SALT LAKE CITY -
Jon Embree is an optimist, always believing his football team has a chance. But if you had asked him about it on Wednesday he might have said the chance of a win on Friday at Utah was parked somewhere between slim and no way.
A dismal Wednesday practice gave way to, in Embree's words, "an ugly" team meeting during which he might have succumbed to the frustrations of a two-win season and six road losses that had been taped to the back end of the Colorado program's 24-game out-of-state losing streak.
Thursday's walk-through was little better than Wednesday's work, and for just an instant or two, Embree might have seen The Streak leaving Salt Lake City intact with the Buffaloes on Friday evening.
But when "wheels up" occurred at about 7:05 p.m., CU's load had been lightened.
Left behind was the road losing streak that started in 2007 and had stretched for almost five full seasons. Embree's first CU team waited until Game 13 to end it, persevering against dark odds to defeat Utah 17-14 and remove "the stain" that Embree said had been the Buffs' highest priority in 2012.
"This was the No. 1 goal this season - to end this streak. To get that one is special," Embree said. "This is awesome, for them to finally get there and see what this feels like . . . the tradition at Colorado is singing the fight song when the plane lands. We're going to get to do that now."
And they did . . . but we'll get to that later.
When the Buffs had dispatched the Utes and reassembled in their locker room, Embree thanked them "for taking this stain off the program. That's a stain on a great program - a program that's won a national championship . . . Heismans, Thorpes, Butkuses . . . that was a stain that needed to be removed and we did it."
As bad as the two days of work preceding their first trip to SLC as a Pac-12 member were, the Buffs apparently began reshaping themselves on Thursday night at, of all places, a movie. Or maybe the reformation began taking place when Embree talked to his players after they had seen In Time.
"The question that was asked was, 'What do you do with the time you have,'" Embree said. "That's what we talked about. This team (as of Friday at kickoff) has a life of 31/2 hours . . . what are we going to do with that time? How are we going to maximize it? Are we going to finally find a way to put an end to this streak in this last 31/2 hours that we have as a team?"
For senior defensive end David Goldberg, what had to be done before kickoff required about a 3-foot strip of adhesive tape and a black felt marker. On the tape, Goldberg wrote, "How Do You Want 2 Be Remembered?" and taped it to the inside of CU's locker room door at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
If his teammates didn't see it when they took the field, they weren't looking. Goldberg briefly addressed the team before leaving the locker room, emphasizing how close he was to them, how they were a family and reminding all that ending The Streak was in their hands.
"I couldn't picture us going out any better way," said Goldberg, one of 28 CU seniors. "It's in (the underclassmen's) hands now. We've gone through a lot with this team. We've lost close games against good teams, we've had a lot of injuries, a coaching change, no bye week - just a lot of stuff. To make it end how we feel every game should end, it's monumental. As a senior, I hope this game springboards the program.
"I can't put it into words. I'm happy that the stain is gone from the program . . . it should have ended a long time ago, but we'll take it."
Removing the stain, ending The Streak, didn't happen smoothly. CU played an inspired first half, leading 10-0, then watched Utah absorb the emotion of Senior Day and finally realize its chance to possibly win the Pac-12 South was slowly being tugged away by a three-touchdown underdog.
The Utes also got an unwanted emotional surge when offensive tackle Sam Brenner suffered a neck injury early in the third quarter and was taken by ambulance to a local hospital. His injury occurred in the midst of Utah's first touchdown drive and halted play for almost 10 minutes. "They got a huge boost of momentum when (Brenner) went down," CU defensive tackle Curtis Cunningham said. "You've got to hope he's OK, but it really lifted them."
It proved to be just one of the obstacles CU encountered. There were ill-timed false starts and defensive off-sides, a questionable personal foul call that enabled what could have been Utah's winning or game-tying drive. Leading rusher Rodney Stewart reinjured an ankle and was sidelined for most of the last half. Circumstances that were in or outside the Buffs' control all seemed to be crashing around them.
He might not have said it at the time, but in retrospect Embree wouldn't have wanted it any other way. "I believed and had confidence that they could do it," he said. "It's great that it happened this way. It was great that it wasn't easy. It took everything we had to do it. It took every player we brought to do it - and that's what we needed.
"These are the new Buffs, the new Buffs. We're going to come to compete and find a way to win games on the road. These guys showed them how to do that; this is the new standard for 2012. It's over."
Utah placekicker Coleman Peterson, who entered the game having missed only four attempts in 11 games (he was 17-of-21), missed three tries Friday - the last a 48-yarder into a crosswind with 3 seconds to play. The Buffs killed the final 2 seconds on a Tyler Hansen kneel-down and began celebrating like a CU team hadn't done since 2007.
Embree considered calling a timeout to ice Peterson, "but they were kind of rushing" to get the field goal team in place. "So I figured just let them go . . . then I was glad I decided to take the wind in the fourth quarter, because I figured it would help us."
Did it ever . . . and what followed in the CU locker room were "tears, relief, singing and a little redemption," Embree said. "A lot of these guys, it'll be the last time they'll play - and they can say they won."
For the sake of heading into recruiting with a cloud (and that nasty stain) removed, Embree and his staff didn't want to leave SLC with the road plague hanging over them. Removing it, he said, "helps us with recruiting . . . we've played well at times and we're showing flashes. As I've been telling recruits, it's not about what we are right now, it's what we're going to be. They can see us for that, because we're going to be something. We are.
"I want kids who want to come here and be a part of that - and this win helps us. I told these guys they're spring-boarding us into 2012. When you sit there and look at Washington and some of these other programs, they've played well at the end . . . it shows the young guys how to fight and compete on the road and win, shows them how to play with passion, emotion and energy and with the focus on the road. This does a lot for our program; this is a program win."
But you could tell the program needs some work in reacting to road wins. At about 7:28 p.m., when the Buffs charter was making its final approach to DIA, Embree commandeered the aircraft's PA system and announced first that all of the traveling party would receive a game ball commemorating Friday's win.
Then he said, "We want this timed up right . . . when the wheels hit the runway, we want to be saying 'Fight, Fight, Fight'" - the last three words of CU's fight song.
As the aircraft descended, the traditional pre-song hand clapping began. Then came the singing. The plane probably was 150 feet above the runway when "Fight, Fight, Fight" erupted and finished the song.
About 50 feet lower, the Buffs tried again, this time finishing the song's final stanza and "Fight, Fight, Fight" a couple of seconds before touch down.
Closer . . . but not quite there.
Said Athletic Director Mike Bohn with a chuckle: "We're a little out of practice with this."
Not surprising; there's been no reason to end a road trip with any song since 2007. So the Buffs' timing was a bit off; their final afternoon of football couldn't have been "timed up" any better. The Streak was stricken, The Stain removed.