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A lot of things have been buried in the lofty old Rockies over the years. More than a few skiers, for example, and a scattering of snowmobile pilots. Loads of gold and silver and lead, too, not to forget some of the grizzled miners who dug for it and then couldn't remember where after celebrating their discoveries in the creaking saloons. But now, something else lies lost in those Western wilds: college football's longest winning streak. Penn State, the Allegheny mountain boys, went prowling in the Rockies for the first time last week and found out what life in the real mountains is all about (see cover).
It had been 31 game days since Penn State had known what it was like to lose. All the way back to the third game of 1967. There had been a tie in the Gator Bowl after that season, but Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions had then won 23 straight, including a couple of Orange Bowl squeakers over Kansas and Missouri. But this was a new season, and a lot of the stars of the streak had left. Penn State's opening victory over Navy by 55-7 had proved only that most Eastern teams—the second-line ones, at least—were as feeble as ever. Now came a far different problem.
A game with rugged, physical, headhunting Colorado out there in the high country, that would prove something, Paterno admitted. The win streak was impressive, of course, but there had been a good many Navys, Boston Colleges, Marylands and Ohios in the middle of it. There were some who had felt all along that the streak was realistically more like eight in a row, figuring that was about as many first-rate teams as the Lions had whipped over those years.
Paterno himself was even getting a little weary of the streak, certainly tired of all the talk about it, and of the pressure that steadily had been building. Early in the week he said, "Frankly, we'll probably prove more about what kind of people we are when we lose. You know, the recovery-from-adversity bit and all that."
Colorado certainly gave him the chance. The Buffs of Eddie Crowder did not just snap the win streak (on what might have been the most gloriously sunny and refreshing day in the history of mankind): they are another of those Big Bad Eight teams, and they simply took the streak and crushed it like an avalanche coming down on a mine shack. Colorado started beating the Easterners on the first play of the afternoon with an interception and did not stop beating them until the score was 41-13, the gun had sounded and the Colorado players were lined up for those post-game wind sprints they call "Jingle Jangle," a little morale thing they have. By then the Colorado fans were doing something they have never before had occasion to do. They were chanting, "We're No. 1!" Just like the folks at Ohio State and Texas and Southern Cal.
The game was the biggest thing that ever happened to Colorado football, of course. It was the big chance. National television, national press and a highly rated opponent from the mysterious East. But, ironically, the town seemed as if it sort of hated to think about it during the week.
Boulder has had only infrequent moments of football glory. Way back in the 1930s there had been Whizzer White for one brief year. He took the Buffaloes to the Cotton Bowl. The 1956 team made the Orange Bowl, largely on the strength of playing No. 1 Oklahoma a close one. Then came the Sonny Grandelius era, when the team added the neutral color of black to its gold and silver—black for the color of Sonny's heart, some fans said. Sonny chopped out a 9-1 season with the likes of Joe Romig and Jerry Hillebrand, and won another Orange Bowl trip, but then Colorado went to jail in a recruiting scandal. Busted again. And in came Eddie Crowder, mild and pipe-smoking, a bit of a reflection of his old master at Oklahoma, Bud Wilkinson.
Since 1963 Crowder has been trying to put it all together. "What we need is two good seasons back to back," he was saying last week. " Colorado has never had that. Not necessarily two Big Eight championships, just two good teams. Bowl teams. That will help turn the fans into the rabid sort you see at other places."
So Boulder was fascinatingly quiet all week. Unlike a Fayetteville or a Baton Rouge, there were no banners strewn around town commanding the Buffs to do this thing to the Lions. Nobody wore gold and silver and black the way people wear red everywhere at Arkansas or Nebraska. There was only one marquee on a business establishment that made a reference to the game. A tire store had a sign that said simply, " Beat Penn State." Quite a few signs, though, said "Don't berate, participate. Join the PTA."
Assistant Athletic Director Fred Casotti tried to explain it. "Most people in Colorado are from somewhere else," he said. "We're transients. The school is sophisticated, and there are always those mountains for diversion. But mainly we haven't had the howling, consistent success that attracts national attention and instills pride in the fans. We're getting there, though."