David Plati

Welcome to a notes and comment column in its 14th year, penned by CU Associate Athletic Director David Plati, who is in his 30th year as the Buffaloes’ director of sports information.

Plati-‘Tudes No. 98 ... this is one of very few numbers that hasn’t had a player earn All-America or All-Conference honors, so we’ll recognize it as the number of wins (93) plus ties (5) that Bill McCartney had in his 153-game career as CU head football coach from 1982-94. This is a special edition of P-‘Tudes, as I sat down with Coach Mac this week, just ahead of his on-campus salute ahead of his induction this December 10 into the College Football Hall of Fame. He will become the seventh Buffalo to be inducted into the prestigious Hall.

There are three events this week celebrating McCartney’s impending induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. On Thursday, there is the Buffalo Belles Luncheon at the UMC (11:30 a.m.); on Friday, Mac will be a part of the Pearl Street Stampede on the Pearl Street Mall in downtown Boulder, and then on Saturday will be honored at halftime.

Trivia Question

Who are the six Colorado players who are in the College Football Hall of Fame and in what order were they inducted?

Mac's Memorable Games

I asked Coach if he had a list of his top five favorite games. He said he didn’t know if he had five as he never wanted to limit or really rank them, so he threw a few at me. It wound up being ... five. His selections, but I wasn’t sure if they were really in any kind of specific order:

Colorado 16, Oklahoma State 12 (November 9, 1991). In fierce November winds in Stillwater, CU is down 12-10 in the final minute but had driven inside the Cowboy 20. “It’s third down and we have this strong wind in our face, so we decide to try the field goal at that time in case something went wrong with the snap, we could try it again on fourth down. So (OSU coach) Pat Jones called a time out to ice our kicker. Mark Chlebek (graduate assistant coach) comes up to me and says, ‘Great time for a fake!’ So we score on the fake, something like a 20-yard pass, and Jones said it was the greatest call he’s ever seen. I’m getting all these compliments and platitudes (no pun intended), and it was Chlebek’s idea. That’s a perfect example of the success that I had was because of all the people around me.”

(And the irony there was that CU took a 16-12 lead, but Jim Harper missed the much shorter extra point try, as the wind took it well outside the uprights.)

Colorado 27, Nebraska 12 (November 3, 1990). “This game was going to decide the Big Eight title for the second straight year. We had worn T-shirts that said, ‘The Real Blackshirts.’ We were ready to play, it was a cold, rainy day in Lincoln and we thought that’d be to our advantage, but whatever could go wrong, did go wrong and we were down 12-0 at halftime. In the locker room during the half, it starts out quiet, then Alfred Williams broke the silence and shouted at the top of his lungs, which you know was loud, ‘We got ‘em where we want ‘em!’ I realized at that moment that we were still in this game, that the kids had not given up. We rally with four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and that was the greatest single quarter of football I’ve ever been a part of.” (Pictured at left: Kanavis McGhee in Lincoln)

Colorado 27, Michigan 26 (September 24, 1994). “Don’t think I really need to say much here. Growing up in Michigan, coaching at Michigan, and coming back and winning like that was such a great reward as a coach.”

Colorado 10, Notre Dame 9 (Orange Bowl, January 1, 1991). “Winning the Orange Bowl and the national championship against a very good Notre Dame team, that will always be emotional for me. Coming from Michigan where we played Notre Dame every year, I understood them, knew what they stood for and what they were about; for us to beat them in that game was the highlight of highlights. We had played the nation’s toughest schedule, fought all the way, overcame a lot of adversity and then we get to the Orange Bowl and lose two of our key players to injury (quarterback Darian Hagan and outside linebacker Kanavis McGhee). We had two guys who were ready when they were called upon. CJ (Charles Johnson) comes into the game at quarterback and handled things with such poise and leadership. Paul Rose replaced Kanavis and had the game of his life.

"Both those guys can take that to their graves, knowing they answered the phone when they didn’t know it was going to ring. For us to win that way was really climatic for me.”

Colorado 20, Nebraska 10 (October 25, 1986). “We hadn’t beaten them in 19 years, the young guys on the team weren’t even born yet. We lost our first four games, but had started to show signs of life by winning a tough one at Missouri and then defeating Iowa State handily. Nebraska was ranked third in the nation, but we took it to them. We left the scoreboard on clear into Monday.”

