Remembering 1994

The passing of CU legendary announcer Larry Zimmer brought about a flood of memories for many in the Buff Nation. As the “Voice of the Buffaloes” for 42 seasons with the University of Colorado football and basketball programs, Zimmer he was behind the microphone for 486 football games (22 bowls), along with 525 men’s basketball contests for 1,011 overall.

CU athletic director Rick George called Zimmer, “A CU institution.  His voice was synonymous with our athletic program and he was most beloved by our coaches, players and fans.  Whether it was calling games on KOA or serving as a master of ceremonies for many of our functions, Larry Zimmer was CU.   He is truly a part of our overall athletic history.”

With all of the much-deserved tributes, many posted some of Zimmer’s iconic calls. My personal favorite was his call at the end of the 1986 CU/Nebraska game:

“The clock is down to 48 seconds. 20-10, Colorado leads Nebraska. They have waited a long time for this. So many times, the red flood has come into Folsom Field, and they have gone back across the border to the north a winner. It won’t be this time”.

The call is the lead in to the CU at the Game podcast. I have listened to it thousands of times over the years, and it still gives me chills.

Some of the more popular Zimmer quotes, though, harken back to the 1994 season, with the “Miracle at Michigan” and Rashaan Salaam’s 67-yard touchdown run against Iowa State to push Salaam over 2,000 yards and seal the Heisman trophy being the most famous.

This season will be the 30th anniversary of the 1994 CU football season, a campaign which concluded with the Buffs at 11-1, ranked No. 3 in the nation.

By almost any yardstick, the 1994 team was the most talented in program history, with the entire starting offensive lineup being drafted (I’ll pause to let that one sink in a little bit … All 11 starters … on the 1994 Buffs … heard their name on Draft Day).

If it wasn’t for Tom Osborne putting together his best team in a quarter century coaching at Nebraska that season, the 1994 team would have gone down in history as not only one of the best Colorado teams ever, but one of the best programs in the history of the game.

In honor of Larry Zimmer, and to kick off the 30th anniversary season of the 1994 season, here’s a look back at what the 1994 team accomplished …

The Players … 

As noted, the starting offense for the 1994 CU team was a juggernaut. The Buffs were 3rd in the nation in rushing offense (291.5 yards/game); 3rd in the nation in total offense (495.3 yards/game) and 7th in scoring offense (36.2 points/game) … all while playing half of its 12 games against ranked opponents (with three ranked in the top ten).

Below is the list of starters for the 1994 team. All were drafted into the NFL, with four Buffs being picked in the first round:

  • QB – Kordell Stewart – 2nd round, 1995 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh Steelers
  • RB – Rashaan Salaam1st round, 1995 NFL Draft, Chicago Bears (No. 21 overall pick)
  • WR – Michael Westbrook1st round, 1995 NFL Draft, Washington Redskins (No. 4 overall pick)
  • WR – Rae Carruth1st round, 1996 NFL Draft, Carolina Panthers (No. 27 overall pick)
  • TE – Christian Fauria – 2nd round, 1995 NFL Draft, Seattle Seahawks
  • LT – Tony Berti – 6th round, 1995 NFL Draft, San Diego Chargers
  • LG – Heath Irwin – 4th round, 1996 NFL Draft, New England Patriots
  • C – Bryan Stoltenberg – 6th round, 1996 NFL Draft, San Diego Chargers
  • RG – Chris Naeole1st round, 1997 NFL Draft, New Orleans Saints (No. 10 overall pick)
  • RT – Derek West – 5th round, 1995 NFL Draft, Indianapolis Colts

The 1994 CU defense wasn’t exactly lousy, either. The 1994 team had Chris Hudson, the 1994 Thorpe Award winner for the best defensive back in the nation, and Ted Johnson, who was the runner-up for the Butkus Award that year (award given to the nation’s best linebacker). Fellow linebacker Matt Russell, a sophomore in 1994, would go on to win the 1996 Butkus Award. In all, ten defensive players on the 1994 team (not all were starters that season) would go on to be drafted into the NFL:

