In an age of social media direct messages, cell phones everywhere, and even the comparatively rustic medium of emails, it’s understandable that Michael Westbrook last year tossed aside a curious-looking package that arrived via snail mail.
Minutes later, Westbrook was struck by the recognition that the correspondence wasn’t actually from the University of Colorado, as he initially assumed. Westbrook, one of CU’s all-time greats and one of the central figures in one of the most memorable plays in college football history, had been selected for the College Football Hall of Fame.
On Saturday, the former standout wide receiver was celebrated with a brief first-half ceremony at Folsom Field, giving the Buffs’ faithful even more reason to long for the glories of yesteryear during a 37-14 loss against USC.
“I thought I was going to be inducted earlier, because I was on the ballot earlier,” Westbrook said. “Then I go check the mail a couple years later, and there’s a football on the envelope there. I kind of look at it like, ‘Huh, CU must be giving me some more stuff.’ I put it on my kitchen counter and said I’ll read it in a little while.
“Then I realized it wasn’t CU’s colors, like 10 minutes later. I ran downstairs and picked it up and I was like, ‘Ohhhh!’ I was very pleasantly surprised.”
With his No. 81 decorating the turf at the 25-yard line on both ends of the field, Westbrook’s moment of appreciation was preceded by the playing on the Folsom video board of his famous Hail Mary catch that capped the “Miracle at Michigan” win on Sept. 24, 1994.
It is a play that remains etched in the lore of not only the CU Buffs, but all of college football.
“Around the 24th (of September) every year I get lots of phone calls,” Westbrook said. “To me, that’s not who I am. It’s a play. It’s a moment in time. What makes me is what kind of parent I am. How I’m raising my children. That’s my life. That’s a play. It’s one of the greatest plays I’ve ever been a part of. But it doesn’t make me who I am.”
Despite playing in a run-first era of college football, Westbrook’s name remains prominent atop CU records alongside receivers from more recent pass-happy offenses. Westbrook left CU as the program’s all-time leader in receptions (167) and receiving yards (2,548). He still ranks third and fourth, respectively, in those categories. He also left the Buffs as the all-time leader in receiving touchdowns with 19 and still ranks seventh.
“It meant everything just to be out there,” Westbrook said. “The alumni, the football former players, haven’t been involved in a whole lot of stuff here. So for them to do that for me was huge, a way of saying thank you for all you did for us. I’m very grateful for the display they showed.”