The Not-So-Good

“The single worst moment was when we lost to CSU in 1986,” he said. “Not because they were CSU. We were coming off a season where we were the NCAA’s most improved team, and we had high expectations. But the reason that still bothers me to this day is that we had better players, more support, were in a stronger conference. And they came into Boulder and flat out beat us, out-fought us. It wasn’t because of bad breaks, bad calls, bad weather. They came in and took it to us. That's not to say that they didn't have some good players, they did; but when you have the better team overall and you don’t win, that’s a reflection of coaching. When you have the advantage in talent and you don’t win, those are the hardest defeats to digest.”

CSU won that game, 23-7; it led to an 0-4 start for the Buffaloes before they rebounded to finish the regular season with a 6-5 record, going 6-1 in Big Eight Conference play and earning an invitation to the Bluebonnet Bowl. CSU also was 6-5 that year but did not go bowling.

Ed Reinhardt. In the 1984 season opener against Michigan State, the sophomore tight end caught 10 passes for 142 yards and was the nation’s leading receiver. But the following week, in the waning moments against Oregon in Eugene, he was tackled after making a catch, with nothing extraordinary about the hit. He wobbled over to the sideline and CU’s quick-thinking trainer Andy Pruitt realized something was terribly wrong. Reinhardt suffered a subdural hematoma which developed a blood clot on the brain.

“The memory that I have is being in the hospital in Eugene and wondering if he was going to live. There were so many factors at play. His older brother (John) played at Nebraska, and Ed was an outstanding national recruit who chose CU over NU. He was like fresh driven snow, the ideal student-athlete, he did everything you asked him to do and he did it well. Nebraska arranged for a plane to fly his family to Eugene as they were there watching the older son play the same day. His parents are great people, and to watch them suffer and struggle through that was heart-breaking.

“The next week, we were scheduled to play at Notre Dame. Everyone wants to go to South Bend and play, but not us. What had happened to Ed took the life right out of us, stole our breath, and we couldn’t regroup for what turned out to be weeks. No one’s minds were on that game (ND won, 55-14), we were all praying that Ed would recover.”

The Not So Obvious

Mac shared some stories I had never heard. One was that as an assistant at Michigan, in the spring of 1981 the staff visited Nebraska as coaches at schools often do during spring practice to share ideas. While there, Mac queried the Husker coaches on the Big 8, including on what they thought about the Colorado job. “They responded that it was not competitive, not a good place to be, in general sort of running the place down,” he said. “A year later, I’m CU’s head coach, and what they said was one of the reasons I put Nebraska in red letters on our schedule when I got here.”

Colorado and Colorado State had last played in 1958, but the series went dormant for a quarter century. CU’s late athletic director, Eddie Crowder, was not in favor of resuming the rivalry, but if the schools didn’t do it on their own, it appeared politicians would get involved and force the two to play. The Buffaloes and Rams had resumed their basketball series in 1979 after not playing for 20 years, sans when the two were matched in an NCAA game in ’69.

“The night before the CSU game, Eddie stopped by the Holiday Inn (on 28th Street, where the team stayed in those days) and gave me a CU watch. He said, ‘I want you to have this as a personal gift from me, that I hold you in the highest regard and really respect you.’ I was appreciative for sure, but as he left, he gave me a clear signal when he said, ‘Whatever it takes...win this game.’

“Now understand that athletic directors never do that to coaches. There’s enough pressure as there is without a direct mandate so-to-speak. The assistant coaches were out watching high school games, and the team was watching a movie. So I thought about what to do; I got up after the movie ended and told them that no one was to leave the room until everybody stood up and said to everyone else in the room what to expect from them in this game tomorrow.

“The first to speak was Vince Rafferty (senior defensive tackle) who was from Longmont. A very good player, but he was kind of quiet. Well, he gets up and gets into a three-point stance...then he just growls and shouts, ‘I’m going to hit everything that moves!” And it ignited the room. One at a time, everyone got up, eyes glassed as the room was full of emotion, and said what they were going to do. Kent Davis (junior free safety) gets up and shouts, ‘You can count on me to bring it!’ (He would go on to deliver the hit of the game). Guys who weren’t sure if they would get into the game, or knew they probably wouldn’t, would say, ‘If I get in, I will play better than I’ve ever played before.’

“I’ve always believed and you’ve heard me say it many times, but the morale is to the physical as four is to one. The end result was that we knocked them into tomorrow, and Eddie didn’t ask for his watch back.” The Buffs won, 31-3, rushing for 233 yards, one yard less than what the Rams managed on total offense.

