They don't party like it's 1961 anymore.

But those who played on that legendary Colorado football team -- which stood up to rugged competition in the Big Eight and racial segregation in the South -- still celebrate together 50 years later.

"We used to meet up at The Sink. I worked there, a bunch of guys on the team did," said Jerry Hillebrand, a first-team All-American end for the Buffaloes. "We'd be sloshing our beer ... we had a pretty good time in college. We still meet there, but now, now we're sloshing water and orange juice."

The seniors on the roster, led by captains Joe Romig and Charlie McBride, were all recruited by Dal Ward. The well-respected head coach was fired after 11 seasons, despite compiling a 63-41-6 record and leading the program to a victory over Clemson in the Orange Bowl five years earlier.

Many of the underclassmen who were recruited by the brash new head coach, 32-year-old Sonny Grandelius, and emerging as future stars, were embraced by the Class of '61.

That combination of experience, talent and team unity made the Buffs a force to be reckoned with that fall a half-century ago.

"I think what happened was in the middle of the Dal Ward firing when we were sophomores, everyone was pretty upset," McBride said. "There was a lot of talk about, 'Let's go transfer,' as there usually is during a coaching change. ...


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"Going through that episode made us closer. A lot of the guys who played the most for Sonny were recruited by Dal. We just had fun together and it was a great group."

After surviving spring football practices, the Buffs had a feeling over the summer that the 1961 season would be special.

"Somehow that senior group reached out and touched everybody. We're about as tight a group as there is," said John Meadows, who was a sophomore end. "Back in those days, spring ball was 20 days of pure torture. I mean it was all pads, hitting ... I think we all thought that we might have a good team after that. I was just hoping to make the travel squadand just contribute. Those guys were so great to me. I felt like I was a part of something."

Cloudy with a

chance of Oranges

On Sept. 30, 1961, the Buffs opened the season with a 24-0 romp over Oklahoma State in front of 40,000 witnesses at Folsom Field.

"I didn`t think 1960 was a good year," Gale Weidner, the quarterback, said of CU`s 6-4 finish to a campaign that had started so promisingly at 5-1, including back-to-back home wins over Nebraska and Oklahoma. "So the opener was a game we were happy to win. I felt comfortable that our defense would be good and we shut them out, 24-0."

Weidner is one of the few Buffs who can recall the most intimate details -- what routes his targets were running on specific plays in specific games, what the field conditions each Saturday were like, what was said in the huddle -- all these decades later.

Everyone remembers the finish to the Kansas game on Oct. 7.

CU found itself trailing the Jayhawks -- who were led by first-team All-American quarterback John Hadl and three-time All-Big Eight running back Curtis McClinton -- 19-0 in the fourth quarter. The Buffs rallied with three unanswered touchdowns to pull off a dramatic, season-changing 20-19 victory over KU.

Weidner threw three touchdowns, two long strikes to Ken Blair (57 and 47 yards) and the 17-yard game-winner to Hillebrand, which capped a 63-yard drive in the final minutes to send the home crowd of 42,700 into a frenzy.

"If we would have lost, it would have been an average season," Weidner said. "The last one to Hillebrand, the guy from KU was playing inside him, so he was pretty much alone."

Hillebrand had been poked in the eye on the previous drive, and Grandelius sent a wide-eyed Meadows into the game with championship dreams hanging in the balance.

"I go in there and in the huddle they start screaming and crying at me, 'Meadows, you better do something,` " Meadows said. "We went down the field from our own 25 or 30, and Weidner called an out play to my end. He was going to throw that (touchdown) pass to me. And Hillebrand comes running in and says, 'Meadows, out!` I was that close."

Weidner and Hillebrand naturally made the headlines, but defense would win the conference championship. Lost in the comeback story against KU was linebacker Walt Klinker`s third-down tackle of Hadl to force a punt.

On Oct. 14, the suddenly nationally-ranked Buffs (No. 15) traveled all the way to Miami and escaped with a 9-7 victory over the Hurricanes, another opponent with an All-American quarterback (George Mira) under center.