  • DL Shannon Clavelle – 6th round – 1995 NFL Draft, Buffalo Bills
  • DL Ryan Olson – 6th round, 1998 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh Steelers
  • DL Kerry Hicks – 7th round, 1996 NFL Draft, Carolina Panthers
  • DL Daryl Price – 4th round – 1996 NFL Draft, San Francisco 49ers
  • DL Darius Holland – 3rd round, 1995 NFL Draft, Green Bay Packers
  • OLB Greg Jones – 2nd round, 1997 NFL Draft, Washington Redskins
  • ILB Matt Russell – 4th round, 1997 NFL Draft, Detroit Lions
  • ILB Ted Johnson – 2nd round, 1995 NFL Draft, New England Patriots
  • CB Chris Hudson – 3rd round, 1995 NFL Draft, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • CB T.J. Cunningham – 6th round, 1996 NFL Draft, Seattle Seahawks
  • S – Steve Rosga – 7th round, 1997 NFL Draft, New York Jets

In all, over 20 Buffs who played on the 1994 team were drafted.

How good is that?

Compare: As a member of the Pac-12, dating back to 2011, the University of Colorado had 20 players total taken in the NFL Draft (and even that’s giving credit to CU for draft picks Christian Gonzalez and Mekhi Blackmon, who had defected to Oregon and USC, respectively, before leaving college).

Yea, the 1994 Colorado football team had some pretty good players.

The Season … 

The 1994 season is most remembered for the Michigan and Iowa State games, but there were plenty of trials and tribulations on the way to one of the Buffs’ most successful seasons ever.

When the preseason top ten  for the 1994 season was announced, it looked like this:

  • No. 1 – Florida
  • No. 2 – Notre Dame
  • No. 3 – Florida State
  • No. 4 – Nebraska
  • No. 5 – Michigan
  • N0. 6 – Miami
  • No. 7 – Arizona
  • No. 8 – Colorado
  • No. 9 – Penn State
  • No. 10 – Wisconsin.

On CU’s schedule were three preseason top ten teams – No. 4 Nebraska; No 5 Michigan; and No. 10 Wisconsin. Other ranked teams on the schedule were No. 16 Oklahoma and No. 18 Texas.

If Colorado was to be a top ten team at the end of the 1994 season, the Buffs would certainly deserve the ranking.

Scouting the Nation

Florida State was the defending national champion. With Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden finally released from the burden of being “the best head coach never to win a national championship”, the nation in 1994 could move on to new issues.

Questions for 1994 included:  Could Florida State repeat as national champions? Did Florida, behind Danny Weurffel, have what it would take to become champions of the State of Florida by beating Florida State (with the national title being an added bonus)?  Would All-World freshman quarterback Ron Powlus restore Notre Dame to its accustomed position among the nation’s elite?

Oh, and … Could Colorado overcome a difficult schedule and remain elite?

Game One …

September 3rd – Boulder            No. 8 Colorado 48, Northeast Louisiana 13

The good news for Northeast Louisiana players as they looked up at the Folsom Field scoreboard with 14:56 to go in the second quarter was that the scoreboard read:  Colorado 7; Northeast Louisiana 6.

The bad news was that almost three full quarters of football remained to be played.

The remainder of the game was no contest as the Buffs rolled to a 48-13 opening-game win.  The Buffs gained the fifth-most yards in school history, 649, on only 69 offensive plays. The 9.4 yards per play average set a school record.  Rashaan Salaam led the way with 184 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while Kordell Stewart accounted for 291 yards of total offense.

… Continue reading story here …

Game Two … 

September 17th – Boulder                 No. 7 Colorado 55, No. 10 Wisconsin 17

“Swiss Cheese”, “Grated Cheese”, and “Grilled Cheese” were just some of the headlines after the Buffs ran over, around, and through the Wisconsin Badgers, 55-17.

