A lot of things have been buried in the lofty old Rockies over the years. More than a few skiers, for example, and a scattering of snowmobile pilots. Loads of gold and silver and lead, too, not to forget some of the grizzled miners who dug for it and then couldn't remember where after celebrating their discoveries in the creaking saloons. But now, something else lies lost in those Western wilds: college football's longest winning streak. Penn State, the Allegheny mountain boys, went prowling in the Rockies for the first time last week and found out what life in the real mountains is all about (see cover).
It had been 31 game days since Penn State had known what it was like to lose. All the way back to the third game of 1967. There had been a tie in the Gator Bowl after that season, but Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions had then won 23 straight, including a couple of Orange Bowl squeakers over Kansas and Missouri. But this was a new season, and a lot of the stars of the streak had left. Penn State's opening victory over Navy by 55-7 had proved only that most Eastern teams—the second-line ones, at least—were as feeble as ever. Now came a far different problem.
A game with rugged, physical, headhunting Colorado out there in the high country, that would prove something, Paterno admitted. The win streak was impressive, of course, but there had been a good many Navys, Boston Colleges, Marylands and Ohios in the middle of it. There were some who had felt all along that the streak was realistically more like eight in a row, figuring that was about as many first-rate teams as the Lions had whipped over those years.
Paterno himself was even getting a little weary of the streak, certainly tired of all the talk about it, and of the pressure that steadily had been building. Early in the week he said, "Frankly, we'll probably prove more about what kind of people we are when we lose. You know, the recovery-from-adversity bit and all that."
October 4, 1970
Colorado certainly gave him the chance. The Buffs of Eddie Crowder did not just snap the win streak (on what might have been the most gloriously sunny and refreshing day in the history of mankind): they are another of those Big Bad Eight teams, and they simply took the streak and crushed it like an avalanche coming down on a mine shack. Colorado started beating the Easterners on the first play of the afternoon with an interception and did not stop beating them until the score was 41-13, the gun had sounded and the Colorado players were lined up for those post-game wind sprints they call "Jingle Jangle," a little morale thing they have. By then the Colorado fans were doing something they have never before had occasion to do. They were chanting, "We're No. 1!" Just like the folks at Ohio State and Texas and Southern Cal.
The game was the biggest thing that ever happened to Colorado football, of course. It was the big chance. National television, national press and a highly rated opponent from the mysterious East. But, ironically, the town seemed as if it sort of hated to think about it during the week.
Boulder has had only infrequent moments of football glory. Way back in the 1930s there had been Whizzer White for one brief year. He took the Buffaloes to the Cotton Bowl. The 1956 team made the Orange Bowl, largely on the strength of playing No. 1 Oklahoma a close one. Then came the Sonny Grandelius era, when the team added the neutral color of black to its gold and silver—black for the color of Sonny's heart, some fans said. Sonny chopped out a 9-1 season with the likes of Joe Romig and Jerry Hillebrand, and won another Orange Bowl trip, but then Colorado went to jail in a recruiting scandal. Busted again. And in came Eddie Crowder, mild and pipe-smoking, a bit of a reflection of his old master at Oklahoma, Bud Wilkinson.
Since 1963 Crowder has been trying to put it all together. "What we need is two good seasons back to back," he was saying last week. "Colorado has never had that. Not necessarily two Big Eight championships, just two good teams. Bowl teams. That will help turn the fans into the rabid sort you see at other places."
So Boulder was fascinatingly quiet all week. Unlike a Fayetteville or a Baton Rouge, there were no banners strewn around town commanding the Buffs to do this thing to the Lions. Nobody wore gold and silver and black the way people wear red everywhere at Arkansas or Nebraska. There was only one marquee on a business establishment that made a reference to the game. A tire store had a sign that said simply, "Beat Penn State." Quite a few signs, though, said "Don't berate, participate. Join the PTA."
Assistant Athletic Director Fred Casotti tried to explain it. "Most people in Colorado are from somewhere else," he said. "We're transients. The school is sophisticated, and there are always those mountains for diversion. But mainly we haven't had the howling, consistent success that attracts national attention and instills pride in the fans. We're getting there, though."
Some of the diversions were obvious. Boulder sits at the foot of the Rockies, and they were splashed with snow. On game day, in fact, right there on good old Sept. 26, the ski area of Eldora, only 24 miles away, opened up. Meanwhile, The Hill near the campus was populated as usual with its hordes of milling hippies, the kind of people who made Boulder a stop on the peace circuit a few years ago when they heard that California was going to fall into the ocean.