"I had received an award when I was a junior during a basketball game. That night I predicted we`d win all our games my senior year," said Romig, an All-American guard. "I had a sense we had a pretty good team and there wasn`t anyone on our schedule we couldn`t beat. By the same token, everyone could beat us."

CU cracked the top 10 in the polls and beat Kansas State 13-0 in Manhattan on Oct. 21. The Buffs probably should have been even more dominant, but there were bigger fish to fry the following Saturday in Norman, Okla.

Perhaps one of the reasons why many fans had demanded that Ward be removed was CU`s 0-8-1 record against Oklahoma on his watch. A 7-0 victory over the Sooners, the Buffs` first win in the series since 1912, highlighted Grandelius` second season in 1960.

This time, on Oct. 28, the Buffs beat OU on the road, 22-14, to put themselves in position for the Big Eight crown.

"I was overwhelmed being in that stadium," said Bill Harris, a sophomore halfback who would break into the spotlight in 1961. "As a kid, you see and read so much about Oklahoma. I remember I ran a kickoff return back 52 yards, then we went in to score to win that ball game."

The victory gave CU a 5-0 record, a No. 8 ranking, and a chance to all but clinch the conference title in a showdown with No. 10 Missouri on Nov. 4 at Folsom Field.

Dan Devine`s Tigers had shared the Big Eight title with KU in 1960 (they were retroactively awarded the outright title when it was learned that the rival Jayhawks had used an ineligible player in winning the Border War that year) and beat Navy in the Orange Bowl.

Missouri, ranked No. 1 at the time, beat CU 16-6 in Columbia en route to a 10-1 finish.

The determined Buffs gutted out a 7-6 victory over the Tigers in the rematch. Weidner hit Harris on a 21-yard touchdown pass, and CU thwarted a 2-point conversion try by Missouri, which also missed a field goal, in the fourth quarter.

"That was a classic," Harris said. "It was a tight ball game, the stadium was filled, and we knew if we won we would win the title."

Oranges rained down from the bleachers at Folsom Field as the Buffs trotted off the field.

Circled in red once again

Some of the greatest moments from the early days of CU football came against Utah. From 1910-47, the Buffs and Utes were rivals, first in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and then the Mountain States Athletic Conference.

On Nov. 7, 1936, Byron "Whizzer" White ran for a touchdown, threw a touchdown, returned a kickoff for a touchdown, and returned two punts for touchdowns to lead CU to a 31-7 upset of the Utes.

On Nov. 6, 1937, the future U.S. Supreme Court Justice made a field goal, scored on an 85-yard punt return, scored on a 57-yard touchdown run, and converted both extra points to lead the Buffs to a 17-7 win in Salt Lake City. White was the runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting that season after leading CU to an 8-1 record and its first postseason game (a 28-14 loss to Rice in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1, 1938).

But in 1948, CU left Utah behind for a new challenge in the Big Seven.

Then the Utes stunned their old foes with a 21-12 victory over the No. 8 Buffs on Nov. 11, 1961, at Folsom Field.

The perfect season was spoiled.

"I felt we were the better team, but we couldn`t do anything right," McBride said. "It was a mess."

Grandelius, who died in 2008, may have taken a win over Utah for granted. After CU marched down the field and scored to take a 7-0 lead, the young head coach platooned in his reserves. The Utes rattled off the game`s next 21 points to seize control.

"By the time we got our stuff together, we were down big and fighting like hell to get back into the game," Hillebrand said. "We took them too lightly."

Utah`s Gary Hertzfeldt, one of the more unheralded quarterbacks CU faced that season, controlled the game with his passing. It was easily the highlight of the campaign for the Utes, who finished 6-4.

"The Utah game was like, 'What happened?` " Meadows said. "It`s even hard to believe today."

In 1962, after Grandelius had been fired for committing NCAA violations, CU lost 37-21 in the opener at Utah to set the tone for a 2-8 season and some dark days for the Buffs. The programs haven`t played since, but will renew the rivalry in 2011 as new members of the Pac-12 Conference.

"Colorado has fallen off the past few years, but I`m sure they`ll get it back because they have great tradition," said former Utah halfback Bud Scalley, who scored the last points in the series. "I`m sure it won`t take long to get a good rivalry going there."

