In one way or another, Aunese's presence is everywhere around this Colorado team. The extent to which the Buffaloes have gone to keep his memory alive is touching, if slightly macabre. Normally, for an away game, 60 players are chosen for the traveling squad; 59 made the trip to Norman. A seat was left empty on the bus to the airport and on the charter flight to Oklahoma City. A place was set for Aunese at each team meal. At the motel in Oklahoma City, wide receiver Mark Henry had a room to himself—in a sense. The other bed was left vacant for Aunese.
One of the goals Aunese had set for himself, once he learned that his cancer was terminal, was to live to see this year's Oklahoma game. He had had a rocky outing against the Sooners last season; twice he missed open receivers for what would have been easy scores. Aunese was obsessed with gaining revenge for the Buffs' 17-14 loss.
"He blamed the whole game on himself," said defensive tackle Okland Salavea. "He would say, 'I should have hit Eric Bieniemy in the end zone; I shouldn't have overthrown Tom Stone.' He talked about it so much, I tried to find ways to get Oklahoma off his mind."
Salavea speaks well, though deliberately: English is his second language. Like Aunese, he is Samoan. Unlike Aunese, who was born and raised in the San Diego area, Salavea moved from Samoa to Oceanside, Calif., in high school. He was the late quarterback's closest friend, and his teammates say he has taken Aunese's loss the hardest.
"Sal said he'd be at that game," said McCartney. "We believed him." Aunese was unable to keep that promise, but the Buffs did not let him down. The Colorado defense completely stymied Oklahoma, limiting the Sooners to a lone field goal en route to a 20-3 victory.
"We have come to take our place at the Big Eight table," said linebacker Michael Jones afterward. "We are tired of being dogs, feeding on the scraps."
Would the Buffaloes forgo their customary Saturday night celebration, the better to prepare for Nebraska? "Oh, no," said Jones. "We need to get this out." And so, once back in Boulder, they hit the town hard. That was nothing new for them, of course, but this year, according to a set of self-imposed rules, Saturday is now the only night when the Buffaloes can roam.
Over the last several years, some two dozen Colorado players have been arrested on charges ranging from simple assault to rape. The mini crime wave tainted the team's success on the field, and before this season began, the senior players decided something should be done. "We wanted to start a tradition, like they have at USC and Notre Dame and the other big schools," said senior guard Darrin Muilenburg. They decreed that no Buffalo would patronize Boulder's bars and clubs except on Saturday night. At first, there was near mutiny among the players, until tackle Bill Coleman stood up and said, "How much is the Big Eight championship worth to you? So little that you can't give up Tuesday nights at Tulagi?" There were no dissenters, and so far this season Colorado players have been able to avoid appearances in police reports.
The nightlife prohibition cuts down on drinking; it also keeps football players off the streets of Boulder, limiting the opportunities for mixing with the townsfolk. Many of the Colorado players who have been arrested in the last two years for fighting are black. And many of them say they fought because they were subjected to racial slurs.
"We're talking about something anybody would do," says Flannigan. Last year Flannigan received a deferred sentence on a charge of third-degree assault that alleged he slapped a woman who, he claimed, had uttered a racial epithet. Jones, who is an officer in the university's Black Student Alliance, says that it is not easy being black in Boulder, which is 98% white. "Are you familiar with Howard University?" he asks, referring to the predominantly black school in Washington, D.C. "This school is like Howard in reverse. I'm not criticizing it for that; that's just the reality."