Tw enTy yea rs laTer , Th e ‘ 9 0 Bu ffs rei g n s u prem e
Q&A with Mac
Vo lu M E : 7
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Ed iTo ri a l
d i r EcTo r , B u ff c lu B
Natalie A. Pigliacampo
M a N a G i N G
Ed iTo r
Doug Ottewill, Haas Rock Publications
co NTri B uTi N G
d i r EcTi o N
Daniel Mohrmann Pat Rooney Jenny Siegle
d ES i G N
Debbie Clapper, gneural llc
P H oTo G ra P H ErS
We are excited to open the seventh year of The Stampede with memorable stories to share about our fall 2010-11 intercollegiate athletics season. Highlights include officially joining the PAC-10 conference in 2011, celebrating the reunion of our storied 1990 football national championship team, men’s and women’s cross country sweeping the Rocky Mountain Shootout, and our women’s soccer team breaking into the top 25; those are just a few of the terrific things happening with YOUR TEAM, the Colorado Buffaloes. All Buffs should be touched by the humbleness and heartfelt appreciation of more than 90 former football players as they united from all over the country with Coach McCartney and members of his staff to be honored in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the 1990 national championship. Throughout the pages of this issue, you’ll see how overjoyed this special group of Buffs were with their experience. It was magical to see the synergy amongst numerous key constituents and donors who created a powerful day that resulted in a big win over Georgia.
“T Y a a
H o r N
– M i k E
E STo ri ES u Wi ll rEad E N oT fou N d Y W H E r E E l S E .” Bo H N
You will also be inspired learning about our all-time leader in football receptions, Scotty McKnight, and by the wisdom and leadership of our women’s golf star, Emily Talley. I believe you will be astonished to discover, in the “Airing His Dirty Laundry” article about our assistant equipment manager, how much laundry the football team creates. But you’ll be more impressed by the work of Nick Sprouse, his equipment staff and their student mangers, and how dedicated they are to “keeping the Buffaloes clean.” The Stampede is just one of the many benefits the Buff Club is proud to provide to YOU as a loyal and generous supporter of our program. The stories you will read are not found anywhere else, and they reflect the inside, behind-the-scenes look at our student-athletes, coaches and donors who fuel our efforts to represent the University of Colorado with excellence. Thank you for your passion in support of our exemplary student-athletes, we are most appreciative.
Pete Anderson CU Sports Information Getty Images Jathan Campbell Aaron Salley
a dVi S o rY
a dV ErTi S i N G
B o a r d
Josi Carlson Lindsay Lew Jo Marchi Curtis Snyder
S a lES
Chris Dolge Kevin Gollehon Casey Light Will McKinlay
The Stampede is published and produced in association with: HAAS ROCK PUBLICATIONS, LLC
P r ES i d ENT
Pu B li S H Er
P ro o fr Ea d Er
The Stampede is published 7 times per year; a 48-page monthly in August, February and May; a 32-page monthly in October, November, December, April and June. University of Colorado Foundation / Buff Club 4740 Walnut Street Boulder, CO 80301 BUFF CLUB 800.621.2833 Subscription rate for The Stampede is a gift for $100 or more per year to the Buff Club. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Buff Club, 4740 Walnut Street, Boulder, CO 80301 Reproduction or use of editorial or graphic content in any manner without written permission is prohibited. Copyright 2010 / All Rights Reserved Printed in the U.S.A THE STaMPEdE IS PROUDLY PRINTED ON RECYCLED PAPER We want to hear from you! Comments regarding The Stampede can be directed to email@example.com or 303.650.1795.
Compliance Corner Greetings fellow Buffs. My name is Jill Gainey and I’d like to introduce myself as the new Associate Director of Compliance for Rules Education. I come to CU from Michigan State University, where I served as the Assistant Compliance Coordinator for almost four years. I look forward to working with the Buff Nation. Please do not hesitate to contact myself or the compliance office with any questions. CU is responsible for its boosters and their actions. Our athletics compliance office is responsible for educating boosters in order to ensure compliance with NCAA, conference and institutional regulations.
For this month’s issue of The Stampede, I’ve selected some key compliance terms and defined them to help you better understand NCAA Rules:
i N fo cuS The glory of cu athletics captured in photos
TEN TH i N G S Yo u k N o W a Bo uT M E lizzy Herzl, cu soccer
di d N ’T
d o N o r S T o r Y Presented by Brett and catherine Nicholas
B EH i N d TH E S cEN ES dirty laundry with Nick Sprouse
d Efr i S c o / G ETTY
i M a G ES
Q & a Bill Mccartney
P H oTo : Ti M
Po i NT a fTEr remembering the ’90 Buffs
Representative of Athletics Interest – Also known as a booster. CU fans, friends, alumni and employees are categorized as boosters. Specifically, the NCAA has determined that a booster is an individual or business that: • Is or ever has been a contributor to the CU Athletic Department • Has ever made a donation of any kind to a specific sport program • Are or have been a member of an organization promoting CU’s athletics program (e.g., booster club) • Has ever made a donation to the Buff Club • Is a former student-athlete at CU Boulder • Is an employee, or the spouse of an employee, of the University of Colorado • Has ever purchased season tickets for any of CU’s athletic programs • Have otherwise promoted CU’s athletics programs in any manner Prospective Student-Athletes – Also known as a PSA/recruit. PSAs are ANY students who have started classes for the ninth grade, regardless of athletics participation. Student-athletes enrolled in preparatory school and junior colleges are also considered PSAs. Recruiting – Any solicitation of a PSA or their relatives by an institutional staff member for the purpose of securing the PSA’s enrollment and ultimate participation in the institution’s athletics program. Only CU coaches are permitted to recruit PSAs. Boosters may not have any recruiting contact with PSAs. Extra Benefit – Any gift or special arrangement by a CU employee or booster provided to a PSA or current student-athlete or their relatives or friends that is not expressly permitted by the NCAA. Some examples of extra benefits include: • A special discount, payment arrangement or credit on any purchase or service • Gifts of cash, clothing or any other tangible item • Loan of money or co-signing of a loan • An automobile, use of an automobile, or any transportation expenses • Free or reduced-cost services, purchases or rentals • Employment or loan arrangements for a PSA’s or current student-athlete’s friends or relatives • Free or reduced rent or housing • Payment to a student-athlete for a speaking engagement Again, I look forward to meeting, and working with, each of you. Go Buffs! Jill Gainey associate director of compliance, rules Education firstname.lastname@example.org 303.492.6155
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Ba la N cEd aTTac k Scotty Mcknightâ€™s family support and laid back nature translates to a career filled with success By Daniel Mohrmann
PrES S u rE rEli Ef Emily Talley finds that golf gives her relief from the stresses of being a student-athlete By Daniel Mohrmann
N o. 3 lo o kS Bac k Buffs quarterback-turned-coach darian Hagan reflects fondly on 1990 By Pat Rooney
STi ll cH a M PS Twenty years later, the 1990 Buffs are still No. 1 By Pat Rooney
i N fo c u S P H oTo : d o u G 6
P EN S i N G Er / G ETTY
i M a G ES
I N FO CU S P H OTO : P rO - m OTI O N , 8
S f l T f
coTTY M c k N i G HT’S a M i lY S u P Po rT a N d ai d Bac k N aTu rE ra N S laTES To ca rEEr i llEd W iTH S u ccES S
By Daniel Mohrmann
Scotty McKnight was well aware of the significance of the touchdown he was about to score. But in his mind, the longterm impact could wait. McKnight had just put the Buffs up 14-0 against rival Colorado State in the opening game of his senior campaign. Everyone from his teammates to the announcers calling the game and even McKnight’s good friend, Mark Sanchez – the quarterback of the NFL’s New York Jets – were quick to congratulate him on becoming CU’s all-time leader in receptions.
