Deion Sanders’ Colorado vision is already becoming reality

Deion Sanders’ Colorado vision is already becoming reality

BOULDER, Colo. — At 2:26 p.m. local time on Saturday, the man who sparked a revolution entered the room for his postgame press conference. “Oh, we must be winning,” he said as more than 50 reporters readied themselves for what they knew would be unabashed rhetorical gold. The 22nd-ranked Colorado Buffaloes had just disposed of rival Nebraska, 36-14, and for the second time in as many weeks, the team’s fearless architect and head coach — Deion Sanders — was at the center of the college football universe.

“I keep saying more and more young men, as well as coaches, are believing,” Sanders said. “I think we’re up to probably 80% now of young men in that locker room, as well as staff and support staff, truly believing what we’re capable of doing. It’s not believing in me. It’s believing in what we’re capable of doing.”

And at this point, who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t believe in a man and a plan that brought 87 new players to lowly Colorado, a school that won but a single game last season, and transformed the Pac-12’s bottom feeder into a high-flying brand of must-see TV? Who wouldn’t believe in an offense whose quarterback, Shedeur Sanders, has thrown for 903 yards and six touchdowns in back-to-back wins that ensnared audiences by the millions? Who wouldn’t believe in Coach Prime’s uncanny ability to prove that style and substance can coexist?

More than 53,000 fans stuffed Folsom Field as the largest crowd in 15 years basked in Colorado’s revival, but what unfolded in Boulder this weekend was a sporting event in name only. The reality was far bigger than that. This was a reawakening mixed with a reincarnation, a rap concert rolled into a red-carpet affair. The singular vision of a singular man doing exactly what most people said he couldn’t.

“To see that many people that came to see us perform,” Sanders said, “it was tremendous. Not just the number, but the energy and the love and the expectation. I loved that. I really did. Driving over to the set for the “Big Noon Kickoff,” it was phenomenal. Just feeling the energy of the student body as well as the fan base here. It was unbelievable.”

Fourth quarter, :01 remaining

Person by person, row by row, the crowd behind the south end zone spilled onto Folsom Field. Students who had flooded the stadium six hours earlier were careening down the sloped black hill to continue their party on the grassy turf, the time on the clock be damned. There were shirtless guys whose chests were painted and jubilant girls whose faces were painted, and all of them — age and gender notwithstanding — paid no mind to the booming pleas of a helpless public address announcer.

Postgame Interview: Deion Sanders recaps Colorado’s win

Postgame Interview: Deion Sanders recaps Colorado's win

No one cared that the game wasn’t officially over. No one cared about the single second left to play. Colorado football was exciting again, and the party started roaring into high gear. Even the officials knew a lost cause when they saw one and swiftly declared that the game was through.

“I seen a club stormed one time,” Sanders said. “I ain’t never been on a field that was stormed.”

As security whisked the gimpy Sanders off the field and into the tunnel, his son stuck around to be engulfed by the fray. Plenty of Colorado staffers had warned Shedeur Sanders about the dangers of getting sandwiched amid thousands of fans, many of whom were sun-soaked and sloshed. But this was his first field storming, too — these types of things didn’t happen when the Sanders family was at Jackson State — and retreating to the locker room sounded thoroughly uncool.

So Shedeur Sanders stood his ground and waited, a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate inundated by throngs of his newest fans.

“It was bittersweet because I started getting beat up in there,” Shedeur Sanders said with a smile in his postgame news conference. “It looked fun, but I’m telling you, stay out of that.”

Colorado Fans RUSH Folsom Field after win over Nebraska

Colorado Fans RUSH Folsom Field after win over Nebraska

Fourth quarter, 10:45 remaining

The 8-yard touchdown run by Tar’Varish Dawson Jr. pushed the Colorado lead to 22, effectively extinguishing the possibility of a Nebraska comeback. But the coaching manual calls for a 2-point conversion in that situation, and Sanders, who later told reporters he wanted his team to dominate, happily obliged.

What followed was a moment of pure improvisational brilliance that underscores why the Buffaloes are college football’s most enthralling team. Shedeur Sanders fielded a shotgun snap and felt pressure from his right side. He stepped up in the pocket, dipped his shoulder to avoid the rush, then retreated to his own 15-yard line. He broke free from the grasp of linebacker Nick Henrich and then spun away from Henrich a second time to create a sliver of space. He dodged one more rusher as he rolled to his right and then rifled a ball to the end zone, where it appeared that running back Anthony Hankerson secured a miraculous catch. Shedeur Sanders ripped off his helmet and roared, earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Though the conversion was eventually overturned — the ball had skipped off the grass before settling into Hankerson’s arms — Sanders described his son’s jaw-dropping effort as a “Heisman-type play” that few quarterbacks in college football, if any, could make. But Sanders had a bone to pick with for the lapse in judgment that incurred a 15-yard penalty. He hissed at his son along the sideline, to which Shedeur Sanders said, “Dad, it’s personal.”

