Darrin Chiaverini was there for the first one. He will be there for the last.
The Rocky Mountain Showdown will end a storied chapter of its history Friday night as the Colorado Buffaloes and Colorado State meet in Denver for the final time.
It’s not the final game of the state’s premier football rivalry (the teams meet in Fort Collins next year and play a home-and-home set in 2023-24). The Buffs might even return to Denver in the near future, with the 2021 home date against Texas A&M a candidate to be moved into whatever the Broncos’ stadium is called by then. Nevertheless, 21 years after the rivalry’s Denver debut at Mile High Stadium, the Denver chapter of the CU-CSU showdown is coming to a close.
“It’s definitely nostalgic when you think of all the games that have been played at Mile High, the old one and the new one,” said Chiaverini, the Buffs’ receivers coach and a CU receiver in the inaugural Buffs-Rams Denver game in 1998. “It’s just been a great rivalry. Playing on a pro field, it’s great for the players on both sides of the field just to get that experience to be on an NFL field. It’s always been a fun rivalry game to start the season.”
Covering 18 games over 21 seasons (the matchups in 2004, 2005 and 2009 were in Boulder), here is a look at the most memorable moments of the Denver era of the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
1. Gary Barnett (and everyone else) left weeping
(CSU 41, CU 14; Sept. 4, 1999)
Everything that could go wrong, on the field and otherwise, did as Barnett’s highly anticipated return to CU as the Buffs’ head coach ended in disaster. The Rams’ defense held the 14th-ranked Buffs to just 2.3 yards per rushing attempt and grabbed four interceptions. What made this night forever memorable, however, was the scrum between alcohol-fueled fans and police charged with protecting the turf as if toppling the goalposts would spark the downfall of society. The tear gas dispersed that night at Mile High Stadium didn’t discriminate from drunken student to innocent bystander to team personnel, as Barnett’s first postgame press conference — already a deflating one — had to be moved due to the noxious fumes.
2. Mile High Madness
(CU 42, CSU 14; Sept. 5, 1998)
The 70th edition of the state’s premier football rivalry was the first one played in Denver, on the home turf of the Broncos at Mile High Stadium. The Buffs ushered in the rivalry’s new era with a thorough rout of the 15th-ranked Rams, doubling up CSU in total yards (404 to 202) with new quarterback Mike Moschetti throwing for 257 yards and three touchdowns. The blowout helped spark CU to a 5-0 start, though the Buffs lost three of the final four regular season games before defeating Oregon in the Aloha Bowl in the final season of Rick Neuheisel’s coaching era.
3. Saving ‘01
(CU 41, CSU 14; Sept. 1, 2001)
A week earlier the Buffs suffered a 24-22 opening loss against Fresno State. While the setback ultimately cost CU a possible chance at playing for the national championship, the Buffs refused to let it define their season. A rushing attack that gained only 66 yards in 31 attempts against Fresno State flexed its muscles against the 24th-ranked Rams in what would become a season-long strength, with Bobby Purify (191 yards) and Chris Brown (121) combining for 312 rushing yards and three touchdowns. It was the first Rocky Mountain Showdown in the new stadium then known as Invesco Field.
4. Bloom busts loose
(CSU 19, CU 14; Aug. 31, 2002)
A No. 7-ranked CU team failed to live up to the hype in this season opener. Jeremy Bloom did not. The highly-touted speedster/skier from Loveland electrified Buffs fans the first time he got his hands on a punt return, breaking loose for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter that briefly sparked a Buffs comeback. After trailing 13-0, the Buffs rallied to take the lead only to watch CSU quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt spike the ball off the head of CU’s Roderick Sneed after crossing the goal line with the winning touchdown.
5. Hello, Joel Klatt
(CU 42, CSU 35; Aug. 30, 2003)
No one was quite sure what the Buffs were going to get under center from Klatt, a local product from Pomona High School who had returned to football a year earlier after trying his hand at minor league baseball. Klatt quickly put all doubts to rest in his starting debut, going 21-for-34 with 402 yards and four touchdown passes. Klatt delivered two long-range touchdown strikes to Derek McCoy of 82 and 78 yards, and he engineered a last-minute drive that ended with the go-ahead touchdown by Bobby Purify with 40 seconds remaining. Klatt’s 402 passing yards remains in a tie for the ninth-best single-game total in team history.
6. Eberhart saves the day
(CU 31, CSU 28 OT; Sept. 1, 2007)
The rivals had played 11 times since overtime was instituted in college football, but this marked the first time the Buffs and Rams took their battle to an extra session. Kicker Kevin Eberhart made amends for a missed 41-yard field goal midway through the third quarter as the Broomfield native kept the Buffs alive with a 22-yard field goal with 13 seconds remaining. Eberhart then clinched the win with a 35-yard conversion in overtime. The Rams enjoyed the first possession of overtime but CU’s defense set up the win when Terrence Wheatley intercepted a pass from CSU QB Caleb Hanie in the end zone.
7. Serving notice
(CU 44, CSU 7; Sept. 2, 2016)
The largest margin of victory enjoyed by either side since a 40-point CU win in 1956 served notice this season, finally, would be different for the Buffs. CU’s defense forced four turnovers and quarterback Sefo Liufau was on point, throwing for 318 yards and a touchdown while adding another 66 yards on the ground. Playing at his future professional home, running back Phillip Lindsay pitched in with 95 yards and a touchdown. The thrashing of the Rams jump-started a season in which Liufau, Lindsay, and the defense carried the Buffs to their first Pac-12 South Division title and a berth in the Alamo Bowl.
8. P-Rich welcomes Mike-Mac
(CU 41, CSU 27; Sept. 1, 2013)
The christening of the Mike MacIntyre era was a joyous affair for Buffs fans. Receiver Paul Richardson missed the 2012 season due to a knee injury but immediately set the stage for a breakout season on CU’s second offensive play, running free behind the CSU defense to haul in an 82-yard touchdown from Connor Wood. That duo also connected for a game-clinching 75-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, with Richardson finishing with 10 receptions for 208 yards. The joy wouldn’t last — the Buffs won just two Pac-12 games in MacIntyre’s first three seasons — but at least for Buffs fans they won two of three matchups against the Rams during that span.
9. Shenault’s star is born
(CU 45, CSU 13; Aug. 31, 2018)
A hot start didn’t linger as the Mike MacIntyre era ended in November, but on this night the CU offense was in a record-setting mood. An afterthought on offense a year earlier, receiver Laviska Shenault showcased his All-American potential, erupting for 11 receptions for 211 yards —the fourth-most receiving yards in CU history. The onslaught also marked the first time in the Buffs’ rich football history that they boasted a 200-yard receiver, a 300-yard passer (Steven Montez, 338), and a 100-yard rusher (Travon McMillian, 103) in the same game.
10. Olugbode to the house
(CU 27, CSU 24 OT; Sept. 19, 2015)
The Rams were driving in the fourth quarter to potentially regain the lead in a back-and-forth battle when linebacker Kenneth Olugbode stepped in front of a Nick Stevens pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. The Buffs still needed a game-winning 32-yard field goal from Diego Gonzalez to prevail in just the second overtime game between the rivals.