BOULDER - If it's Thanksgiving week and I've got a plane to catch to cover a football game, my boarding pass should tell me I'm bound for Lincoln, Neb. Lucky me.
Not this year . . . Lincoln is in the rearview mirror and out of sight. Don't get me wrong, that's not a bad place for Lincoln to be and I'm feeling fine, thank you, about my employer's new Pac-12 identity.
But Year 1 of flying to Salt Lake City to cover the newly minted "Rumble In The Rockies" - aka, Colorado vs. Utah - will require an adjustment. "Rumble In The Rockies?" Did Michael Buffer find work in the Pac-12 office?
(Rumble, stumble, bumble, fumble, tumble . . . I can see some grave possibilities here for headline writers.)
My mind hasn't wrapped around the concept just yet, but I've got until 1:40 p.m. MST Friday to finish the wrapping and settle into Rice-Eccles Stadium. Still, CU and Utah haven't played football since Sept. 22, 1962. And what's more, Utah will be CU's first opponent on the day after Thanksgiving against someone other than Nebraska since 1995.
So forgive me if I'm fighting symptoms of Husker withdrawal - and I think, for at least a season or two, some Buffs followers, even a few Buffs players, would admit to something similar.
"There's something special about Nebraska, definitely . . . something there with the Nebraska rivalry. You can't explain it, it's crazy," offered CU quarterback Tyler Hansen on Tuesday morning. "I think anytime you're playing the day after Thanksgiving there's something special about it . . . but given time, I think maybe this (CU-Utah) will evolve into something else. You never know."
Nebraska Week - Big Red Week, Husker Week, whatever your preference - had a special place on the calendar. But apparently not so much in Nebraska; I emailed a sports-writing buddy in Omaha and asked him if he was hearing anyone - players, coaches, fans, media - say they would miss teeing it up with the Buffs on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
His answer, verbatim: "Sorry. Haven't heard a peep about Colorado."
Bigger (Ten) fish to fry, obviously . . .
Was CU-Nebraska a rivalry? If it looks like a rivalry, smells like a rivalry, sets up like a rivalry, sells tickets like a rivalry . . . it's still not necessarily a rivalry. CU Coach Jon Embree allowed - and very truthfully - that a rivalry can't be "forced."
Thanks to ex-Buffs Coach Bill McCartney, CU-Nebraska became a rivalry on this end, but there are plenty of Nebraskans who still might rather attempt something objectionable with an ear of corn than acknowledge it.
Michigan State views Michigan as its rival, Michiganders point at Ohio State. The Oklahoma-Oklahoma State Bedlam Series gets Okie Staters in a terrible wad, but OU always saves its evil eyes for Texas. You get the picture, I hope.
It'll take a while - if it ever happens - for CU and Utah to work up a good post-Thanksgiving loathe, but I don't know about this Rumble In The Rockies. Neither does Buffs defensive tackle Will Pericak.
"Rumble In The Rockies? OK," he said with a smirk. "It doesn't matter. It's a football game. We're going to play a football game no matter (who) we play."
Neither did Pericak become giddy about Friday's winning team helping its school claim an all-sports trophy: "I mean, a trophy's a trophy," he said. "I don't play for trophies. I play to play football and to win."
When CU left the Big 12 for the Pac-12 and Nebraska bolted the Big 12 for the Big Ten, I have a strong suspicion that some deep thought at the new conference levels went into scheduling season-ending games for both the Buffs and the Huskers.
How else to explain CU closing against an opponent whose school colors are crimson and white (close enough to Big Red and white) and Nebraska closing against an opponent (Iowa, also on Friday) whose colors are black and gold? Coincidence maybe.
A big fan of Thanksgiving Day and post-Thanksgiving games, Embree acknowledged that the Buffs will get glimpses of red in Rice-Eccles on Friday, but added, "But not the Big Red, I guess. I'm sure we'll go in the stadium and see a lot of red. But it looks like on tape a lot of their fans wear black - I guess it's a color in their scheme . . . so I'm seeing more black than red in the stands. Maybe that'll help us, too."
On the New York segment of the Pac-12's West Coast/East Coast media blitz, Embree and Utah Coach Kyle Whittingham discussed the rivalry - "if it is or isn't," Embree recalled. "They've got BYU as their rival and they've played them every year. So whether they see us as their rival and vice versa, as I said a few weeks ago, that stuff kind of works itself out. If it is going to be Utah, then it'll happen. It's not to be Utah but someone else, it'll happen. I think that remains to be seen."
On Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference, Whittingham said the game's date could lend itself to a rivalry developing, but added, "It could be anywhere from this year to never. It's something that just has to happen naturally based on circumstances or a series of events. Or one event that I don't want to say causes ill feelings . . ."
Such a scenario - maybe not with "ill feelings," but certainly one rife with disappointment for the Utes - could develop this year. A CU upset would end Utah's chances of going to the Pac-12 championship as the South Division representative. The Utes need to defeat the Buffs, then have Cal dispose of Arizona State later Friday, followed by USC dispatching UCLA on Saturday. Utah's likely reward: a trip to Eugene, Ore., to be nibbled on by the Ducks.
Embree has played and coached in Thanksgiving weekend games in the NFL and likes the idea of a Friday-after game. "But I'd rather it be at home all the time," he joked. "There's something about playing in that time frame, playing on that day or the day after. It makes it special and gives it a uniqueness. And I think it's good for the kids, too. We're out of school right now. To give them something that makes it a little bit special so it's not a routine week for them."
The idea of retaining a Friday-after-Thanksgiving game against whoever appeals to Pericak: "Growing up, every day after Thanksgiving, there was a game," he said. "It's something about playing in that game; not many teams play the day after Thanksgiving. I'd like to see it stick around."
But as for getting misty about not lining up against the Huskers on Friday, let's just say Pericak can do without your box of Kleenex. "Nah, I don't miss the Big Red," he said. "I'd rather play in Salt Lake City than Lincoln, Neb. any day. It's another game and you get to go play a good football team. It doesn't really matter to me."
Upon further review, doesn't matter much to me either. SLC or Lincoln? Tahiti or Tupelo? No contest. Cue up Michael Buffer and "let's get ready to ruuuumbuuuuhl . . ." I'm all in.