Quarterback Kordell Stewart, who had endured almost a full year of second-guessing after his 8-for-28, three interception debacle against Nebraska in 1993, finally came through big in a big game.  “I heard all those questions about me in big games”, said Stewart, who accounted for 301 yards of total offense.  “I just wanted to put the past behind me and get on with this season.”

… Continue reading story here …

Game Three … 

September 24th – at Michigan                      No. 7 Colorado 27, No. 4 Michigan 26

While there is much to be said about the final six seconds of the 1994 Colorado/Michigan game, the set-up is equally important.

Both teams had the opportunity to dominate the game, but both fell short. Momentum swayed back and forth before 106,427 fans, the largest crowd to witness a Colorado football game in school history. Midway through the second quarter, the Buffs were putting on a show for the Wolverine faithful. Up 14-3, Colorado threatened to make the game a rout after Kordell Stewart hit Michael Westbrook on a 27-yard touchdown with 7:54 remaining in the half.

For the next two full quarters, however, the game was all Michigan.

Wolverine running back Tim Biakabutuka scored on a four yard run to pull Michigan to within 14-9 with 1:14 before halftime. Going for a two-point conversion to pull the Wolverines to within a field goal of the Buffs, quarterback Todd Collins was intercepted by CU linebacker Matt Russell, preserving a five point lead for the Buffs.

The third quarter was a nightmare for the Buffs, as Michigan posted 17 unanswered points to take a 26-14 lead.

Less than five minutes into the quarter, Tyrone Wheatley capped a 62-yard drive with a six yard scoring run. A short field goal after the Buffs’ fumbled the kickoff return and a 65-yard bomb from Collins to receiver Amani Toomer gave the Wolverines their biggest advantage, 26-14, with just under three minutes remaining in the third. The Buffs were sluggish on offense, and the game appeared to be well in hand for the home team.

Now it was time for the Buffs to mount a comeback, but not before giving CU fans more reason to test their faith …

3:52 remaining – Michigan 26, Colorado 14 – Colorado ball at its own 28-yard line

2:16 remaining – Michigan 26, Colorado 21 – Michigan ball at the CU 45-yard line

:14 remaining – Michigan 26, Colorado 21 – CU ball at its own 15-yard line.

:06 remaining – Michigan 26, Colorado 21 – CU ball at its own 36-yard line

You know what happens next …

Larry Zimmer’s call …

CU/Michigan Post Game

“I don’t care what anyone says”, said Christian Fauria in the post-game celebration. “That was divine intervention.” There were six Michigan defenders back when CU receiver Blake Anderson jumped up for the ball with Michigan free safety Chuck Winters. The ball was tipped back up into the air before falling into the waiting arms of Michael Westbrook. “The ball hit my hand,” said Winters. “I definitely hit it”, said Anderson, the son of former CU and NFL great Dick Anderson. “Westbrook was behind me. That’s a designated play. I just went up and tipped it.”

Colorado head coach Bill McCartney didn’t belief that Stewart’s pass would even travel as far as the end zone. “I was watching our receivers”, said McCartney. “hoping for a penalty. I thought we needed some more yards.”

As for Stewart, who rated the play’s chances at “Fifty-fifty”, was seventy yards away when the ball returned to earth. “All I saw was this big muscular arm hit the ball, and then I saw somebody fall down, and then I heard the crowd get quiet, and it looked like a big old truck just swept our whole sideline onto the field.” Stewart, who on the play became Colorado’s all-time career touchdown pass leader, “tried to yell” as he ran down the field, “but my Adam’s apple kept coming up in my throat.”

… Continue reading story here …

Game Four … 

October 1st – at Texas                          No. 5 Colorado 34, No. 16 Texas 31

Texas was more than anxious to take a crack at the No.5 Buffs.  Undefeated on the young season, the 16th-ranked Longhorns were 3-0 for the first time since 1985.  Playing at home in front of a sell-out crowd of 77,809 (the first non-conference sell-out for the Longhorns in ten years) Texas players looked to avenge the 36-14 pasting laid on them by the Buffs in 1993 season-opener.

