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Dispatches from Morocco: The Buffaloes have something special

We exiled a writer to Morocco and he’s furious.

Colorado v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

I have been traveling since August 7th. As of this writing, I have been to eight countries on this trip, some for 12 days, some for five hours, some until January. In all this time, I have endured camping trips gone awry, witnessed a brawl between Americans abroad, realized the horror that is Italian traffic, and, worst of all, was stuck in a car for six hours with people relentlessly quoting the Star Wars prequels. The only thing I regret about this trip is not bringing enough pairs of socks.

I knew what was in store for me before I left, because, you know, I planned everything for the next month. But as busy as I have been with travel and school, I cannot stop writing for Ralphie Report, and I have no idea why. Going into my third year as a staff writer and managing editor, I don’t think I’ve gone longer than three consecutive days without writing something or tinkering around in the editorial dashboard. It’s not like it’s a hard job, so I’m certainly not complaining, but something I can’t explain keeps drawing me in. I knew that if I was ever going to be absent from the site, it would be during these travels. So of course I wrote a dozen articles before I left that were scheduled as far as three weeks into the future. Even on my flight to Denmark, I got bored and decided to transcribe/publish my interview with Juwann Winfree and Dante Wigley. And when I finally had a moment to recover after thirteen hours of travel, the first thing I did was mess around on Twitter whilst editing my peers’ articles.

The worst part about this strange addiction is that my incessant need to linger around the website while abroad was just for offseason content. Those articles only need box scores, practice reports and wild speculation; those were more than manageable to write away from home. But soon enough, the real season was a week away and without access to practices, press conferences or interviews, it became inevitable that I would be overmatched to cover the team unless something drastic happened. Something drastic would mean, at minimum, finding a way watch all of CU’s games, which would require me to find (legal) streams, enough WiFi to support this, a VPN to give me access to U.S.-only broadcasts, and the dedication to watch games that start in the wee hours of the morning. If that failed, I could only rely on YouTube and my cohort, Jack Barsch, to spoon-feed me analysis.

The most important part of my travel plans was my 6:45 a.m. flight from Bergamo, Italy to Tangier, Morocco on September 1st. That was the first plane ticket I bought because I thought that if I just get myself to Morocco — the place I will be until January — I could figure out everything else while meandering aimlessly through the European Union. When I purchased those tickets in June, the original plan for that night was to pull an all-nighter at the airport and stream the Rocky Mountain Showdown, which started at 3:30 a.m. my time. I would get through security as early as I could, find an outlet at my gate and peacefully watch the season opener. But I didn’t realize the Bergamo airport is a military prison that exists between worlds.

After two hours (!) trying to find the place to return our rental car, we trudged into this portal and were immediately overwhelmed by the air of despair that must have been pumped through the ventilation by airport staff. It was 10 p.m. and there were no departing flights until 6:30 in the morning. Bergamo Airport doesn’t let anyone past the front part of the building; instead they keep everyone in an overcrowded, easily policed area with fewer seats than prisoners. The most privileged of inmates are those who luck into finding working outlets, but cruel is this world and those outlets were out of the WiFi’s limited range. I had six hours to figure out how to watch the game, but I already knew that it would be impossible. The only alternative was to stay up until 3:30, move into a WiFi spot to follow the box score, and watch the full game on YouTube when I was situated in Morocco. If that too failed, I could just as well give up and retire from writing.

It turns out that it’s quite easy to pull an all-nighter in an airport where sleeping is disallowed and the staff walks around disturbing anyone who so much as yawns. And it wasn’t like you could sleep in spurts and deal with the staff when they came by, because appropriate to the Italian peninsula’s long infatuation with militarism, these guys were prepared for war. Each of whom were grisly men equipped with camouflage fatigues, combat boots and military-grade assault rifles. To sleep was to resist, and to resist was to die. The only thing my fellow prisoners of war could do was stomach the disgusting microwaved water they called “coffee” and hope to live long enough to sleep on their red-eye flights.

Bergamo prisoners risked their lives to catch a few seconds of sleep.

In this building that smelt of fear and anguish, I felt as if I had been sucked into a vortex where time was disconnected from reality. Six hours felt like six years. I began to wonder if Phillip Lindsay had the legs to carry the Broncos to another Super Bowl ring; if Laviska Shenault was a reach with the first pick in my fantasy draft; and if Steven Montez was worth the contract extension the Jaguars handed him.

Even at its glacial pace, the clock was ticking away, inching closer to 3:30. That was also the time the prison guards would allow the masses through the front gate to check in our luggage. Our liberation should have been a joyous occasion, but there were hundreds of us moving in a swarm to the check-in booths, many of which would not even open for another hour. As the lines piled up, we realized that our fate was not up to us, for we were at the mercy of this organized chaos.

As the universe ebbed and flowed with us at its will, I had my phone out following the gamecast. I saw Montez open the game with a touchdown run, then find K.D. Nixon for another touchdown. I was envious of the CU fans watching this perfect start unfold, but not until I checked Twitter did I see that overlapping broadcasts had left everyone else in the dark too. The first Colorado touchdown we all saw —me included, thanks to highlights —was Beau Bisharat’s catch. Beyond just the scores, I found out via Twitter that Shenault and Nate Landman had been destroying the Rams. Those two were always going to be megastars, but it was a blessing to know such stardom could be realized this early. Combined with dominance in the trenches, it seemed the Buffs were on their way to a convincing win.