Upon his arrival at Colorado, McKnight was quick to realize how different his new home was compared to the place where he grew up. 10
P EN S i N G Er / G ETTY
“My mom and dad have come to every single game, home and away,” McKnight said. “Once I made up my mind (about coming to Boulder), they’ve always been so supportive that they backed me up 100 percent.”
P H oTo : d o u G
McKnight’s focus on the task ahead is what has made him a leader for the Buffs, as well as one of the school’s all-time great receivers. The senior from Coto de Caza, Calif., is quick to credit a strong support system from his family and friends for his success on and off the field.
i M a G ES
“We definitely went out and celebrated after that game against Colorado State,” McKnight said. “But right now, I’m really just focused on winning.”
“H E do ES SucH a G rEaT jo B o f Bala N ci N G Hu M o r a N d W o rk ETH ic…H E W o rkS HardEr T H a N a N Y o N E o N T H E T Ea M .” – co dY
H aW ki N S
Among the obvious differences associated with the gain in altitude, McKnight was instantly thrown off by the versatility of the weather in the Rocky Mountains. “That was the biggest culture shock for me, was the snow,” McKnight said. “(Back home) it never snows, the weather is pretty consistent.” Once McKnight got over the shock of the weather change and found his way to the football field, he had no problem endearing himself to his teammates. Quarterback Cody Hawkins was part of McKnight’s recruiting class and the two became fast friends. Hawkins was quick to learn that McKnight was light hearted in nature and always looking to make everyone around him laugh. “He’s the guy that can get a laugh from any guy on the team at any time,” Hawkins said. “He does such a great job of balancing humor and work ethic. It’s unbelievable because the guy’s a great leader, but he works harder than anyone on the team.” Some of McKnight’s favorite targets for practical jokes are the freshmen. McKnight takes advantage of players who aren’t familiar with his sense of humor and exploits them as victims to his pranks. “Usually, they’re afraid of our strength coach, who is a pretty big and intimidating guy,” McKnight said. “So I’ll walk up to them and say, ‘Hey man, Coach (Jeff) Pitman is looking for you,’ and they look at me and say, ‘Is he mad?’ And I’ll them, ‘He looked pretty mad and he wants to see you in his office.’” At that point, the freshman will head to the office only to have the strength and speed specialist tell them to get lost. The other end of McKnight’s spectrum is his work ethic and the effort he puts forth on the field every day. It’s no coincidence that McKnight’s hard work and competitiveness has vaulted him over the likes of Michael Westbrook in the CU record book. “It’s not about the size, it’s about the heart and the fight in the dog,” Buffs running back Brian Lockridge said. “(Scotty) has a lot of fight in him. People doubt him a little bit.” McKnight hopes that dedication and hard work can help him reach the next level as a football player. Although his mind is always focused on his upcoming game, he has taken the time to think about where he wants to take his football career once his time as a Buff is over. 11
“i loVE TH E M ENTal aS PEcT a N d T H E G a M E P r E P a r aTi o N .” – S coTTY
M c k N i G HT
“I think I owe it to myself to try and continue to play,” McKnight said. “I’m going to try and make that happen and do everything I can; I have confidence I can play at the next level.” One crucial advantage McKnight holds in reaching his dream of playing in the NFL is the knowledge gained by his best friend, who already plays at that level. Mark Sanchez, who now starts as the quarterback for the New York Jets, grew up in the same area as McKnight. The pitch-and-catch duo grew very close as they went through high school, even when Sanchez left to play football at the University of Southern California. “We’ve been buddies forever,” McKnight said. “We talk almost every day. If I have a question about a leadership issue or something I need to deal with when it comes to the team, I can always call him.” Thoughts of playing in the NFL have dominated McKnight’s daydreams, but under no circumstance is he under the impression that it’s the “NFL or bust.” McKnight is well aware of the difficulty in making it as a professional football player, but vows to stay involved with the sport even if he can’t break the professional ranks. McKnight has the strong desire to stay involved with the game of football and should a playing career not pan out for him, he would be more than happy to join the coaching ranks in order to stay in the game. “That’s something I have a heavy interest in, just because football has always been big for me,” McKnight said. “I love the mental aspect and the game preparation, and not only that, but the growing minds of young kids and people in college.” Football has dominated so much of McKnight’s life it might be hard to imagine him stepping off the field for any reason. When he feels the need to escape the pressure of football and the full-time job it has become for him, McKnight can usually be found at any given movie theater, checking out as many features as he can. “I go to the movies all the time,” McKnight said. “We have Mondays off, so I’ll use that night to go see a movie and just kind of get away from football and get my mind off it. I think it’s kind of important to be balanced in that aspect.” With all the movies McKnight has seen in his life, it is hard for him to pick out his favorite, but leave it to the guy who’s always looking for a laugh to lean toward the comedies. 12
“I’ve always loved the movie dumb and dumber, which is super immature,” McKnight said. “I’ve always been into comedies.” Whether he’s enjoying comedy-driven movies or trying to make a comedy out of football practice, McKnight has been a key fixture for the Buffs in his four seasons. As his time in Boulder comes to a close, he is always looking back at the great times he has amassed as a Buff, and has plenty of kind words and advice for the Buffs of the future. “Some of the advice I’d give to the younger guys is just to soak it up,” McKnight said. “Enjoy it while you’re there because it doesn’t last long.”
P H oTo : P r o - M oTi o N ,
Those words echo in McKnight’s ears as he thinks about the end of his career at CU. Before the season has even drawn to a close, he can’t help but reflect on the last four years and what they have meant to him and everyone given a similar opportunity. “Everything just went by extremely fast,” McKnight said. “We have such an opportunity that so many people wish they could have in playing college football at one of the best schools in college football history – and in one of the best college towns to boot. All those things intertwined together; it’s a great opportunity.” 13
Ten things you didn’t know about me… Lizzy Herzl
Ten I’m not going to lie; I’ve slept through my alarm a couple of times on test days.
Eight The Notebook is my go-to movie. It’s a must see.
The best present I ever received was an original bobsled when I was about six years old.
– liZZY 14
If I had to pick an athlete from any sport to emulate, I would have to say Chris “Birdman” Andersen, just because he’s so aggressive and awesome.
Seven If someone had to play me in a movie, I think it would have to be my sister, because she knows me oh-so-well.
Five I really want to go on that airplane; I think it’s called the “vomit comet.” That’s on my bucket list.
Four I refuse to eat “mini-corn.”
Three If I weren’t playing soccer, I’d be playing tennis.
Two My mom and dad taught me to always look both ways before crossing the street, which has become especially important at college.
freshman defender, Buffaloes Soccer | Heritage High School (litteton, colo.)
One The Red Hot Shots, coached by my dad when I was four, was my very first soccer team. We wore little red jerseys with bows in our hair, and I also had red cleats.
‘ M i N i - c o r N .’”