Eight returning starters on offense and nine on defense gave Longhorn fans plenty of confidence that the media-drunk Buffs would leave Austin in a different mood than they had Ann Arbor.

But it was Texas and their fans that left the stadium displeased, as, for the second week in a row, Colorado scratched out a last-second win against a ranked opponent on the opponent’s home field.  Junior place-kicker Neil Voskeritchian booted through a 24-yard field goal with one second remaining on the game clock to give the Buffs a 34-31 win.

Sharing the spotlight with Voskeritchian was junior tailback Rashaan Salaam, who made a splash in the national media with a record-setting performance.  Salaam rushed for 317 yards on 35 carries, marking only the second time in school history that a CU player had eclipsed the 300-yard barrier (Charlie Davis ran all over Oklahoma State for 342 yards on 34 carries in 1971).  With his 45 yards receiving, Salaam also set a school mark for all-purpose yards at 362.

… Continue reading story here …

Game Five … 

October 8th – at Missouri                           No. 5 Colorado 38, Missouri 23

The Colorado Buffaloes could have been forgiven for being sluggish against the Missouri Tigers.

After all:

  • The game against Missouri represented CU’s third straight road game;
  • The game was the Buffs only game against an unranked opponent sandwiched between six games against nationally rated foes; and
  • Missouri was 1-3 after having lost to the likes of Tulsa.

Fortunately for Colorado fans, the Buffs were ready to play.  Cruising to a 21-7 first quarter lead, Colorado never allowed the Tigers within two scores the remainder of the game, coasting to a 38-23 win.

Kordell Stewart led the Buffs, completing almost 80 percent of his passes (16-21 for 228 yards and two touchdowns).  Rashaan Salaam continued to impress, posting 166 yards on 28 carries and two scores.

… Continue reading story here …

Game Six … 

October 15th – Boulder                 No. 4 Colorado 45, No. 22 Oklahoma 7

It was now official.

What had been dreamed of since the “Miracle in Michigan” could now be spoken of openly.  The Rocky Mountain News banner headline after Colorado dismantled Oklahoma 45-7 before a national ESPN audience said it all:  “Buffs make a run for No. 1?”.

Not to be outdone, the Denver Post headline proclaimed:  “Taking aim at No. 1?”.

Before the Buffs took the field to set about defeating the Sooners by the largest margin in the history of the series, the players and fans all knew that the No. 1 team in the nation, Florida, had been defeated 36-33 by Auburn.  The 45-7 thrashing of the Sooners before a night game crowd of 53,199 proved to the nation that the undefeated Colorado Buffaloes had to be reckoned with on the national stage.

Colorado dominated the game from the outset, and the line score for the first half look like a series of misprints.

The Buffs’ first three scores:

  • Salaam 7-yard run (Voskeritchian kick);
  • Salaam 7-yard run (Voskeritchian kick); and
  • Salaam 7-yard run (Voskeritchian kick).

For Colorado’s final score of the first half, the Buffs threw the Sooners a curve:  “Salaam 9-yard run”.  Salaam’s fourth first half touchdown came with 7:19 to play in the second quarter, and gave the Buffs a commanding 28-0 lead.  Overall, Salaam contributed 161 yards rushing, 153 of which were procured by halftime.

Continue reading story here

Here is the YouTube video of the Oklahoma game …

Game Seven …

October 22nd – Boulder               No. 2 Colorado 35,  No. 19 Kansas State 21

The Kansas State Wildcats were the real deal in 1994.

Coming off of a 9-2-1 season in 1993, Kansas State had re-established itself as the No. 3 team in the Big Eight in 1994.  The Wildcats only blemish coming into Boulder was a 17-6 loss to Nebraska, and Kansas State wanted nothing more than to knock off the 2nd-rated Buffs to make its own national statement.

They almost did.

The 5:30 p.m. kickoff represented the Buffs’ third nationally televised night home game of the season.  The 52,955 in attendance were unsettled at the outset, as Kansas State became the first team in 1994 to score on its opening drive against the Colorado defense. The Buffs quickly responded, with Rashaan Salaam scoring on a 53-yard run less than two minutes later.

