BOULDER – The Buffs are back, and they’re the new black. CU is an overnight sensation, the new “it” team, the hottest thing not only in college football, but all of American sports.
But stop at the happy news on the Folsom Field scoreboard, after this 36-14 trampling of the Nebraska Corn on a sun-soaked Saturday, and you miss the real story here.
“We are going to make an impact. It is hard to say what that means and what that is,” said Sanders, before revealing that he seeks something more profound than national television exposure and new revenue overflowing CU’s coffers.
“Really, I am thinking about the social impact. I am seeing more African Americans than I have never seen before, sprinkling through the stands, stadium, restaurants and everything. And I love it.”
The real magic of the 2-0 start of Coach Prime is how the shiny gold chain around his neck and the bodacious Turnover Throne on his CU sideline have shook the old-school culture of snow-white Boulder, built on Birkenstocks and beet linguine.
“I’m just trying to pinch myself and tell myself it’s real,” said Charles Johnson, the Colorado quarterback of fifth-down fame, not to mention a key player in the school’s only national football championship, way back in 1990.
“What I’m talking about here is about way more than the outcome of a football game. What’s far more important is the cultural piece that Sanders brings. To watch these CU players grow and the city of Boulder grow with them.”
Coach Prime has delivered faster than Federal Express. We’re seeing stuff from these Buffs, built into a top 25 program overnight, that none of us could’ve anticipated seeing at a football game on the CU-Boulder campus.
“This is the beauty of sports. But there’s something almost tragically sweet about this reality. The outcome of a game makes a difference. If the Buffs are 0-2 instead of 2-0, the cutting-edge way that Sanders does things, I’m not sure how that looks and feels in Boulder right now. In a way, it says a lot about us as a society that the outcome of a game can at least give us a better chance to understand our differences,” Johnson said.
“We’re talking about how jacked-up our country is socially in so many ways. But the promise of the outcome from a football game gives this coach a chance to make an impact with what (Sanders) brings. There’s a confrontation in this meeting of these cultures that now we are forced to deal with each other and try to figure each other out.”
The home-opener of this CU football season unlike any before it saw the unveiling of a Turnover Throne fit for a king in a place of honor on the sideline, where a defensive player takes a seat and basks in the hosannas of teammates after coming to their rescue with an interception or fumble recovery.
After scoring the final touchdown of a beautiful afternoon for the Buffs with a 6-yard run in the fourth quarter, quarterback Shedeur Sanders celebrated in the end zone with a dance that paid homage to his father: the Deion Shuffle.
Although the crowd of 53,241, the largest at Folsom in 15 years, went wild, the creator of the shuffle was not impressed. “It was horrible … (Shedeur) doesn’t want it. He’s not a dancer,” said Coach Prime, impressed with how his son can spin a football, but not when he tries to bust a move.
Since the time when Bill McCartney was the coach preaching belief in the impossible, nothing has made hearts pound louder in the chests of true Buffs than putting a hurtin’ on the Huskers.
So when Matt McChesney, who beat Nebraska in his final regular-season game as a defensive tackle way back in 2004, was among the faithful celebrating on the field after this victory, it felt like the good old days of CU football glory were here again.
“This is (bleeping) awesome!” McChesney bellowed.
But what Colorado has a chance to do is more than make a run at the conference championship in the last year of the Pac-12 as we know it. The only people not shocked by the tremors sent through the college football world? The Buffs.
“We expect it. I know it sounds kind of boastful. It sounds at the risk of sounding arrogant. We truly expect that,” Shedeur Sanders said after his 396 yards passing, including 10 receptions by Xavier Weaver, made the ground-and-pound football of Nebraska look more antiquated than your grandfather’s Oldsmobile.
“Prime brings an edge, and he changes the environment in a way that doesn’t necessarily come naturally for Boulder,” Johnson told me. “Watching these two realities collide and the opportunity for change it provides, I get choked up thinking about it.”
C.J. and I stood together in the hallway at the Champions Center, which attracted scribes from Sports Illustrated and The New York Times to the postgame news conference at a CU football game for the first time in what seems like an eternity.
What gives Sanders a real shot at being the most important football coach in Boulder since McCartney is the unapologetic way in which he’s a great disrupter to the way business has always been conducted around here. I’m talking about way more than overhauling the CU roster with the transfer portal and NIL cash. Refusing to be anybody but himself, Coach Prime has boldly taken the Flatirons by storm and dared to turn this boujee postcard town on its ear.
The new faces of success in Boulder are named Shedeur, Deion and Xavier. If CU continues winning and keeps shining the spotlight on the best sports story of 2023, it could entirely reshape the way we look at the Buffs.
“They are not Black Colorado Buffaloes. They are just Colorado Buffaloes,” Sanders said.
“We come together, and we bring people together, uniting. And that is the part of it that I adore.”
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