Rich Memories Abound As Folsom Turns 90

BOULDER – The days begin to blend together here in this antiquated stadium at the foot of the Flatirons, just as they have for the major part of a century now. At times she has become the unfortunate victim of her own somewhat murky history.

From the moment the gates opened for the first time on October 11, 1924, Folsom Field has never stood out as an architectural marvel or, in the time since, ever quite been blessed with the kind of on-field history places like the Rose Bowl or Ohio Stadium might claim (although she has definitely had her share).

In that regard, it might have been only fitting that she would spend possibly her most momentous Saturday in such obscure fashion.

On this October 11, the anniversary of her 90th year in existence, Folsom was jarred awake from an idle slumber not by the kind of spectacle typically befitting such a milestone, but by the sounds of wave after wave of adolescents exploring the many intricacies of the tuba.  The stadium was the host of an annual high school band competition that afternoon as the football team was enjoying its bye week.

90 years. Only a handful of stadiums in America enjoy more longevity, yet Folsom has never really been thrown a celebration in which we might revel in all that she has meant to a University of Colorado football program and a community for all these years.

Her biggest chance to shine has always come on those six or so magical fall afternoons every year when she is loaded with enough pageantry and excitement to fill a stadium five times her size. Typically, those are her moments. She celebrates as the Buffs do, in their successes on the field, all the while waiting to be formally recognized for her part in housing so many great memories for so many great years. Instead, more often than not, she sits silent.

Those untold stories of when Folsom actually does come alive have stuck with those involved for so long and continue to live on in such vivid detail as they wait to reach a bigger spectrum. Those stories unlock the door to Folsom’s appeal, those recollections that often drift far beyond what actually shows up in the box score or on television sets around the country. For every Deon Figures interception in the end zone to seal a win over Washington or Chris Brown’s six rushing touchdowns against Nebraska, there are obscure memories that never reached the public consciousness. A lack of familiarity with those moments just might be at the root of this lack of recognition.

The games themselves give a stadium life, but it’s what happens everywhere else that gives it its charm. It’s possible that’s what many believe Folsom might be lacking.

FINALLY, WE ARE OUT TO GIVE the ol’ girl her due as a place that has lacked for nothing over the years. One filled with more folklore and one beaming with more character than anyone could’ve ever realized from the humorous to the remarkable to the painfully ironic, Folsom has been the site of it all.

Coach Bill McCartney gave his team a fiery pep talk immediately before the Buffaloes headed onto the field to take on an opponent whom time has obscured from his memory. This particular year has been handed the same fate but it remains as bright in the mind of the legendary CU head coach as any win or performance at Folsom ever has.

“I really challenged them,” said McCartney. “They had that fire in their eyes and they were breathing smoke.”

But, before all of that intensity could ever be channeled onto the field, the Buffs were face-to-face with 1,300 pounds of immovable force and they reacted accordingly.

“We go out and all of a sudden, Ralphie turns on us,” recalled McCartney. “Guess what? All that intensity was gone and it was every man for himself. I gave this great speech and everything suddenly meant nothing. We all just turned and ran in different directions. What would you do? You don’t just stand there and hit her with a forearm. You say, ‘I don’t know about you, but I’m getting out of here.”

For every story of Rashaan Salaam reaching the 2,000 yard plateau to conclude his CU career, there’s an equally riveting one that centers around what happened as head man Eddie Crowder wrapped up his coaching career in 1973.

Crowder’s Buffs had just concluded a disappointing 5-6 season with a 17-14 loss to Kansas State. Less than a month later, he would be resign as head coach amidst enormous public scrutiny.

After the game, Crowder was walking to the middle of the field to shake hands with Kansas State coach Vince Gibson when he was met by a youngster who ripped the cap off Crowder’s head and ran. After an afternoon of “Go Home Eddie” chants and an onslaught of negative reaction from an unhappy Folsom audience, not to mention the pains brought forth from being on the wrong side of difficult loss, Crowder had finally had enough.

