Colorado Escapes with Overtime Win Over CSU in Rocky Mountain Showdown | Westword


Colorado Escapes With Double Overtime Win Over CSU in Rocky Mountain Showdown

Deion Sanders and the Colorado Buffaloes survived a double overtime scare on Saturday to beat Colorado State 43-35.
Deion Sanders put his sunglasses on before the game.
Deion Sanders put his sunglasses on before the game. Catie Cheshire
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An overtime victory feels pretty sweet, unless you're the University of Colorado and were expected to beat Colorado State University by more than three touchdowns.

In the first edition of the Rocky Mountain Showdown since 2019, CSU pushed the heavily favored CU Buffaloes to double overtime before Coach Deion Sanders's squad stopped the Jay Norvell-led Rams for a final score of 43-35.

In the past six matchups between the two teams where one was in the college football rankings, the team that was ranked lost every time. After winning its first two games, CU came into Saturday night's Rocky Mountain Showdown ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll — and was able to buck the trend.

This was, in large part, because of Sanders and the almost entirely fresh squad he brought to Boulder after becoming head coach last December.

CU’s fans didn’t abandon the team in the years since its 1990 National Championship — the last time it was the talk of the college football world — but they’re definitely more galvanized after feeling the effects of "Prime Time" and the increased attention on the school since his arrival.

CU's Boulder campus, for instance, hosted both of college football's premier television programs this week: ESPN's College GameDay and Fox's Big Noon Kickoff. As with the first game in Boulder, celebrities were in attendance on Saturday, including Hollywood superstar Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, rapper Offset and more.

“It’s awesome,” said Dylan Burns, who graduated from CU in 2010. “It wasn’t always entirely positive around campus when I was going to school here, and now things have changed.”

The change has been evident this week, with people shouting Sanders's football slogans, such as “I believe” and "It's personal" while tailgating, as well as fans developing new superstitions, with some students wearing the same boots and hats as they did for previous games to keep the win streak going.

The team itself needed to pull out all the stops on Saturday to stop CSU from the upset.

The spice between the two teams kicked off well before the game, starting with comments from each of the head coaches earlier in the week, including a now-viral sound bite from Norvell.

“'When I talk to grown-ups, I take my hat and my glasses off,” Norvell said in a veiled interview shot at Sanders, who is known for his iconic fashion styles, including wearing sunglasses indoors and cowboy hats.

“That's what my mother taught me," the CSU coach added.

Sanders responded by galvanizing the team around the comments, telling them repeatedly throughout the week, "It's personal."

"We started out right," Sanders told the media. "[Norvell] was complimenting me. I’m complimenting him. He was doing his thing, but it just took a quick left. ... I really started to contemplate, like, why would you go to that direction? You know me. You know how I get down. You know if we really want to talk, I can do this pretty darn good. I’m pretty good. Because the kids, they’re ready now."

Fans were ready, too, with even children talking trash at the pre-game tailgate and sporting hats and sunglasses in defense of the coach, as did students and alumni. “First of all, I support Coach Prime and all the other classy coaches in college sports,” says C.A. Howlett, who has been a CU season ticket holder since 1988. “There’s no reason to denigrate someone else’s personal life. If you’re gonna be a trash talker, at least stick to the game, not trying to bring your manners or your mother’s upbringing into it.”

Howlett graduated from CU in 1966. Now he and his wife, Nan, live in Arizona, but they fly up for every football game in Boulder. Howlett hasn’t seen the fans this revved up about the Buffaloes since Rashaan Salaam won the Heisman trophy in 1994; the award goes to college football’s best player each season and is determined by a vote of experts.

“There’s no comparison,” Howlett says of the level of excitement in recent seasons compared to now.
click to enlarge An elderly couple smiles at the camera.
Nan and C.A. Howlett are longtime University of Colorado fans.
Catie Cheshire
In addition to the loyal fans, plenty of big names came to the 2023 Rocky Mountain Showdown.

Rapper Lil Wayne joined Offset, The Rock and others — including NBA player Kawhi Leonard — in Boulder on Saturday. But no one got a bigger cheer than Sanders, who walked around the perimeter of the field before the game, waving at adoring fans the whole time.

In the end zone near the student section, the NFL legend paused to put on his sunglasses and pose, showing he wasn’t letting Norvell’s comments slide.

“They disrespected us," charged CU fan Johnny Serna. "We're not gonna let that slide."

“They act like they’re this big school, but you weren’t even relevant last year,” countered Erik Weiskircher, a CSU sophomore.

CSU players displayed a similar mindset.

While two-way CU star Travis Hunter was warming up, a CSU player interrupted by swatting a pass thrown Hunter's way; Hunter still caught the ball and then called out the CSU athlete.

Neither team let it slide, with players coming together at mid-field to defend their teammates.

Shedeur Sanders, CU's quarterback, hyped up the student section afterward, encouraging them to let the Rams hear it. The crowd was loud the whole game after that, notably when Hunter took a late shot by CSU's Henry Blackburn and later had to be taken to the hospital.

Blackburn was assessed a personal foul. CU rang out with a vehement "Fuck CSU" chant in response.
“This is a hungry alumni group, they’ve been starving," Howlett says. "Most people thought Boulder wasn’t a good college football town, but this proves them wrong.”

Throughout the city, every local restaurant was packed before the game — and the Fox Theatre even held a watch party. A security guard there told Westword the theater was seeing how it went with the big in-state matchup and may continue to host more.

CU junior Olivia Quintana, a huge fan of every CU team, made custom overalls for the Rocky Mountain Showdown. “I really always just went hard for my school,” she says. “Football is more exciting this year. There’s a lot more hype.”
click to enlarge A football player with a gold helmet runs toward the sidelines.
Shilo Sanders scored on a pick six in the first quarter and recovered a fumble in the third.
Catie Cheshire

\Howlett expects that hype to extend beyond just athletics.

"I believe that you will see increased enrollment applications, because college students want to go where they can get a good education...but they want to be around winning institutions," he says. "Like basketball and skiing and women's basketball and cross-country, like we have. But at the top of the pyramid is college football.”

In the end, Howlett doesn't think CU has reached its full potential just yet. Given that this year's team members didn't know each other six months ago, it could be even better by next year's Rocky Mountain Showdown, which will be at CSU.

“Be careful what you pray for,” Howlett cautioned CSU before the game.

For loyal Buffs fans, their prayers appear to have already been answered — for now. 
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