Salaam’s run came on a pitch out play and after he broke an arm-tackle near the line of scrimmage, he flashed his all-world speed and he beat all other Wildcat defenders on a mad-jaunt to the end zone.

“I didn’t realize that I broke it,” Salaam said afterwards. “In fact, I was kind of nervous they would catch me. I didn’t want to look back so I just lifted up my knees and took off. I was actually shocked to be in the end zone.”

Then after a Kansas State punt, the Buffs took control of the game for the first time with an impressive 90-yard, ten-play scoring drive that had an inauspicious beginning. The drive opened with the Buffs gaining just two yards on the first two plays. Then, staring at a third-and-eight st the CU 12, Stewart found Westbrook for a first down, and the drive had new life.

… Continue reading story here

Game Eight … 

October 29th – at Nebraska             No.3  Nebraska 24, No.2  Colorado 7

Like many over-hyped Super Bowls, the 1994 Game-of-the-Year failed to live up to advance billing … at least as far as Colorado fans were concerned.

No. 3 Nebraska methodically took care of business, defeating No. 2 Colorado, 24-7, to take the inside track to the Big Eight and National Championships.  Led by quarterback Brook Berringer, subbing for injured starter Tommy Frazier, the Cornhuskers built a 17-0 halftime lead and were never thereafter challenged by the Buffs.

Fullback Cory Schlesinger scored on a 14-yard run midway through the first quarter to give Nebraska a lead it would not surrender. Early in the second quarter, the Colorado defense made an impressive goal line stand against the Nebraska offense, but the Cornhuskers did come away with a 24-yard field goal by Tom Sieler to take a 10-0 lead.

Rashaan Salaam, who had three carries for eight yards in the first quarter, didn’t have much chance to get things going until the Buffs were down two scores. Trailing 10-0, The Buffs put together their most efficient drive of the first half led by the impressive exploits of Salaam who carried six times for 28 yards and gained three first downs on an 11-play drive that eventually stalled at the Nebraska 26-yard line. From there, with halftime fast approaching, the Buffs looked to move back within one score and establish a sense of momentum that might carry over to the second half. Instead, kicker Neil Voskeritchian was short on a 43-yard field goal attempt.

In the final minute of the first half, Nebraska culminated a nine-play, 73-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run by Clinton Childs to take a commanding 17-0 lead into the break.

… Continue reading story here

Game Nine … 

November 5th – Boulder                    No. 7 Colorado 17, Oklahoma State 3

The main distraction for the Colorado Buffaloes for Homecoming, 1994, was not the Homecoming festivities, nor was it the Oklahoma State Cowboys.  Rather, the Buffs greatest concern was lethargy.  Oklahoma State was 3-4-1 on the year, with its only wins coming in non-conference contests against the likes of Northern Illinois, Tulsa, and North Texas.

The glow of the national spotlight was gone, as, for the first time in a month, CU’s game would not be shown by a national network.

After opening the game as if the game was of no consequence, the Buffs played just well enough to secure a 17-3 win.  Oklahoma State took the opening kickoff and marched 73 yards down the field, taking up almost half of the first quarter before settling for a 24-yard field goal.  After Colorado punted on its first possession, the 51,059 in attendance at Folsom Field began to get a little nervous.

But the Colorado defense turned the tide.

On the Cowboys’ second series, sophomore safety Steve Rosga intercepted a Tone Jones pass and returned it 25 yards to the Cowboy 30-yard line.  Three plays later, Kordell Stewart ran the ball in from 27 yards out to give the Buffs a 7-3 lead with three minutes left in the first quarter.

… Continue reading story here …

Here is the YouTube video of the game … 

Game Ten … 

November 12th – at Kansas          No. 7 Colorado 51, Kansas 26

Kordell Stewart, who had the previous week become the first player in Big Eight history to pass for 6,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a career, piled up 249 yards of total offense against the Jayhawks as the Buffs rolled to an easy 51-26 win.

