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Still Buffaloed

After sitting in hot traffic for an hour and coughing up $40 for a parking spot, some were looking for good omens Saturday night. Maybe this filled the bill--for CU fans, anyway. Following months of big-game hype and just five minutes before the kickoff, Cam the Ram, Colorado State's galloping, fearsomely horned mascot, wiped out a CSU cheerleader at the ten-yard line. She tumbled down in a tangle of blond hair, brown legs and green skirt. To her credit, the girl popped up off the turf like nothing had happened. But the untamed look in Cam's eyes told you he was out of control. That the pressure had gotten to him. That things might get worse.

They did. Under a full moon at Mile High Stadium, Sonny Lubick's highly touted, fifteenth-ranked Rams, road winners over mighty Michigan State a week earlier, had taken a 14-13 lead on the opening drive of the second half. But their old demons returned, and they quickly fell prey again to the Colorado Buffaloes. The final margin was a hopeless 42-14, duplicating a blowout at Boulder three years ago.

Once more, the upstarts from Fort Collins had been quashed. Once more, the poor cousins had been sent off to sit at the children's table. Once more, Buff fans had all the bragging rights on Saturday night. CU has now beaten CSU eight in a row.

In other words, nothing has changed in the CU-CSU series but the scenery. The "Rocky Mountain Showdown" was the first college-football game ever played in Mile High and the first CU game in Denver since 1947. ESPN broadcast it to the entire country. The crowd of 76,036 bipartisan lunatics was the largest ever to witness a college game in the state. The contest also featured the highest concentration of ticket scalpers, reeling drunks and Ram coeds with "Fuck CU" painted on their faces in green and gold in local football history.

But in the end, the Aggies of old remained second-class citizens within these borders. Since the rivalry was renewed in 1983 after a quarter-century on the shelf, CSU has won only once, by a 32-7 count in 1986, while losing nine times.

The chant that came raining out of the CU section of the north stands after the final gun Saturday night was particularly haunting for Ram fans:

"Over...rated! Over...rated!" shouted the throngs waving the gold pompons. By Sunday morning--hangover time--CSU had vanished from the national rankings, and CU had risen from off the charts to number sixteen.

"You gotta give them all the credit," CSU quarterback Ryan Eslinger acknowledged. "They played four quarters of football, sound football in all areas of the game. And we didn't. The score shows that. I think there were a lot of guys who thought they were pumped up and ready to play this game. But if you come out here and you don't make plays and you don't do the things it takes to win, this is what happens."

What happened is that Colorado State's not-so-special special teams gave up nearly 38 yards per kickoff return to CU. Trailing 20-14 late in the third quarter, they yielded an 82-yard, touchdown-scoring punt return to speedy Buff Cedric Cormier--CU's first six-point runback since 1990. And with nineteen seconds remaining in that disastrous third quarter, Rams punter Deone Horinek mishandled a snap, giving CU the ball at the CSU eighteen-yard line. Less than three minutes later, Colorado scored again to go ahead 35-14. Neuheisel's troops had driven the same old nail into the three-point favorites from Fort Collins.

"We answered a lot of critics tonight," said CU quarterback Mike Moschetti, an amazingly cool customer (21 of 31 for 257 yards and three touchdowns) who was making his first start. "The CU offense is definitely going to move the ball this year...Coach Neuheisel, Coach Christoff [defensive coordinator A.J. Christoff] and the rest of the coaches took a lot of crap in the off-season this year. Everybody picked Colorado State to win. So we played this game for the coaching staff. For the stuff they've been taking from the papers and everyone. We wanted to make a statement for them."

In the course of a long, hot, well-lubricated evening, personal statements were never in short supply. For anyone. Hours before the game got under way, before the scalpers started selling end-zone seats for a hundred bucks and forty-yard-line tickets for $250, fans at scores of tailgate parties exchanged views, made wagers and chided friends.

At a party for employees of the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, sixty CU and CSU graduates and their spouses happily chomped grilled chicken and hamburgers under a tent decorated with twin flags--one for each school. "After this game," said CSU fan Mark Helseth, "things are going to change on the college football scene around here. This is like the Super Bowl all over again. I just have that feeling. My prediction? CSU 28, CU 16."

Barry Amman, a 1994 CU grad, was taking the opposite view, espousing the notion that the major-league atmosphere of Mile High Stadium meant more to most Ram fans than to, say, himself. "It's probably a bigger deal to Fort Collins than it is to us," he said. "After all, they only have seats on one side of the stadium up there."

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