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303.938.9300 | www.carellis.com Brett Nicholas has seen precisely how a football program gets big. He’s been watching it ever since he was a kid. “My dad was, and still is, a supporter of USC,” says Nicholas. “When I was a kid, we pretty much went to every game.” As he matured, however, Nicholas’ father explained what it meant, and why it was important to support something you believe in. The lesson learned: It’s not how much you give, or what you get in return; it’s simply about trying to make a difference. “I’m pretty sure my dad gave USC a decent amount of money over the years,” Nicholas said. “And we always had average seats. That didn’t really matter to my dad, though; it was just important to be a part of it all.” It’s no wonder that Brett and his wife, Catherine, have taken a similar approach. Luckily for the University of Colorado, the Nicholas family loves the Buffs. In fact, both Brett and Catherine are alums. Brett attended CU from 1986 to ’90, while Catherine was there from 1990 to ’94. For the past 10 years, they’ve been season ticket holders, supported CU financially, and recently they’ve upped their involvement, becoming scholarship donors. “Those were the best four years of my life,” says Nicholas, who makes it to Boulder once or twice per year, despite the family’s northern California address. “We’re huge fans of CU athletics. For the past 20 years, we have planned an annual game day trip to Boulder with close 16
friends who also attended CU. They travel from the East Coast, California, Alaska, even Asia for our annual trip. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the era that we were there; CU had some great teams during those times.”
“Mike Bohn has done a fantastic job. He’s got great ideas and has this thing headed in the right direction,” says Nicholas. “I was at the Georgia game, and you know what? It kind of felt like the good old days.”
Nowadays, though, Nicholas is excited by the notion that he’ll be able to watch his Buffs in person more frequently. In short, he couldn’t be happier about CU’s move to the Pac-10.
Ah, yes. The good old days. But to Nicholas, those days aren’t “just” a memory. To him, they’re a future.
“There are a lot of alumni in California, but not enough of them are involved in the Buff Club,” he says. “For alumni who live out of state, the athletic program is the one thing that’s really galvanizing. It really brings people together. We can’t spend every Saturday back on campus, but we can stay in touch with the university by following our teams. Now that the Buffs will be playing out here a lot, I think it’s really going to help everything from recruiting and donations to just ‘excitement’ in general.”
“I don’t think that we’re that far off from that kind of feeling at CU. It’s a matter of the school wholeheartedly supporting the athletic department, and the alumni getting behind the school,” he explains. “It’s a little different than it was back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Back then, few programs had great facilities. Now, there seems to be an ‘arms race’ that’s taking place. Everyone needs new facilities, and under Mike, we’ve made some great strides. We just have to stick with it.”
To point, Nicholas says that he’s used to attending a couple of CU games each year. He estimates that will double or triple because of the new affiliation with the Pac-10.
Like his father, Nicholas has every intent of doing just that – sticking with it. And like his father, it’s not a matter of what he’s getting in return. It’s simply a matter of doing something that feels right and hopefully makes a difference.
“Our kids are four and six now,” says Nicholas. “It’s about time to start letting them enjoy what Catherine and I enjoyed back in college, and I did as a kid. Those trips up and down the West Coast are easy trips. We’re excited about that and so are all our friends.”
“The essence of it is this: Our time in Boulder was important to us,” he says. “We want to expose our kids. It gives them an opportunity to enjoy the same thing we did.
But it’s more than just a chance to watch more games that excites Nicholas; he likes what he sees in Boulder in general.
“We’re out of state, so we can’t take part in every fun event that takes place on campus, but that’s okay. We’re just trying to do our part.”
“f o r a l u M N i W H o l i V E o u T o f S T a T E , TH E aTH lETic ProG ra M iS TH E o N E TH i N G TH aT ’ S r Ea llY G a lV a N iZi N G .” N i cH o laS
be S t fo op Bu re o in f fs r a at ’ h ft Car om er el e g the li’s am ne e xt
– B rETT
EM i lY Ta llEY fi N dS TH aT G o lf G iVES H Er rEli Ef fro M TH E STrES S ES o f B Ei N G a STu d ENT- aTH lETE By Daniel Mohrmann
Emily Talley takes her time preparing for her first tee shot of the round she is about to play. On this particular day, she knows her opponent well and knows she will have to be at the top of her game in order to emerge as the victor. Under no circumstance is defeat acceptable; her competitive drive will not allow her to settle for anything less than a win in what is the most important round of her life. She is not teeing off in the Big 12 championship tournament. She is not even teeing off in a tournament that can crown her the women’s NCAA national champion. She is teeing off in a friendly round against her father, Robert. “My dad taught me to play, just so I could play with him and to have a good time,” Talley said. “Little did we know that I would get this far.” In her third year at CU, Talley as taken advantage of everything the state of Colorado has to offer, ranging from the high-profile golf courses to the draw of the small mountain towns. But when push comes to shove, and Talley needs to escape the stress that she deals with as a studentathlete, there is no better remedy than finding her way to the nearest tee box.
– EM i lY 18
“(At Tulane), it was more about what the golf program had to offer you,” Talley said. “Here, there is so much more that’s offered to you beyond golf.” When she is finally able to pull herself away from the golf course, Talley enjoys the outdoor
P H oTo S : P r o - M oTi o N ,
“i S EE W HaT Go ES o N BEHi N d TH E ScEN ES WiTH aTH lETic adM i N iSTraTo rS a N d Ho W M ucH T H EY d o fo r u S .”
Originally from Napa, Calif., Talley knew she wanted to get her education outside of her home state and had a keen eye on Colorado for multiple reasons. Her older sister, Caroline, attended the University of Denver and her grandparents are CU alums. Talley took her first recruiting trip to Tulane where the coaches tried to sell her on the university and all of the great incentives that came with attending the school. One week later, Talley made her official visit to Boulder where she was instantly won over.
“I’m a little stressed on school right now and it kind of goes both ways,” Talley said. “I’m competitive with it, but at the same time, it is something that is so consistent in my life that it kind of relieves all the other stresses.”
environment that Colorado has to offer. On top of taking advantages of the many hiking trails in the Boulder area, Talley enjoys trying new activities made famous by the Rocky Mountains. “Mountain biking is something I’ve tried a few times, but not a lot,” Talley said. “Mainly hiking, just going outside and playing sports, and going to Boulder Creek.” It’s no secret that Talley’s athletic ability and passion for sports translated into a spot on the Buffaloes’ golf team. But inside the classroom, she fully intends to put herself into a position where she can work in the sporting world as a career, should golf not pan out the way she hopes. She is taking steps to change her major from history to communications and hopes to get her masters in sports administration. “I want to work for the Olympics or the World Cup or a professional sports team,” Talley said. “I see what goes on behind the scenes with athletic administrators and how much they do for us. And how much they do makes what we get to do possible.” With a hard working sports administration staff as her example, Talley would relish the opportunity to continue the work the current athletic department has put in for the present generation of studentathletes. Golf, no doubt, remains her priority for the present time, but she can certainly see herself coming full circle to maybe one day take over the athletic department in Boulder.
So what do Talley and the rest of the golfers find themselves doing when snow blows through the Boulder area? 20
P H oTo : P r o - M oTi o N ,
Until that time rolls around, Talley has plenty of time to focus on her golf game and the rigors that sometimes come with playing in Colorado. Unlike schools in Texas and California, the golfers can find themselves in adverse weather at any point from the time school starts to deep in the spring season when the conference and national championship tournaments occur.
“I know what (the athletes) are going through and I know the hard work they’re putting in,” Talley said. “No offense to Mike Bohn, but I would love to come back in 20 years and be in his spot. That’d be a good ‘recycling’ of CU people.”
