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Woody Paige: Colorado, Utah can once more foster a true rivalry

Published May 10, 2011 10:37 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Denver • The Buffaloes once again will circle the annual big game on the day after Thanksgiving in red.

The opposition's primary color will be virtually the same, but the "N" on the helmet will be replaced by a "U."

The Buffs' old rival will become their new rival when the universities of Colorado and Utah play this season for the first time in a year short of a half-century.

They originally were scheduled to meet at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 26, but athletic directors Mike Bohn and Chris Hill asked the Pac-12 to move the game up to Friday night to jump-start their rivalry.

The conference office's initial reaction was that the Buffs or Utes might have an advantage with an extra day's preparation if they advanced to the Pac-12 championship game, slotted for the following Friday night.

However, the Pac-12 agreed Tuesday to change the game's date.

As you may recall, CU used to play some school named "Nebraska" the day after Thanksgiving. But the Buffaloes and the Cornhuskers no longer belong to the Big 12.

That rivalry has vanished — though the Huskers never would admit the Buffs were rivals.

Utah has its rivalry with BYU, and they would play in the last Mountain West game of the season. But Utah is gone, and BYU, in football, has become a conference unto itself. The schools will play this year Sept. 17, and there will be nothing but bragging rights.

Colorado will have the same situation on the same day with Colorado State in the "Rocky Mountain Showdown" in Denver.

But Colorado and Utah each need a true, rumble-in-the-grass conference rival. Oregon-Oregon State, USC-UCLA, Stanford-Cal bands, Washington-Washington State and Arizona-Arizona State are already taken.

Welcome to the fray, CU & UU.

It's not as if Buffaloes and Utes don't have a natural rivalry on so many different fronts.

To wit:

• Colorado and Utah are bordering states with major metropolitan centers (Denver, Salt Lake City) separated by 534 miles directly on Interstate 70 over the Rocky Mountains.

• They vie as destinations for winter and summer tourists and conventions — and as airline hubs. The states' ski industries have a fierce rivalry.

• CU has won 18 NCAA ski titles, Utah nine. The Buffs finished first again in March, with the Utes second.

• There's the Nuggets-Jazz thing that has bubbled over in several NBA playoffs.

• Colorado reneged on a deal to host the Winter Olympics. Utah did host the Winter Olympics.

• The authentic Utes used to hunt buffaloes in what became southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah (the state is named for the Utes). Buffaloes lost that rivalry. The Southern Ute Indian Tribe, which eventually was squeezed by the government from its vast homeland of thousands of square miles into a small, 15-by-110-mile section, is headquartered in Ignacio. The real Utes may have divided loyalties at game time.

• From 1903 to 1962, Colorado and Utah played football 57 times. They played together in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference from 1910 to 1937. A season later, both joined the Mountain States Athletic Conference and played annually until 1947.

There was a genuine football rivalry before, and there can be once more.

CU had a 30-24-3 record in the abandoned series.

In 1936, the late Byron "Whizzer" White — the most famous Colorado player of all time — gave, as a freshman, his greatest college performance, running for one touchdown and throwing for another, and returning one kickoff and two punts for touchdowns as CU upset the U., 31-7.

The next season the (then) Frontiersmen, who were undefeated, led 7-0 at halftime, but White kicked a field goal, returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown, kicked the extra point and, finally, ran 57 yards for a score and added the conversion. The future Supreme Court justice accounted for all of CU's points in the 17-7 victory.

Utah got even in 1961. Colorado was unbeaten and ranked No. 8 in the country, but Utah prevailed, 21-12. The Buffs didn't lose another game, won the Big Eight conference and were invited to the Orange Bowl.

After the Utes won again in 1962, they vanished from the Buffs' schedule.

A Friday night post-Thanksgiving, season-ending Pac-12 game is a good start to the rivalry revival of CU-UU.

Dean Singleton, the publisher of The Denver Post and The Salt Lake Tribune, should donate a cup that annually would be presented to the winner.

Husker who?