The winner of the Rocky Mountain Showdown between CSU and CU–Boulder is given statewide bragging rights for an entire year. On Sunday, CSU will either forfeit those rights or hold onto them for another year after defeating Boulder 22-17 in 2012.
Sunday will mark the 85th meeting between the Rams and the Buffaloes.
While this is only McElwain’s second Showdown, it’s not his first rodeo. Before coming to CSU, McElwain worked as the offensive coordinator at Alabama under Nick Saban where he was a part of perhaps the biggest rivalry in all of college football between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers.
First year CU–Boulder head coach Mike MacIntyre is no stranger to rivalries either. He’s a former college football player for Vanderbilt and the son of a college football coach.
“Rivalries are something (that) when you’re in this profession it doesn’t matter where you’re at,” McElwain said. “The rivalry is tangible. The rivalry, you can taste.”
The first-ever game between the two schools was played on Feb. 11, 1893 in Fort Collins, when the CSU Rams were known as the Colorado A&M Aggies. The Buffs won, 70-6. It wasn’t until 1912 that CSU got their first win against CU. The Buffs have dominated the all-time series at 61-21-2.
The annual game was played in either Fort Collins or Boulder every year, until the matchup took a 25-year hiatus beginning in 1958.
The game resumed in 1983 in Boulder. The Rams and the Buffs began playing in Denver, considered a neutral site, in 1998. The annual game has been played 12 times in Denver since, at either the old Mile High Stadium or the new one, known as the Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The Rams own a 5-7 all time record in Denver. In 2003, 76,219 fans were on-hand to witness CU–Boulder top CSU 42-35, the largest attendance number in Showdown history.
Former CSU head coach Sonny Lubick owns the most victories in university history. From 1993-2007 he posted a 108-74 record. He still remembers what it was like to prepare for the annual game against CU.
“It was such a huge game for everyone,” he said. “As a coach, (I) had a lot of butterflies and many sleepless nights.”
Lubick said one of his greatest memories of playing Boulder was his team’s first win against the Buffs at Mile High in 1999.
It’s been a while since either team has posted a winning record — seven years for Boulder and only one winning season in the past nine years for CSU. As a result, attendance rates have dropped dramatically, with the lowest number in 2011 at 57,186.
Many wonder if the game should continue to be played in Denver or if it would be better off on one of the two campuses each year, as fan attendance has decreased over the years.
The Rams and Buffs are contracted to play in Denver through 2019. Afterwards, the game will return to the home of the Rams in 2020.
While fan interest in the football programs at both universities appears to have waned in recent years, Lubick said he thinks both programs will get back to posting winning records.
“I think it’s a real challenge but I believe both universities have excellent coaches,” he said.
Before being hired by CU–Boulder, MacIntyre took over a downtrodden San Jose State team that had won only two games in 2009 to a 10-2 record in 2012. Now, Buff fans are hoping he can do the same in Boulder. Matthew Biggers, associate athletic director of external affairs and chief marketing officer at CU–Boulder, said the hiring of a new coach has helped the program sell tickets this year.
“I think anytime you have some change like that there’s a renewed optimism and hope for the upcoming year,” Biggers said.
For CSU tight end Kivon Cartwright, playing against CU–Boulder means a lot. The Colorado native grew up watching the game and dreamed of playing in the Showdown, until finally getting his opportunity last year.
“I have a newspaper article that shows the team and we’re all holding up the trophy,” Cartwright said. “I really couldn’t describe (the win) in words. It feels amazing.”
Football Beat Reporter Katie O’Keefe can be reached at email@example.com.