He took off in hot pursuit of the youth with the kind of intensity his team could have sorely used on the field that afternoon. Split end Steve Haggerty noticed the incident and joined his coach in pursuit. When they finally retrieved the hat, Crowder may have been expected to confront the child but, after 11 years of expunging every ounce of blood, sweat he had into the football program, all he could do was playfully pat the kid’s head as he exited the coaching profession forever.

Crowder’s final move on his way out the door was to attempt to save his frustrated players from the oncoming media blitz. The point may have been moot anyway but Crowder gave it a shot, “We have doggone good men who tried as they know how. Rather than give the body any more exposure, we ought to just say grace over it.”

For every tale of Charlie Davis’ school record 342-yard rushing performance against Oklahoma State, there’s one of quarterback Darian Hagan’s inauspicious debut on national television.

Hagan is the freshman backup to starter Sal Aunese as the Buffs welcome the Oklahoma Sooners for a game under the primetime national spotlight.

“It was a big game and I wanted to look good,” Hagan recalls. “So, I went down to the Foot Locker to buy some Nike gloves I didn’t need because they had them downstairs. But being a freshman, you don’t know stuff.

“So, I got the black gloves and I got some black tights to wear under my black pants. I’m saying to myself, ‘I’m going to be the cleanest joker out there. If I don’t play, at least I’m going to look nice on TV.’ So, right before warm-ups start, everybody is telling me, ‘You look sweet dude.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah.’ I was really feeling good.

“Then, we go out after warm-ups to run behind Ralphie. I want everybody to see me on national TV, so I decided I was going to be the first one out behind Ralphie. I’m there getting ready and then you hear, ‘Here comes Ralphie!’ Ralphie takes off and I take off right alongside her – only I was standing on a metal grate and not realizing it. I take off and slip and fall. I tore up my tights, all ten fingers busted out of my gloves, dudes were stepping on me. That was the most embarrassing thing ever at Folsom Field.”

FOR EVERY MEMORY OF QUARTERBACK John Hessler coming off the bench in relief of a hobbled Koy Detmer to lead CU to a win third-ranked Texas A&M, there’s one of offensive line Assistant Mike Barry’s unconventional suggestion to an overly excited Clint Moles, a reserve lineman.

Starting center Jay Leeuwenberg is a diabetic and at the time was unfortunately battling a diabetic episode in the midst of a matchup with the Baylor Bears. 

“’Coach Mac’ calls a timeout and we’re looking around trying to figure out who he was going to put in in his place,” Hagan remembers. “Clint Moles was this big offensive lineman from Florida, big dude. Clint was like, ‘Coach, put me in! Put me in!’ Coach Barry looks at him and tells him, ‘Clint, go find a bucket of s**t and stick your head in it! I am not putting you in the game!’ Everybody was on the sideline was just dying laughing.”

Then, there’s the story of Ralphie II who, in 1987, was in the midst of her final season as the team’s mascot before enjoying a well-deserved retirement. Early in that 1987 season, Stanford came to town accompanied, as always, by the Stanford band, one of the college football’s more bizarre outfits.

Longtime local sportswriter B.G. Brooks, now’s Contributing Editor, remembers an especially unusual halftime performance on this day by the band.

“The band’s drum major was dressed as the Grim Reaper, replete with scythe. He loped in front of the band from midfield toward the north end zone, where Ralphie II was in her pen in that end zone’s northeast corner.

“Upon reaching the goal line, about 10 yards in front of the mascot’s pen, the grim reaper made a sharp left and pranced away from the 12-year old Buffalo. It made for a fine, if different, halftime show, with no one any worse for the Stanford band’s appearance. Except for Ralphie II . . . the reaper’s presence might have been too much for her. She died that night, ending her 10 seasons serving as the school’s mascot.”

For every account of the spectacular efforts of legendary halfback and 1937 Heisman trophy runner-up Byron “Whizzer” White, there’s one centering around the afternoon against Nebraska in 1978 when the Buffs perhaps aggravated a higher being and then had to suffer thru 52 points and 47 minutes worth of retribution.

