Let me be clear: I did not graduate from, or ever take classes at, the University of Colorado. I don’t have a CU vanity license plate, either.
If anything, I’ve rooted for Colorado State more often than CU, to support my son-in-law, who’s a CSU alumnus and vocally loyal to the Rams.
So, keep my neutrality in mind as you read this.
I watched Saturday night’s Rocky Mountain Showdown to the very end. It was spirited and entertaining, a great battle befitting its title.
For most of the game, the Rams were the more intense, aggressive team. CSU virtually dominated, at least until the Buffs got desperate.
Interviewed during the first half, Rams coach Jay Norvell dismissed the mounting number of penalties his team was drawing by saying, with some seeming agitation, “It’s a rivalry game.”
As if that justified what I consider numerous dirty fouls.
The most egregious was the cheap shot by defensive back Henry Blackburn during CU’s third possession of the first quarter.
After a Shedeur Sanders pass intended for two-way sensation Travis Hunter was incomplete along the sideline in CSU territory, Blackburn intentionally put his shoulder into Hunter’s chest, flattening him. Hunter was out of bounds; the play was over.
Eventually Hunter was taken to a hospital, and word Monday was that he’d miss the next three games with a lacerated liver. Included are at No. 10 Oregon this week and No. 5 Southern Cal the next week in Boulder.
A 15-yard personal foul penalty was assessed for the flagrant hit, but Blackburn should have been thrown out of the game.
Three plays later, Xavier Weaver caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Sanders to tie the score at 14-14. As he took steps after catching the ball in the end zone, the defender gave him a shove in the back.
Weaver narrowly missed the goal post as he fell; no flag, but another cheap shot.
For the game, Norvell’s team was flagged 17 times for 182 yards. Nine of those penalties could have caused injury.
They included two chop blocks, two blindside blocks, another illegal block, two unsportsmanlike conducts (including the one that sent Hunter to the hospital), one grabbing the face mask and one targeting, which resulted in the ejection of CSU’s strongest pass-rusher in the first overtime period and preceded a touchdown pass that put CU ahead.
Perhaps fittingly, CSU’s final major penalty, one of the blindside blocks, nullified a Rams touchdown that would have put them a two-point conversion away from tying the Buffs in the second OT.
I would expect a rivalry game to be intense. Bragging rights mean a lot, especially to players, alumni and fans.
But there’s a line, or should be, between hard-hitting, intense play (clean football), and win-at-all-costs, try-to-hurt-the-other-guy behavior.
How else do you explain NINE physical fouls with the potential to injure opposing players?
I don’t believe, for a minute, that it’s just coincidence that Travis Hunter and Shedeur Sanders—CU’s two best players—were among those who suffered illegal blows.
I’ll give Jay Norvell credit for transforming his team during a bye week following its debacle in the season opener against Washington State (a 50-24 shellacking at home). If he can get the same kind of performance from his players the rest of the season (minus the bad penalties), CSU should win a lot of games.
Much has been made about Coach Prime’s remaking of the Colorado roster as well as his theatrics.
But I think three points are particularly worth making after his team’s third straight victory.
Two holdovers made significant contributions. Tight end Michael Harrison caught seven passes for 76 yards, two touchdowns and the two-point conversion that sent the game into overtime. Safety Trevor Woods had four unassisted tackles and one assist, plus the game-ending interception in the end zone.
Shedeur Sanders was sensational once again, completing 38 of 47 passes for 348 yards, throwing for four touchdowns, and leading the Buffs on a game-tying 98-yard drive in one minute and 30 seconds at the end of regulation.
Deion Sanders, for all of his Coach Prime showmanship, declined to criticize CSU or its head coach for crossing the “rivalry” line with its play. “I ain’t got time for that,” he said. “I’m on to bigger things.”
The other positive to come out of this super-charged environment is that, after the hard-fought game, students from both schools and other rabid fans, conducted themselves appropriately. Police reported only a few minor post-game incidents.
Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 15 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at email@example.com.