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Rivalry in the Rockies: History of CSU vs. CU football, volleyball

Collegian | Trin Bonner

One of college sports’ oldest rivalries officially returns this week as Colorado State takes on Colorado in football and volleyball.

Rams football will battle for the Centennial Cup in the Rocky Mountain Showdown for the first time since Aug. 30, 2019. Rams volleyball will look to continue their command in a home-and-home series versus the Buffaloes for the Golden Spike Trophy Sept. 14-15.


The in-state rivalry between CU and CSU began Feb. 10, 1893, in a football match. Boulder was considered to be the more governed program at the time compared to what was then Colorado Agricultural College. The Buffaloes proved their dominance with a 70-6 victory over the Aggies.

Boulder went on to control the next 12 games — aside from a 0-0 tie 1906 — until 1912, when CSU dubbed a 21-0 shutout in their first victory against Boulder, marking a historic transition in the rivalry.

Under head coach Harry Hughes, CSU started to prove themselves after their historic win. Their rivalry with Boulder heightened during the ’20s and ’30s, and the Colorado Agricultural College became Colorado A&M in 1935.

“(Hughes) completely changed the landscape of football in Colorado and for an agricultural college at the time,” CSU volunteer historian John Hirn said. “Hughes was just (an) ahead-of-his-time type of coach. … He was able to turn agricultural college students into football players, and that’s how we started to beat them in 1912.”

From 1934-57, CU took complete control of the rivalry, winning 19 out of the 22 games they had against the Rams.

In 1957, Colorado A&M officially changed its name to Colorado State University. Shortly thereafter in 1958, CU head coach Dallas Ward announced that there would be no more competitions against CSU. He claimed the competitive gap between the two schools had grown far too wide and canceled the rivalry.

“The ’58 game was supposed to be the last game ever played between these two schools because CU was too big, and CSU was too small,” Hirn said.

In what was scheduled to be their final match, the Rams proved Ward wrong and took the game, winning 15-14. Following the win, CSU and CU did not suit up on the same field for 25 years.

After a long absence, the rivalry was revived in 1983. In 1986, CSU asserted their first victory in 28 years over CU 23-7. CU dominated the rivalry after that, winning eight straight games from 1987-98.


During those years, a new rivalry emerged in volleyball. The Rams and the Buffaloes played their first match Sept. 2, 1987. While CU may have had CSU’s number in football, the Rams showed they were better on the court.

In their first four home matches 1987-90, CSU went 4-0 against Boulder. However, from 1991-95, Boulder showed resilience against the Rams and defeated them in eight of the ten matches they played.

Since 1995, the Rams have taken back control in volleyball over the Buffs. They played a total of 25 matches, going 17-8.

In the middle of an eight-game losing streak 1987-98, the CSU football team came out in 1999 and dominated Boulder in a masterful 41-14 victory, highlighted by an outstanding performance from CSU running back Kevin McDougal, who ran for 190 yards and two touchdowns — but that game is best remembered as the tear gas game.

In probably the ugliest moment in Rocky Mountain Showdown history, Denver police tear-gassed hundreds of fans for throwing items and debris at officers and CU players after the historic CSU win.

The 2002 game showcased one of the most significant plays in CSU and Rocky Mountain Showdown history: when Rams quarterback Bradlee Van Pelt ran for a 23-yard, go-ahead touchdown deep into the fourth quarter. Van Pelt entered the end zone, turned around and spiked the ball off the helmet of a CU safety.

The officials never saw it and didn’t call a penalty, causing mayhem for CU fans. The play contributed to a remarkable upset against No. 6 Boulder as CSU won the showdown 19-14.

CSU came away with their last victory in the Rocky Mountain Showdown in 2014. Running back Dee Hart rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns to help defeat CU 31-17.

Since then, Boulder has had the upper hand in the Rocky Mountain Showdown.

Fast forward to 2019, and the Battle for the Golden Spike Trophy was introduced to Ram and Buffalo volleyball fans. The trophy is volleyball’s counterpart to football’s Centennial Cup.

“From what I’ve known, it’s really whoever wins the match gets to take it home,” CU alumna and CSU volleyball assistant coach Jess Aschenbrenner said. “So from the two matches, if you win the first one, you get to keep it for a night. If you win the second one, you get to keep it for the entire year. We’re really hoping not only to capitalize on the first away match but to use Moby (Arena) magic and madness, if you will, here as our home-court advantage on the second night to keep it for the year.”

Since the introduction of the Golden Spike Trophy, both schools have an even record of 3-3 against each other. CSU won the inaugural Golden Spike Trophy in 2019 after a five-set thriller led by Breana Runnels, who recorded 16 kills and 11 digs.

In 2022, the last time CSU hosted CU, Moby Arena witnessed its first sellout crowd in Colorado State volleyball history, with 8,396 people in attendance. The Rams rose to the occasion and took out the Buffaloes in the first match of the Golden Spike series in front of their largest crowd ever.

Kennedy Stanford led the Rams to a crucial win by accumulating 16 kills and three aces.

CU has since won the Golden Spike Trophy for the past two years with an overall record of 3-1. However, the Rams all-time record is 26-17. They look forward to reclaiming the Golden Spike Trophy this year.

“We both have new pieces, a few pieces to our rosters,” Aschenbrenner said. “So it’s going to be great to see the matchup between them and us, specifically the offense. I think it’s exciting. It’s an exciting time in Boulder right now, as you may know. So to be able to go there and to hopefully get a win against them and then come back and do the same thing the next night.”

Reach Ben Fairly at or on Twitter @benjaminfairly.

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About the Contributor
Trin Bonner, Illustration Editor
Trin Bonner, The Collegian's illustration editor this year, is a second-year student studying graphic design and minoring in religious philosophy. She finds inspiration in unique ideas and perspectives and is intrigued and driven by themes of the unknown and the existential. As an artist, she seeks to create works that spark humor and joy in her audience, and she sees it important to utilize her art as a means to make people laugh and smile, inspiring her to create comics and illustrations for anyone to enjoy. When she's not busy drawing, she enjoys playing and listening to music. To Bonner, music carries a sense of happiness, peace and tranquility she values having in her daily life. In the future, she hopes to create her own music that can be a source of peace, tranquility and happiness to someone else. Overall, she feels it is important to spread as much positive energy in the world as she can. Studying philosophy has guided her to value the good in life, and with the importance of that in mind, she goes through life attempting to spark a bit of positivity wherever she can. As illustration editor, Bonner hopes to direct the illustrations found in The Collegian toward having a sense of joy the readers can experience.

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