“N o o ffEN S E To M i kE Bo H N , BuT i W ould loVE To co M E Back i N 20 YEarS a N d BE i N H iS S PoT. THaT’d BE a Goo d ‘ r EcY c li N G ’ o f c u P Eo P lE .” – EM i lY
“Sometimes, we go play in the bubble,” Talley said referring to CU’s indoor practice facility. “You can work on your wedges there.” When the golfers occasionally find themselves getting some limited work in the bubble, they’re joined by the football team who instantly reveal their jealousy toward the girls for the laid back nature of their practice. “Here we are, literally in our jeans, Ugg boots and jackets hitting shots – and here comes the football team in their matching uniforms,” Talley said. “We’re hitting just wedges on a snowy day in the bubble and they’re about to run all day.” Talley admits that the Colorado weather can give the golfers a much needed day off from the sport. But at the end of the day, she has the most fun on the course. Always the competitor, she thinks back to a moment that she claims is the most fun she has ever had on the course. It involved a comeback victory during a match play round in junior golf. “I was three down with four holes left to go,” Talley said. “This girl turns to her mom and says ‘Mom, time to call the hotel and tell them we’re staying for another night.’” Talley then rattled off three birdies and a par to take the win. “If you lose one of the holes coming up, you’re done, so you have to win the rest,” Talley said. “To think that I won the rest, that still sticks with me pretty hard.” Keeping one eye on the future, Talley has recently played the course at the Broadmoor that happens to be the site of the 2011 Women’s U.S. Open. The resort displays a countdown to the tournament, which Talley uses as a base of time in which she has to improve her game. Knowing the exact time gives her that psychological advantage golfers need before stepping on to the course. Mix in the advantages the state of Colorado has to offer, and Talley likes her chances for qualifying for the event. “I would love it,” Talley said. “Just playing the course and knowing that it’s so close to our home, we have the altitude advantage. They’re really welcoming to us down there.” NCAA titles and U.S. Open championships might highlight the dreams and goals Talley holds for herself, but at her very core, she likes to play golf for the pure enjoyment she holds for the game. As satisfying as it might be to defeat a competitor from a rival school, the rounds Talley enjoys the most are the rounds she gets to play with her dad, who is a more friendly adversary than she’s used to. She does, however, maintain her competitiveness to always win the round. “I think my dad still might beat me every so often, but I did beat the (Napa Country Club) course record this summer and I murdered him that day,” Talley said. “But I could always play with my dad. He’s my favorite.” 21
Bu ffS Q ua rTErBac k -Tu r N Ed - coacH H aG a N rEflEcTS fo N d lY o N 199 0
da ria N
By Pat Rooney
Darian Hagan is a man of few regrets. But he does have one that still gnaws at him from time to time. “The only thing I regret is that I wasn’t able to jump into the pile like everyone else,” Hagan said. “It was tough with the knee brace on.” Hagan missed out on the physical portion of the Buffaloes’ climactic celebration on the Orange Bowl turf on Jan. 1, 1991, due to a knee injury he suffered early in CU’s national championship-clinching 10-9 win against Notre Dame. Still, it is nothing Hagan loses sleep over. In fact, everything about that season has helped shape the man who is in his sixth season as an assistant coach with the Buffaloes.
WHAT DO yOU THINK WAS THE CAUSE Of THE 1-1-1 START THAT yEAR? It was a tough schedule, and we all thought we could win them. At the same time, with the year we had the year before, I think we thought it would come easy. Once we got into the Texas game, we knew it would be a battle. After that, we expected every game to go down to the wire.
AS yOU HAvE MOvED ALONg IN yOUR COACHINg CAREER, HOW HAvE THE LESSONS yOU LEARNED THAT SEASON SHAPED yOUR COACHINg PERSONALITy? I’m a fiery dude. I go off emotions. (That season) helps me to understand that everybody is not like you. Everybody does not think like you. You have to come from a different perspective. Coach Mac, he had a different relationship with each guy. He knew each guy’s button. That kind of helps me in my coaching. I can coach Rodney Stewart one way. I can coach Brian Lockridge a different way. You have to know those buttons, and you’ve got to know when to say what because you don’t want to say something where they think you don’t respect him. EvEN THOUgH yOU COULDN’T jUMP ON THE PILE, WHAT DO yOU REMEMBER Of THE CHAMPIONSHIP CELEBRATION? It was awesome to see the clock run down, to see our guys celebrating, the fans celebrating. To see the joy on everybody’s faces, knowing that we had one common goal and at the end of the day, we reached it.
STEW a rT / G ETTY
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO BE PART Of SOMETHINg THAT HAS BEEN SO ENDURINg AT A SCHOOL THAT HAS BEEN SUCH A BIg PART Of yOUR LIfE? It’s awesome to be held in such high regard. Guys represented the university in a positive fashion. After football, guys have gone on and had success in their endeavors. To be held in such high regard and be welcomed with open arms is an awesome feeling for a lot of those guys. I just hope they keep feeling the same way about me.
WHAT ARE THE MOMENTS THAT SPRINg TO MIND? The first one that springs to mind is the “fifth down.” For us to get that fifth-down touchdown, and then to go on and win the national championship was awesome. But I would say the turning point of that year was the Texas game. In the third quarter, Eric Bieniemy gathered the offense and defense up and talked about how we were going to win the ball game. We all got our emotions and our minds put into one goal to win that game. Before that, we were down on ourselves and thinking too much. Then, we flipped it and won the game.
P H oTo : r i c k
HOW TOUgH WAS IT TO BALANCE THE REMINISCINg WITH THE fACT yOU HAD A jOB TO DO AgAINST gEORgIA? I had a lot of emotions. A lot of guys I see in the summer, but a lot of guys I haven’t seen since that game. Those are the guys I went to bat with. A lot of blood, sweat and tears. Every battle we went into, we had each other’s back. We had one common goal, and that was to win. We attained some great success as a team.
i M a G ES
On the eve of Hagan’s stroll down memory lane with the 20-year reunion of CU’s national championship team, Hagan recalled his favorite memories of that title run and discussed how those lessons still resonate.
“EVErY BaTTlE W E W ENT i NTo, W E H a d Ea c H oT H Er ’ S B a c k .” – da ria N
H aG a N 23
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AIRING HIS DIRTY LAUNDRY CU ’s N i C k s pro Us e do es a little h o Us e C lea N i N g
p h oto : p eter
a N d er s o N
p h oto g ra p hy
“When there’s a Saturday night game, I don’t usually finish until 11:30 the next morning.” Nick Sprouse, an assistant equipment manager for the CU athletic department, isn’t talking about celebrating. Hardly. In fact, Sprouse spends a typical fall Saturday night – one that turns into a Sunday morning – doing the dirty work. Laundry.
needs of the football, track team and skiing teams. His days and weeks – quite literally – are consumed by laundry. While Sprouse also provides plenty of other services, such as ordering gear, repairing broken equipment and continuously tracking the “inventory” involved in running an athletic program, dirty laundry is his specialty. “Yes,” Sprouse says. “Laundry is a full-time thing around here.”
Sprouse knows laundry – the kind that 100 or so angry Buffaloes can dirty up over the course of four quarters. As the man in charge of “cleaning up” the Buffs, Sprouse handles the laundry
the stampede caught up with Sprouse in between loads to learn about some mindboggling numbers.
