Sorry Buffs fans, Alfred Williams Day at Folsom Field will not include seeing No. 94 putting on the pads, helmet and throwback jersey again.

Instead, the glory days of Colorado football will be a welcome halftime diversion at the next two home games when Williams, a recent College Football Hall of Fame inductee, is honored this Saturday during the Hawaii game. The 1990 national championship team will be celebrated at a 20-year reunion on Oct. 2 during the Georgia game.

Although the preseason optimism surrounding the 2010 season has turned to outrage in the aftermath of CU`s lamentable 52-7 loss to Cal, the sanguine and loyal Williams holds out hope that the senior class can turn their on-field misfortunes around and conclude their collegiate careers on a winning note.

Former CU football star Alfred Williams.
Former CU football star Alfred Williams.

"Those seniors are our greatest recruiting tool," Williams said during an interview with the Camera. "I just want to see them do well. Nobody wants to see the university do bad."

Williams has always focused on what CU can be instead of dwelling on the program`s darker days. Case in point: Bill McCartney had posted a 20-36-1 record in five seasons before getting the coveted blue chip prospect from Houston`s Jesse Jones High School to commit to the Buffs.

That historically good 1987 recruiting class also included Eric Bieniemy, Jon Boman, Russ Heasley, George Hemingway, Jay Leeuwenburg, Kanavis McGhee, Mike Pritchard and Joel Steed.


Thegroup formed the backbone of the Buffs` three-year reign as Big Eight champions (1988-90), a run that culminated with a national title in Williams` senior season.

"I remember that the University of Colorado wasn`t high on my list," Williams recalled before launching into his famous laugh. "For me it was a topsy-turvy time with all the teams that were looking at me. CU didn`t stack up really high with the programs I was looking at. When I finally got a chance to see Coach Mac, it was really good. But what really changed everything was when I came down to Boulder for a visit."

Williams, who grew up in a tough Houston neighborhood, had never been on an airplane until deciding to look outside the Lone Star State and give CU a chance.

"It was just so different than the areas that many of us were raised in," Williams said. "On my flight the smoking section was one row behind me. You forget they used to allow smoking on planes. It was my first time leaving the state of Texas and the smoke gave me a terrible headache. It was pretty driving down (Highway 36), but I was having a bad experience. And then it snowed like crap the first day.

"I thought, 'It may be pretty here, but this was not right for me.'"

Fortunately for McCartney, Williams slept on the decision and woke up to a picture perfect day in Boulder that changed his life.

"The snow was melting and there were little streams running through the university. I remember looking around campus and thinking it was really cool," Williams said. "I decided I just wanted to go somewhere totally different than where I was from. My decision was more about the University of Colorado than football."

The other 'big dude`

Williams and McGhee first met when they were 14. In high school the talented big men played against each other in football and together on an all-star basketball team. McGhee thought his decision to leave Texas and play for McCartney at CU was unique.

"We didn`t know each other were going to CU. It just kind of happened like that," McGhee said. "We played at rival high schools, and I just knew they had a big dude, too. So we knew of each other, but we didn`t know we were both going to CU until signing day."

The coaching staff wisely assigned Williams and McGhee as roommates.

"What told me that we had a good team was rooming with Kanavis and we worked out together and I saw what kind of athlete he was," Williams said. "We dominated his team in high school, but individually he was an awesome football player."

Collectively, with Williams and McGhee at the outside linebacker positions, the Buffs were an almost unbeatable defense. 

"It was nice to know that when you go into a game with a guy like Al on the opposite side that he was going to do his job. And if you did your job, there was really nothing the opposing offense could do," McGhee said. "It was one of those things where we motivated each other, learned from each other, and grew together."

During the 1990 season, Williams was a unanimous All-American selection and won the Butkus Award given to the nation`s top linebacker. He was also a consensus All-American as junior in 1989 and one of four finalists for the Lombardi Award, along with McGhee.

"In my estimation, it was pick your poison," Bob Simmons, CU`s linebackers coach under McCartney, said of an opposing offense`s approach to blocking the Buffs. "If they doubled Al, then Kanavis or Steed or other great players were free to make plays. Al had the style and type of body where he could play physical or he could play finesse. With that many players around him, Al always found a way to really do something."

Everybody`s All-American

Other members of the defense during the era included Greg Biekert, Ron Bradford, Chad Brown and Deon Figures. The offense was also littered with stars such as Bieniemy, Christian Fauria, Darian Hagan, Joe Garten, George Hemingway, Leeuwenburg and Pritchard.

Williams` physical gifts and gregarious nature still stood out on the best team in CU history.

