Kevin's Commentary: Border War Greats

Nov. 5, 2015


Game Notes

So, here's the height of irony.

In my 36 years as a Sports Information Director my best friend in the business was my counterpart at Colorado State, Gary Ozzello. That's right, the arch rival. Weird huh? Gary, a true professional with great passion for college athletics, and I have had many great times together. We've been through a lot with our institutions. These days neither of us are in the same jobs we had through all of those years together. But we are both still around and have a ton of memories of the Border War. As a student and an employee, Gary has been at CSU for 40 years. I've got him by a few years, but he still has more historical knowledge than just about anyone in Ramland.

I wanted to write something about Saturday's Border War, one of the great rivalries with one of the great prizes in collegiate football. I didn't want to write the usual stuff about the great games, or the controversial plays, or the fights. That's certainly been recounted many, many times.

I decided to write about some of the great individuals who I have had the privilege of watching in this great series since I've been around. It's amazing how many football players from the two schools went on to have successful professional football careers. Even more satisfying is the number who went on to highly successful careers in something other than the game of football.

Who better to talk to about the Border War than my old friend. Gary and I had a wonderful trip down memory lane the other day talking about great Cowboys and Rams and some of their memorable performances.

These two programs have been competing against one another on a football field for three centuries. There have been hundreds of tremendous individual performances produced by both sides. As a young guy my memories of the Border War--there was no Bronze Boot in those days--was dominated by Wyoming, thanks to great defense. During Lloyd Eaton's first four seasons (1962 through 1965) the Pokes outscored CSU, 113-31. Wyoming was really coming into its own, especially defensively, during that period while the Rams were struggling.

For CSU, the highlight of the series during the 1960's was the "bounce pass" victory in 1966. The Cowboys were ranked 10th in the country at the time with great names like Egloff, Frazier, Kiick, Toscano, Dirks, Nels, Washington, Huey, House and Aylward to name a few. But on one sunny afternoon in late October at CSU's old College Avenue stadium, it was all Rams. They produced the supreme effort, and upended the Cowboys, 12-10, spoiling a perfect season for UW.

One of my favorite Cowboys turned in a most memorable moment the following year of 1967 in the "Revenge" game. Laramie native and Cowboy Hall of Famer Jim House produced 18 tackles in the Wyoming victory the year after the upset and was selected National Lineman of the Week by Sports Illustrated.

It was 1968 when the Bronze Boot became an unbelievable part of the Border War tradition. It is the most meaningful of all rivalry rewards.

While his teams weren't very successful, one of CSU's all-time greats played during the late 1960's, running back Lawrence McCutcheon. A big, physical back with outstanding speed, he was a heck of a player, and spent many seasons in the NFL.

There were a pair of great efforts by Cowboy players during Wyoming's 1977 win at Laramie. Running back Myron Hardeman was tremendous. While not a big, or physical, he was durable and very, very fast. During that game, he carried 35 times in the game for 215 yards and two touchdowns. Kicker Dan Christopulous also turned in a great performance by splitting the uprights with a school record 62-yard field goal that I will never forget. The Pokes won that game 29-13 in War Memorial, by the way.

The following season was memorable for many things, including a bench-clearing brawl between the two teams prior to the opening kickoff, and a number of small skirmishes thereafter. It was Wyoming's defense that stole the show that day. The Pokes won the game 13-3. Linebackers Randy Hughley (13 tackles) and team captain Ken Fantetti (eight tackles) and defensive tackle Pat Ogrin (10 stops) smothered CSU. On the other side of the field, however, was the greatest Ram of all time in my view, defensive tackle Mike Bell. A consummate football player, Bell dominated the line of scrimmage throughout his career at CSU. He took his skills to the NFL and was a great player there for years. Another great Ram who played alongside Bell was defensive end Al Baker. Those two were imposing at the line of scrimmage to say the least.

I remember the 1984 shootout at Ft. Collins in which the Cowboys won 43-34 (amazing how most of my great memories involved a Cowboy win). Hall of Famers Jay Novacek and Joe Ramunno were on that team. But it was the Al Kincaid wishbone offense that was front and center in the game and during those early 80's seasons. The star of the `84 game was not one of the household names, but one tough, tough Cowboy. Fullback Dave Evans gained 228 yards out of the wishbone that day to key the Poke victory.