50 – the pounds of laundry each washing machine can handle per load
3 – themachines number of giant washing found in “Sprouse’s office,” located in the basement of Dal Ward
6 – number of estimated hours
each washing machine runs per practice day
11 – number of laundry loads completed by Sprouse on a typical practice day 22 – number of laundry loads that follow a home game at Folsom Field
77 – total estimated loads of laundry in
one given week (“And that’s just for football!” says Sprouse)
“l a U N d r y i s a f U l l - t i m e th i N g a r o U N d h er e .” – N i C k
s pro Us e
TH E STa M PEd E G o ES o N E- o N - o N E W iTH lEG EN da rY coacH Bi ll M cca rTN EY i NTErVi EW BY PaT ro o N EY
In the fall of 1982, a 42-year-old Bill McCartney strolled onto the turf of Folsom Field for the first time as the head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. Though he’d been an assistant at the University of Michigan, McCartney was now the man in charge, and he was handed the task of turning things around in Boulder. Though Colorado had a rich football tradition, the years prior to McCartney’s arrival were lean. Ironically, so were the first few years he spent leading the Buffs. In his first campaign, McCartney’s Buffs went 2-8-1. The following year, his ball club won four games. But in his third season, the bottom fell out, as the Buffs only managed to win a single game. But the institution saw something in McCartney it liked. As such, his contract was extended. The rest, as is often said, is history. McCartney began reaching new milestones. In 1987, he went 7-5. The following year, he topped Nebraska, something that hadn’t been done since 1967. And by the late 1980s the Buffs were once again nationally prominent. And in 1990, magic happened.
P H oTo : STEP H EN
d u N N / G ETTY
Who better to celebrate with, than the man who made it happen – Mac.
i M a G ES
Twenty years later, the University of Colorado’s national football title still stands as one of the crowning athletic achievements in Colorado sports history. It is fondly remembered, and now, it is celebrated once again.
M c c a rTN EY
What do you remember about the summer heading into the 1990 season? Keep in mind, we were the only undefeated, untied team in the nation going into the bowl game (the year before). We were the unanimous No. 1 choice in the polls. And we lost to Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. When we lost that game – all we had to do was win and we would be national champions – the good news was that we had most of those guys back. Sure enough, starting the next season (1990) we were ranked No. 1 preseason. But after three games, we won one, lost one and tied one, and we’re ranked 20th. And we’re in Texas. It’s late in the third quarter, we’re trailing and they’re about to score again. On our sideline, a disturbance breaks out. I’m as far as they let you go down at the 20-yard line, and I turn around and a commotion is breaking out on our sideline. What had happened was Eric Bieniemy had huddled up our offensive players. He was half the size of most of those guys. He was in the huddle and he was challenging them, just exhorting them. I’d never seen it before. I’ve never seen it since. They huddle, 22 of them, at the 20-yard line. Whatever they said to each other, when they finished, our defensive guys took off running to the other end. We held them to a field goal. They kicked off to us and we scored in seven plays. Then, we kicked off to them and for the first time in the game, we held them to a three-and-out. When they 28
punted to us, we drove the length of the field and scored. We won the rest of our games. What I remember is that one guy with his heart on fire electrified everybody else. It just shows you the margin of victory is so small. One guy, when his heart is right, can impact other guys. That’s my fondest memory of all of them.
was more of a conviction that we had 30 minutes and that we had to rise to the occasion. There was just a different temperament in there that we needed in order to pull it off.
How did you prepare for the national championship game, your second straight year in the Orange Bowl, the second straight year facing Notre Dame in that game? I think it does help when you’ve been there; you’ve been in a game of that magnitude. It intensifies your morale, your resolve. Darian Hagan got hurt in the first half, so Charles Johnson came in. The year before, the score at halftime was 0-0. We had completely dominated the first half and we had nothing to show for it. This time, the score was close (Notre Dame led 6-3, as CU’s Ronnie Bradford blocked a PAT), but there was a different intensity in there. There
One thing nearly everyone remembers about the win against Notre Dame was “The Rocket’s Return.” What are your recollections of that play, a neardisaster that could have foiled a national championship? I’ve been asked about that as much as anything. We not only led the nation in punting, we led the nation in punting over a five-year stretch. We were the best punting team in the nation. Part of that was the altitude. But we also had All-American punters. If you recall, the ball was near midfield. What we told the punter was that we didn’t want to run the risk of a shank by trying to angle the
When anyone wins a national title, they often talk about intangibles. you mentioned talent, and that’s a must, but what about the intangibles of winning it all? And that obviously was a turning point? The morale is to the physical as four is to one. Absolutely. We were toast. Texas was going to It’s four times as important, your attitude, as it put us away. Everything turned on that sideline is your actual physical ability. If you think you disturbance. The season was not without can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t. It adventure. You know, we had the fifth down starts inside you. That’s really what I remember game. We only beat Notre Dame in the bowl game 10-9. We were fortunate to win that game. during those years. We were playing the great teams in the country and we had the talent to But that is how that season unfolded. beat them, but could we dig deep enough and How special is it to be part of something with draw on those intangibles to pull it off? That’s basically what it came down to. There is an old such lasting impact in CU community? axiom in sports: “A team that can’t be beat, When I look back on that, we had the best players. We won because we had the most talent. won’t be beat.” That’s how I reference it. We had We recruited well and we had good coaches, but a maturity about us. We had good leadership when we lined up, we could look anybody in the and we were a close-knit team. The year before, eye. I look back on that and I’m grateful I was a we had lost Sal Aunese and that really bonded part of it with all these guys. These guys are now that team in a unique way. This team was still in their early 40s. They’re just at the age where drawing on that. For Colorado to win the national they care deeply and they want Colorado to win championship that year, we played the nation’s badly. When we showed up for that Oct. 2 game most difficult schedule, we had to draw on intangibles repeatedly. It was that kind of an against Georgia, there were a handful of guys experience. that had fire in their eyes.
i M a G ES
Here we are, 20 years removed from CU’s first and only national title in football. Can you believe it’s been 20 years? I’ve been out of coaching 15 years now, and that has gone by fast. I’ve been pretty much removed. I haven’t been in a position where I’ve had interaction, so it is kind of fun for me to see all these guys when they come back. My mom turned 100 years old in June, so I went back to Michigan to be with my family and I missed pretty much all of that reunion. I was there a bit and saw several guys, but I did not see everybody.
P H oTo : G ETTY
B i ll
“if You TH i N k You ca N , You caN . i f You TH i N k You caN ’T, You ca N ’T. iT STa rTS i N S i d E Y o u .” – Bi ll
M cca rTN EY
Q&A B i ll
M c c a rTN EY
ball out of bounds. So what we told him to do was kick it through the end zone. Whether that was prudent or not, that was up for conjecture. The reality is, he didn’t do it. Most teams do not return the ball inside the 10-yard line. That is kind of the rule in coaching. Of course, the Rocket, he didn’t honor that rule. It was definitely a clip. We were grateful he called it. They don’t always call them in that situation. As the coach, you’re responsible for that decision. The last thing you want to do is make a decision that costs everybody. And I almost did by kicking the ball to the Rocket instead of kicking it out of bounds. I would have carried the weight of that forever if in fact it hadn’t ended like it did. I’m grateful I don’t have to go around wearing that. Years later, Notre Dame was playing Florida State in the Orange Bowl; I was invited and inducted into the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame. I’m at this luncheon and I had been given this honor, and Bobby Bowden and Lou Holtz are right there at the head table. I said, “Coach Holtz, you will be glad to know that the scar on our
kid’s back from that clip is healing nicely.” Just to show you how quick-witted he is, he just says out loud, “If that was a clip, you’re kid had his helmet on backwards.” Does winning like that against a storied team like Notre Dame, and a coach like Holtz, make it even better? My dad, when I was coaching at Michigan, went to one of our games. Michigan won the game, and after the game, my dad – now keep in mind, he was born in 1899, so he’s an old-timer – said, “That was the greatest thrill of my life.” And I said, “Seeing us beat Notre Dame?” And he said, “No, watching a game in South Bend.” Growing up, my dad was Fighting Irish all the way. Over the years, how much do you keep in touch with your team? your coaches? By virtue of the fact that I got out of coaching, what happens to you when you get out of coaching is you’re out of the loop. Your
opportunity to see guys is rare and infrequent. That’s why this particular celebration is more meaningful to me because I haven’t seen a lot of these guys. Most guys in coaching, when they retire, they still stay involved in some way. I have not. That is going to make it more meaningful. Obviously, the recent talk concerning CU is the move to the Pac-10. What are your thoughts on the move? I think this conference move is a stroke of good fortune. When Colorado travels to other schools in the conference, we rarely have very many people there. Now because the overwhelming majority of our alumni are on the West Coast, I think from a support standpoint and enthusiasm and whatnot, it’s going to multiply with this move. I think there is a window of opportunity here now to really rally and activate the alums. I’ve been told almost four-fifths of our alums are on the West Coast. If that’s true, we should benefit greatly for that.
