Ghosts of Spring Practices Past

The 2023 Colorado Spring game is a sell out. Over 45,000 Buff fans are paying $10 apiece for the chance to bear witness to the first public appearance of the CU football team under Deion Sanders. ESPN’s lead college football announcer and CU alumnus, Chris Fowler, will lead the national coverage, with CU’s Spring game receiving the only national coverage on ESPN’s main channel.

Feel free to go back and read those three sentences again. And then again …

Such a paragraph would have been unfathomable, even laughable, six months ago. The Colorado football program was the doormat of the Power Five, one of the worst programs in the nation. The only thing keeping the 1-11 Buffs from an 0-12 season was an emotional overtime victory over Cal the game after Karl Dorrell was fired.

And now?

Please step aside Georgia, USC, Ohio State and Alabama … the mothership is focusing its attention on Colorado this spring.

While Buff fans wait impatiently to rush the gates and grab the prime seats for the CU showcase, it’s worth a few moments to step back and take a look at just how unique this Spring game will be (1:00 p.m., MT, ESPN, followed at 3:00 p.m. by a 30-for-30 ESPN show on Deion Sanders).

If you haven’t yet heard this stat, you certainly will this week … The expected crowd for the Spring Game this Saturday will exceed the attendance at the last nine CU Spring Games … combined.

In three seasons under Karl Dorrell, the total attendance at CU’s Spring games totaled 2,950. Granted, there was no Spring game in 2020, during the height of the pandemic, and the 2021 Spring game was limited to 1,000, but still …

(Side note … I was a part of the crowd of 1,000 for the 2021 Spring game. We had to sit in groups of two or three, in designated spots throughout the stadium. It was surreal, but it was also great to get back into Folsom Field for the first time since November of 2019).

In order to give you a little perspective on the CU Spring game, and give you trivia to impress your fellow Buff fans this week, here is some history of the CU Spring game …

From … For 40 years, spring practice traditionally ended with a game between the Colorado Varsity and Alumni. Back at the turn of the century, an Alumni team usually served as the season opener for the varsity (13 times all told, with the Varsity owning an 11-0-2 edge in those games). The Varsity held a 20-3 edge in the old format of the spring series, which started back in 1953 under then head coach Dal Ward. After a pair of games, the series became dormant until 1963 when it was revived by Eddie Crowder.

There was no game between 1974 and 1976, and the 1978 game was cancelled due to a blizzard. A new format for the Varsity-Alumni game (implemented in 1988) had the alumni playing in the first and third quarters, with the first team of the varsity playing the second and fourth quarters. They were pitted against the second- and third-team members of the varsity, resulting in a competitive and fun game. The alumni and first-team varsity always wore black. This format was discontinued following 1992 for competitive reasons.

The format for the game in 1993 and 1994 was to pit the first-team offense and defense against the remainder of the squad.

An intrasquad game was started in 1987 and was dubbed the “Black & White” game (which evolved into the “Black & Gold’ game). The format for this has varied through the years, depending on the health of the team; most years, the team is divided by the coaching staff into two units of comparable strength.

Injuries in the 2001-03 and 2005 seasons forced an offense-defense formatted game with its own unique scoring system, and in 2006-07 the team scrimmaged due to a lack of offensive linemen. In 2008, the Black team was the first-team offense, the Gold team the second and third-teamers; that year, in response to a challenge by former head coach Bill McCartney, a CU spring record crowd of 17,800 turned out for the game. In 2010, 2014 and 2015, the players drafted the teams themselves.

Some notes of note from the above … 

— The first Spring game with over 10,000 in attendance came in 1963, when 11,500 were on hand to watch the Alumni take down the Varsity, 14-6;

— The 1967 Spring game was played in Denver, as Folsom Field was undergoing renovations;

— Before this season, the Spring game which received the most attention was probably the 1989 Spring game. The Buffs in 1988 had gone 8-4, 4-3 in Big Eight play (with all three conference losses coming against teams ranked in the Top 15 in the national rankings). Much was expected of the 1989 team, but then the team was struck with horrific news: starting quarterback Sal Aunese had been stricken with cancer. One of the most emotional moments in the history of CU football came at halftime of the 1989 spring game, when the players saluted cancer-stricken Aunese. Aunese passed away on September 23rd later that year;

— The highest attendance for a Spring game prior to 2023 came in 2008. Coming off of a 2-10 season in Dan Hawkins’ debut in 2006, the attendance for the 2007 Spring game was 5,800. The 2007 team rebounded with a 6-6 regular season record and a berth in the Independence Bowl against Alabama and first-year head coach Nick Saban. The fan luncheon announcing the CU Recruiting Class of 2008 became memorable for two speeches. The first came from Dan Hawkins, who guaranteed ten wins for the Buffs in 2008 (the Buffs would go 5-7). The second came from former head coach Bill McCartney, who challenged the Buff Nation to “Fill Folsom” for the 2008 Spring game. CU fans didn’t quite fill the stadium, but they did set a new record, with 17,800 watching the Black take down the Gold, 28-17.

— Since the 2008 Spring game, the Buffs have attracted over 10,000 three times: 11,700 in 2009; 15,655 in 2011 (Jon Embree’s first season); and 10,244 in 2013 (Mike MacIntyre’s first season);

— With the exception of the 2019 game, every CU Spring “game” since 2016 has only been a scrimmage, with none of the exciting “scrimmages” attracting more than 6,250 spectators.


6 Replies to “Ghosts of Spring Practices Past”

  1. Taxes are due Monday April 17 and they must be paid out.

    Payouts from the phenomenal buff hype machine are due Saturday April 22 and they must be paid out

    Happy tax day and go Buffs

  2. I was at CU from 1985 thru 1989. I’m from NJ but my senior year I stayed in Boulder for spring break to work. It was right around spring break that the news broke of Sal Aunese’s cancer diagnosis. I attended the Spring Game that year in part to honor Sal and in part to say goodbye to him. Nothing about the game was particularly memorable (even for a team that would play for the National Championship each of the next two seasons) but the atmosphere was. Almost thirty-five years later, I still remember it.

    I met Sal Aunese once. I worked at Abo’s on the Hill. Buffs started 1988 4-0 including win at Iowa. First loss was at home to Barry Sanders and OK State. I worked that night. Abo’s closed at 2 am on Saturdays. At about 2:10 am, as I’m cleaning up, there was knock on back door. It was Sal Aunese. When I opened door and told him, in response to his question, we had no more food, he told me his timing had been off all day. I told him to not worry about it – there’d be other Saturdays. I’d no idea how few he’d have. Poor kid was dead less than one year later.

  3. Cool history! Watching the alumni play would be cool. Probably super difficult, and the shape the athletes are in now probably makes it untenable but it would be super fun to watch.

  4. Forgot about HWSRN’s prediction of 10 wins. I was all in on, soon learned we had a fraud in our midst. Thank you, Stuart. I enjoy the historical information. Being a Colorado native, I’ve been a Buff fan since I started watching football in about 1970. Although I have to admit to being a Broncos and Colts fan back then. The Broncos stunk and Johnny Unitas (greatest QB of all time) and the BALTIMORE Colts used to have their training camp at the School of Mines in Golden.

    Go Buffs. WE COMING

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *