As the clocked ticked down on another thrilling Colorado Buffaloes moment during a fall that has been remarkably full of them, Danny Sanchez faced a welcome dilemma.
His CU soccer team had been roasting under the sun at Stanford Stadium for hours, enthusiastic spectators of another heart-stopping effort by the football team. The soccer Buffs had a 10-game win streak snapped two nights earlier just across the road by the third-ranked Cardinal, yet there remained another golden opportunity less than 24 hours away with a date against No. 10 Cal — a match they later won with two seconds remaining in the second overtime.
Late in the action, Sanchez realized the gridiron Buffs were going to come away with the victory in the showdown his players were watching in Northern California last week. As a coach, his thoughts quickly turned to what was best for his team. In this case, it was getting them out of the sun as soon as possible.
One problem: The job wasn't finished. As has been the case for any team donning the black-and-gold this fall in Boulder, the soccer team needed to finish the win...even from the stands.
"We had a great time at the football game," Sanchez said. "We went to a game at USC few years ago that wasn't as fun. It was a great time. The players didn't want to leave early. I want to get them out of the sun and they were like, 'No. We're staying until the last safety and make sure we kill this game off.' There's just great energy around the (athletics) department."
Indeed, "The Rise" has morphed from a catchy offseason marketing slogan for the football team to the mantra of a program-wide drive toward excellence that has marked CU athletics this fall.
At one point or another every fall sports program — football, soccer, volleyball, and men's and women's cross country — was ranked nationally, a first for CU. The rejuvenated football team checks in at No. 23 during its bye week, while the No. 22-ranked soccer team is attempting an equally remarkable worst-to-first turnaround with wins in 12 of 13 matches heading into the season's penultimate showdown Sunday at home against No. 4 USC.
Basketball and soccer players have been regular spectators at volleyball games. And basketball coach Tad Boyle gladly encouraged fans attending his team's pre-football game scrimmage two weeks ago to get outside and tailgate.
"I think everybody is excited about where we are, knowing that we still have a lot of fall left and a lot of things can happen," athletic director Rick George said Friday just hours before the CU cross country teams swept the Pac-12 finals for the second straight year.
"Everything is moving in the right direction and everything has been fairly positive. It's been an incredible fall at this point."
George notes the roundly successful fall so far in the athletic department, particularly the football team's 6-2 mark and first-place status in the Pac-12 South Division, has reaped benefits beyond the increased attendance at Folsom Field. With fans now more aware of the merchandise store at the new Champions Center, sales have climbed steadily throughout the past few months. And a sort of traveling CU Buffs merchandise store unveiled during the football games at Michigan, Oregon, and Stanford has exceeded expectations.
This, of course, also is supported by the increased attendance at football games. During the first three seasons of coach Mike MacIntyre's tenure (2013 through 2015), the Buffs topped the 45,000-mark in attendance just twice in 18 home games. CU has reached that total in each of the past two home dates, drawing 46,839 against Oregon State and 48,588 against Arizona State.
As of noon Friday, CU had moved 37,000 tickets for next week's Thursday night date against UCLA. Additionally, CU has sold 35,200 tickets for the Washington State battle on Nov. 19 and 33,900 for Utah on Nov. 26, which could amount to a division championship game.
Reducing the students' all-sports pass this year from $175 to $99 was a shrewd move at a time when many sports fans feel the strain of being nickel-and-dimed toward the poverty line. Yet in athletics, nothing breeds excitement like success.
"It's been great to see the students come out, and that's really important for our atmosphere," George said. "You can see a big uptick at our merchandise store, and all around the country our fans and alumni are excited about what's going on. And it's not just football."
Not to be overlooked is the unity inspired by the Champions Center. While the facility was christened last year, this marks the first full school year the coaching staffs from all sports (except volleyball and both basketball programs) have kept their headquarters in one location. Working alongside the staffs from the marketing, administration, sports medicine, and media relations departments not only has harbored clearer (and less time-consuming) communication lines, but it has fostered an atmosphere of camaraderie absent when the hubs of the various programs were scattered across campus.
"Being around all the coaches, all the programs, all the administrators, all the marketing people and sports medicine, energy feeds off energy," Sanchez said. "You see the football players all the time and obviously they're doing awesome. You see all the other coaches and everyone is congratulating or giving 'Hey, get them next time.'
"You have everyone in a Champions Center competing for championships, I think it puts everyone on the same page. I hate to say it like this, but it's just a good vibe. It obviously starts at the top with Rick and his expectations, but then he gives the resources to get it done. Just having everybody together in the athletic department is key, where in the past we were all scattered."