BOULDER – Nestled underneath The Flatirons, vibrant colors and natural beauty on the Boulder, Colorado, campus are being overshadowed by something nobody saw coming: college football.
Folsom Field, home of the Colorado Buffaloes, is not only the heartbeat of the campus but also college football – and Deion “Prime” Sanders is at the epicenter of it all, turning the football program and college football landscape on its head. In creating one of the sport’s most stunning turnarounds, Sanders drove Colorado to a 3-0-start before the Buffaloes fell back to earth with a pair of losses to two nationally ranked teams.
The Buffaloes, still riding a feel-good wave after mounting a second-half comeback that fell just short last Saturday to No. 8 USC, visit Mountain America Stadium Saturday, where Arizona State enters the conversation and gets a feel for Prime Time mania in Tempe.
“The culture that’s being created there (Colorado) is one that is, ‘We’re going to play (competitively), we’re going to finish every play, and we’re going to play with passion,’ and you can see it on the tape.” Arizona State coach Kenny Dillingham said.
The Prime madness effect was on full display three weeks ago with the heart of college football beating in Boulder for the 92nd Rocky Mountain Showdown between Colorado and Colorado State.
Cronkite News was on the ground to take in the scene:
Friday, 36 hours to kickoff
Stepping foot on campus before kick-off between Colorado and Colorado State University on Sept. 16, electricity was in the air. The galvanizing atmosphere took over the entire town with ESPN’s College GameDay and FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff, which stayed for the second week in a row, on campus. The energy was a rarity for a college program that finished last season with an abysmal 1-11 record.
“It’s crazy, I never thought we’d go from winning one game last year to selling out all our home games,” Colorado senior Shen McConnell said. “All of the college football shows have been coming here, only making things more exciting and are bringing in celebrity personalities all over campus.
“Having big names like Offset, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Rob Gronkowski, Lil Wayne and more walking around the same campus I’m studying on is wild.”
University Hill (The Hill) and Pearl Street Mall glowed with black and gold all weekend, something locals had not seen in years. The last time Boulder supported a team with an above .500 record was in 2016, and the fans were ready to watch Sanders revamp the football program before the first kickoff of the year, despite being on the road in Fort Worth, Texas.
“The very first game they (Colorado) played against TCU was a 10 a.m. game,” said Tell Jones, a Colorado native and co-owner of bar and restaurant, The Sink. “We opened at 9:30 a.m. because people were requesting to come in and watch games. We’ve never had a following for away games for anybody to come in and watch.”
The Sink is an iconic establishment on The Hill, opening in 1923 and providing memories of a lifetime for past and present Colorado students. The Sink has always been a favorite stop for locals and visitors, but the arrival of Sanders as coach has magnified all of this.
Business increased 80% on Fridays, 20% on Saturdays and 50% on Sundays during the first three weeks of college football weekends, according to Jones.
“The energy is unbelievable, it’s fantastic,” Jones said. “The state had great energy when the Denver Nuggets won the NBA championship a few months ago and now you’re seeing a repeat. I was too young in the ‘90s to see what CU football was really about and never was up in Boulder during those times.
“I have a pretty good idea of what it was like to see a championship team and we are seeing the same kind of atmosphere.”
The championship ambiance danced through the black-and-gold-filled streets with splatters of green-and-gold CSU fans berated with boos. CSU fans who dared enter packed bars were greeted with “it sucks to be a CSU Ram” chants.
24.5 hours until kickoff
Turning the corner onto Pearl Street near the courthouse, crowds began to form. The brass horns and drums from the Buffalo marching band rang throughout Boulder with the prime shirts, white cowboy hats and sunglasses at every corner.
Suddenly, the brass section began playing Sanders’ theme music, “Halftime” by the Ying Yang Twins, as he appeared in a gray hoodie surrounded by his family. Standing on the black-and-gold open-cab fire truck was his daughter, along with the Colorado women’s basketball team ready to lead the procession.
Most importantly, 98-years-old CU superfan Peggy Coppom sat in the passenger seat of the fire engine and was embraced by Sanders, who left the procession for the football team’s 7:30 p.m. practice. After the marching band formed a line, the wailing fire engine siren resonated through the lively Pearl Street. Meanwhile, the women’s basketball team tossed mini footballs to the excited crowd, marking the official start of game day in Boulder.
Saturday (Gameday), 14.5 hours until kickoff
Students and fans rushed onto the Farrand Field for the FOX Big Noon Kickoff, and the Business Field for ESPN GameDay. Simply knowing Sanders and other celebrities were going to take the stage later on in the day helped combat the sub-50-degree temperature and early morning wake-up calls.
“Prime changed the whole atmosphere,” said Ethan Schwartz, a freshman at Colorado. “My sister graduated from Boulder a couple of years ago and I have seen a huge difference, everyone has more school spirit now and I love that Boulder is the face of college football.”
9 hours until kickoff
The Hill and Pearl Street began to fill with college students and fans ready to embrace the excitement of a reinvigorated football team taking on an in-state rivalry following the morning kick-off events. It was an experience like no other; swagger, confidence and energy exuded from every single person lining the streets or pregaming in bars and restaurants. It seemed like the phrase “Sko Buffs” was echoing around the mountains surrounding Boulder with the anticipation of the kickoff.
Outside The Sink, a line began to form, and by the time it opened at 11 a.m. the line wrapped around the block. It was no different at every bar on The Hill, all of which were filled with Buffalo fans who had an unmatched excitement.
Pearl Street exhibited the same characteristics. People stopped to watch the street performers sing, execute yoga with a burning chair balancing on their head, dazzle with knife-throwing acts and more. The buzz around town modeled the vibes of the strip in Las Vegas. Everyone was ready to have a fun time, enjoy themselves and watch football.
This showing from fans at each home game Sanders sells out brings in as much as $17 million into the Boulder economy, according to Visit Boulder Convention of Visitors Bureau’s estimates.
4 hours until kickoff
Tailgates around campus started to pop up left and right. The sights and sounds of burgers hitting the grill, cans cracking open and people laughing filled the air. Fans who craved good football for so many years treated this game like a national championship. No matter the opponent, every game matters to this fanbase.
“The energy has been really intense and buzzing recently,” Colorado freshman Josh Weiner said. “The thought that we actually have a good football team has everyone excited and it makes me feel proud to go here.
“It has created a strong sense of nationalism around CU, it’s infectious.”
1 hour until kickoff
The student section was filled with black for the blackout game. Contagious enthusiasm, intense passion and charismatic presence packed into the stadium with all 53,613 fans in Folsom Field.
“Going to the games with my friends for every game has been so fun,” said Lucas Levy, a freshman at Colorado. “Our student section cannot be topped by any other school at the moment. We are electric at all games. I have never experienced an intense atmosphere filled with this much passion.”
Smoke appeared from the tunnel, side conversations came to a stop and a piercing roar unlike anything reverberated in Folsom Field as rapper Lil Wayne and Sanders led a stampede of Buffalo players onto the field for the late-night showdown.
With eight minutes left in the first quarter, none other than one of Sander’s sons, Shilo Sanders, stepped up and returned an interception 80 yards to open the scoring – a moment of pure bliss for all Colorado sports fan. Folsom Field felt like it was shaking with everyone in the stadium and all around Boulder wailing with joy.
As soon as the clock struck on Colorado’s double overtime 43-35 win, only one thing was on the mind of every student who stayed for the entire game: rush the field.
A sea of black-and-gold-clad fans chanting, “It sucks to be a CSU Ram,” surrounded the players remaining on the field with pure jubilation on everyone’s faces as Colorado improved to 3-0 and won the Rocky Mountain Showdown.
There is one word that describes the weekend experience in Boulder now that the Colorado mountain town is at the mecca of college football: PRIME.