Defining moments

The top three moments for each of CU's top two quarterbacks in 1990 - Darian Hagan and Charles Johnson:

Darian Hagan

• Oct. 27, 1990 - Colorado 32, Oklahoma 23: Hagan threw for 180 yards and two touchdowns - including an 85-yarder to Rico Smith - and also ran for 26 yards and a score to beat the Sooners.

• Nov. 10, 1990 - Colorado 41, Oklahoma State 22: In one of the best passing days of his career, Hagan threw for 237 yards and four touchdowns (a school record at the time) in a rout of the Cowboys.

• Sept. 6, 1990 - Colorado 21, Stanford 17: Hagan accounted for 257 yards in total offense (154 passing, 103 rushing) to help the Buffs recover from an early 14-0 hole.

Charles Johnson

• Oct. 6, 1990 - Colorado 33, Missouri 31: In the famous Fifth Down game, Johnson made his first career start in place of the injured Hagan. He threw for 151 yards and a touchdown and his 1-yard TD plunge on the final play gave CU the win.

• Jan. 1, 1991 - Colorado 10, Notre Dame 9: After Hagan was injured late in the first half, Johnson played the entire second half. The Buffs trailed 6-3 at the time. Johnson's stats were modest (5-for-6 passing for 80 yards), but he engineered the game-winning TD drive in the third quarter.

• Sept. 29, 1990 - Colorado 20, Washington 14: The Buffs held a slim, 17-14 lead when Hagan was injured. Johnson played the fourth quarter and helped the Buffs to an important win.


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During the middle of the night on the eve of the 1991 Orange Bowl, Darian Hagan was awoken by a dream.

"I woke up and I told CJ, 'Hey, man, I had a dream,' " Hagan said. " 'I had a dream ... that I was going to get hurt in the game and you're going to have to come in and win the national championship for us.' He's like, 'Man, you're tripping; go back to sleep.' I said, 'I'm serious, man. I just want to let you know you have to be ready to play and win this game.'

"It was freaky."

Darian Hagan, left, and Charles Johnson, the Buffs’ top two quarterbacks during their 1990 national championship season, share a laugh during a
Darian Hagan, left, and Charles Johnson, the Buffs' top two quarterbacks during their 1990 national championship season, share a laugh during a Buffs4Life event this summer. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

Even freakier was that Hagan's dream came true. During that Orange Bowl game, he did injure his knee and watch Johnson lead the Buffs to victory over Notre Dame in the second half.

"When it did happen, I had all the confidence in the world it wasn't going to be an issue," Hagan said. "Charles was Mr. Cool under pressure."

The close relationship between Hagan and Johnson, and the significant roles they each played along the way, turned out to be one of the special stories from 1990.

Everybody knew going into that season that Hagan was the starter. As a sophomore in 1989, he was fifth in Heisman Trophy voting and had established himself as one of college football's stars.

"I had the pleasure and the challenge at the same time of playing behind, I think, the greatest option quarterback to ever play college football," Johnson said. "Having played the option, we knew there were times when I was going to have to play, because it took such a physical toll on you."

As good as Hagan was, Johnson commanded as much, if not more, respect from teammates.

"Behind the scenes, he was a great leader of the team," said Vance Joseph, who was the third-string QB in 1990. "Guys went to him for advice, because he was always a very mature, very smart guy. In college, we are young guys trying to find yourself. He was already a grown man, raising his brother. He was way beyond his years as far as maturity.

"Darian was the talent."

And, oh boy, was he talented. Hagan was an exceptional runner and a master at operating the option offense. He often proved he could throw the ball, too.

While several passers since him have played in pass-heavy offenses and thrown for more yards, most CU fans would rank Hagan at the top, or near the top, of the list of CU's all-time best quarterbacks.

Johnson, meanwhile, didn't miss a beat when he had to fill in.

Hagan injured his shoulder in a game against Washington that season and Johnson finished off a close victory. The next week, he started in Hagan's place and led CU to a dramatic win against Missouri, scoring the winning touchdown on the final play.

Then came the national championship game. Colorado trailed the Irish, 6-3, when Johnson took over at the start of the second half.

"All my teammates and coaches were saying, 'CJ you ready for it?' I'm thinking, 'Nope, Hagan is going to come out and lead us to victory,' " Johnson said. "The realization that that wasn't going to be the case and I had to step in was a big moment for me, but it was a big moment for our team and, of course, the history of our program."

Taking Hagan's spot in the lineup, Johnson guided the Buffs to a 10-9 victory.

Hagan said the toughest part of that night was that his injury prevented him from jumping around and celebrating with teammates.

He was happy for his friend, though, and it was fitting that throughout the season both played key roles in CU's championship run.

A quarter century later, both of them are still beloved by CU fans, and still have great admiration for each other.

"It was a great relationship, and still is today," Hagan said.