As we discussed often, fandom is lots of pain with rewards few and far between. Only one team can win the game, only one team can win the championship. But what about the small victories? What about the plays that make you believe in the impossible? What about the moments that remind you why you love the Buffaloes so much?
We have the Ralphie Report staff answer at length this question:
Anthony Kazmierczak: Memorable moments in college football are often associated with a name or a phrase. From the last second kickoff return by California involving Stanford’s band nicknamed “The Play,” to the kicking woes that plagued Florida State against rival Miami on four separate occasions known as “Wide Right” (all four iterations), these moments are forever etched in our minds. As a Colorado football fan, there’s only one moment that stands above all the rest, the “Miracle at Michigan.”
It wasn’t a contest against a bitter rival or even a conference game. In fact, it was only the second time that the Buffs ever played Michigan, the first a 31-0 loss to Bo Schembechler’s Wolverines twenty years prior. But something special happened in the Big House on September 24, 1994.
If you’re a Buffs fan, you know it all too well. Trailing 26-21 with six seconds left on the clock, Colorado head coach Bill McCartney, once an assistant under Schembechler, called in the play named “Rocket Left.” Michael Westbrook, Blake Anderson and Rae Carruth were lined up to the left. James Kidd to the right. Kordell Stewart dropped back against a three-man rush, and after a nice block from future Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam, heaved a 70-plus yard pass for the end zone. To this date, I still have never seen a college quarterback throw a ball that far. Stewart’s Hail Mary was tipped by Anderson at the 2-yard line and caught by a diving Westbrook in the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
The Big House faithful stunned, Colorado won 27-26. Almost as soon as it happened, the ‘Miracle at Michigan’ became part of college football lore. It remains the only time the Buffs have beaten the Wolverines. And it’s my favorite moment as a Buffs fan.
That incredible season, the Buffaloes had everything: Carlon Brown was the offensive playmaker, André Roberson the defensive force, Austin Dufault the pick-and-pop glue guy, Nate Tomlinson the crazy Aussie, Spencer Dinwiddie the lovable freshman, Sabatino Chen the heart-and-hustle spiritual leader. I didn’t know who was my favorite player then, and I still have no idea in retrospect.
As I became attached to each and every player, I saw for the first time a sports team as a collection of individuals who put the team above themselves, who worked selflessly for the collective good. I saw everyone on the team fulfilling their roles as best as they could, and only through a culmination of those efforts, success was possible. That team is when I learned the beauty of team sport and the unbreakable bond of Buffaloes basketball.
Despite an impressive season, the Buffs headed into the Pac-12 Tournament needing a championship for a tournament bid. That was impossible, or next to impossible. The Buffs would have to win four games in four nights. They would need to be on their A-game every game. They need to play perfect team basketball nonstop to have any chance to see March Madness for the first time in my life.
The Buffs handily beat Utah in the first round. One step closer, I thought, but still impossible. Then they beat Oregon by the thinnest of margins. One step closer, maybe it could happen. Then they beat Cal and Carlon did this. One step closer, we can actually do it. Then, somehow, Colorado beat Arizona and celebrated as Pac-12 Champions. We’ve done the impossible, I can’t believe it!
Of course, I wasn’t a part of the Buffs’ run, but I was; I was part of the team, I was part of their success and failure, I was part of everything on that basketball court, and there was nothing I could do about it. To me, that connection is what fandom is about. And the moment when that connection exists as an unbreakable bond, where reality and vicarious living become one, that is the ultimate sports moment. Luckily for me, the best sports moment of my Buffs fandom last four games in four days.
Jack Barsch: I’ll jump right into the recency bias and say that currently, my favorite moment was Witherspoon’s interception. I remember exactly where I was that day and that moment. I had spent the first half as I normally do: hopelessly optimistic. Steven Montez was DEALING. Who was this electrifying player? I didn’t see this in Michigan. CU could not be stopped, and this Oregon team almost beat Nebraska at Nebraska. If the Buffs could somehow pull this win off, they’d be 3-1 with the only loss belonging to Michigan. If they could pull it off...
And then reality set in. The second half went as it often did for CU. The game started slipping away. Oregon strung a few good drives together. Montez threw an interception, and suddenly, they were back on top. Here we go again. CU had played well enough to win for most of the game, and they’d walk out with a loss. Just like the 4-8 season the year before. What would happen the rest of the year? CU would beat Oregon State, and then what?
BUT, the Buffs showed how 2016 would be different. Without Sefo Liufau, the unquestioned leader of the team, CU fought back. Montez was nails. He drove us down the field, and on 4th and long, magic struck:
Had the Buffs done it? Have they actually FINISHED a game against a great (at the time) opponent? Will this game be different? That idea was supported by the equally awesome catch Bryce Bobo had for the 2 point conversion. Is 2016 the year Colorado comes back?
Well, for next six minutes of game time, it was. CU stopped them, but they couldn’t put more points up. It stayed a three point game until Oregon had a late last-ditch drive. CU had plenty of chances to stop them but couldn’t get it done. For me, the breaking point was Tedric Thompson dropping a sure interception. CU had the game in their hands, LITERALLY, and they dropped it. That was the game. After that pass, Dakota Prukop (their starting QB at the time) started dealing. He found receiver after receiver to march them down the field. Finally, Jordan Carrell sacked Prukop on 3rd down. CU finally did it! They made a winning play!.. Just kidding. Penalty. Oregon would have another shot, this time from goal-to-go. It was over. Oregon was gonna sneak out of this game. Turns out, CU just had a dramatic flair:
I was at my house with my friends. I scared them away immediately. I was throwing my hat. I was screaming into the sky. I was jumping around. I could not believe it. A perfect play for a perfect win. I knew CU football was back right then.
Jon Woods: My relationship with the Colorado Buffaloes is entwined tightly with this here website. Last football season we were in our eighth year of covering the Buffs every single day of every single month. There had been bright spots here and there (a giant one which Sam covered above) but for the most part the Ralphie Report had been writing, tweeting and talking about a whole lot of disappointment. As the season began the odds were still on the side of “not likely” on whether or not there would be the long awaited return to a bowl game but we had finally seen signs that the turn around might actually be coming.
The 44-7 win over the Colorado State Rams took those expectations and kicked them up another few levels. A week later the easy win over Idaho State did nothing to temper a rising hope. Even a loss to Michigan had a number of bright spots that caused fans to start thinking this team might be for real.
It was the thrilling win over Oregon that finally had us start checking our schedules to find those other three wins and with the way the Buffaloes were playing you didn’t have to squint too hard to find them. But it couldn’t have been more perfect for Colorado to FINALLY return to bowl eligibility in a hard fought, 10-5 slugfest on the road against the Stanford Cardinal, a team that had epitomized stability and success for the Buffs entire Pac-12 run. The Colorado Buffaloes had qualified for a bowl game with their sixth win and Ralphie Report was FINALLY going to cover the postseason.
And best of all? They still had four regular season games to go and they won every last one of them to clinch the Pac-12 South.