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Woody Paige: Get ready for a Rocky Mountain Showdown

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Posted at 3:58 PM, Sep 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-01 17:58:39-04

DENVER -- From 1893-1911, and various long stretches after, the football game between Colorado and Colorado State could have been labeled The Rocky Mountain Beatdown.

The Buffaloes head-butted the Rams in the state “”rivalry’’.

A rivalry is supposed to be a conflict, a competition, a challenge.

CU and CSU were sorts of the fights I had with Joey Buchwald when we were neighbor kids. I always went home with a bloody nose and a black eye, and Joey went home with all the marbles (literally) and a scraped fist.

On Feb. 10, 1893, when Grover Cleveland was the President and Boulder and Ft. Collins weren’t much more than frontier towns (look at the photos from then), the two schools met in some strange sports called football. Only 17 years earlier the Colorado territorial (there was no state) legislature created the University of Colorado at Boulder (Canon City was the other candidate), the Colorado School of Mines in Golden and the Colorado Agricultural College in Ft. Collins.

In 1877 CU had 15 students.

It’s a wonder that the schools could put together an actual team in 1983. The Aggies, as students would be called, didn’t really.

The boys from Boulder prevailed 70-6. Who was keeping score, and why?

That was an indication of games to come for a decade. In the first eight, Colorado outscored their state brothers 334-18. I’m not making this up. Colorado Agricultural College didn’t win any.

Maybe there should have been cow-chip-throwing contests.

Then, on Nov. 10, 1906, there was dancing in the unpaved streets of Ft. Collins. The two schools tied 0-0. It was a victory for the Agsters.

Especially when Colorado won the next five before Colorado Agriculture College beat the University of Colorado 21-0. Glory be.

In the 61st game of the series, in 1958, the animal husbandries defeated the Buffaloes 15-14, and CU said: “”Enough.’’

The Buffs refused to play the Rams again for 25 years.

When I arrived in Denver in 1974, I couldn’t understand why the two schools didn’t play annually. Washington played Washington State; Auburn played Alabama; Tennessee played Vanderbilt; Oklahoma played Okie State, and Wyoming played... Well, there was no other school in the state the Cowboys really could play.

In 1983, the series finally was revived. (The truth is, the late CU coach and later athletic director Eddie Crowder didn’t want to play CSU, and the two schools were in different conferences and different worlds.)  Colorado blew out the Colorado State University (which had shed its agricentric name and became a university.

The Buffs and the Rams played regularly (but not every year) while people like me pushed and prodded the two schools to play annually in a big showdown in Denver at Mile High Stadium.  Ultimately, the school presidents (who loved football) and the athletic directors and the coaches agreed to let the boys play in The City sort of halfway between the campuses.

The Rocky Mountain Showdown was born in 1998. 105 years after the two schools first had gathered on a football field.

Before the largest college football crowd in the state’s history, more than 70,000, Colorado prevailed easily 42-14.

Oh, here we go again, the Boulderites said. Oh, no, said the Ft. Collinsianians.

I had been tear-gassed in the South covering civil rights marches, but I had never been tear-gassed at a sports event until Sept. 4, 1999, at Mile High Stadium.

Colorado State actually ran Colorado into the ground, and the score was virtually the same as the year before (41-14), but completely reversed.  Afterward, the CSU students got a bit rowdy (and drunk) in the North stands, and the police got a bit over-reactive, shooting off tear gas that wafted (tear gas wafts, and it blows) onto the center of the field where I was interviewing the celebrant Rams players.

We all start crying, but those weren’t tears of joy.

Now, folks, we had a true Rocky Mountain Showdown.

Particularly when CSU won a classic over CU the net year 28-24 when the game moved to the new stadium.

Since 1999, Colorado has clutched the Centennial Cup (the trophy given to the winner) 10 times, and CSU has owned it seven times. The past four games have been split.

Now, that’s a rivalry.

Sadly, though, the Rocky Mountain Showdown had lost a lot of his luster, and school presidents and athletic directors and coaches, and the people in Denver and even Boulder and Ft. Collins, weren’t as excited about the game as much anymore.

The size of the crowds had diminished to fewer than 50,000.  CU wanted the extra home game for its business sponsors and fans in Boulder, and because the university had switched to the Pac-12 and had to play more league games. CSU began talking about and eventually started construction on, a new campus stadium. (Hughes Stadium is in the sticks and away from the action.)

The sponsors of the game did an outright awful job of promoting the game. CSU supporters, who always claim they get no respect in comparison to CU, wouldn’t buy more than 15,000 tickets. And, for some idiotic reasons, tickets were not sold cheaply, or given away, to high school students and kids to fill up the stadium.

It was sad to watch the tomfoolery of the sponsors and watch a half-empty stadium.

I finally agreed with the detractors that it was time to take the game and go home to Boulder and Ft. Collins. There were sufficient non-CU and non-CSU fans in the Denver metro area who cared to see a game. In the South, if you turn on the lights at any SEC stadium, 100,000 people will show up to watch sprinkler system go off.

But CU hasn’t been strong for years, and CSU is up and back, and this is pro football country.

CU and CSU did decide to extend the Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver through 2020, but, after that season, the location for the game will be up to the host school for that year. CU will play in Boulder to get a sixth home game, and who blames the Buffs, and CSU will have its own on-campus stadium and probably will won’t another game and a home-field advantage in Ft. Collins.

Denver let this game get away.  Too bad, too sad. There should have been 75,000 at the stadium every year. There probably will be about 55,000 (in seats) Friday night.

This game, this week has meant a lot over the years in Denver and to Denver, but apparently not enough to the business community, the media, football fans and the general population.

The players and the student bodies seemed to be the only factions who cared. There are usually 50 players, or more, on the two teams who grew up in Colorado, and playing at the palace was a dream. The students loved to spend a day and an evening tailgating and enjoying the game.

Why not go down and see it?

Before it’s too late.

The two schools have been doing this since the 19th century.  The game has meaning, and will again.

Colorado State and Colorado will put on a good show in the showdown.

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