guy who hosts this site. I like your site, but it means your seriously clueless

        1. Yup, it’s me.
          I hope you enjoyed your last post.
          Enjoy other sites, you’re done here.

          P.S. Since I have interviewed Rick George, Lance Carl, Dave Plati, and several coaches over the years, I would say, yes, I do know people in the athletic department.

    2. Dude get a reality check. Phil Knight ran track at OU, lives in Oregon, and if you haven’t paid attention OU and Eugene has been a runners and track and field Mecca before Boulder ever was. Enough with the conspiracy theory BS.

      1. Had to try, even though I don’t think this will get posted. Yes, I suspect Phil would have donated and continue to donate to Oregon. It doesn’t mean that he wasn’t going to move corporate to Boulder. That he can’t have one or the other. Oregon, Still would have been a benefactor from a great alum. At the same time, they wanted to move to Boulder, and CU would have been a big benefactor as well. The point of bringing this up is to highlight for how long Regents has been deliberately sabotaging the football program. Eitherway, this won’t be posted, one last piece of therapy for myself about my beloved Buffs. Locobuff, I assure you, not a conspiracy theory, absolutely reality. Business deals of public companies, are front page news on purpose, their are consequences… deal or no deal. Again, this was very much a real thing.

    3. OCD much? You remind me of another guy or two around here.

      You can do the expose. The truth is out there. I would love to read about it.

      Go Buffs

  2. Things are rarely as good, or as bad, as they seem.

    There is talent on this roster. It is just very young, for the most part. Get the right guy who can sell his vision to the current players, commits and new recruits, and they can build back to respectability relatively quickly.

    As two easy examples, how many transfers out did teams like osu or Kansas have in the last couple cycles?

    Going to be interesting to see who they get. At this point, their list should be pretty short, with preliminary talks and vetting almost done. At least if they intend to have a guy in place by season’s end, when the portal opens again.

    Go Buffs

  3. first of all pizz on Bellotti. If its within the rules and makes the game more exciting. I’m all for it. The score at the time was more Belotti’s fault than anyone else’s. Also lost is the fact is that fake punts more often than not fail, especially with that much yardage for a first down. Rick apologizing was stupid too.
    Secondly, and unfortunately I am leaning towards your classmate’s attitude. This country has reached a point where money is more important than anything else in our lives from politics on down. The whole country appears to be selling out the values that made it great. College football has become no exception.
    I have always worked hard so I could play hard and now that I am retired the play part has to take a cut too. In a way money has become an important part of my life too but its a different problem than the multi millionaires/billionaires who seem to never have enough money or control over society. College football fits in here too. Programs with the money can now easily buy the players and coaches of those with a lot less.
    “Remember when….” will always be a part of my life. I watched almost every game live from 1967 with the Anderson brothers through half of Mallory’s term when I started working out of state in areas where it was hard to get TV coverage. Yeah money has made TV coverage a lot more extensive but what good does it do to lift a 1-10 program out of the toilet?
    I have always been excited about each new coaching hire in the last 15 years. It never took long to realize they were duds though. We even hired a second coach with a kid on the team. After seeing Dorrel a number of times in pressers and on the sidelines I dont know what Rick saw in interviews. I’m still convinced Karl had a lot more football acumen thn Sanders. If he had Sanders enthusiasm what might have been? if if if tired of ifs.
    Basketball is beginning thankfully. I’m an armchair point guard who criticizes Tad’s offense acumen or lack of it but at least Tad creates a successful program otherwise or one you can watch with positive expectations. Yeah you have most of the same ol names in the hoops top ten every year but there are also a lot more teams who are capable of taking them down. Wondering how long it will take money to ruin this too.

  4. That story about Knight deciding to boost Oregon because of a fake punt is cute, does anyone really believe Knight wouldn’t have done the same if the score was 32-6 and no fake punt? Please.

    I think the moral of the story is you need an oligarch with a sh!t load of money to be competitive. Not really a long term model for success. I’m not aware of any oligarchs in CU’s future.

  5. Thank you, as always, for putting forward thoughtful, balanced ideas for your readers.

    The program is at a crossroads. The coaching search has to “get it right.” The Curriculum Committee has to develop a new General Studies “type” major to “get it right” for transfers. The collective has to fundraise during difficult economic times to “get it right” in the age of NIL.

    I am struck by the loyal fan who has done all the right things in “giving” $40,000 in about thirty years, and still being asked to do more. With CU graduates being more affluent than many alumni, this “giving” us not sustainable across the country. I recall an old saying from almost forty years ago “attending a Saturday college football game in the east and northeast is a CULTURAL event, in the west it is a SOCIAL event, and in the south and Midwest it is a RELIGIOUS event. NIL donations will come from either big donors or those who see college football as a RELIGIOUS activity, but not from those who see college football as a CULTURAL or SOCIAL touchstone.

    If the leaders of college football are not careful, it will become a largely regional sport.

    For the time being, my hope is that CU gets most everything right and finds its way in the changing landscape.

    1. imho, the worst thing that ever happened to college football is the creation of a playoff… the old poll and bowl system provided drama and participation much more than we see now and teams like CU could actually strive for a bowl because it meant something more than just being a vehicle for advertising $$$

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