Gameday in Boulder
The University of Colorado is not known for its tailgating. That is not to say, however, that fans in the Buff Nation do not enjoy their pre-game activities. On October 2, 2010, the stars were all aligned for a great day in Boulder. The Georgia Bulldogs were in town, just the second team from the Southeast Conference to ever venture into Folsom Field. The weather was ideal 75 degrees under mostly sunny skies, with a 5:00 p.m. kickoff ready-made for an afternoon of celebration.
It was also the day that Colorado had chosen to honor the 20th anniversary of the 1990 national championship. Over 80 players and coaches from the title team were on hand for a weekend of activities, capped by a halftime devoted to the Buffs’ championship run.
The University of Colorado has an enrollment of around 30,000 students. The Boulder campus is one of the most beautiful in the nation. Tune into any telecast of a Colorado home athletic event, and invariably the announcers will introduce the audience to a campus which is “spectacular”, “scenic”, or “majestic”. Nestled beneath the unique and picturesque Flatirons, but within easy reach of snow-capped peaks, fall in Boulder is special.
Perhaps too special.
With ideal weather, beautiful surroundings, and a community built on outdoor activities, the University of Colorado football program is not – gasp! – the focal point of the city. Hiking, biking, and other outdoor pursuits take away from the devotion to football. Paul Creighton, who played tight end at Colorado through his senior year in 2006 before taking on a job as a graduate assistant at Auburn, couldn’t help but notice the differences between Colorado and teams in the SEC when he moved south. “Fan-wise they’re so much more invested for those fans, and they really live and die by their football teams’ experiences,” Creighton told the Boulder Daily Camera. “Whereas here (at Colorado), you get fans who come up from Denver for a good weekend. We win, they’re happy and then they go on to the kid’s soccer game or whatever. If we lose, they’re angry about it for awhile, and then they wake up Sunday morning and go hiking all day or something.”
Colorado defensive backs coach Ashley Ambrose, who grew up in New Orleans watching games at LSU and Alabama before going on to a 13-year NFL career, concurred. “Usually people in the south, they’re doing in all year round,” said Ambrose. “They take it real serious. That’s like the major sport in the south. They have a lot of passion for it.”
Georgia, with a red contingent of 5,000-7,000 descending on Boulder, planned a tailgate party of their own in preparation for the game against Colorado.
Buff fans were not to be outdone …
The Set Up
Is there a better kickoff time – at least for tail-gaters – than 5:00 p.m.? True tail-gaters will down bloody marys and mimosas for early starts; will stock full coolers full of other adult beverages for late game times - but those kickoff times are for the true diehards. A 5:00 p.m. kickoff gives fans the best of both worlds – plenty of time to party, without having to wait the entire day for the game to get started.
Colorado fans were in fine form for the Georgia game. Buoyed by a 2-1 record after a bye week, a cautious optimism permeated the Saturday afternoon tailgates. Georgia was 1-3 on the season, and had a three game losing streak.
The University of Mississippi, not necessarily known for its football prowess, is nonetheless known for its tailgating. Called the “Holy Grail of Tailgating sites” by The Sporting News, football players make the walk through “The Grove” to get to the stadium. The Walk is a ritual in many locations across the country, but is fairly new to Colorado. The Buff players are brought into Boulder and park near Libby Hall 2 1/2 hours before gametime, then make their walk through the band and the Colorado fans into the stadium. On this particular Saturday, with an SEC team in town and perfect weather for football, the Colorado Walk was well attended and spirited.
The players are also greeted during their Walk by Ralphie, the Buffs’ live mascot. Ralphie V was voted, in an Associated Press poll of its college poll voters, as the “coolest” mascot in the nation. As fate would have it, the number two vote-getter on the list was UGA, the University of Georgia Bulldog (the other mascots in the top five: No. 3 – Chief Osceloa and his Appaloosa horse at Florida State; No 4 – Mike the Tiger at LSU; and No. 5 – the golden eagle at Auburn). Ralphie made the 1,500-mile trek to Athens, Georgia, for the 2006 game between Colorado and Georgia, and, in 2010, UGA returned the favor.
Also escorting the Buff players into the stadium for the matchup with the Bulldogs were over 80 players and coaches from the Colorado 1990 national championship team. The Georgia game was selected as a homecoming for the 20th anniversary of the Buffs’ title run, and the presence of the older Buffs only served to spur on the 2010 team. “The whole Thursday, Friday, Saturday leading up to the game was probably one of the most special moments of my life,” said junior quarterback Tyler Hansen. “There is so much pride to be a Buff. It makes you want to play hard for them.”