As we moved from the check-in line to the security line, I had to keep up with the airport’s flow rather than the game flow. I only saw snippets of the gamecast, but as the Buffs built upon their lead, an air of positivity was finally allowed through the airport ventilation. The airport staff let down their menacing stares and liberated POWs began to smile at each other. When Travon McMillian broke free for his 49-yard touchdown, the building smelt not of fear and despair, but of hope and joy. It was then that we were welcomed into the open arms of our liberators at Ryanair.

A week after surviving that Italian military prison, I had found refuge behind the Kasbah of the Oudaias, a 12th century wall that was built to protect the yet-built city of Rabat from foreign invasions. Inside this fortress lies a labyrinth of alleys accessible only by foot, paw or motorcycle. The local kids throw firecrackers at each other’s feet, a deafening game between walls that reverberate even the most shy of sounds. (Just outside these walls was where they filmed a car chase scene from Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, which isn’t really related to this story, but it’s neat.) This is my new home, at least until January.

In my actual home, a homestay in the heart of the old Moroccan town, I was fortunate to have a strong enough WiFi connection to go about the original Bergamo plan — staying up late and streaming the game. I soon found out that ABC doesn’t broadcast outside of the United States, and though my connection was strong enough to search the dark web for access, nothing got by the magical forcefield Disney has protected themselves with. And so I did what I do best and cried for help. As the Buffs raced to a 14-0 lead, I voiced my frustrations in the SB Nation Slack channel, and Jon Woods, the brilliant leader he is (<- added by editor), found a solution. He suggested that I call someone on Facebook Messenger and have them point their camera at the TV. So I called my mom, whom I love dearly but inexplicably hadn’t called in my five weeks abroad. She was overjoyed to have me there, and I was overjoyed that Jon’s idea worked. (Mom, if you’re reading this, I love you and I’m sorry. I’ll call you again soon, I promise, and you can tell me more about how big our puppy is getting.)

You can’t really zoom in or focus the picture on these calls, so I could merely see white pixels failing to tackle red pixels. The box score suggested Adrian Martinez was the best collection of pixels on the field. Only via highlights on Twitter did I get to see the fake reverse flea flicker and Montez’s perfect pass to the incredible Shenault, Jay MacIntyre’s flexible touchdown catch and Shenault’s power run into the endzone. And, of course, I saw on Twitter everyone freaking out about CU’s lines getting dominated.

My high-definition broadcast.

It could have been my spotty WiFi connection, the terrible quality of my bootleg stream, or the 4,740 miles between me and the game, but it felt as if I had been detached from the action. I certainly felt dread when Nebraska scored 21 unanswered points to take the lead, but I didn’t melt down like I normally do in real life (or on Twitter). I felt barely anything when James Stefanou made two field goals to bring the Buffs to a 21-20 game. Five minutes later when Martinez dropped back and lofted a deep pass, I knew the whole way it was a perfect pass that would result in a 57-yard score and a 28-20 lead. Even when MacIntyre scored his second touchdown to bring the Buffs within one point, I thought it was a futile effort that would only make the pain of losing worse, so I chose to feel nothing instead of everything. This detachment was vindicated when Stefanou missed two late field goals, neither of which stood a chance against this cruel universe.

The Nebraska rivalry has always been distant to me. The only games that I can remember were similar drubbings, the most painful of which was the day Ndamukong Suh decided to stomp on my hopes and dreams. I joke on Twitter about the 62-36 game, but I have never seen the Buffs vanquish the Huskers. So please forgive for thinking that no matter how close the Buffs got to a game-winning score, they were doomed to lose and repeat this sad history that permeated my fandom.

The Buffs looked promising as Shenault and Tony Brown made clutch catches to move the chains, but losing was inevitable. Then on 2nd-and-9 with 1:18 left, Montez got sacked for the seventh time for a loss of 10. Then a false start moved the Buffs to a 3rd-and-24. Then Montez’s pass to MacIntyre sailed over his head. There was no way the Buffs could win from here — it was game over. But there was an intervention. MacIntyre had been hit high and an unnecessary roughness penalty had been called, the Buffs had life and J-Mac looked to be fine. It was then that by the good grace of an inexcusable error on the part of the Nebraska safety, Colorado had no other choice but to win this game. On the following play, Darrin Chiaverini rolled the dice with the Vegas Glance. Montez looked off the safety to give Shenault space down the sideline, stepped up and lofted a perfect pass. Viska did the rest, snagging a contested catch and falling into the endzone for the go-ahead score. I heard my mom cheering and the dogs barking at her, but I could only smile, a slight fissure as a joyous pressure was building up deep below.

After CU failed on their two-point conversion, there was time left for Nebraska to score the game-winning score, but as close as they could get down the field, the Buffs were never going to lose. When the Huskers did move effortlessly down the field, my mom drew silent just like every other Colorado fan. With three seconds left and Nebraska 20 yards away from the victory, the Buffs dialed up a blitz, pressured Andrew Bunch to his left and forced him to throw an off-balanced pass into the endzone. All the Colorado faithful held their breath as the pass floated there, bound by neither time nor space. When the pass finally sailed out of bounds, there was eruption of joy as Colorado had defeated their archrivals. I still felt detached from the celebration, but the pressure of false hope had finally ceded, and I began to laugh. The Buffs were on top in Lincoln, finally, and they could stay on top for a little while longer.

I wish I could be back home with my mom, my dogs and my press pass, but I have to be thousands of miles away trying my hardest to cover this team I love so dearly. This season is going to be special, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.