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CU alum Chris Fowler excited to broadcast Buffs spring game for ESPN

Chris Fowler is preparing to broadcast the Colorado Buffaloes' spring football game on Saturday. (Kelly Backus / ESPN Images)
Chris Fowler is preparing to broadcast the Colorado Buffaloes’ spring football game on Saturday. (Kelly Backus / ESPN Images)

Chris Fowler was a young reporter working a Florida at Florida State game in 1988 when he first encountered Deion Sanders, the brash, senior All-American cornerback of the Seminoles who arrived at the stadium in a limousine.

“We laughed about that yesterday on the Zoom call,” Fowler, now with ESPN, told BuffZone on Thursday as he went through a drive in the Colorado mountains.

When Fowler sees Sanders this week, the confident, first-year coach of the Colorado Buffaloes might pull up in a customized golf cart or Segway.

Regardless of the wheels, Sanders was the star attraction then, just as he is now.

A CU alum, Fowler will be the play-by-play announcer for ESPN’s broadcast of the Buffs’ spring game on Saturday at Folsom Field at 1 p.m. Robert Griffin III and Quint Kessenich will join Fowler on the broadcast.

CU is the only team in the country to have its spring game broadcast live on the main ESPN network and Fowler, ESPN’s lead analyst and one of the most respected sports broadcasters in the country, still can’t believe it.

“If you had told me a year ago I’d be doing this, zero percent chance and a sanity check would have been my response,” he said with a laugh. “I can tell you how I imagine it when I walk out there Saturday, it’ll be truly surreal. Even being on campus Friday and watching a practice and being around Prime and just seeing lovely Folsom Field will be cool, too.”

Hollywood, FL - April 2, 2023 - Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood: Chris Fowler during the 2023 inaugural Pickleball Slam. (Photo by Mark Brown / ESPN Images)
Hollywood, FL – April 2, 2023 – Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood: Chris Fowler during the 2023 inaugural Pickleball Slam. (Photo by Mark Brown / ESPN Images)

The main reason Fowler and ESPN are doing this game, of course, is Sanders.

CU went 1-11 last season and was, remarkably, worse than that record indicates.

“I’ll be honest with you, I was shocked how bad they were until I went back and looked at the tape and looked at the analytics,” Fowler said. “I knew they struggled. As an alum, I keep an eye on it, but they were so far off the national radar.

“I was shocked … (at) how bad they were; historically bad. I had no idea. Didn’t do anything well. They kicked field goals well, but not one thing you could say offensively or defensively they did well.”

When CU athletic director Rick George swung for the fences in December and hired Sanders, who led Jackson State to two consecutive SWAC titles, Fowler was excited. Sanders has just three seasons of college coaching experience, and none at the FBS level, but he’s a Pro Football Hall of Famer with major confidence, swagger and mass appeal who pumped life in the JSU program.

“It’s an unusual hire. Some would say a desperation move, but Colorado is in a desperate situation,” Fowler said. “Is it a geographic fit and an historic fit? No, but what does that mean anymore? Everything is more fluid and Colorado has the biggest rebuilding job I’ve seen, possibly, in my years of covering this sport.”

It’s a rebuild made easier with the transfer portal, which Sanders has used more than anyone ever before. The Buffs have the No. 1-ranked transfer class this year, with 28 newcomers – and more on the way.

“If you didn’t have the portal, it’d be impossible (to rebuild quickly),” Fowler said. “It would take years to get a pulse. Now you can take out the defibrillator and you can bring a patient back to life on the slab thanks to the transfer portal, which he’s already done.”

Sanders’ massive roster overhaul and his larger-than-life personality have already revitalized the CU program and fan base. For the first time in nearly 40 years, CU decided to sell tickets to the spring game and sold out, with more than 45,000 fans expected to attend.

“When you don’t have hope and you don’t have belief and you don’t have confidence and you don’t have swag and you have the perception that you’re the worst program in the country, you have nothing,” Fowler said of CU’s situation before hiring Sanders in December. “You need someone who can bring all of those things and Deion checks all of those boxes.”

That’s why Fowler and ESPN will be in Boulder this weekend, covering one of the most fascinating spring games in the country.

“The idea of it was a slam dunk for me,” said Fowler, who last called a regular season game in Boulder in 2008. “Once I saw that Colorado and ESPN had agreed, I knew I wanted to do it.”

Like Sanders, this broadcast will be unique.

Fowler said CU has the “most fluid roster I’ve ever seen in the sport,” and the fact that most of the Buffs haven’t had uniform numbers adds to the difficulty. Fowler finally got a chart with numbers on Thursday morning, making it impossible to memorize the roster.

Fowler prides himself on being precise and clean with his preparation and calls, but said, “I’ll just roll with it. We’re gonna have fun with it.”

The ESPN crew will also be calling the game from the field, rather than from a broadcast booth. Fowler, Griffin and Kessenich will be standing behind the offense on the field, often near Sanders. That means there won’t be any way to watch monitors for replays.

“Buckle up. It’s gonna be an interesting freeform broadcast – more talk show than documenting a game, but I think it’s called for (in this case),” Fowler said. “This is going to be the craziest, wackiest, two hours of football I’ve ever done, hands down … But I’m super excited.”