“ W H EN i loo k Back o N THaT, W E Had TH E BEST PlaYErS . W E W o N BEcauS E W E Had TH E M oST TalENT… i loo k Back o N THaT a N d i’M G raTEful i WaS a ParT o f iT W iT H a ll T H ES E G u YS .” – Bi ll 30
M cca rTN EY
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“The only thing we could do was go after each game and get a hold of our pride and do something with it.” – Gary Barnett
Like just about anyone associated with the University of Colorado football program – from the players to the administration to the fans – Gary Barnett was fuming. At the outset of the 1990 season, all of the Buffaloes’ lofty expectations were dissolving into a quagmire of heartbreak and disappointment. Ranked No. 5 in the preseason after falling one victory short of winning the 1989 national championship, CU had everything on its side going into the ’90 campaign. An experienced quarterback and a Heisman Trophy candidate at running back. A stellar defense that boasted several standouts who would go on to enjoy lengthy NFL careers. Explosive special teams and a chemistry that far exceeded the typical level of team camaraderie.
All the ingredients were there. So, naturally, the Buffaloes were tripping over their own collective hooves. When the 1990 season began with a sputtering 1-1-1 mark, the idea that a few months later the school would enjoy its greatest athletic moment appeared to be strictly fantasy, even to the most devoted of believers. Barnett, the team’s quarterbacks coach who would serve as the offensive coordinator in the showdown against Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl following Gerry DiNardo’s departure for Vanderbilt, recalls that the strain was unlike anything he ever experienced later as a head coach at Northwestern and after he returned to CU in 1999. “That was one of the hardest years I’ve ever put into coaching because there were so many expectations,” Barnett said. “There was a lot of pressure. We were ranked No. 1 and our guys didn’t come back in shape. We floundered as a team. We had a lot of individuals; we had no team. To go through the first three games the way we did, and have it all seemingly all out of reach, I don’t know whether it took the pressure off us or not, but it made everybody look inside themselves and make a decision. And even then there were no promises. After three weeks, there are no promises. We were dead in the water. The only thing we could do was go after each game and get a hold of our pride and do something with it. Every game, you’d finish and it was just exhausting.” That exhaustion, as every Buffs backer knows, eventually paid off. After that 1-1-1 start, everything that could potentially fall into place seemed to go the Buffaloes’ way at every turn. Eric Bieniemy’s sideline rant at Texas that helped turn the tide of a game that could have left CU with an all-hope-is-lost mark of 1-2-1. Charles Johnson’s infamous “fifth down” touchdown at Missouri. The title-saving penalty flag thrown against the Fighting Irish in the waning moments of the national championship tilt. These moments are as indelible to the Buffaloes’ fans as they are to each and every player from that team. Two decades later, time has done little to erode the bond those moments forged amongst the Buffaloes.
* * *
It is a typical autumn day in Boulder. The leaves are starting to flaunt their colors all across campus, and the buzz on this Friday afternoon is, of course, all about football. Yet there are so many un-typical things transpiring at Folsom Field this day. At the stadium’s Byron White Club Room, members of the 1990 national championship team slowly filter inside, beginning a weekend of 20-year reunion festivities that culminated with CU’s thrilling 29-27 victory against Georgia.
“I was in the NFL for quite a while, so I never got to come back here and watch the Buffs play,” said former linebacker Chad Brown, one of the few members of the ’90 squad who still looks as if he is quite capable of throwing a few quarterbacks around. “The first game I went to from the time I left was two years ago. It never timed out. So I lost track. I lost contact with a lot of guys. But despite the time that has gone by, we’re still one heartbeat. It is great to see everybody and all be back together.
Head coach Bill McCartney, Barnett and much of the ’90 coaching staff are in attendance. Roughly 80 former players are making the rounds, most of whom are displaying the telltale signs of two decades of life. There are wives and children in tow. A majority of the guys’ hair is much thinner, and most of those fortunate enough to still sport a full top are gradually going gray. There are paunches aplenty.
“As college guys, you spend so much time together. That’s probably what makes that national championship so special. I won a championship in high school. Actually, I won two in a row. But in high school, you’re not living with guys like you are in college. You kick some butt on the field and then go back to the dorms and hang out. I’d say that was the best part. The personal experiences, the personal friendships. Even though time has separated us, we’re all old friends.”
Still, while the years have changed family dynamics and morphed physical proportions, they have done nothing to whittle the connection still shared between the ’90 national champions working the room. 36
Like the old-timers they slowly are turning into, groups of players gather at various tables, sipping drinks and laughing about all the good times. Wide-eyed kids scurry from
player to player, collecting autographs on footballs, jerseys, posters and hats. It is a celebratory time for sure, a time to reflect on the accomplishments of the past while reveling in friendships that, while certainly not forgotten, have drifted over the years. There is a palpable energy crackling through the scene. Using the imagination to fill in the missing hair and eliminate a few bulging midsections, one can still almost picture the group lining up for wind sprints during preseason training camp, imploring one another through their tired gasps to push just a little further. “It feels like it was just last year,” former wide receiver Mike Pritchard said. “The energy that is here, I think that is what everybody is talking about. We were thrilled and humbled to be honored this way. Some of the memories, I just can’t say in public. I’m in touch with everybody. We’ve picked up where we left off. Everyone is close, and the families are close, and that’s what it’s all about.” In this room, on this day, it is not difficult to understand just how the Buffaloes overcame so much adversity to achieve their crowning glory.
“Even though time has separated us, we’re all old friends.” – Chad Brown 37
“We’ve picked up where we left off. Everyone is close, and the families are close, and that’s what it’s all about.” – Mike Pritchard
Jeff Campbell wasn’t about to miss this reunion jeff Campbell missed out on all the fun by one measly year. Not that he was complaining. Perhaps few of the former Buffaloes who watched the team’s run to the 1990 national championship reveled in the refracted glory more than Campbell. The Colorado native – Campbell graduated from Battle Mountain High School in Minturn – was a key member of the 1989 squad that fell one win short of capturing the national championship. Now, the Buffaloes were back at the Orange Bowl, facing a rematch against Notre Dame, and there was no way the former CU receiver was going to miss the moment.
