Let’s go back to November 23rd, 2001; a day Buff Nation will never forget.
The nation’s top-ranked team, the Nebraska Cornhuskers made the trip to Boulder to take on the 15th-ranked Colorado Buffaloes.
The Buffs were in the midst of a 10-year losing streak against the hated Cornhuskers with their last win coming in 1990 when Colorado became National Champions.
But on the Friday after Thanksgiving in 2001, Colorado unleashed 10 years of built-up hate and disappointment on Nebraska.
Here are my takeaways from 62-36 as a first-time viewer.
Perfectly timed impact plays
The first impact play came on the first play from scrimmage when Sean Tufts got into the Nebraska backfield and tackled Eric Crouch for a four-yard loss.
That play set the tone for what the Buffs were going to do to Nebraska throughout the game.
While the Buffs were absolutely dominant that day after Thanksgiving in 2001, there were times when the game still hung in the balance.
After Colorado stormed down the field for their first drive of the game, the Colorado defense followed up with Donald Stickland standing up Nebraska running back Dahrran Diedrick and forcing a fumble.
Colorado scored on their first offensive play after recovering that fumble but Strickland wasn’t done yet.
Colorado had the lead 42-23 at halftime and Nebraska manufactured a strong drive to open the second half. The Huskers got all the way down to the Colorado one-yard line before Strickland struck again and forced the ball out of the hands of Diedrick again.
Both turnovers were monumental swings in momentum and allowed the Buffs to comfortably hold the lead from start to finish.
While Strickland’s goal line stand kept the Huskers out of the end zone to start the third quarter, Nebraska would score a touchdown on their next drive to make the score 42-30.
Perhaps the biggest offensive play of the game for the Buffs came on 1st and 10 from the Colorado seven-yard line late into the third quarter.
The Buffs only had four yards of offense in the third quarter until Pesavento scrambled to his left and broke free for a 22-yard gain. That play gave Colorado breathing room to comfortably get back to their ground-and-pound attack and resume their domination of Nebraska in the trenches.
Clear and Decisive
All-American tight end Daniel Graham was in rare form for the Buffs that day and quarterback Bobby Pesavento was dropping dimes all over the field. Both played massive roles in Colorado’s win, but it was CU’s two-headed monster at running back who took over the game for Colorado.
Starting running back Cortlen Johnson went down with an injury early but Bobby Purify and Chris Brown ran through, around and all over Nebraska that day.
Before the first quarter was over, the score was 28-3 and the Buffs had rushed for 130 yards and three touchdowns on only 10 attempts.
Purify rushed for a 39-yard touchdown on his first carry and had a 44-yard run toward the end of the first quarter that eventually led to the first of Chris Brown’s six touchdowns on the day.
While the running backs were the stars that day, Colorado’s offensive line was nothing short of superb.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen an offensive line completely dominate as well as Colorado’s did against Nebraska in 2001. Every play the Buffs were caving in the Huskers’ front seven and before the first half was over, Nebraska’s linebackers showed complete disinterest in fitting the run and putting a stop to Colorado’s potent run game.
The Buffs stole Nebraska’s soul that day and the Huskers would never be the same again.
Colorado ended Nebraska
Colorado’s beatdown that day was spiteful and embarrassing for the Cornhuskers. It was the end of Nebraska’s football program as we knew it. The dominant Huskers of yesterday were no more after November 23rd, 2001.
The Huskers were perennial national title contenders and always in the conversation for the number-one team in the country.
Since that game, Nebraska has yet to earn recognition as the number-one team in the country and expectations have been set well below competing for the national title.
The Huskers have only had four ten-win seasons since 2001. Since joining the Big Ten in 2011, Nebraska has only won 10 games once. Even when Nebraska won 10 games in 2012 and went to the Big Ten Championship Game, they were thrashed by Wisconsin 70-31 and swiftly reminded where they stand within the Big Ten.
Nebraska has struggled to find a coach that can recruit at the level the Huskers were recruiting at throughout the 90s. In fact, the last two Nebraska head coaches have been disaster hires for the Huskers and have left them dwelling in the Big Ten basement.
Never forget that the Colorado Buffaloes ended the dominance of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and reset the trajectory of their program.
What rivalry games mean to me
The last six months have been a crash course in Colorado football for me. I’ve spent a decent amount of time in Boulder soaking in CU’s beautiful campus, learning about Buff legends and why this program is so storied and its fan base is so proud.
After watching the best game in Colorado history in full for the first time, I feel like I have a much greater understanding of what this program used to be and what it will look like when the Buffs are back to winning.
I get it.
I was seven years old on November 23rd, 2001. I don’t remember November 23rd, 2001, but I remember the day after. Michigan and Ohio State were slated to play on November 24th, 2001.
I was raised a Michigan Wolverine fan by my dad and have been humming “Hail to the Victors” since I could remember.
On that Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2001, I sat down with my dad to watch The Game and started to grasp the gravity and importance of rivalries. As is with most seven-year-olds, my attention was never completely focused on the game and if it was, it was only momentary.
I remember at one point during the game my dad told me, “if Michigan wins this game, we will go see the new Harry Potter movie.” I locked in, I started to get it. Eventually, my motivation to see the movie diminished and all I cared about was watching what I considered the good guys beat the bad guys.
Michigan eventually lost that game and I was crushed. Maybe because I thought I wasn’t going to see Harry Potter (we still went), but that was the first time a rivalry game meant something to me. Now whenever Michigan beats Ohio State, it means that little bit more to me as I think back to my first memory of The Game.
Now some 21 years later, I get it again. It’s just through black and gold lenses now.