Game 1

Result: Colorado 31, Tennessee 31.

When: Aug. 26, 1990.

Where: Anaheim, Calif.

Bottom line: A season of high expectations begins with a frustrating tie.

Colorado entered the first game of the 1990 season still brimming with confidence from its run to the national title game the season before.

On a blistering afternoon beneath the Southern California sky, the Buffs fought Tennessee to a 31-31 tie in the inaugural Disneyland Pigskin Classic. It was a game that foreshadowed the entire season with a bumpy start, a smoother patch in the middle and a frenzied finish.

Colorado’s Mike Pritchard breaks loose on a 55-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against Tennessee.
Colorado's Mike Pritchard breaks loose on a 55-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against Tennessee. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

CU was missing several key players who were suspended for violating team rules in the offseason, including tailback Eric Bieniemy, who was on his way to becoming the program's all-time leading rusher.

What unfolded was a classic battle between the run-heavy Buffs, who totaled 368 yards on the ground, and the pass-happy Volunteers, who threw for 368 yards on 55 passing attempts.

"That's hard when you're a running team and you only play against yourself in the spring, and you come out and see something like that," former coach Bill McCartney said in June, reflecting on that special season. "You're a day late and a dollar short."


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The Buffs were ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press poll and started poorly on offense with three first-quarter turnovers. But CU safety Greg Thomas and linebacker Alfred Williams each blocked field-goal attempts after turnovers to limit the damage.

Mike Pritchard moved to tailback from receiver to replace Bieniemy and ran 20 times for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

He also returned three kickoffs for 67 yards to earn the Most Valuable Player award. CU safety Tim James easily could have been the choice because of his two interceptions, both of which occurred in the end zone to stop the No. 8 Volunteers from scoring.

CU led 31-17 with less than seven minutes remaining in the game, but Tennessee quarterback Andy Kelly rallied his team, leading two touchdown drives in the final six minutes. He threw touchdown passes to future pros Carl Pickens and Alvin Harper. Running back Chucky Webb scored on a 4-yard run with 2:25 remaining, and Tennessee coach Johnny Majors opted to kick an extra point instead of going for two.

PLAYER PERSPECTIVE

CU safety Tim James: "The first couple of series we were having our way with them. We were dominating them on both sides. They were an extremely talented team and at that time we were just feeling our way. (Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz) put in this new base defense, cover-4. I just remember us running that same thing over and over to where they kind of schemed us on it and got used to it and we were just trying to hold on."

QUOTING MCCARTNEY

"You're talking about two good teams on national television. We're the only game that day. Everybody is watching that game. So there is great incentive and great motivation. You have to give them credit. That wasn't Little Sisters of the Poor. They had players, too. All I can tell you is we were evenly matched. It was a tough game."

Kyle Ringo: ringok@dailycamera.com, on Twitter: @kyleringo