“ The character of this team was built from winning in those hard times. I think that motto has carried everybody through the last 20 years.” Campbell was in his rookie season with the Detroit Lions, and he had just played a game at Seattle. Despite being as far from Miami as possible in the continental United States, there simply was no way Campbell was going to miss watching the team he grew up following and, for the previous four years, had bled for. “We had just played the Seahawks, and I flew all the way from Seattle to Miami,” Campbell said. “Sitting in the stands and watching that team win that title, it filled my heart as much as it would have been running off that field, watching my friends do that.” Campbell crashed the 20-year reunion for the ’90 Buffs in early October, catching up with old friends and reminiscing about the fun times, as well as the tough times. Campbell, who spent five seasons in the NfL and now works in medical device sales for Boston Scientific in Austin, Texas, was reminded once again just how those magical seasons helped shape the course of his life. “I think about the entire four-year block that we had, because we went through some really hard times,” Campbell said. “The character of this team was built from winning in those hard times. I think that motto has carried everybody through the last 20 years. We’ve had some challenges as people and this group of guys has always been one you could rely on. If you look at the ’89 season when we went undefeated, or the ’90 season when they turned it all around, it was pretty amazing. “I use (coach McCartney’s) teachings every day. I put the same expectations on the people I manage that he put us on players, and I think that is how you set the standard for winning. We proved it over and over and over. I took that with me the rest of my life.” 40
* * *
It began at Texas and finally ended when the final seconds slowly ticked away in Miami late in the evening on New Year’s Day. In between, the Buffaloes survived more adversity and potential catastrophes to last for several national championship runs. At Texas, the national championship hopes nearly died before the Buffaloes could even think about putting together a late-season surge. Sitting at 1-1-1, CU trailed in the third quarter when Bieniemy went ballistic. With the Longhorns driving for what likely would have been a backbreaking score, Bieniemy gathered his fellow offensive starters and, as the third quarter ended, also beckoned over the bulk of the defense. What they all got was an earful of frustrationfueled venom – which probably is a somewhat common reaction for Bieniemy these days as the running backs coach of the Minnesota Vikings. But back then, it was a move so out of character it galvanized the Buffaloes. “What had happened was Eric Bieniemy had huddled up our players,” McCartney said. “He was half the size of most of those guys. He was in the huddle and he was just challenging them. Just exhorting them. I’d never seen it before. I’ve never seen it since.” The Buffaloes rallied to win, beating Texas 29-22 and defeating a solid Washington club at home 20-14 the following week. Next up was a trip to Missouri, where fate intervened once again. Despite getting a career-high 217 rushing yards from Bieniemy, the Buffaloes were staring down what would be a season-ruining defeat against the Tigers. With Charles Johnson under center, the Buffaloes drove all the way to the Missouri three-yard line with 31 seconds remaining. After Bieniemy failed to score on first down, the Buffaloes called their final time out. Another run failed to produce a touchdown, and on fourth down Johnson stopped the clock by spiking the ball. Apparently only the officials did not realize the spike occurred on fourth down, and Johnson saved the championship dreams on the extra down by scampering for the winning score as time expired.
“He was half the size of most of those guys. He was in the huddle and he was just challenging them. Just exhorting them. I’d never seen it before. I’ve never seen it since.” – Bill McCartney 41
“We put on a show in that second
half, and that led us to the Orange Bowl and the national championship.” – Mike Pritchard
Less-dramatic wins followed against Iowa State and Kansas, which was victimized by a 174-yard, three-touchdown performance by Bieniemy. Next came a trip to dreary, rainy and frigid Nebraska, where the Buffaloes had not produced a victory in 23 years. For three quarters, it appeared that streak was doomed to reach 24 years. The Cornhuskers held a 12-0 lead, and the Buffaloes offense had done next to nothing in the brutal conditions. But much like he did at Texas, Bieniemy took charge, scoring touchdowns on four short runs in the fourth quarter to lift the Buffaloes to a 27-12 win – their first in Lincoln since 1967. “I would say that Nebraska game is my top memory,” said Pritchard, whose three receptions accounted for 90 yards in that game. “It was on the road. It was an adverse situation, adverse weather conditions. We were losing. Not playing well. We put on a show in that second half, and that led us to the Orange Bowl and the national championship.” Hagan threw for 237 yards and four touchdowns to lead a win against Oklahoma State and, after recording their ninth consecutive win with a 64-3 thrashing of Kansas State in the finale at Folsom, the team’s second consecutive Big 8 Conference championship was in hand. Next stop: A trip to Miami and a date with destiny. 42
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* * *
As the Tom Petty song goes, the waiting often is the hardest part. The Buffaloes were arguably the hottest team in the nation. Suddenly, though, they had to endure a six-week wait before hitting the field at the Orange Bowl. Moreover, they were preparing to face an extremely talented 9-2 Notre Dame squad that had ended CU’s national championship hopes a year earlier with a 21-6 decision on the very same Orange Bowl stage.
and closer, the anxiety and all that stuff starts hitting you. You just want to go play the game.”
For Hagan, his time on the national championship spotlight was brief. A knee injury he suffered early against the Fighting Irish forced the CU quarterback to the sideline, giving Johnson yet another chance to play the hero. Trailing 6-3 at halftime (CU defensive back Ronnie Bradford blocked a Notre Dame extra-point attempt in the second quarter in what proved to be a gamechanging play) and 9-3 early in the third quarter, After playing some of the best football of their the Buffaloes reached down to conjure a little lives over the previous two months, the Buffaloes more of the second-half magic that carried them had to find away to keep the momentum rolling through the regular season. during the month-and-a-half lull. With the defense shutting down the speedy Notre “You kind of second-guess yourself with the time Dame offense – CU forced five Fighting Irish off,” Hagan said. “It’s like you’re practicing and turnovers – the Buffaloes’ attack finally got on track. practicing and practicing against yourselves Using timely passing from Johnson, who finished like in spring ball and you’re getting ready to go 5-for-6 for 80 yards through the air, the Buffaloes play the spring game, only on a different level. finally took the lead when Bieniemy powered in from Leading up to the game, you kind of get bored the one-yard line with 4:26 remaining. All CU had to doing the same old stuff. Then, as it gets closer do was maintain its defensive dominance, and the 44
“He was by far the fastest guy we ever played against… and we played Barry Sanders, Glyn Milburn. Those were fast guys. But Rocket was unbelievable. Unbelievable.” – Tim James national championship trophy would land in Boulder. But coach McCartney and the Buffaloes’ punting unit almost forgot about Notre Dame’s not-sosecret weapon – kick returner extraordinaire Raghib “Rocket” Ismail. On their final possession, the Buffaloes naturally attempted to run out the clock. But penalties and plays that went backwards pushed CU back behind midfield. McCartney initially told punter Tom Rouen to blast the ball through the end zone, trusting his defense to finish the job. Yet the lost yardage made that impossible, even for an AllAmerican punter, and the collective breaths of everyone in the Orange Bowl seemed to pause as the ball landed in Ismail’s arms at the nine-yard line with about a minute remaining. “He was by far the fastest guy we ever played against,” recalled Tim James, who led CU in interceptions in every season from 1988 through 1990. “And we played Barry Sanders, Glyn Milburn. Those were fast guys. But Rocket was unbelievable. Unbelievable.” The Rocket was unbelievable yet again, bouncing off Brown at about the 20-yard line before racing outside and streaking past the CU bench for an electrifying touchdown that, for a moment, seemed
to erase all the blood, sweat and tears the Buffaloes had shed to get to this point. But fate just refused to stop smiling upon this group of Buffaloes. James was blocked in the back while angling for a tackle against the Rocket as he veered outside. Officials immediately threw a flag, producing the most famous penalty, either for or against the Buffaloes, in the history of the program. “It was a rollercoaster,” Pritchard said. “As an offense, we walked off the field knowing we were punting the ball away. We were just like, ‘Okay, defense, just hold them. We never thought about the Rocket taking it back. Then, you see the Rocket running down the sideline, and all of the sudden your national championship hopes are gone. Our dreams are gone. Then, we saw the flag and we knew our defense was going to hold them. It was just a matter of time.” The turn of events saved McCartney from being the goat. “I would have carried the weight of that forever,” he said about Ismail’s return. And after stuffing Notre Dame in the final moments and icing the game with a Deon Figures interception, the celebration began. In many ways, 20 years later the party hasn’t stopped. 45
Chad Brown recalls what might have been Chad Brown has a little secret. yes, he missed a tackle 20 years ago that almost ruined the Buffaloes’ national championship dreams. But at that moment, Brown hardly was the dogged tackler CU fans had grown to love. Brown played a key role in one of the famous plays in CU football history. As every CU fan surely recalls, the Buffaloes’ 1990 national championship was nearly waylaid by an incredible punt return by Notre Dame’s Raghib “Rocket” Ismail in the waning moments of the title-clinching Orange Bowl victory. An illegal block nullified the play, and moments later the Buffaloes were dancing in Miami. But for a moment, Brown, who blasted Ismail at about the 20-yard line only to watch him bounce outside and accelerate down the CU sideline, was cursing how his failing body had failed his team.
