Moments like the end of the 2015 Rocky Mountain Showdown don't happen very often. The last sporting event I attended where I felt an equal or greater emotional release took place on December 7, 2013 when Askia Booker Euro-stepped into a thirty footer that turned Coors Events Center into a powderkeg.
If Saturday night's victory didn't bring quite the same sense of relief and elation as the one from two years ago, it was certainly close. Granted, the football team only had a one game losing streak against CSU; compared to the nineteen-game slide the basketball team snapped, but the stakes for this game were far higher.
The student section didn't storm the field (thank God), but the reaction was just about every bit as passionate as it was on that frigid December afternoon. If it seems odd that I'm comparing this to a basketball game, it's because I have never attended a CU football game where there was this type of reaction. You'd probably have to go back to 2009 or 2010 to find a moment of comparable intensity.
Perhaps one of the reasons I keep comparing Saturday to the Kansas game is that the games were remarkably similar. The Buffs fell behind early, and the groans of "not again" could be heard loud and clear over the stunned silence of the rest of the fans. Then they came back and took the lead, before allowing the other team to tie the game on multiple occasions without ever actually giving the lead back.
This type of seesaw back and forth creates unbelievable highs and lows and forces the fan to remain on edge until the very final act of the game. When you have a walk-off victory, all that adrenaline comes pouring out at once, and you get something like this:
That was the conclusion of one of the most exciting and terrifying games I've ever watched in-person. The opening was not nearly as much fun.
I parked around 3:30 in one of the Pepsi Center lots and walked uphill towards the stadium. There were some very drunk CSU fans saying all sorts of witty things about the Buffs (mostly things that rhymed with "Luck"). One girl was wearing a white shirt that said "Ram the Buffs" on it, accompanied by a tasteful illustration of that phrase. I thanked her for supporting CU by wearing white, and she seemed perplexed. Hopefully her confusion cleared up once she arrived at Mile High and saw an entire side of the stadium decked out in white.
The whiteout was something that Folsom Frenzy, along with the team and the university, had worked very hard all week to promote, but I was worried about how many people were actually going to wear white right up until I arrived at Gate 9 and saw that nearly all of the CU students waiting in line had gotten the memo. I would say that between 90 and 95% of students wore white, along with 75-80% of the general public, which is especially impressive when you consider the fact that no white shirts were made or given out specifically for this game. It was up to people to bring their own, and boy did they ever.
Buffs fans, you guys made the whiteout look amazing! Thank you for making the Folsom Frenzy look awesome last night! pic.twitter.com/3KColrmPo3— Folsom Frenzy (@FolsomFrenzy) September 20, 2015
Buff fans were not, however, as timely as they were well dressed, and there were still many empty seats in the student section when the game kicked off. Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, there were as many CSU students by kickoff as there had been overall in either of the last two years. Much was made of the student ticket numbers, and CSU's 11,000 students eventually filled the club level behind the north end-zone for the first time in several years. Eventually, the CU student section nearly filled the south stands, and I would say it was slightly bigger than last year's.
Despite the overall ticket sales war being technically won by CU, it felt ever so slightly like a pro-CSU crowd on Saturday, for probably the first time ever. It wasn't an obvious difference, but I would guess there were probably about a thousand more Ram fans than Buff fans in attendance. This made for a fantastic atmosphere, the likes of which haven't been seen at the Rocky Mountain Showdown in nearly a decade. The largest crowd since 2008 was spurred on by a hell of a game, and both sides of the stadium were standing for large parts of the fourth quarter and overtime.
After much hand-wringing and nail-biting through the first 25 minutes of the game, the long touchdown from Sefo to Shay Fields finally broke the ice in the student section, who launched into the classic (if not particularly clever) "Sucks to be a CSU Ram" chant in full force. The Devin Ross TD inspired a similar reaction. Diego Gonzalez's 52-yard field goal, despite coming on the heels of a deflating penalty that wiped out a touchdown, still got a decent "Ole" chant going.
If the student section looked insane after the game winning kick, I can only imagine what it looked like as Kenneth Olugbode was streaking down the sideline for a pick-six. It was absolutely bonkers. My friends and I were bouncing off each other like popcorn. What followed the insanity was a false feeling of security. For the first time all game, I felt a collective exhale. It seemed like the Buffs had this one.
Of course, it wasn't that easy. The nerves came back after CSU's touchdown drive, and they only got worse when CU failed to score and had to give the ball back to the Rams. After a big defensive stop gave the ball back to the Buffs with just over a minute remaining, we got our first "I Believe That We Will Win" chant of the night, and it was a good one. The following drive was tense and frustrating, and several people around me took exception to Sefo throwing the ball away twice in a row at midfield. After booing the refusal to overturn the spot on Sefo's third down run, everyone went nuts when Spruce caught the ball over the middle to set up the field goal. We linked arms, and sweated out two time outs before the kick. I really thought it was gonna be over right there. It wasn't. The deflation after Diego missed that field goal was almost total. I was certain we had blown our chance and that we were now doomed to lose.
My mood improved somewhat when CU won the coin toss to start overtime, but quickly deteriorated after the targeting call moved the ball all the way to the 13 yard line. The defense held, and the field goal unit came on the field. I was really not expecting a block; in fact it was just about the last thing on my mind. Those kind of things don't happen for CU. At least, they didn't use to. When the ball deflected off Tedric Thompson's tricep and fell harmlessly to the turf, I realized we were actually going to win. It was really gonna happen. Of course, that didn't stop me from feeling incredibly nervous when the time actually came for Diego's shot at redemption. Once again, everyone linked arms. Once again, Mike Bobo called timeout. This time, the kick went straight through, and all hell broke loose.
I found myself hugging or high-fiving anyone I could find, while simultaneously screaming as loud as possible with what was left of my voice. By the time I focused my attention back to the field, I saw a stream of players heading towards the student section.
Christian Powell was among the first players to make it over, and he hopped up right in front of me. More players followed, and eventually the entire team came over, hoisting the Centennial Cup. For the second consecutive week, we sang the fight song. This time there were about 7,000 more people singing.
Jered Bell, who had just played in his final Rocky Mountain Showdown, was sitting in front of me to my right with a look of amazement that bordered on disbelief. All I could think to say to him was "You did it, man. You did it." Actually, I may have accidentally said "We did it" once. In that moment, it certainly felt that way. A quick glance at the sea of white would not have revealed which people were players and which were fans; only the fact that they were all together.