It’s been called one of the greatest plays in college football history, but fans of the Colorado Buffaloes know it simply as “The Catch.” On September 24, 1994, CU was embroiled in a hotly contested battle with the Michigan Wolverines. As the seconds ticked away, the Silver and Gold had one last shot at victory, and quarterback Kordell Stewart made the most of the opportunity. His 64-yard heave sailed into the end zone, and after being tipped, it landed in hands of wideout Michael Westbrook to give the Buffs a 27-26 triumph. It wasn’t the first time that the university in Boulder had generated national headlines, and diehards believe that it certainly won’t be the last either.
The school first introduced a varsity football program in 1890, but it wouldn’t be until the 1930s that CU began to distinguish itself from other combatants in the NCAA landscape. In ‘34, the burly Buffalo moniker was adopted, and four years later, CU booked its first-ever bowl appearance. With a team on the rise and a mascot who could shake the earth, the university had one last thing to take care of: their uniforms. Silver and Gold are the official colors of Colorado, but fans had noticed (and complained) that the combination didn’t work all that well on the field, and players didn’t appear very intimidating in dirty gray and muddy yellow. In ‘59, the gridiron crew began wearing black jerseys, and they never looked back.
From ‘61 to ‘76, CU advanced to postseason play on eight separate occasions, but the surge in success paled in comparison to what happened once Bill McCartney seized the head coaching reins in ‘82. Over the course of 13 campaigns, McCartney took the Buffs to nine bowl games, including seven straight appearances between ‘88 and ‘94. The run in 1990 stands out as particularly memorable, since Colorado posted a record of 11-1-1 and were awarded the national championship after defeating Notre Dame at the Orange Bowl. Running back Rashaan Salaam thrilled fans in ‘94 on his way to capturing the Heisman Trophy, but the title-winning ‘90 squad is still viewed as the gold standard for Colorado football prowess.
While the program has seen plenty of success on the gridiron, the biggest star to ever represent CU is still Ralphie, the live buffalo mascot. Since debuting in ‘66, the regal creature has led the crew onto the field prior to the start of each home contest, and it’s not unusual for Ralphie to pop up at important road games, either.
To understand just how important victory is to fans in Boulder, you don’t have to look any further than the university’s fight song. The second line of the ballad states that “CU must win,” and on game days, more than 50,000 black and gold-bedecked supporters echo that sentiment while packing the stands at Folsom Field. “Never give in” appears later in the rallying cry, and if the 100-plus years of history are any indication, then that definitely won’t be happening any time soon.