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Colorado Football: It’s Back

What a long expedition its been.

2016 Alamo Bowl Photo by Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

I’ve been standing outside of Sports Authority Field for entirely too long. I got here early and have been stuck in this mass of people called a line for over 30 minutes. For some reason, only one gate is open. This gives me a lot of time to talk to my friends and think about this game. This season. This team. It is the biggest game in Coach MacIntyre’s career. Lose this opener, to CSU of all teams, and you are staring at a bowl-less season and very serious questions about job security. I can’t shake the feeling that the Buffs are about to drop this game and that this season is about to go poorly. CSU has a strong offensive line and running game. CU is a terrible defense at stopping the run. If the Rams can control the clock, they can control the game. It’s a good CSU team, but in a season where CU needs six wins, this is a must win game and it doesn’t feel like CU will win. I’m standing outside an NFL stadium preemptively lamenting the failure of my team.

I was so wrong.

After worrying my friends with the amount of nerves I was showing, I heard from somewhere in the crowd that Sefo had scored a touchdown and the fight song broke out. I began to relax a little. But really, truly, I wasn’t convinced that this game would be different, this season would be different, this team would be different until the end of the 1st quarter. 21-0. CU had more touchdowns than CSU had first downs. The Buffs were treating the Mountain West team like an upper-level Pac-12 team should. The offense was unstoppable and the defense was impenetrable. It was bliss.

This rambling of words is trying to commemorate CU’s season. It is a very hard season to put into words, especially in a normal amount of words. But I’m going to try my best. To do this, I’m not going to dive into the stats or the numbers or the accolades. I won’t go over each game and discuss the happenings. This year is less about the minutia, the stat increases or the record. Well, it’s mostly about the record. But the point is, this year is about a group of young men who absolutely refused to leave Boulder without seeing the University of Colorado back to where it is supposed to be. It is about a coach who had a vision for the program four years ago and had the iron will and determination to accomplish the goals set for the team. Most importantly, it is about the complete synchronicity in which these two units acted.

When did you know that Colorado was good this year? When did you know that the Buffs were shrugging off and stomping on the ten years spent in college football purgatory? One win for each year that CU has struggled to climb back to their chair at the big boy table, one win to move each monkey off the back of the program. I knew after the first quarter in the Big House. The score was 21-7 and all 3000 or so Buff fans that were in the upper bowl behind the end zone had allowed themselves hope. Not just for the Michigan game, but for the whole year. I had just watched a team, a 4-9 team the previous year, with all the same players, go into the biggest stadium in America and punch a top 5 team in the mouth. There was no apprehension or intimidation. As Coach MacIntyre is fond of saying, the team didn’t blink. Play after play was made, and CU looked like the better team. For 15 minutes, at least. I have never heard 100,000 fans that quiet and I don’t know if I ever will. That’s when I realized. This team is good. The defense was salty and Sefo was slinging that day. A sign of things to come.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my favorite moments in a season full of amazing moments. To end the half, Sefo Liufau is hurt and heads to the locker room early. CU fans can feel the game slipping away and without a healthy Sefo, the season begins to fade as well. Who’s the backup? A freshman in Steven Montez? What could he possibly do? It was all falling apart. Then the second half opens, and who trot-limps out there but Sefo Liufau. Okay, protect him a bit with some quick passes and runs. No. First play of the half, he drops back, sees the pressure, and LAUNCHES a ball before being crumpled by a giant man. In-stride, Shay Fields, six. 75 yards of grit were put into that play and it helped cement Sefo in Colorado lore. This man just suffered a high ankle sprain. He could put no weight on his plant foot and couldn’t step into his throws. He knows this and the defense knows this. Disregarding his own health or feelings, he made the perfect play and was punished. Before I launch into too long of a rant about one of the finest leaders I’ve ever seen, I’ll stop myself. I’ll boil it down to this- no one could have led this Colorado team better this year. His toughness,, determination, knowledge and drive were all necessary for CU to do what they did this year. Jake Shapiro had a fantastic tweet that says it very well:

The Buffs sit at an encouraging 2-1 and face a tough Oregon squad. The luster had not worn off the Ducks yet and CU was starting a backup quarterback. How wonderful that game would be. Steven Montez puts up a great performance, Bryce Bobo makes two highlight reel touchdown catches (only one counted), but the real story was the sealing of the win. A sign that CU would finish games rather than letting the other team dictate the last 15 minutes.

No play does a better job of encapsulating this season. Players make plays, players win games. Witherspoon, the protypical CU player. A lightly recruited senior who has starred in his role all year. He thoroughly beat Darren Carrington and made the play, sent the season on the right path. Immediately, he is joined by what seems like the rest of the defense. A handful of Power 5 offers shared between all of them, they celebrated in Oregon’s end zone, the slaying of the giant complete. They proved to themselves that they could beat anybody, and they beat just about everybody in front of them. The Buffs snatched victory on a day when everything was stacked against them. On the road, backup quarterback, enemy has goal to go. And they won. CU was back.

Now, my favorite moment of the season was the Arizona State game. Folsom Field had Folsom Magic again starting with that game. There had been two home games before ASU, Idaho State and Oregon State, but neither brought big crowds and they were over by 4 P.M. Arizona State started just before the sun went down, creating an amazing backdrop, and the stands were packed. Not quite a sellout, but the student section was large and in charge. Arizona State was 5-1, on the cusp of the Top 25. It was supposed to be a hard fought game. And the Buffs absolutely dominated. From the tip, CU just pushed the Sun Devils around, a program that had never lost to CU. The previous meetings as Pac-12 foes were blowouts for ASU. And, like the whole season, CU flipped the script. Utter domination in front of 45,000 fans. A perfect Saturday. Plus, another great moment:

“Jugular apprehension” indeed.

This season was about a group of young men who absolutely refused to leave Boulder without seeing the University of Colorado back to where it is supposed to be. It is about a coach who had a vision for the program four years ago and had the iron will and determination to accomplish the goals set for the team. Most importantly, it is about the complete synchronicity in which these two units acted. The coach had to be this coach, the players had to be these players. These men that had won 10 games in three years before this, two conference games before this. The Buffs that put in all the work necessary to beat giants and punk kids recruited ahead of them. The season did not end the correct way. It was not a storybook ending, and perhaps gave the fans the grounding necessary for next year. The Buffs finally ran into their ceiling and couldn’t quite get there. Couldn’t effort out those last games. But that shouldn’t stain their accomplishments the previous twelve games. The Buffaloes acheived a top-10 ranking, won their division, and exorcised their demons.

The 2016 college football season was one full of great moments for the mighty Buffaloes. Like fulcrums, these points meant another milestone, another sign, another comeback. Another statement that CU was downtrodden no more. Sefo’s pass, Witherspoon’s interception, Lindsay’s run, these are obelisks to resurgence that supporters will remember forever. Times you can point to and say, “it’s back.”