This was the school, then, that was expected to have the best chance of ending Penn State's run: a school noted for its inconsistency and indifference, its sophistication and diversions, a school half stocked with long-haired fun types discussing new mountain crags to start a commune on, and half stocked with the other kind, those afraid even to drive past The Hill for fear that some fleas might leap off the hippie cloaks and sandals and jam the engines of their Maseratis.
Somewhere in between, however, Eddie Crowder had worked a few football players into the "party school," as it has been called, an odd assortment of musclemen who just might turn Boulder into one of those Fayettevilles after all. So Colorado unleashed on startled Penn State a squad of vicious hitters led by a tall, strong defensive end named Herb Orvis, from Flint, Mich.; a tall, strong linebacker named Rick Ogle, from Bozeman, Mont., and a short, strong safety named "Bad Dude" Stearns. When they can't find anything else to hit, they hit each other. They hit Penn State early with some pride-bending tackles and interceptions, and jumped out in front 13-0. Then they started hitting on offense with the in-vogue triple option, which Penn State had not seen much of. Colorado just ran and ran off the triple, sending a bouncing tailback named John Tarver, from Bakersfield, Calif. around the ends with option pitches, and Fullback Ward Walsh, from Weaverville, Calif. slicing up the middle.
The pass was there, too, radared in on Penn State's three-deep secondary, and Quarterback Jim Bratten, another Californian, used it just when he needed to. Colorado drove 71 yards for the touchdown that made the score 20-7 at halftime, and called on another transient to put the thing away on the second-half kickoff. Cliff Branch, a 9.3 dart from Houston, had been waiting a year to get eligible at CU, and Crowder had been trying to stay patient, anticipating what Branch could give to his team. Speed and moves.
Branch took the kickoff 97 yards away from the Penn State goal, came up the right-middle of the field, got a couple of good blocks, flashed into the open, stepped out of a tackle about midfield—and whoosh. Colorado had it nailed now, 27-7, and Fred Casotti planned to kid Crowder that Branch wasn't so fast, actually, seeing as how it had taken him 12 seconds to go 97 yards.
If Branch's dazzling return didn't finally take everything out of Penn State, then the Colorado defense did only moments later. Paterno's team tried to fight back, the way a team accustomed to winning does, partly on instinct, perhaps. Its two fast and powerful runners, Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell, kept punching away, and the Lions drove 66 yards to a first down at the Buff's six-yard line. A Lion score then would have made it 27-14 and would at least have given Penn State some hope, although Colorado had looked so clearly superior that you couldn't imagine Crowder being very worried. At any rate, Colorado's defense held at the two, after four plays, with Orvis and Ogle and another top transient, Rich Varriano from Minnesota, doing the biggest job.
It was all over then for sure, except for the scoreboard operator. And Joe Paterno, as anxious to leave now as he had been unanxious to come, was gracious and honest in his new role as the loser of a football game.
"We were outcoached, outplayed, out-hit and outscored," he said. "It's as simple as that. The trip wasn't a total loss, though. My wife got to see the Rockies. Sue had never been out of Western Pennsylvania. She woke me up this morning pointing and said, "Have you seen those mountains?"
The game took on so many elements of a Colorado romp that it was difficult to tell exactly how good the Buffs might be, or whether Penn State can be that bad. There was no question that Colorado had more muscle, infinitely better quarterbacking and a fine, varied attack, with Crowder using the triple option off the I-formation to get more flexibility with the forward pass. Colorado also had the tough defense for which Penn State was noted before it graduated its Mike Reids and Dennis Onkotzes.
There can't be a better defensive end than Herb Orvis, who did two years in the Army before Crowder got him to Colorado. There can't be many linemen better than Rich Varriano. And there can't be a meaner safety than Bad Dude Stearns, who has his head shaved and openly admits he wants to become known as the most insane hitter in the history of football. Only a sophomore, Bad Dude may not live that long. If he doesn't kill himself running into things, he may get assassinated in the still of the night by an aggrieved opponent. Bad Dude could become the first player to discover how to throw a shoulder at somebody on his way to church.
Well, Colorado will find out how good it is. The other Big Eight baddies are coming up, and so is surprising Air Force. Right now, though, Colorado is celebrating its biggest win ever in football, and if word of it filters around to that other half of the campus, the one on The Hill letting its hair grow, the Rockies might be in for a kind of madness that no prospector could ever have dreamed of.