BOULDER, Colo. — The instructions from the public address announcer could not have been more clear.
The game is not over. There is still time on the clock. Please exit the field immediately. Please get off of the field.
He’d already tried his best to broadcast that message several times a minute earlier. He’d urged Colorado fans to not rush the field for safety reasons. He’d even gone so far as to appeal to a higher authority, telling them that Coach Prime does not want them on the field.
But everyone could see this was futile. The fans in the south end zone were already moving downhill toward Folsom Field. Many couldn’t resist and dashed past security personnel and ran around on the field, fully ignoring the reality that there was still 1 second left in the game.
At that point, Nebraska coach Matt Rhule figured out where this was heading. He ran across the field to try to congratulate his opponent. And before long, the PA guy had to concede.
The game is over.
Colorado fans rushing the field with 1 second left on the game clock. pic.twitter.com/O84lP9xS6j
— Clayton Collier (@ClaytonJCollier) September 9, 2023
Colorado 36, Nebraska 14 was over long before that final second. If you were hoping that Deion Sanders and his totally rebuilt Buffaloes were just some one-week wonder, you were mistaken. Shedeur Sanders is special. The offense he’s operating has real playmakers. The defense was much-improved. A 23-0 scoring run in the second half finished off the Huskers and showed off a killer instinct. This team is getting better and they’re just getting started.
Nebraska isn’t a Top 25 team. This wasn’t an upset. And yet, it was hard to blame these fans for rushing the field. Because this one meant an awful lot. Many thought this way-too-fast flip, this squad full of transfers who’d never played together, would only pay off to the tune of maybe three or four wins in Year 1. A week from today, Colorado is probably going to be 3-0.
The Buffaloes packed 53,241 fans into the stands for this 10 a.m. kickoff. Highest attendance in this place in 15 years. When Nebraska last came to town in 2019, the crowd was similarly impressive. But there was way too much red in the audience that day. Not this time. Colorado fans kept their tickets, showed up and didn’t disappoint in making this feel like a big-game atmosphere.
Coach Prime reminded reporters he’s been to the Super Bowl and the World Series. He’s seen it all. But he admits he’s still getting the hang of big-time Power 5 football. What he got to witness in his first home game in his new home, from the Pearl Street Stampede parade on Friday night to the early-morning tailgaters to the fans losing their minds when he arrived on the Fox “Big Noon Kickoff” set, felt different.
“To see that many people that came to see us perform, it was tremendous,” Sanders said. “Not just the number, but the energy and the love and the expectation. I loved that. I really did.”
Ubben: Colorado shows it can be flashy and resilient — a lot like its coach
Sure, the rivalry between these schools took this to another level. These fan bases don’t like each other, there’s no denying that. A sign taped to the door near Colorado’s offensive meeting room spelled out the rules this week: No red apparel allowed. Coach Prime called it personal. Shedeur Sanders and his teammates took that to heart.
When Nebraska’s players and coaches first walked onto Folsom Field in pregame, they were welcomed by “F— NEBRASKA” chants from Colorado’s student section. The Huskers gathered at midfield and stood on the Buffalo logo. Shedeur walked over to break up the party.
“It’s OK if a couple players do it, it’s fine to just enjoy the scenery,” he said. “But when you’ve got the whole team trying to disrespect it, I’m not going for that at all. So I went in there and disrupted it. … That’s when I knew it was just extreme disrespect.”
This game had a lot of chippy moments after the whistle. Sanders even picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taking his helmet off to celebrate a two-point conversion. The head coach was upset about the penalty. His son knew just how to disarm him.
“He said, ‘Dad, it’s personal,’” Deion Sanders said. “And I just bent over and laughed my butt off.”
Their fans loved every second of it. You knew they were going to seriously show up for this one after the 45-42 road win at TCU to open the season. They made sure the spring game was sold out and showed out in the snow. But this party was bigger, better, louder, prouder. You have to appreciate where these fans have been to fully admire the spectacle.
Think back to Colorado’s last home game of 2022. It was Thanksgiving weekend. They sold 33,000 tickets, but nowhere near that many showed up. The coaching search was still in progress. But first, a 1-11 season had to mercifully end. Utah did not offer much in the way of mercy. The eventual Pac-12 champs thoroughly dominated the Buffs, rolling to a 42-0 halftime lead and a 63-21 victory.
You’d have to be a truly devout fan to stay for all four quarters of that game. And if you’d told those superfans, those loyal few sitting around for the final minutes of a 42-point blowout, where this program would be two games later, would they have totally believed you?
But seeing is believing. The Prime effect is real. In an extremely literal sense, this is not the same football team that got smoked by Utah last November. At first, people were tuning in to witness the grand experiment and its downfall. Now it’s different. Colorado is college football’s must-watch team because it turns out it’s pretty darn good.
Next week, when Colorado hosts Colorado State, ESPN’s “College GameDay” is coming to town for the first time since 1996. Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” was supposed to be in Champaign, Ill., next week to see Illinois host a top-10 Penn State team. Plans change. They’ll be back here next week. It doesn’t matter that Fox isn’t broadcasting the game. They don’t want to leave. When the head coach got word of this during his postgame news conference, he quipped, “I don’t blame ’em. I really don’t blame ’em.”
“We expect it,” Sanders said. “I know it sounds kind of boastful. At the risk of sounding arrogant, we truly expect that. And that’s why those kids come. They want the biggest stage. And they’re getting that every darn week.”
It’s about to get much bigger. Lincoln Riley, Caleb Williams and No. 6 USC have to come to Folsom Field on Sept. 30. Another Pac-12 title contender, No. 16 Oregon State, will play here in early November. We still have no idea where these Buffaloes will be by then, and it feels increasingly foolish to say they can’t compete in that race. And when those Top 25 squads roll into Folsom Field, they should expect a home-field advantage. That’s how impressive this crowd was on Saturday.
As soon as the on-field chaos commenced, Deion Sanders was escorted out by a crew of a dozen men — cops, security guards, staffers — protecting him from all sides. He’d never been caught in the middle of a fully rushed field. He called it phenomenal. Of course, he didn’t get to see much of it thanks to all his protection. They can’t have anyone tripping up the head coach.
Shedeur Sanders waded through the mob of adoring fans while Jay Rock’s “WIN” blared inside the stadium. He’d never experienced this either, and he was warned ahead of time that he’d be wise to head directly to the locker room.
“Me being hard-headed, I’m like, ‘Nah! I want to enjoy this!’” he said.
The QB eventually found a path through the back of the Buffaloes’ sideline. He called it a bittersweet experience. Why use that word? Because he wasn’t wearing his pads and did get roughed up a bit by all those folks trying to celebrate with him. It turns out the PA guy was right after all.
“It looked fun,” Sanders said, “but I’m telling you: Stay outta that!”
(Top photo: RJ Sangosti / MediaNews Group / The Denver Post via Getty Images)