Two top ten teams. A national television audience, with Keith Jackson at the microphone. Already a marquee matchup, the game would end with one of the most memorable calls in college football history.
September 24th - @ Michigan #7 Colorado 27, #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 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, CU 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. But for the next two full quarters it was all Michigan. Wolverine running back Tim Biakabutuka scored on a four yard run to pull UM 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 Buffs' linebacker Matt Russell, preserving a five point lead for Colorado.
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. After punting the ball away on its first four second half possessions (not including the James Kidd fumble after a Michigan kickoff), Colorado finally mounted a drive. Commencing with about eight minutes remaining in the game, Stewart methodically passed the Buffs down the field. After Stewart hit Michael Westbrook for nine yards down to the Michigan four yard line, the Buffs had a first-and-goal. Yes, CU was down 12 points, but now they were at point blank range, and still over five minutes remained on the game clock. Plenty of time for two scores and a victory.
Then the unthinkable happened. Stewart took off over the right end. Lunging for the goal line, Stewart lost possession of the ball. Stewart's fumble was recovered by Michigan, with the Wolverines given a touchback and the ball at their 20-yard line. To add insult to injury, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against CU gave the Wolverines the ball at their 35.
"What a crusher that is", said ABC play-by-play legend Keith Jackson. 5:08 remained, but the considered opinion of virtually everyone watching the game was that the Buffs' chances for a comeback had just been fumbled away.
But someone forgot to tell the Buffs, especially their defense. Three runs netted Michigan four yards, but cost CU two precious time outs in an effort to stop the clock. After a short punt return by Chris Hudson, CU had the ball at their own 28-yard line.
Now the fun would begin.
3:52 remaining - Michigan 26, Colorado 14 - Colorado ball at its own 28-yard line
After two scrambles and a fumbled pitch out of bounds by Stewart, Salaam cut up the left side for 12 yards and a first down to the Buffs' 48-yard line. "Make no mistake," said ABC commentator Bob Greise after Salaam's run. "There is plenty of time for the Buffaloes to score two touchdowns." A swing pass to Salaam gave the Buffs' another first down at the Michigan 40. Two passes to tight end Christian Fauria gave CU another first at the UM 24. 2:37 now remained in the contest. After an incomplete pass, Stewart kept the ball on an option to the left for 21 yards to the Michigan three. First and goal, Colorado.
"The only way to stop this team is if they stop themselves," noted Greise about the Buffs.
On the next play, a Kordell Stewart pass to the corner of the endzone intended for Michael Westbrook was too high, but Michigan had too many players on the field. The penalty moved the ball to the Michigan one yard line. A pitch to Salaam took care of the final yard. Neil Voskeritchian's kick was true, and the Buffs were back to within five points, 26-21.
The Buffs' subsequent onsides kick attempt was easily recovered by receiver Mercury Hayes, and it appeared that Colorado and its fans would spend much of the evening grousing about what could have been, and wondering how far the Buffs would fall in the polls the next morning.
2:16 remaining - Michigan 26, Colorado 21 - Michigan ball at the CU 45-yard line
All that remained for the Wolverines to do was to pick up one first down and end the game. On third and seven, the Buffs jumped offsides, giving Michigan an easier attempt at a game-ending first down. The Wolverines, however, responded in kind with a false start, moving the ball back. After some discussion, five precious seconds were returned to the stadium clock. A three-yard run by Biakabutuka into the line gave Michigan a fourth-and-four at the CU 39-yard line. Twenty one seconds remained. Chris Hudson called for a fair catch of the short punt at the CU 15-yard line.
:14 remaining - Michigan 26, Colorado 21 - CU ball at its own 15-yard line.
No real question about what had to happen now. Stewart dropped back, hitting Michael Westbrook for 21 yards to the CU 36-yard line. The game clock stopped automatically with the first down. The Buffs hurried up to the line of scrimmage, where Stewart immediately spiked the ball to stop the clock.
:06 remaining - Michigan 26, Colorado 21 - CU ball at its own 36-yard line
The 1994 College Football Play of the Year. One of the greatest single plays in college football history. After spiking the ball to stop the clock, Stewart jogged over towards the CU bench for the play call. He made it only half way before being waved back. "Jets, Rocket, Victory" was the play call. In CU football parlance, "Jets" refers to the receivers, "Rocket" means "go long". ("Victory" apparently means "I hope someone from our team catches the ball").Three receivers lined up on the left side, Westbrook, Rae Carruth, and Blake Anderson, while James Kidd lined up on the right.
"If I were the defense, I'd have a few more guys over there", said Bob Greise at the snap, referring to the lack of Michigan defensive backs at the line of scrimmage. Most of the Michigan secondary was already thirty yards downfield, awaiting the Stewart bomb.
Dancing behind the line of scrimmage long enough for his receivers to get downfield, Stewart launched the ball from his own 27-yard line. The moment was played out before over 100,000 in attendance, and millions on television. ABC's Keith Jackson, everyone's favorite play-by-play man, captured the moment:
"Stewart, with time," called Jackson.
"Let's it go ...
"He's got three people down there ...
"The ball's up in the air ...
"CAUGHT! TOUCHDOWN!! CAUGHT BY WESTBROOK FOR A TOUCHDOWN!!!
A few moments passed. Shock was quickly replaced by the reality of the play, as Jackson regained control. "There is no time remaining," noted Jackson as the television screen alternated between CU players' jubilation and Michigan players' disbelief. "There are no flags on the field. Only despair for the maize and blue."
Colorado 27, Michigan 26.
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."
Yelling was not a problem in Bozeman, Montana. I did not hear Keith Jackson's words after the tipped ball fell into Westbrook's arms as I was too busy yelling myself. At the time, my yells were heard as far away as Grand Junction, Colorado. Not because my screams could be heard 500 miles away, but because I was on the phone with Brad G. at the time.
I do not remember who called who, but I do remember Brad and I commiserating on the phone as the final moments unfolded. The call was made after the Stewart fumble, when it appeared the game had been lost. It continued as the Buffs slowly crawled back into contention, and was silent as we waited for the final gun
"Last play", we noted, fully expecting to get back to our dissection of the loss a few seconds later. Four turnovers and 102 yards in penalties had doomed the Buffs. Or so we had thought.
When Westbrook came down with the ball, I screamed at Brad, I screamed at the television. Even my wife, Lee, who was watching the game with me (albeit impatiently - the game was running long, and we were late for a party), started screaming. It was unbelievable. CU was back in the National Championship hunt!
I watched the video from the game over and over again, relishing the final play. I guess you could say that I may have watched it too many times, as several months later, during halftime of our Super Bowl party, I brought out the tape to show our guests. The worn tape broke. (Fortunately, the tear came during the portion of the tape showing Michigan's punt with 21 seconds remaining. The important portion of the tape was preserved!).
No rest for the weary. CU was 3-0, up to #5 in the polls, and the talk of the nation. But the Texas Longhorns, 3-0 and ranked 16th, wanted their own share of the nation's attention. The Buffs only had seven days to celebrate, recuperate, and prepare for the showdown in Austin.
The Buffs would go on to post a 11-1 record in Bill McCartney's final season, falling only to Nebraska. Colorado completed its season ranked third after defeating Notre Dame, 45-24, in the Fiesta Bowl.
[More archived games are available at www.cuatthegame.com Please check out the site at your leisure, and let me know which games you would like to see posted.]