Current CU head coach Jon Embree and contemporary Buffs fans want to let rivalries develop over time in the Pac-12, but members of the `61 team have the Nov. 25 game in Salt Lake City circled in red.

"That`s the first thing I thought of, our loss to those guys," McBride, who went on to become Tom Osborne`s longtime defensive coordinator at Nebraska, said of CU leaving the Big 12 for the Pac-12. "I think personally, CU should have been playing Utah, Wyoming, Colorado State, and all those regional teams. It seems natural. But conferences change, and you can`t do anything about it. I think this move is great."

Buffs bonded for life

CU was able to bounce back on Nov. 18 with a 7-0 victory over Nebraska in Lincoln. The Buffs held the Cornhuskers without a first down, to 0-for-12 passing, and 31 yards of total offense. The field conditions were perfect for a pig sty, but not a well-played game of pigskin.

"We fumbled three times inside their 10. The mud was over our shoes," Weidner said. "Finally, we were at the 1, and Grandelius called a QB sneak. I don`t know if I got in or not. I think I did. I just plopped down in the mud, they called it a touchdown, and dang it if we didn`t kick the extra point, too. ...

"I don`t know what I had for breakfast some days," Weidner says with a laugh. "But I can remember the Nebraska game."

During Meadows` career as the director of community relations at Coors, he remembers speaking to the Nebraska Cattleman`s Association one night in Omaha and introducing himself as a member of the `61 CU team that humbled the Huskers in their own stadium.

"Not a word, not an acknowledgement, not a recognition," Meadows said of the response.

Just crickets.

After the historic win over Nebraska, CU closed out the regular season with convincing victories over Iowa State (34-0) and Air Force (29-12) to become the program`s first nine-win team.

An invitation to the Orange Bowl was accepted by CU officials, and turned down in the locker room.

Romig and McBride announced that the Buffs would only play powerhouse LSU in the Orange Bowl if the entire team -- white and black players -- could stay at the same hotel.

During the trip to Miami earlier in the season, the five black players -- Harris, running back Teddy Woods, wide receiver Ed Coleman, running back Noble Milton, and tackle Al Hollingsworth -- were segregated from the rest of the Buffs.

"We were sort of nervous, but also proud and happy with what our teammates stood up for," Harris said. "I think a lot of that stuff we went through that year made us a really close-knit family. The racial stuff in the South, it`s something we were aware of. But our teammates kept us pretty secure, and we just stayed together as a team and a group.

"When you`re with your teammates, you forget a lot of that stuff."

LSU dominated the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1962, with a 25-7 victory over CU in front of a crowd of 62,391. The Buffs still walked off the field with their heads held high.

Years later, Romig`s wife Barbara ran into an old sports writer in New York who asked her if she was related to the College Hall of Fame player from Colorado. He remembered vividly the stance the losing team in the Orange Bowl had taken against the old South.

"He said, 'They stood together as a team with no color lines. They stood for what was right,` " Barbara said.

Joe Romig became a Rhodes Scholar, earned a PhD in Astrophysics at CU, and is still working as a certified fire investigator. After retiring from Coors following a 34-year career, Meadows served CU as an assistant athletic director and is now a top agent for women`s college basketball coaches around the country. Harris was a highly successful health care executive and served as the C-Club director at his alma mater before retiring two years ago.

A total of seven players from the 1961 team played in the NFL. The group also produced 15 successful businessmen, 11 educators, three attorneys, three college coaches, three physicians (including a brain surgeon), a judge, and an FBI agent.

Eight members of this football fraternity have passed away, but many of them keep in touch regularly on the phone or over dinner, and most of them return to Boulder for a reunion at least once a year.

Harris is hoping to get all of the living members back at Folsom Field for the Washington State game on Oct. 1 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that Orange Bowl run.

"I think maybe why we won was because we were so close," Hillebrand said. "You have all these different personalities and we just all got along. There wasn`t any problems, and I think that carried over into our games. ...

"Some of the guys that I played against in the pros were from Nebraska and Oklahoma and Missouri. They used to tell me, 'Those Buffaloes were tougher than hell.` "

They still are. Just not as rowdy when reminiscing back on The Hill in Boulder 50 years later.