Rashaan Salaam came into the final road game of the season on the brink of taking the leap from great to all-time legend. He needed only 65 rush yards and one touchdown in order to become the school’s all-time single-season leader in both categories. Salaam would take all suspense out of the chase almost immediately though as, less than seven minutes into the game, he already officially had both records.

The Buffs scored less than two minutes into the game. Kordell Stewart hit Michael Westbrook for a 51-yard gain in the third play of the game, setting up a 17-yard touchdown run by Salaam. Later in the first quarter, Stewart hit Christian Fauria for a nine-yard touchdown, culminating a 12-play, 97-yard drive.

After Kansas looked to make a game of it with a touchdown pass of their own late in the first, the Buffs put the game away with a 10-0 second quarter. A 23-yard scoring pass from Stewart to Rae Carruth made it a 21-7 game, with Neil Voskeritchian hitting a 28-yard field goal just before the break to make it a 24-7 game.

… Continue reading story here …

Game Eleven … 

November 19th – Boulder                       No. 7 Colorado 41, Iowa State 20

A game between a 9-1 team and an 0-9-1 to finish off the regular season would normally not bear much attention.  The 41-20 final score, after the Buffs nursed a 20-13 lead into the fourth quarter, would not have merited much notice nationally.

For local writers, though, the game could presented a year’s worth of headlines:

“Christian Fauria snares six catches; becomes Big Eight all-time tight end reception leader” would have been apropos;

“CU posts 576 yards of offense, sets team record for season average – 495.3″ would have been good; or

“Kordell Stewart becomes Big Eight all-time leader for total offense”.

All worthy events, but they were all  overshadowed.  First by Rashaan Salaam, then by the team’s thirteen-year head coach.

Salaam was effective against Iowa State, rushing for almost 200 yards and a touchdown in the game’s first three quarters.  The Buffs, though, could not put away the winless Cyclones, leading only 20-13 at the start of the fourth quarter.

Salaam was still 13 yards shy of the 2000-yard mark as the Buffs, leading 27-13 after a 23-yard run by Kordell Stewart to open the quarter, faced a first-and-ten at the CU 33-yard line.  Salaam took the handoff from Stewart, cut to his right, and raced down the sideline in front of his teammates for a 67-yard touchdown and front-runner status for the Heisman.  Salaam’s run gave him 2,055 yards on the season, and also gave him the titles of the nation’s leading rusher, scorer, and all-purpose runner.

Salaam’s final run of the day also gave Colorado its first real comfortable lead of the day, at 34-13.

Continue reading story here

Here is Larry Zimmer’s call …


… McCartney’s Surprise Announcement … 

Back from the store

In Bozeman, I received updates from ABC and ESPN throughout the afternoon (concerning the 41-20 romp by 7th-ranked Colorado over Iowa State). Frustration with the Buffs’ inability to put away ISU was quickly forgotten when the highlight of Rashaan Salaam’s touchdown run flashed across the screen.

The play made for perfect theater. Salaam reached the 2,000 mark at home, running right in front of the CU bench, on a 67-yard touchdown run to clinch the win. If Salaam had not already clinched the Heisman, that highlight alone may have sealed the deal. It would be replayed numerous times in subsequent weeks as college football analysts debated the issue.

Content with the afternoon’s events, I went to the store with my wife, Lee. Some time later, we returned to find the answering machine blinking. It was Charlie Bellinger, my college roommate, calling from Nashville. “What is McCartney thinking?”, Charlie asked me by way of tape. “What is going on?”

Not understanding the message, and assuming Charlie was merely upset about Bill McCartney’s play-calling on the day, I returned the call. It was then that I learned the reason for the tone in Charlie’s voice. I quickly clicked on the television, turned to ESPN, and quickly had confirmed for me what Charlie was telling me.

Colorado head football coach Bill McCartney was resigning.