One of his favorite recruiting stories involves Michael Westbrook. Mac is in Detroit at Chadsey High School, but he’s there recruiting someone else. “I’m talking with his high school coach in his office, a guy I’ve known well for years, and we’re talking about who we were interested in. But he tells me that I really should be interested in Westbrook. I was being nice and listened but really wasn’t all that interested. So then he gets up, leaves the room and went to go get him. The second I saw him, I knew I was going to recruit him. And it turned out pretty darn good for all involved.”

A Handful Of My Mac Stories

You don’t work with a coach for 11 seasons and not come away with a truckload of memories, stories and special moments. There are the obvious special games we all remember, but the side stories are often funny. Or at least they are now. Here are three personal Mac moments I’ll never forget:

CBS & “Mac Time.” It was 1989, and Illinois is visiting Boulder for our first national game on CBS, Jim Nantz and Pat Haden to call the game. CBS would come on the air at 12:30; kickoff was set for 12:43. Back then, we took the field after the opponent (eventually we had to go first because we run Ralphie and a couple of opponents complained about her); that was with 3:30 on the countdown clock, meaning the team would appear and gather at the northeast corner at about the five minute mark. Well, I look down and see the team already gathered to run on the field with just over 11 minutes on the clock, and we’re wondering why they came out so early. The reason? What we all called “Mac Time”... you see, all the clocks in the old team house were set anywhere from five to 10 minutes fast so the players would be early for everything. But that day, everyone forgot about that; so Mac had equipment manager Bill Crowder call me in the press box, at which time he told me, “Mac wants you to tell CBS we’re starting this game right now!” Well, that didn’t happen. And to compound it, a couple of minutes later, we learned kick would be delayed until 12:48 for some technical reason. So back in the locker room they went.

The Fifth Down. The Sunday following the game, it was apparent this was exploding into a big deal, and rather quickly (and this was pre-Internet age). I’m in the copy room over next to the football meeting room at Gate 1 of Folsom Field, and Mac walks in to talk; he challenged me to get Chris Fowler to have ESPN show some of the slips our players suffered on Missouri’s crummy Omni-Turf field (we sent him a tape of 16 of them, and they ran all on Game Day the next Saturday). But I’m trying to convince Mac that we need to address the fifth down and not so much the field, but after he told me three times, his voice rising each time, “You’re not listening to what I’m saying!,” I backed off. Three days and some hundreds of letters postmarked from Columbia, Mo., later, he quipped to me, “I should have listened to what you were saying.”

Coach, We’re No. 2.” So we defeat Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, and know we won the Associated Press poll and a most of the recognized others (at the time, USA Today, the MacArthur Foundation, etc.), so we knew were consensus national champions. But everybody knows you’re really the sole recognized national champion if you win the two major polls, the AP and the UPI-Coaches. We left Miami the next afternoon, but the UPI was still collecting ballots from the coaches, and they were missing a handful when I spoke with them just prior to boarding the plane. No chance for any kind of update for four hours, we’re in the air, no cell phones, no TVs on planes back then. In Denver, at Stapleton Airport, our baggage was unloaded into a carousel so I had a chance to get to a pay phone and call UPI. You all know the news I received. So I had to slink over to Coach Mac and tell him the news, UPI had us second in the final poll, one point behind Georgia Tech. Mac gave me his classic stare and told me, “You get UPI on the phone, tell them they’re wrong and demand a recount!” The polls was obviously released by then so that wasn’t about to happen.


Mac’s been humble in his acceptance of college football’s greatest honor.

“This is a great honor, but honestly, I was a very small part of it,” Mac said. “This is the result of many coaches and players coming together to achieve one goal. At the beginning, no one knew where we would end up, remember, we won only seven games my first three years at Colorado. I will always be grateful and indebted to Colorado and (athletic director) Bill Marolt for sticking with me after we didn’t get off to such a great start.”

Trivia Answer

Colorado’s six Hall of Famers and the year they were inducted: Byron White (1952), Joe Romig (1984), Dick Anderson (1993), Bobby Anderson (2006), Alfred Williams (2010) and John Wooten (2012).

“Plati-‘Tudes” features notes and stories that may not get much play from the mainstream media; offers CU’s take on issues raised by those who have an interest in the program; answers questions and concerns; and provides CU’s point of view if we should disagree with what may have been written or broadcast. Have a question or want to know CU’s take on something?  E-mail Dave at david.plati@colorado.edu, and the subject may appear in the next Plati-‘Tudes.