PULLMAN, Wash. - After a week of Buffs bashing nationally, locally and, some suggested, even internally, the only real antidote was to answer on the field. Colorado football had become Bottom Ten fodder, a sad punchline after maybe as bad an oh-no-and-three start as the school has suffered through.
The suffering stopped Saturday afternoon. Down 17 points in the fourth quarter, CU stormed back with three touchdowns in the final 7:06, tied the score on quarterback Jordan Webb's 4-yard middle draw and won on Will Oliver's extra point with 9 seconds showing.
It was a savory afternoon for CU, with big-playmakers sprinkled throughout the 66 available players who traveled. Webb, the Kansas transfer, ran for a pair of scores and threw for another pair. Tailback Tony Jones had a career-best 84-yard TD run and tight end Nick Kasa a career-best 70-yard TD reception. Both were part of the near-miraculous fourth-quarter.
But when it came time to award game balls, a pair went to Jamie Guy and John Snelson. No, they're not on the roster, but you can find them on the CU staff directory.
Here's their back-story and why coach Jon Embree believed they were worthy:
Early last week, Guy, CU's director of sports video, woke up with the idea of using former players to tell a roster full of young players "what it means to be a Buff" and "what singing the fight song means to them." Guy approached Embree, who immediately got on board and told Guy and his guys to get to work.
With help from Snelson, his top assistant, and student assistant Connor Cassidy, Guy got in touch with about a dozen former players, explained the project and asked for their help. Needless to say, Guy only had to ask once.
It wasn't meant as an in-house answer to anyone on the outside, not an attempt to silence any critics. What it turned out to be was a meticulously edited, powerfully presented 15-minute video that Embree showed to his team on Friday night. (You'll be able to see it in its entirety at the Parade of Buffs rally on Thursday night at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield. Snippets will run on CUBuffs.com in the four-day run-up to the event.)
With such a young team and with a recent resume so short on success, Embree and his staff had believed the Buffs' past was being lost. One assistant coach told me early in the week of arriving in Boulder a couple of decades ago and having "the torch" passed on to him and his freshman class by former players such as Mickey Pruitt, David Tate and Eric McCarty.
When the current crop of freshmen arrived, not only was there no one to pass the torch, the flame had all but gone out. Guy sensed that, too. From about 9 a.m. Thursday to 6:30 a.m. Friday - in time for the team's early afternoon departure to Spokane - he had contacted and interviewed former CU players from the 1960s (Estes Banks), the '70s (Brian Cabral), the '80s (Mike Marquez, Embree) and the '90s (Eric Bieniemy, James Hill, Kanavis McGhee, Alfred Williams, Chad Brown, Charles Johnson, among others).
About three weeks of work was crammed into just over two days. And as Snelson applied the final editing touches early Friday morning after an all-nighter, it turned out that anymore time might have been unnecessary.
An emotional Brown spoke of what the Bill McCartney mantra - "The Pride And Tradition Of The Colorado Buffaloes Will Not Be Entrusted To The Timid Or The Weak" - means to him. Brown said he only needed to say, "The Pride . . ." to his 13-year-old son - and his boy would finish the sentence.
One of Brown's most regretful memories as a Buff was when McCartney covered up the sign in the team's auditorium because of a lackluster Saturday. "It hurt me to my core," he said.
Bieniemy spoke passionately and it turned out, prophetically, of what it means to be a Buff: "You're going to get knocked down. Are you willing to stand up and get knocked down again? It's not what you do in the first and second rounds, it's what happens in rounds 14 and 15."
This came from Marquez: "You'll have fans and family behind you, but nobody will be behind you like former players."
And this from Williams: "It's been three games . . . are you ready to have some fun, ready to get it done? We're with you."
The current Buffs watched the video and were moved. "It meant everything . . . I started tearing up," said junior defensive back Parker Orms. "This program means so much to so many people, me and my family. It always has. I'm just glad these guys got an opportunity to sing the fight song (Saturday) and know what that means, know what it feels like. The locker room was the greatest since I've been here."
"It gave me chills, honestly," Webb said of the video. "We don't take that legacy lightly. After seeing that, I think some of the freshmen really got a sense of what this place is about."
Count freshman tailback/fullback Christian Powell among them. He called the video "personal. Everybody who was interviewed, that came from the heart. It was very inspirational and I think it carried over to today."
Embree had no doubt that it did: "It was huge," he said.
In 10-minute individual meetings with his players on Monday and Tuesday, Embree talked to them about the 1986 CU team, its poor start (0-4) "and what we did as a team to fix it. That video tied in exactly with what we wanted to share with the players. It let them know that former players are behind them. There are a lot of guys who have called in, have heard about the video . . . they wanted to put their two cents in. It's something that's truly special."
That the Buffs' win unfolded as it did was even more special. Behind by 17 points in the fourth quarter, Embree said, "No one blinked," before adding with a chuckle: "And now we've got a two-game road winning streak in the Pac-12. Those are two very good things as we build this program; you've got to win on the road at some point to do the things we want to do as a program. I'm glad we didn't have to wait until the last game to do it this year."
I asked Embree if Saturday provided any vindication after the bashing he, his staff and his team took last week after the 69-14 beat-down at Fresno State sent the Buffs spiraling to 0-3.
"No," he answered, "and that's fine. It's not about vindication. It doesn't affect how I believe, how our team believes in each other. Some of that bashing came about because somebody wants to act like they're on the inside and state their opinion. When you see that video of the real Buffs talking to our team, talking about what it means to be a Buff - that's why it doesn't matter. This program is bigger than one guy."
Here's a hint: He wasn't talking about the Guy who got a game ball.
OK, so it's now one win in four games, with their second Pac-12 game (UCLA Saturday at Folsom Field) looming to close out the month. Are the Buffs finally free of all that ails them? You know the answer to that, as does Embree.
But he's been telling his players (and anyone else who still wanted to listen) that if they kept working, kept playing and kept the faith, something would break their way. It had to and it did Saturday. Whether it happens again soon . . . who knows?
Here's what we do know: When their chartered jet touched down late Saturday night at DIA, the Buffs were singing. Loudly, gloriously. And they knew this, too: Buffs from way, way back were singing with them.