Nebraska was one of college football’s biggest powers and at that point in the late ‘70s, the Cornhuskers were near the height of the sport. There was an aura surrounding the program, the product of the eight Top 10 finishes, seven bowl wins and two national championships already claimed to that point in the decade.

“I remember it was sunnier than heck that day at Folsom,” longtime CU Sports Information Director David Plati said. “The weather was nice and (CU wide receiver) Howard Ballage had returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Then, we go up 14-3 and we think we might actually beat these guys after 10 straight losses to them. Then, all of a sudden, the sky got dark gray. It was like we angered the football gods or something because Nebraska scored the last 49 points of the game.”

Then there was the time McCartney and his team tried to adjust the CBS national TV schedule just prior to the first game the network ever broadcasted from the stadium.

THE BUFFS WERE GETTING READY to take on a high-powered Illinois team led by a future first overall NFL draft pick in quarterback Jeff George. It looked to be one of the most intriguing matchups of the early season. 

“The team walks out there with five minutes to go before kickoff usually, but they were out there this time with 11 minutes to go,” Plati recalls.  “So, we’re going, ‘What’s going on? Why are we out here so early?’ Well, we were on ‘Mac Time,’ which is coach McCartney time. So, all the clocks were usually five or six minutes fast. They had forgotten that, so they came out much earlier than they needed to.

“So, the equipment manager, Bill Crowder, calls up to the press box and goes, ‘Plati, it’s BC (Bill Crowder). ‘Mac’ says get this game going right now!!’ I went, ‘I don’t think I can get CBS to adjust Greenwich Mean Time just because you guys came out early.”

For all those memories of the time the underdog Buffs carried exiting alumni director-turned-head-coach, Bud Davis out on their shoulders after a 34-10 win over Air Force, there are those of legendary PA announcer Alan Cass, who helped to make players like halfbacks O.C. Oliver and J.J. Flannigan seem larger than life with his distinct pronunciations of “OOOOO SEEEEE Oliver” and “JAYYYY JAYYYY Flannigan.”

There are those of when the program still regularly played against the Air Academy, whose cadets would come to Folsom full of pomp and pride. Former guard/linebacker Ron Scott recalls the CU students’ own little ritual when their opponents just to the south came into Folsom.

“They’d (Air Force) come in all their regalia . . . all dressed up. They would sing their songs and they had their band and their mascot there. They would demonstrate with a falcon (the school mascot), which would fly around and then come back and land on a guy’s arm. So, then some people in the stands would bring in pigeons and let them go. Then, the falcon would get distracted, go chase the pigeons and wouldn’t come back.”

For every memory of the late Sal Aunese coming to midfield to speak to the Folsom faithful at halftime of the 1989 spring game shortly before cancer would prematurely end his life, there are those of a group of crazed fans carrying a goalpost to the top of the south stands with the foolish idea of throwing it over onto the ground below.

“They thought they would toss it over and then just go get it on the other side, but there was a mass of people down there,” longtime Associate Athletic Director John Burianek remembers. “The people below were all walking to their cars after the game. They were going to toss it over on top of people. I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ I went flying up there and I was so mad. I just yelled at them and they looked at me. I’m sure my eyes were wild. I was going to kill somebody. They laid it down and left. So, we went up and got it, but it was up in like row 67 and they had every intention of actually doing it.”

The stadium even has its moments that extend far beyond football. It has hosted everything from military trainees running cadence just before deploying overseas to fight the Nazis during World War II, to flood evacuees after Boulder was engulfed by water in 2013, to the Rolling Stones.

It also very possibly, might have been the site of the introduction of the facemask to football. In 1946 halfback Art Tanner sported one that he had carved himself. There are no records of any others in any other venue until around 1950.

It’s hard to imagine if all of this was what then-CU president George Norlin envisioned when he signed off on the building of the new stadium more than 90 years ago. Neither he nor anyone else could have ever fathomed the kinds of stories that would ring through this old place that many years later. As we await a long overdue commemoration, we’ll just spend the next decade reflecting on all that has happened in this deep-rooted place, hopefully in preparation for the kind of celebration afforded a legend.


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Ryan Foy