(Note: This football season, Buffzone.com has featured memorable games and players in CU football history. This installment concludes our series, as we look back at the Buffs’ bowl game history.)
Standing on the sidelines, leaning on his crutches after a first-half knee injury knocked him out, Colorado’s Darian Hagan wanted to cry when he watched Notre Dame’s Raghib Ismail race past him and to the end zone in the final minutes of the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1991, in Miami, Fla.
“Then I looked over at coach (Bill) McCartney and he was pointing to the flag,” Hagan said years later.
Ah, that flag. It proved to be the most significant penalty in Colorado football history. A clipping penalty called on Notre Dame wiped out the punt return by Ismail. Six plays later, Buffs cornerback Deon Figures intercepted a Notre Dame pass on the final play to wrap up a 10-9 victory that secured the first and only national championship in CU history.
A year earlier, CU was 11-0 going into the Orange Bowl, but a 21-6 loss to the Irish ended the Buffs’ title hopes.
The 1990 season was more of a struggle, but the Buffs (11-1-1 in 1990), ranked No. 1 going into the game, got some revenge against No. 5 Notre Dame, even with Hagan, the star quarterback, on the sidelines in the second half.
Backup Charles Johnson helped CU overcome a 9-3 deficit, while it was Eric Bieniemy’s 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that provided the winning score, along with Jim Harper’s extra point. Harper added a 22-yard field goal in the first half.
Johnson was the MVP, completing 5-of-6 passes for 80 yards, while Bieniemy ran for 86 yards. CU’s Ronnie Bradford blocked an extra point on Notre Dame’s lone touchdown and Greg Thomas picked off two Irish passes.
“It was a season of trials and tribulations,” Johnson told BuffZone years later. “But, it was a season of incredible growth and maturity of a program. We won in ’89 because we had great coaches and great talent. In ’90, we won a national championship because we had matured as a team that wasn’t the hunter; we were the huntee at that point. We didn’t realize it at first, but we quickly discovered it.”
A look back at some other memorable moments in Colorado postseason history:
Dec. 25, 1924 – Colorado 43, Hawaii-Navy All-Stars 0: At Honolulu, this wasn’t a bowl game, but a group of boosters arranged a trip for the team to visit Honolulu and play a pair of games. CU dominated the All-Stars on Christmas Day, moving their record to 8-0-1. To that point, the Buffs had outscored the opposition 237-0. The next week, on New Year’s Day, the Buffs lost to Hawaii, 13-0. That snapped a 19-game unbeaten streak for CU (18-0-1).
Jan. 1, 1938 – Cotton Bowl, No. 18 Rice 28, Colorado 14: At Dallas, in the Buffs’ first bowl appearance, they built a 14-0 first quarter leader behind Byron “Whizzer” White. He threw a touchdown pass and returned an interception 47 yards for another. It was all Rice from there, however, as Owls’ star Ernie Lain threw three TD passes and ran for another.
Jan. 1, 1957 – Orange Bowl, No. 20 Colorado 27, No. 19 Clemson 21: At Miami, CU built a 20-0 halftime lead behind TD runs from John Bayuk, Howard Cook and Boyd Dowler. Clemson stormed back to take a 21-20 lead in the fourth, but Bayuk scored the game-winner with 7:13 to play. Bayuk ran for 121 yards and CU overcame eight fumbles (three lost).
Dec. 31, 1967 – Bluebonnet Bowl, No. 14 Colorado 31, No. 18 Miami 21: At Houston, quarterback Bobby Anderson didn’t start but was named game MVP after rushing for 108 yards and two touchdowns and throwing for 49 yards. Dan Kelly started at QB because of Anderson’s ankle injury, but Anderson helped CU rally from a 14-10 halftime deficit and finish the season 9-2.
Dec. 13, 1969 – Liberty Bowl, Colorado 47, Alabama 33: At Memphis, Tenn., in his final game at CU, Bobby Anderson rushed for 254 yards and three touchdowns, while fullback Ward Walsh scored two TDs. On defense, Bill Brundige had 15 tackles and five sacks; CU had eight sacks overall, capping an 8-3 season.
Dec. 31, 1971 – Bluebonnet Bowl, No. 7 Colorado 29, No. 15 Houston 17: At Houston, Charlie Davis ran for 202 yards and two touchdowns, while Ken Johnson threw a TD pass and ran for another. The defense held Houston to three points in the last three quarters and CU posted its first-ever 10-win season (10-2).
Jan. 1, 1990 – Orange Bowl, No. 4 Notre Dame 21, No. 1 Colorado 6: At Miami, the Buffs, 11-0 coming in, had their national title hopes shattered as Raghib “Rocket” Ismail led the Irish. Ismail ran for 108 yards and a touchdown, while Anthony Johnson scored twice. Darian Hagan ran for 106 yards and a touchdown to lead CU, which had three turnovers.
Dec. 25, 1993 – Aloha Bowl, No. 17 Colorado 41, No. 24 Fresno State 30: At Honolulu, Rashaan Salaam ran for 135 yards and three touchdowns, while safety Chris Hudson recorded seven tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a sack. CU finished 8-3-1.
Jan. 2, 1995 – Fiesta Bowl, No. 4 Colorado 41, Notre Dame 24: At Tempe, Ariz., Kordell Stewart and Rashaan Salaam were sensational on offense as the Buffs capped a great season (11-1) and sent legendary coach Bill McCartney out a winner in his final game. Stewart had 348 yards of total offense (205 passing, 143 rushing) and accounted for two touchdowns. Salaam, the Heisman Trophy winner, ran for 83 yards and three touchdowns.
Jan. 1, 1996 – Cotton Bowl, No. 7 Colorado 38, No. 12 Oregon 6: At Dallas, CU fell behind 6-0 after one quarter and then dominated from there. Freshman Marcus Washington had a 95-yard interception return for touchdown, while John Hessler led the offense, throwing for 115 yards and two touchdowns and adding a rushing touchdown.
Dec. 30, 1996 – Holiday Bowl, No. 8 Colorado 33, No. 13 Washington 21: At San Diego, Washington raced to a 14-0 lead, but Koy Detmer and the Buffs rolled from there. Detmer threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns — two to Rae Carruth and one to Darrin Chiaverini — and Nick Ziegler had a 31-yard interception return for touchdown. It capped a three-year run in which CU went 31-5.
Dec. 26, 1998 – Aloha Bowl, Colorado 51, No. 21 Oregon 43: At Honolulu, the Buffs pulled off the upset of the Ducks with several big plays, including Ben Kelly’s 93-yard kickoff return for touchdown to start the game. They also got a 52-yard interception return from Damen Wheeler, a 58-yard touchdown pass from Mike Moschetti to Marcus Stiggers and a 72-yard TD pass from Moschetti to Chiaverini.
Dec. 31, 1999 – Insight.com Bowl, Colorado 62, No. 25 Boston College 28: At Tucson, Ariz., the Buffs stormed to a 35-0 lead behind two interception returns for TD (from Jashon Sykes and Rashidi Barnes) and an 88-yard punt return for TD by Ben Kelly. Cortlen Johnson added 201 rushing yards and two TDs, helping CU to a sixth straight bowl win.
Dec. 29, 2004 – Houston Bowl, Colorado 33, UTEP 28: At Houston, quarterback Joel Klatt threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns — to Joe Klopfeinstein and Evan Judge — helping CU rally from a 28-19 fourth quarter deficit. Tom Hubbard picked off two UTEP passes. It stands as CU’s last bowl victory, as the Buffs have lost four in a row since.