Press Conference

Shortly after the Iowa State game had come to an end Bill McCartney came to the post-game press conference, something he had done 162 times before. His opening remarks were standard fare: “I want to celebrate all of these things that happened out there today …. Rashaan’s tremendous abilities and the support he had was just extraordinary …. And I felt really good about Kordell getting that record in the Big Eight (Stewart became the all-time total offense leader on the day – Stewart would finish his college career with 7,770 yards in total offense) because he hasn’t really received his due in my opinion.”

Then Coach Mac dropped his bombshell. ”I have an announcement to make. Lindi (McCartney’s wife), would you come up here? I have a lot of family here, and I’m resigning effective this year. I’m going to see us through the bowl game, if I’m permitted, and through the school year. But, we really need to get a new coach named prior to going out and recruiting.”

The questions from the astounded and unprepared press were predictable:

Why? “It’s time. I’ve been here 13 years and I just feel it’s time.”

Going to another school? The NFL? “There’s going to be rumors, or whatever. I’m not going anywhere.”

When did you decide? “Recently. Recently. I didn’t know how it would work out today, but I knew that today was the day to announce this.”

Colorado fans and players were shell-shocked. McCartney had been given a “lifetime” 15 year contract after the 1989 season. As it turned out, though, the contract was for five years with extensions. The first term of the contract expired January 1, 1995, and that was when Bill McCartney was to step down.

In his book, “From Ashes to Glory“, McCartney explains his decision:

“On the field I had succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. But on the home front, as a husband and father, I often felt like a failure. I was so busy pursuing my career goals that I was missing out on the Spirit-filled life that God wanted me have.”

McCartney caught a great deal of flak from the media because of the timing of the announcement. Rashaan Salaam had just a few minutes earlier capped perhaps the greatest single season in Buff history; Kordell Stewart perhaps the best-ever career. But the headlines the morning after the Iowa State game were all about McCartney and his announcement. McCartney’s explanation: “I’d already told so many people that I knew the news would get out soon, and I wanted to be the one to tell the players.”

Picking up the Hardware

Oh, by the way …

After the nine-day whirlwind which struck Boulder on November 19th with McCartney’s announcement and ended with Neuheisel’s hiring, CU players and fans had the opportunity to turn their attention to matters more immediate, like the awarding of the Heisman and other year-end awards.

Salaam’s 2,055 yards rushing seemingly guaranteed the Heisman, but there were other candidates. Penn State’s tailback Ki-Jana Carter and quarterback Kerry Collins led the undefeated and second-ranked Nittany Lions, while quarterback Steve McNair was putting up gaudy numbers for Division 1-AA Alcorn State. In the week leading up to the presentation, the media was convinced the race would be close.

When the announcement was made, however, it was a landslide.

Salaam tallied 400 of 792 first-place votes, totaling 1,743 points. Carter was a distant second with 115 first-place votes, 901 points overall. Salaam, media-shy from his first days at Colorado, tried to down-play the honor. “Everybody is always singling me out. I don’t like that. I just want to be part of the group.” Salaam, though, was no longer part of a group. In addition to becoming the first-ever Buff to be awarded the Doak Walker Award (to the nation’s top running back) and the Walter Camp Award (to the national player of the year), Salaam was now to be forever linked to the Heisman. From his performance in the Fiesta Bowl to his position in the NFL draft, he would forevermore be referred to as: “Rashaan Salaam, Heisman Trophy Winner”.

Game Twelve … 

A bowl game against Notre Dame – An Afterthought, but still fitting

It would have been appropriate for Bill McCartney to go out playing for the National Championship. The 24-7 loss to Nebraska, however, eliminated the possibility, as Nebraska ran out the string and headed off to the Orange Bowl undefeated and ranked No.1 in the country. By the time the bowl matchups were announced, CU was ranked 4th, trailing only Nebraska, Penn State, and Miami. Such high standing would normally afford the Buffs a worthy New Year’s Day opponent.

The bowls, however, are run by money, not rankings.

