The Crying Game
The pictures, descriptions and accounts of Saturday evening's debacle at Mile High Stadium are not pretty. But here goes.
By the end of the fourth quarter, Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Mike Moschetti had thrown three interceptions, been sacked nine times and earned himself a bloody nose. Meanwhile, his team endured a royal 41-14 ass-kicking by the upstart Colorado State Rams before 73,438 witnesses. Moschetti looked like raw hamburger, and new University of Colorado coach Gary Barnett was devastated.
But the hostilities were only beginning. The real Rocky Mountain showdown erupted after the football was done, at a corner of the north end zone. It pitted scores of Mace-happy Denver police officers, many of them in riot gear, against not only the drunks who were throwing cans and bottles at them but any man, woman or child who happened to be in range of their pepper spray and brown clouds of tear gas. Cops don't like being the underdog, and on Saturday night, they beat the spread by making their own rules.
Midway through the third quarter, with the score 41-0, police assigned to the game (all fifty to sixty of them) called for reinforcements from the metro SWAT team and gang units. Why? "We heard numerous rumors that the fans were going to rush the field when the game was over," Denver police lieutenant Anthony Ryan explained. "If you can keep 'em off the field, which I think we did, it works out better for everyone."
Unless you're an eleven-year-old who gets Maced. With five or six minutes left in the fourth quarter, black-helmeted police lined the northeast corner of the stadium floor -- which did nothing to gladden the booze-fueled, victory-crazed CSU student sections above them. "The police presence was extremely provocative," said Jim Migdahl of San Jose, California, who attended the game with his eleven-year-old son, Matt. "It was like they were challenging the crowd."
Challenge accepted. By game's end, rowdies had begun chanting "Bull-shit!" and "Fuck the cops!" and raining Coors bottles, Captain Morgan Spiced Rum bottles, Pucker Sweet and Sour Schnapps bottles, instant cameras, flashlight batteries and a few other products of the undergraduate imagination down on the phalanx of police. To make matters worse, CU's beaten players had to run the gauntlet from the field to their dressing room, right through a hail of missiles and a cloud of gas. At least they were wearing helmets.
For their part, the police used big hoses to Mace the crowd, including bystanders like Jim Migdahl and his son. Bottle-throwers and innocents alike were vomiting, pulling their shirts over their faces and running for cover. A dozen victims overcome by nausea or asphyxiation lay prostrate in the stands. Crying children clung to their parents, and at least four people were taken to area hospitals for treatment.
"Unfortunately, we don't have laser targeting with our chemical agents," the DPD's Ryan said.
They didn't have much sense, either. When police lobbed smoldering tear-gas canisters into the crowd, fans threw them back onto the end-zone grass, and the entire gridiron was quickly engulfed with acrid smoke. Under the stands, the podium where Barnett was to hold his post-mortem press conference quickly became a first-aid station. On the field, reporters, CU players and stadium officials dodged bottles and inhaled tear gas.
Later, Ryan expressed relief that just one of his men was injured. "Fortunately," he said, "we had only one guy with a pretty good-sized knot on his head."
Actually, there were knotheads aplenty at Mile High Saturday night. Among them: the cops who provoked the crowd and the drunks who responded.
"We were on the east side of the end zone, in section 125," said Jenny Bruner, of Greeley, who saw the game -- and the aftermath -- with her daughter, Hannah Boggs. "We saw all the police come out in their riot gear, and they just started spraying stuff into the crowd. They were walking along as they sprayed, so they sprayed a wide area. They did it several times, and that's when some people in the crowd really started getting mad and throwing things. I saw one cop spray Mace and then beckon with his finger, like, 'Come on, try me.' It seemed to me they were taunting the crowd. It seemed to me that they incited a riot."
Even CSU head coach Sonny Lubick, whose long-beleaguered Rams had beaten the Buffs for the first time since 1986, was startled by the cops' personal foul. "I wish the police had let all our supporters come down and give us a big hug," he said. "But I guess it's against policy here to let any fans on the field."
Or, God forbid, to let them tear down the goalposts after a dramatic upset win. And why is that? Haven't hundreds of joyous football crowds flooded playing fields countless times this past century without ugliness and violence? "I don't have an argument for you," Ryan allowed.
Earlier in the evening, Barnett's vaunted Buffs didn't have much of an argument for their aroused opponents from Fort Collins, either. CSU linebacker Rick Crowell scored CSU's first touchdown six minutes into the game on a 54-yard runback of a pass interception. In his first six carries, Ram running back Kevin McDougal, an Arvada West graduate, racked up 111 yards and a touchdown. Ram quarterback Matt Newton hit Frank Rice with a seven-yard TD pass for the team's third score, and McDougal scored again with 5:37 left in the second quarter. In all, he ran for 190 yards against a tough Buffs defense. In the previous four meetings between the schools, CSU had averaged only 63 yards total rushing.
By halftime, CSU led 28-0 and the rout was on. The Rams' booming end-zone cannon was getting such a workout it seemed the barrel would melt, and Colorado's pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns were small consolation for Barnett. While Mace victims gasped for breath just beyond the door, CU football's new fearless leader acknowledged that he'd been thoroughly blindsided, too: "You've got to blame me and you've got to blame my players for the way we played," he said. "We have to find out why this happened. This is going to hurt. It's going to hurt a lot, as it should."
Ranked twelfth in one pre-season poll and number fourteen in another, the Buffaloes found themselves in oblivion on Monday morning, with another game to play Saturday against San Jose State.
In the south-end locker room, far from the tear gas, no one was crying. "What can you say about our football team?" an exultant Lubick asked. "It was just a complete domination of the football game. I have to be honest: These guys surprised me...We played without two of our starting offensive linemen, and our kids just out-hearted and out-gutted 'em... Some of our younger kids, their eyes were this big going into the game, but as it went on, they got their confidence. They wanted to throw their bodies in there."
Throw them they did. But for the CU scores in sloptime, the Rams had a real chance of ending a streak of 122 straight games in which Colorado has scored. Had that happened, CU alumni wouldn't have Maced Barnett; they'd have sent him to the gas chamber.
Thirteen-point underdogs, the Rams rose up much the way CU did last year when they beat favored CSU in the first Mile High game by a nearly identical score, 42-14. "I don't wanna sound like 'To the victor goes the spoils,'" Lubick said. "But we put some pressure on [quarterback Moschetti]. We had him rattled a little bit. Last year he had us rattled. It's funny how much difference a year makes."
Gary Barnett's still hoping for a difference. A disciplinarian who visited every player's parents over the winter and put his new team through three-a-day practices this summer, he is supposed to be the savior of Buffalo football. But losing to CSU for the first time in nine years while opposing fans throw whiskey bottles at your players does not constitute a good start. At halftime, long before the cops took out their nightsticks, press-box wags were cracking wry jokes about the guitar-strumming, feel-good policies of former CU head coach Rick Neuheisel, perceived as a cream puff.
"Maybe Gary should take 'em on a raft trip at halftime," one said. "Bet he won't be playing the ukulele when this one's over," said another.
By the time the tear gas cleared and the crying game stopped Saturday night, you had to wonder if Neuheisel, now head coach at the University of Washington, had watched Barnett's CU debut on the boob tube.
Probably thought the whole thing was a riot.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.