"He was a loud mouth, he had these big old glasses on, and I thought he was the ugliest person I`d ever seen," Hagan, who is currently CU`s running backs coach, quipped when asked about his first impression of Williams. "But he was a hell of a player and a good dude. ... My true freshman year I couldn`t believe the linebackers were that tall and big and athletic. I was a little afraid of them. I was like, 'This dude is going to hit me?`

"Al was very loud and vocal and intimidating a little bit. But as you get to know him and start practicing with him, you get the feel of how he plays the game. I just tricked him a lot."

CU practices throughout the week were often more entertaining than the games on Saturday.

"It was a flat out war," Simmons said. "All of our individual drills, our nine-on-seven inside drills, you can`t be faint of heart and watch those collisions. The competition made other guys better. You go through the names on that group and it was big-time. ...

"I always felt our football team was so good that our games were good but our practices were better. That created a confidence throughout both sides of the ball because both sides knew we just practiced against the best."

Four of CU`s six unanimous All-Americans -- Bieniemy, Garten, Leeuwenburg and Williams -- were members of the 1990 team assembled by the legendary McCartney.

"Coach Mac is the most honest man I`ve ever met in my life. He is a man of his word. If he says something, he does it," Williams said. "I`m just so happy to have played for him and I know he will also be a Hall of Famer. He is by far the best head coach I ever played for."

That`s an impressive statement considering Williams went on to win a pair of Super Bowls for Mike Shanahan as a member of the Broncos. "Big Al" still lives in Denver and remains one of the most beloved figures in Colorado sports history.

"He was the type of guy who played his best games in the big games. When he was physically and emotionally prepared, he was dominant," is how McCartney described Williams to after his star linebacker joined Byron "Whizzer" White, Joe Romig, Bobby Anderson and Dick Anderson as Buffs greats who are in the College Football Hall of Fame. "When we needed him most, he came up big. Alfred would stand out today, guys like him don`t come along very often.

"He`s as talented as anyone Colorado has ever had, and I`m proud of him for receiving this recognition."

Williams had a sack in each of the first 10 games of the 1990 season and still holds the school records for sacks (35) and tackles for loss (59). He was the recipient of CU`s Dave Jones Award as the team`s defensive most valuable player his junior and senior years. He was also the Big Eight defensive Player of the Year during those seasons.

Unbreakable bonds

If the Buffs are able to rebound with a victory over Hawaii and/or upset Georgia, it would certainly improve the vibe at Folsom Field.

Win or lose, Williams and his teammates will party like it`s 1990.

"What`s great about this group is we`ve always maintained our friendships and alliances," Williams said. "We`ll be the happiest group of 40-year old men you`ve ever seen in one place. We revert back to 18, even though I have a kid that is 18 now."

Williams also remains close with McCartney and many of the CU assistants. He even gave his Butkus Award to Simmons.

"It`s in my office, first thing you see when you walk through the door," Simmons said. "I think it was Al saying: 'You will forever be a part of my life.` Our relationship is beyond the award, he`s a member of our family. He calls my wife and says, 'How is mom doing?` She is very touched by that because she treated him like one of our kids."

Coaches always insist that they don`t read the newspapers or peek at the blogs and message boards. But they will acknowledge Williams` passion for the Buffs, even though he co-hosts an opinion-driven sports-talk show on 104.3 FM (KKFN).

"All of our guys are loyal to CU because CU gave us our opportunity," Hagan said of his teammates. "We could have gone anywhere else, but we came here because this place was special and Coach Mac is a special person. For Alfred to always say the right things and be positive about CU is awesome."

CU athletic director Mike Bohn -- who made sure Williams was by his side to greet Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott this summer during the conference realignment frenzy -- made this statement about old No. 94 when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame last December:

"Our hats are off to Alfred for his prominence on the football field beyond CU, but also what he continues to stand for as it relates to our football program, athletic department and the entire university. Many feel that it is more than appropriate that Alfred is the first to go in from the national championship team not only because what he meant to that team, but how he has represented and supported the university through the years."

Despite a messy end to the Gary Barnett era and Dan Hawkins` brutal 17-34 record, Williams is still very much in love with the University of Colorado.

"I`m so grateful because of the incredible friendships we made that have lasted," Williams said. "We`ve babysat for each other, cried on each shoulders, I`ve been there for the birth of teammates` kids, been best men in weddings, business partners and fans of each other. I won two Super Bowls, and it`s not like that in the NFL ranks. I love my tenure with the Broncos and the Super Bowls were great, but it`s nothing like the friendships and family at CU.

"If my football career would have ended with my last college game, I would have been all right with that. Our legacy at CU is intact, and the celebrations planned for these next two games gives us a chance to revisit it."