When Coach Bill McCartney arrived at Colorado in 1982, after eight seasons as an assistant at Michigan, he declared Nebraska the Buffaloes’ rival.
He told the Big Eight Skywriters about the declared rivalry, which even included banning athletic department staff from driving red vehicles. That despite the fact Nebraska had 14 consecutive victories against the Buffaloes, a streak that would continue four games into McCartney’s tenure.
When the teams met in late October of 1994, however, Colorado had won two of the previous five games, with one tie. Twice during that time, the Buffaloes had played Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl with a national championship on the line. They won the Associated Press title in 1990.
Tom Osborne had yet to win a national title when Colorado came to Memorial Stadium.
Osborne resisted talk of a rivalry. For Nebraska fans, Oklahoma had always been the Huskers’ rival, even though he said the Huskers had “never been into the rivalry thing.”
But rivalry or not, the 1994 Colorado game was significant. Even Osborne acknowledged that. Nebraska, 8-0, was No. 3 in the AP rankings, the Buffaloes No. 2.
Five of Colorado’s seven victories had been against ranked opponents.
Two weeks before, the Buffaloes had moved ahead of Nebraska—from No. 4—after defeating No. 22 Oklahoma 45-7. The Huskers won at No. 17 Kansas State 17-6 that day.
Penn State also jumped Nebraska to No. 1, with a 31-24 victory against No. 5 Michigan.
The ratings reflected, in part, Nebraska’s quarterback situation.
Skeptics didn’t think the Huskers could win without Tommie Frazier. McCartney questioned whether Brook Berringer could handle the pressure.
Regardless, the Colorado game, also Homecoming, had national championship implications, which is why kickoff was moved two hours up, to 11 a.m., to accommodate ABC television.
No big deal, according to Osborne. The team would have to get up an hour earlier, at 7 a.m. Plus, ABC was paying for the right to televise the game—so kickoff could be moved to whatever time.
On the other hand, kickoff would be at 10 a.m. Mountain Time. And McCartney said he wasn’t excited about playing morning football, “but they do it at Wimbledon, why shouldn’t we?”
ESPN’s GameDay, featuring Chris Fowler, Craig James and Lee Corso, was in Lincoln for a second time that season. It had also been there for the UCLA game in mid-September.
Corso, echoing McCartney, said he didn’t think Nebraska could win without Frazier, that he had picked the Huskers to win the national championship before Frazier was sidelined by blood clots.
Attendance was 76,131, Memorial Stadium’s 200th consecutive sellout. Temperature at 11:08 a.m., kickoff, was 53 degrees. It was partly cloudy, with northwest winds gusting to 20 mph.
Early in the week, Osborne talked about tension between Nebraska and Colorado. Husker fans had been treated poorly, abused, in Boulder and Buffalo fans “are saying they’ve been treated rudely” in Lincoln, he was quoted. “That’s the first time I’ve heard that in the 30 years I’ve been here.”
Florida State’s Bobby Bowden had written an open letter, commending Husker fans, after the Seminoles had won in Lincoln in 1980. On the other hand, former Husker Warren Powers wasn’t treated all that well, after coaching Washington State to an upset victory at Memorial Stadium to open the 1977 season and then dashing Nebraska’s national-title hopes in 1978 coaching Missouri.
Still, Husker fans were, for the most part, cordial to visitors. Except, apparently, Colorado.
Osborne was “a little sensitive about this rivalry issue,” he was quoted before the game. “If rivalry means what I’ve been seeing, then I don’t want any part of it. I just want to play football.”
Next: Berringer handles the pressure as Colorado’s “triplets” come up short
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.