Sanders keeled over with laughter. “It’s personal,” had been the catchphrase he’d repeated to the players all week in reference to Colorado’s long-standing rivalry with Nebraska. He wanted his team to play with an edge, to pummel the Cornhuskers and their head coach, Matt Rhule, because of comments he’d made that displeased the Sanders family. It’s why Shedeur Sanders broke up a Nebraska team huddle on the midfield logo before kickoff, an act he viewed as “disrespect.” And it’s why wide receiver Xavier Weaver, who caught 10 passes for 170 yards and touchdown, said Colorado wanted to run up the score.

“The coach said a lot of things about my pops, about the program,” Shedeur Sanders said, though neither he nor his father specified which remarks had irked them. “And now that he wants to act nice, I don’t respect that because you’re hating on another man. You shouldn’t do that. All respect was gone for them, for their program.”

Shedeur Sanders shares thoughts on Colorado’s big win

Shedeur Sanders shares thoughts on Colorado's big win

Pregame, 67 minutes before kickoff

Coach Prime and his entourage emerged from the tunnel as the energy at Folsom Field spiked. He sported striped sneakers with the word “PRIME” adorned on each heel, a white sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “Ain’t Hard 2 Find” — one of Sanders’ many catchphrases — and the trademark black shades that never seem to leave his face. The entourage that follows him everywhere was following him here, too: some bodyguards, some cameramen, some people whose functions are decidedly unclear.

Nursing the foot and toe injuries that have plagued him in recent years, Sanders embarked on a pregame lap that looked more like a gingerly stroll. He limped down the home sideline, ambled past the adoring student section, and tiptoed behind the south end zone. When he reached the beginning of Nebraska’s sideline, he turned in place to begin the long walk back.

“Beautiful,” Sanders said when asked to describe the scene. “A lot of this stuff is new to me, you gotta understand. I know I’ve been to the highest level in the World Series, as well as Super Bowls. But in the coaching aspect of the Power 5 (it’s all new).”

Saturday’s pregame scene was unlike anything the college football world had ever seen, from the celebrity appearances by former Colorado basketball star Chauncey Billups to the ubiquitous presence of Pro Football Hall of Famer Terrell Owens, the polarizing wide receiver who mingled with the Buffaloes’ players and coaches. Athletic director Rick George, whose bold swing to hire Sanders now looks like a stroke of genius, flashed a pair of gold Nike shoes that caught the attention of nearby boosters. “Gotta have a shoe game,” George said.

Colorado staffers danced along to the pregame tunes. Fans with field access hopped between each other’s Instagram live sessions. A handful of marquee guests sported holographic gold lanyards with the words “Prime Pass” printed across the front. Hundreds of extra spectators packed the rooftop of the UCHealth Champions Center that overlooks the field because standing-room-only tickets were better than not having tickets at all.

If Coach Prime builds it, they will come.

“We expected it,” Sanders said. “I know it sounds boastful. It sounds at risk of sounding arrogant. We truly expect that. And that’s why those kids come. They want the biggest stage, and they’re getting that every darn week.”

Deion Sanders on Colorado: ‘I told you we were coming’

Deion Sanders on Colorado: 'I told you we were coming'

Pregame, 7:25 a.m.

Hundreds of fans, perhaps thousands, gathered on Franklin Field for the first Buff Walk in the Coach Prime era. They came holding coolers and cameras, signs and small children, watching and waiting for the town’s newest stars to arrive on buses from the team hotel.

Cheerleaders framed the entryway in parallel lines. The marching band cranked through a rendition of “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne. Passersby sporting Nebraska colors were loudly and resoundingly booed.

Coach Prime’s choir and the Colorado faithful descended on campus in the pre-dawn hours, with tailgate parties beginning well in advance of 6:30 a.m. Grills were lit and footballs were tossed in parking lots along the campus. The “Big Noon Kickoff” set on Farrand Field featured a live DJ and high-stakes games of rock, paper, scissors to pass the time. More than a few fans were drinking Bloody Marys replete with celery and delicately placed shrimp.

“I followed Prime since he was in high school, college, the NFL, Jackson [State], and now here,” a particularly vibrant woman said as she waited for the team to arrive. She had a Buffalo painted on one cheek and “CU” painted on the other. She wore black shades, a black Colorado T-shirt and had reserve white sunglasses hanging from her collar. “Black is back, baby,” she shouted.

The crowd went wild as the Buffaloes rounded the corner and encountered the madness at Franklin Field. A smiling Shedeur Sanders led the way. 

Everyone in the crowd believed. 

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.

Get more from College Football Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more