“ At that point in the game, my left arm really wasn’t working well.” “I hit him pretty good, but I ended having surgery about a week after the game on my shoulder,” Brown said. “At that point in the game, my left arm really wasn’t working well. I hit him and tried to wrap him with my left arm, but before I could get a squeeze on he hopped out of it. give him credit; he was a great player. But I was not 100 percent trying to make that tackle. I played a pretty good game that game, but I really could not feel my left arm at that point.” Brown remains an affable, fun-loving personality. But as he looked up to watch Ismail blaze his way to the end zone, he admits his thoughts turned dark. “I was thinking, ‘Somebody has to have a gun in the stands and somebody has to shoot him,’” Brown said. “I’m laying on the field just going, ‘No!’ Particularly since I just hit him and missed the tackle. But I was thinking, ‘Somebody shoot him. Somebody shoot him somehow.’ Then, I saw the flag and I knew it was coming back.” Brown’s momentary wish for firearms was rendered unnecessary when CU defensive back Tim james was blocked in the back just as he was closing on the Rocket as he turned on the afterburners near the sideline. But Brown, who compiled 76 sacks, 15 fumble recoveries and six interceptions in a stellar NfL career that ended after a two-game stint with New England in 2007, still had to drag his ailing arm back to his position to help hold off the fighting Irish for a few more plays. “first of all, I’m shocked we kicked it to the Rocket,” Brown said. “I’m shocked I escape my guy and get a chance to hit him. I’m definitely shocked I missed the tackle. Then, I see the flag, but then we have to line up and play. They still have an opportunity to drive the ball down the field. We weren’t frequently in prevent situations throughout the year, and I was in prevent at inside linebacker. I just did not want to screw that up. I’ve never played safety in my life, but that’s basically what I’m playing. But we got them. Then, it was time to celebrate.” 46
“(college) is when 17-, 18-year-old young men grow up together and experience life together.” – Mike Pritchard * * *
The impact of the achievements of the 1990 Buffaloes resonates in so many ways. From the fans yearning for another shot at glory to an administration eager for the same thing to the current players saddled with the burden of returning the program to a championship level, echoes of the 1990 national championship still vibrate throughout Boulder. Yet the achievement is perhaps most memorable for the way it helped shape the fortunes and lives of the players and coaches that brought it home. Some have parlayed those lessons into the challenges of parenthood, others into their jobs and careers. No matter what the Buffaloes of 1990 do, the memories of that season remain a huge influence. “It was really a hard year,” Barnett said. “A lot of that stuff – the not coming back in shape, all the accolades – I did a lot of things with my team after we got to the Rose Bowl at Northwestern that came directly from my experiences here. Whether it was not handling this well, or we should have done this differently. We had guys getting major awards (at Northwestern) and we just dumped them. Just got rid of them. We had a ceremony where we dumped them all in trashcans and started off with a clean slate in so many different ways. And it worked.”
The current occupations of the ’90 Buffaloes are as varied as the personalities that once lit up Boulder. Bieniemy, Hagan and linebacker Greg Biekert, an assistant with the Oakland Raiders, are among those still involved in the game as coaches. Johnson, Pritchard, Alfred Williams and center Jay Leeuwenburg have joined the media as TV and radio analysts. They are businessmen. They are teachers. They are fathers. Yet they remain Buffaloes, perhaps the most beloved group of athletes ever to pass through Boulder. And as the festivities surrounding the 20-year anniversary of their remarkable run proved, their bond remains as strong and influential as it was when they stormed the college football world. “I think that championship season was so influential,” Pritchard said. “But really, I think the whole four or five years I was here was very instrumental in how I shaped my life. Your pro career is a pro career. It’s football, but it’s a job. Yes, there are Super Bowls. Yes, there are playoffs. But (college) is when 17-, 18-year-old young men grow up together and experience life together. This is more special than any Super Bowl could be. This has, by far, shaped the pattern of my life.” Clearly, Pritchard is not alone. 47
ONE STORY, ONE THOUSAND LIVES Watching our football players celebrate on the field after a riveting 29-27 win over Georgia in front of a sold out crowd that included members of the 1990 football national championship team, it occurred to me that our student-athletes were mere tots, and some were not even born yet, when CU won the title. I was nine. And I will never forget it. The win set in motion a series of decisions that lead me to join CU as a student, and later as a professional. The Colorado football has been a longstanding tradition in my family. But I must admit that when we lost to the Fighting Irish in the ’89 Orange Bowl, I declared that I was going to attend Notre Dame. I even got a Notre Dame Starter jacket – early 90’s fad in sports apparel – to advertise my newfound allegiance to the school in South Bend. My family went along with my contrarian attitude for some time. But just one year later, watching CU take down Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl to become the national champions, I defected back to the Buffs for good. My Starter jacket was eventually sold in a garage sale. The anniversary weekend of the storied 1990 national championship team gave me the opportunity to reflect on how this one moment in CU history has influenced so many of our lives. Alfred Williams is a perfect example. At the Boulder Buff Club luncheon held in honor of the team, Alfred expressed heartfelt gratitude for how his teammates – his “family” – carried him through the ups and downs of an NFL career.
“ MY STarTEr jackET W a S EV ENTu a llY S o ld i N a GaraG E SalE. – N aTa li E
Pi G liaca M Po
For our current football players, this year might have been the first time the whole story of that team has been shared with them, and it was no doubt a part of what led them to an inspired win against Georgia. The 1990 season cultivated a way of life around CU football for many of our donors and fans. It’s a shared experience that they hope to witness again soon. As the new editorial director, I am thrilled to bring you an updated and fresh look to The Stampede this year. My goal is to share stories – like the one recently re-told about our national championship team – and to further highlight our student-athletes, coaches and donors, each of whom represent the University of Colorado with the utmost excellence and achievement in competition, school and philanthropy. Go Buffs! Natalie Pigliacampo 48
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