Enter Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish carried with them to the January 2nd Fiesta Bowl the tradition of multiple National Championships and multiple Heisman Trophy winners. In 1994, they also carried with them to Tempe a 6-4-1 record. Notre Dame had been beaten by 7th-ranked Florida State, 20th-ranked Michigan, 22nd-ranked BYU, and unranked Boston College. None of the six wins by the Irish had been over teams ranked at the end of the season. Yet due to the large fan following possessed by Notre Dame, Fiesta Bowl representatives invited the Irish to be CU’s Fiesta Bowl opponent.

The matchup was still meaningful to the Buffs. CU had played Notre Dame twice for the National Championship in the previous five seasons, winning on the second attempt to claim Colorado’s first national title.

Defeating Lou Holtz and the Irish in Bill McCartney’s final game would bring a sense of closure. A win would also guarantee a top five ranking.

Not a bad way to head out the door for a man who inherited a woeful team in 1982, only to become the most successful coach in school history.

January 2nd – Fiesta Bowl          No. 4 Colorado 41, Notre Dame 24

Notre Dame teams have always been noted for overcoming the odds and winning games they are not supposed to. This tradition continued under the direction of fiery head coach Lou Holtz. With several weeks to prepare, Holtz was often able to overcome long odds. Despite the mediocre record of the Irish in 1994, the Buffs had to take Notre Dame seriously.

For a half at least.

With 1:45 remaining in the second quarter, the Fiesta Bowl scoreboard read: Colorado 31, Notre Dame 3. That the Irish were able to make the final score more respectable, at 41-24, was of little consequence to the Buffs as they won for Bill McCartney his 93rd game. McCartney was given a ride off the field on the shoulders of his players as the winningest coach in Colorado history, compiling a 93-55-5 record in 13 seasons.

The Buff players did all they could to ensure McCartney would have time to soak in the atmosphere of his final game, dominating the contest early. Offensive MVP Kordell Stewart amassed 348 yards of total offense, 268 yards of which came in the decisive first half. Heisman trophy winner Rashaan Salaam, determined to break the jinx of former Heisman winners who faired poorly in their bowl games, rushed for a modest 83 yards, but his 27 carries included three touchdown runs. In all, CU scored on five of its first six possessions to eliminate any question on the final outcome.

Here is the YouTube video of the game …

Once again, a reminder … all of the above is just the Reader’s Digest version of the 1994 season. For full game recaps, together with my Essays posted for the season, the entire 1994 CU season can be found in the CU at the Game Archives.


5 Replies to “Remembering 1994”

  1. I was a broke senior at CU in 1994. I mean flat broke. It was all I could do to get my tuition paid and still eat. I remember this season very distinctly though. One of my best memories was absolutely cashing in on the Wisconsin game.

    In 1993, Wisconsin had won its first conference title in 30+ years and their fans were hungry to see them in Folsom in 94. I sold my individual student ticket to that game for over $200 if I recall correctly. And the buyer still had to pay to get it transferred from a student ticket to a general admission ticket.

    I ate for weeks on that money. That included enjoying a caroli and a bazooka beer from Roma while watching my Buffs curb stomp the Badgers on the big screen! Hope that trip from WI and $200+ was worth it. It was for me!

    This was indeed a phenomenal CU team. I had classes with Chris Hudson and TJ Cunningham. Shot hoops in the rec center with Kordell, Westbrook, and others. These were good guys who didn’t really act like ‘big men on campus’. Just having fun being college students, albeit with exceptional gifts.

    I graduated in Dec of 1994 and I met my future wife earlier that same year (last Nov we celebrated our 26th anniversary). Indeed 1994 was a year to remember!

    1. I remember the guys we knew said Wisconsin was the most physical, ‘hardest’ (tough) team they played all year, made me realize Big10 football was for real, even then.

  2. Excellent, was an undergrad then, always thought this was the best Buffs team ever and should have won the Championship. Still remember Kordell’s look the entire Nebraska game, like a deer in…sigh. Defense was stacked too.

  3. Thanks for this, Stuart. I smiled reading it. What a team. What a season. What an end to Coach Mac’s coaching career.

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