DENVER -- A tear 45 years in the making slowly made it's way down Jon Embree's left cheek.
For a split second, a football lifetime flashed before Embree's eyes and the emotions forced their way out.
"I'm happy," the Buffs' first-year head coach said.
So are Colorado fans. Finally.
The Buffs picked up Embree's elusive first victory at the expense of Colorado State, winning 28-14 on Saturday at Sports Authority Field.
Was it perfect? Not even close.
The stadium was half empty. The Rams' offense, outside of the opening drive, was dreadful.
The teams combined for 19 penalties, including a bogus celebration flag thrown at Toney Clemons and two bizarre sideline interference calls against CSU.
But in 20 years, this ugly win will be remembered by the CU players as a Picasso. Not because they earned bragging rights over the rival Rams. This was special because it was the first victory of the Embree era.
"It means a lot, we love coach Embree," senior quarterback Tyler Hansen said. "It was really important for us to get that first win."
On Sept. 17, 1983, Embree -- a true freshman playing at Folsom Field for the first time -- discovered the joy of signing the fight song in a victorious locker room after CU's 31-3 victory over CSU.
On Sept. 17, 2011, Embree -- after suffering through and agonizing over the losses to Hawaii and Cal -- stepped to the podium at his postgame press conference with a winning smile.
"It feels great," Embree said. "My first win as a player was against these guys, so to do it as a coach means a lot. I underestimated a little bit how much last week's loss hurt us."
As offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and the other assistants who called the game from the press box were waiting in the tunnel for Embree following the game, defensive line coach Kanavis McGhee summed up the feeling of the determined staff succinctly:
"First win of many."
The competitive Embree expected to notch his first victory as CU's head coach two weeks earlier at Aloha Stadium. The Buffs were no match for Bryant Moniz and the Warriors, losing 34-17.
CU was in position to beat Cal at Folsom Field last Saturday, but snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in overtime. A potential brick in the big-win wall turned into a bitter 36-33 defeat that was difficult to shake off.
Embree said all of the right things, but 0-2 was clearly wearing on his patience.
And the players didn't take the field with an emotional edge against the Rams, who always have the CU game circled.
"We didn't have the same kind of juice as we had in our first two games," Embree said. "We're a team that has to play on passion and emotion. That is what we need to do, and it felt too business-like early on."
CSU would be a top-20 team if Steve Fairchild could script every drive. The Rams marched down the field -- nine plays, 80 yards, 4:59 -- and took a 7-0 lead after CU won the coin toss and deferred.
The Buffs' first three drives ended with punts. Then Hansen took over in the second quarter, scoring on a 2-yard run and throwing a dart to Kyle Cefalo just before the half to give CU a 14-7 lead.
The teams exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter before Embree's team seized the day with the second-longest drive in program history.
Sixteen plays. Eighty-five yards. Ten minutes and three seconds off the clock. Four third-down conversions.
And one unforgettable victory for the head coach.
The Buffs might not win many more games during Embree's first season of rebuilding the program. They will pack an 18-game road losing streak for next Saturday's game at Ohio State before jumping into the Pac-12 fray for the first time.
But it feels like Jon Embree was born to finish this job. After all, the man is a Buff for life.
On Saturday at the Rocky Mountain Showdown, life was pretty good for the CU football program.
"I just think of all of the people who sacrificed for me to be here," Embree said as his eyes welled. "It means a lot."