After the Walk, the Colorado marching band winds its way through the middle of campus, starting out near the music building, snaking through tailgates on their way to the Alumni Association tailgate. There, the band plays through its repertoire of school songs, always ending with its rendition of the CU Fight Song. When the band heads off for the stadium, tailgaters know its time to break down the grill and head into the game.
Colorado fans sometimes get complacent about Ralphie, the Buffs’ mascot. When you see a live buffalo make a roundtrip around the stadium at every home game, it’s easy to see it as commonplace. When there is a night game in Boulder, though, Buff fans are reminded of just how special it is to have Ralphie make her run before the start of each game. All Colorado fans have to do is look off to the northwest corner of Folsom Field, where visiting fans are congregated. When Ralphie leads the team out onto the field, hundreds of flashbulbs go off, as all those fans – who are not used to seeing a live, half-ton mascot run out onto the field – take pictures to commemorate the event.
After Ralphie led the Buffs – including the players from the 1990 national championship team – out onto the field, it was time for the near sellout crowd of 52,855 on hand to settle in and watch the Georgia Bulldogs become only the second SEC team in history to play a game at Folsom Field.
The October 2, 2010 game between Colorado and Georgia had a number of subplots, with the two coaches getting much of the attention. Georgia was 1-3, 0-3 in SEC play for the first time since 1993. Mark Richt, despite having an overall record of 91-30 – one of only seven coaches in NCAA history to win 90 games in his first nine seasons as a head coach – was considered as being on the “hot seat”. Georgia fans, who had never seen a Bulldog team with fewer than eight wins under Richt, were edgy after Georgia got off to a tough start.
This was news to Colorado fans, whose head coach, Dan Hawkins, kept his job after the 2009 season despite posting his fourth consecutive losing season. With an overall record of 18-34 coming into the game, Hawkins would have had to go 73-0 as the head coach at Colorado over the next six seasons – and he would still have a worse record than that of Mark Richt.
There was also the return of Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green to consider. Green, suspended for four games by the NCAA for purportedly selling his Independence Bowl jersey for $1,000.00, was making his 2010 debut. Considered to be a top ten pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Georgia fans were hoping Green’s return would spark the Bulldogs’ offense.
At the outset, it was the home team which fared well. Colorado scored on its opening possession, and had a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter.
Then it was Georgia’s turn. Or, more precisely, it was A.J. Green’s turn.
Accounting for 109 yards of total offense and two touchdowns in the second quarter alone, Green spurred the Bulldogs onto a 17-14 halftime lead. The lead grew to 24-14 when Georgia scored on its first possession of the second half.
Then it was the Buffs’ turn to make a comeback.
Colorado scored on its opening drive of the third quarter, then scored again late in the third to take a 29-24 lead (which included a successful two-point conversion). A 20-yard field goal by Georgia kicker Blair Welsh cut the lead to 29-27 with 12:30 to play.
Colorado then put together a 14-play drive which consumed almost nine minutes of the fourth quarter – but the Buffs couldn’t score. Taking over at their own 35 yard line with 3:37 to play, Georgia seemed poised to pull out the road win. The Bulldogs not-so-secret weapon was Welsh, a 2009 finalist for the Lou Groza, given annually to the nation’s best kicker.
It took Georgia only four plays to register three first downs. Already in Walsh’s field goal range at the Colorado 27 yard line, it was the Buffs who had to call time out. “We kind of knew that if they got the ball down to the 40, that they would have an opportunity to kick a field goal,” said Colorado head coach Dan Hawkins. “My focus was to just manage the clock.”
Georgia needed no more yards – they were already in Walsh’s range (12-for-13 from 40-49 yards in his career). So the Bulldogs called a run into the middle of the offensive line. “That’s as basic of a play as we’ve got,” said Georgia head coach Mark Richt of the call. The problem for the Bulldogs was that Colorado senior linebacker B.J. Beatty blitzed on the play, and got to Georgia quarterback Aaron Murphy just as he was handing the ball off to running back Caleb King.
The ball was recovered by Colorado linebacker Jon Major, and the almost sure victory for Georgia became a victory for the home-standing Colorado Buffs.
It was, for those Colorado fans who had been on campus for most of the glorious fall day in Boulder, a perfect end to a perfect day.
As my friend Brad put it as we were walking out of the stadium, “If you didn’t enjoy that game, then you’re not a fan of college football.”
At least the Buff fans felt that way …