The late 80's were highlighted by Paul Roach and his high-octane offense (outstanding defense too). The 1988 game was a great memory as the Cowboys won 48-14 at Fort Collins. The Pokes were ranked 10th in the country and as with every Border War, an ambush by the underdog Rams was highly possible. Randy Welniak took care of any possible upset with an amazing performance. On that late October afternoon the Cowboy quarterback carried the ball 20 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns and completed 15 of 22 passes for 171 yards and another touchdown, to receiver Ted Gilmore. The performance was all part of a 531-yard total offense explosion by the Pokes. Another Hall of Famer Sean Fleming also kicked a pair of field goals.

Without a doubt, my favorite game, during the little piece of the Border War for which I've been around, was the 1996 game. For Wyoming fans it was a great game because the Cowboys won with "The Drive." It was one of those seasons when both teams were outstanding, the Cowboys were nationally ranked, and the Rams were very good as well. Wyoming trailed by 11 (24-13) entering the fourth quarter, but pulled to within five, 24-19, after getting the short field from a Ram fumble at the 11-minute mark.

Trailing by five with eight minutes left, the Pokes' offense got the ball at its own four yard line. Quarterback Josh Wallwork went to work. With Marcus Harris as his primary target, he completed eight passes while driving his team the length of the field. Running back Marcus Brigham ran the final six yards for the winning touchdown and the Cowboys led 25-24. It was a marvelously engineered 96-yard drive in 14 plays burning over six minutes off the clock. It was a thing of beauty. Safety Brian Lee sealed the win with a pass interception with 1:28 remaining. Wallwork was 30 of 42 through the air for 366 yards while taking a physical pounding. The Ram defense sacked him five times. Harris made 16 catches for 191 yards in his greatest game of a great career. Ironically, neither Wallwork nor Harris were involved in a touchdown. Wyoming's touchdowns came on the ground. What a game and what a memory for Wyoming!

A couple of outstanding Cowboy football names had a terrific game in October of 2002 albeit in a shootout loss. Casey Bramlet completed 23 of 36 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns and Malcom Floyd caught seven passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. Unfortunately for the Pokes, CSU quarterback Brad VanPelt had an even more productive day rushing for 140 yards and passing for another 205. The Rams won the game, 44-36.

During the 2000's, probably the Pokes' most memorable Border War was the 2010 game. Both sides of the ball played exceptionally well for Wyoming in a 44-0 win at Laramie. Alvester Alexander set a school record by scoring five touchdowns in the game and the defense pitched a shutout. Josh Biezuns posted three-and-a-half sacks from his defensive end position in the game.

It was great, too, to hear Gary's side of the Border War, his favorite games and his most memorable Rams. The names were certainly familiar to me and I'm sure to many Cowboy fans as well. I mentioned McCutcheon, Bell, Baker and VanPelt, but there was a host of others. How about one of the greatest safeties ever to play in the old Western Athletic Conference, Greg Meyers. He won the Thorpe Award as a senior. Running back Steve Bartalo was one of the toughest backs I have ever seen. His feelings about Wyoming epitomized the rivalry. Do you remember two other outstanding backs, Cecil Sapp (2000-02) and Kevin McDougal (1996-98)? The Rams always seem to have big, tough linebackers. How about Jeff Harper (early 1980's), who produced an incredible 32 tackles against Wyoming in the 1982 Ram 9-3 victory. There were other great linebacking names like Eric Tippeconnic, Mark Nichols and Lyndon King. Who could forget the bookend defensive ends, Joey Porter and Clark Hagans, both Ram Hall of Famers and outstanding NFL players.

But of all the names and all the games, I think the rivalry has best been defined by two men. Arguably the two greatest coaches in their respective school's history, Paul Roach and Sonny Lubick. Those two always rose above all the hype of the Border War itself with tremendous grace and integrity. What this great rivalry is all about was reflected in the way these two men went about their business. They represented their institutions as well as any who have coached during the three centuries of this game. They were successful far beyond their institution's expectations, and they always handled the game with class.

It'll be fun Saturday at 1 p.m. It'll be intense and it'll be nerve-racking. I'll watch with great interest to see which Cowboys and Rams will earn their places in the legend and tradition of the Border War. Sorry, Gary, I hope the Pokes get the Boot back!