Wednesday, September 5, 2018

It's Nebraska Week in Colorado... "I'd Rather Be Dead Than Red"

Those of us who were in Folsom Field on October 25, 1986, will never forget that game against Nebraska. After more than two decades of futility, the Buffaloes finally defeated the Huskers in Boulder by the score of 20-10.

Head Coach Bill McCartney had raised quite a few eyebrows and not a few guffaws when he announced that he was designating Nebraska as Colorado's main rival. The game was even listed in RED on the schedule to underline its importance.

All this happened more than 30 years ago, and I am going on memory, so take any quotes with a grain of salt as to how accurate they are word for word. The gist is accurate though.

When asked why he wanted to make Nebraska the red letter rival for Colorado, McCartney made no bones about it. The Huskers represented long term excellence in college football. 

From 1969-2001, Nebraska won nine or more games per season every single year. In 20 of those years, the Huskers won 10 or more games.

McCartney knew that if the Buffs could play on that level consistently, they would be an elite team in college football. 

McCartney built his teams to compete with and beat Nebraska. And in doing so, he made Colorado vs Nebraska a nationally known rivalry. 

Nebraska fans laughed when Mac publicly announced that the Huskers would be Colorado's rival. Colorado had done nothing to give any indication that they were worthy of that. The last time Colorado had beaten Nebraska in Boulder was in 1960. 

For you history buffs (wink, wink) Eisenhower was still president. Colorado hadn't beaten Nebraska in Boulder through Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and the first term of Ronald Reagan. That fact hardly put any fear in the hearts of the Husker faithful.

The fans from Nebraska LOVED coming to Boulder. It was sure win and they got to visit something a whole lot prettier than Nebraska. They came by the tens of thousands. Folsom Field usually had as many fans in Nebraska red as black and gold.

McCartney finally issued a public appeal asking Buff fans to quit selling their tickets to Nebraska fans so that his players didn't have to feel like it was an away game. It was a hard thing to do. Many of the Buff faithful basically paid for their season tickets by selling to the deep pocketed Husker fans.

Nebraska fans were long proud of how gracious they were as winners. 

They would come into Boulder smoking their stinky cigarettes and tell us how well our Buffs had done despite yet another loss. They would pat us on the back and tell us to "wait until next year."

That graciousness went out the window when Colorado finally won. Their smarmy attitude was exposed that day. From '85-'91, the Buffs won three games to Nebraska's two, with one tie thrown in for good measure. All the games were close and usually had national implications.

When Colorado quarterback Sal Aunese died from stomach cancer during the 1989 season, some sick Husker fans wrote "Sal is Dead, Go Big Red" on the highway at Colorado-Nebraska state line.

One of the reasons the Colorado fans would rather be dead than red. The Nebraska faithful first tried to deny the atrocity, and then said the misdeeds of a few bad apples had nothing to do with the rest of them.

They stuck with that line until the next year when Colorado won the 1990 national championship. Sadly, the Buffs had to "share" the national championship with another team. Why didn't they win the title in the coaches poll like they had in the media poll?

Well, they should have. But one voting coach left #1 Colorado completely out of their final Top 20 following the bowl games. That coach was Nebraska's own Tom Osborne. He later said that he didn't actually fill out the poll, but let one of his assistants do it. It showed that classlessness started at the very top in Lincoln.

When Nebraska finally won big (just like the good old days) in 1992, the Husker fans were literally frothing at the mouth. So much for denying the existence of a rivalry.

The last time the Buffs and Huskers played football was in 2010. Nebraska was about to leave the Big 12 for the Big Ten. And Colorado was about to leave the Big 12 for the Pac-12.

Last year was a bad year for both programs. Nebraska won only four games and Colorado won only five. To put things right in the football pantheon, those numbers need to change.

While fans on both sides are hoping for a victory. We can all hope the game helps spring both programs back to prominence. What fun is it to hate a team that's not very good?

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