Fifteen minutes before the tipoff of the University of Colorado’s Wednesday night game against Colorado State University, the sea of black at the south end of the Coors Event Center is standing-room-only — as if the C-Unit ever sits.
The place is humming, the energy nervous; the last time these fans saw their Buffs play here, Colorado spotted San Francisco a halftime lead before Askia Booker saved the day with 20 of the best minutes of basketball he has ever played. No one knows it yet, but this night the Buffaloes will break their hearts.
That was two hours away, though, and during pre-game the C-Unit was raucous. It was packed shoulder-to-shoulder—some students in sweaters, most in T-shirts, a few braving the December weather in tank tops and one especially courageous fan in nothing but a barrel. There was a lingering aroma in the arena. Some combination of musk and alcohol, exactly what one would expect from 3,000-plus college students taking a break from studying for finals to attend Boulder’s biggest, and loudest, party.
Each student found three things in their seat — a black T-shirt, a newspaper and a copy of Buffalo Chips. The latter is part newsletter, part scouting report, with a healthy helping of trash talk. It makes up for its questionable grammar with biting insults, listing Colorado State’s roster with each player’s height and weight accompanied by obscure, mockable details from their personal life.
“It’s a disgusting amount of digging,” senior finance major Matt Klasco, part of the C-Unit leadership committee, said.
“A lot of stalking. Facebook stalking, Twitter,” added senior communications major Michelle Fay, also a member of the C-Unit leadership. “Read every tweet they ever sent, maybe go to the high school page they went to, see if that has information. Honestly, it’s an independent study in learning how to research. They should add it as a course.”
The CSU edition of Buffalo Chips is suitably merciless, opening with the header, “Everyone at their school wishes they got into CU.”
Of Rams’ redshirt senior guard Antwan Smith, it says, “CSU is Antwan’s fourth college, proof that Fort Collins is the universal ‘last option.’”
Also mentioned are senior forward Stanton Kidd, whose “wifey is on Twitter. Her background is a picture of two male basketball players…wonder if Stanton is upset he’s not one of them?” and junior guard Joe De Ciman, who Buffalo Chips simply dubs as a Canadian.
Despite the C-Unit’s rowdiness before tipoff, CSU did its damnedest to mitigate it. When Booker scored the Buffs’ first points of the game with a layup, it went crazy, and as always, the students ripped up the newspaper and tossed it into the air. Then, Xavier Talton and Xavier Johnson hit back-to-back threes, stoking the crowd into a frenzy. Colorado was perfect from deep in the first half, each triple turning the CEC into a little more of a madhouse. But CSU kept the game at arm’s reach and the fans on edge. It took a buzzer-beater from Johnson to give the Buffs a halftime lead that elicited more relief than elation.
Colorado didn’t do its fans any favors in the second half.
The Buffs trailed for the final 15 minutes of the game, but they kept the score tantalizingly close, which made watching the remainder of the game from the C-Unit torturous. Johnson posterized a Ram to cut CSU’s lead to two points and then Tre’Shaun Fletcher demolished a John Gillon layup on the other end, the C-Unit exploding. Rams coach Larry Eustachy called timeout, and the section’s yell leaders broke out the USA Soccer chants, as promised:
“I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!”
“I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!”
And we did believe. Then Booker threw a lob for Wes Gordon to tie it up — Gordon jumped out of the gym, the students started to lose their minds — but the pass was too high and sailed out of bounds. It was that kind of night for Booker, that kind of night in the stands. The senior guard shot just 4-of-14 in the second half, a girl one row behind me letting out an exasperated, “No, Askia!” with every bricked jumper.
Another fan saw Chauncey Billups sitting courtside and muttered, “That’s what a real guard looks like.”
Booker, heroic against San Francisco, had the chance again Wednesday, and high in the bleachers, it never felt like the Buffs would lose. Fellow writer Joe Parris and I wondered whether we should storm the court if Colorado won with a buzzer-beater. The Buffs trailed by three with 29 seconds left when Booker caught a pass on the right wing, five feet behind the arc. He hesitated, then rose and fired.
Next possession, Booker drew a foul, but clanked the first free throw off the side of the rim.
With 12 seconds left, still down three, Booker hesitated on the left wing, then drove and missed a layup.
After that, the only fans making any noise were the small cluster of CSU supporters chanting, “Nine-and-oh!”
“I thought our fans deserved more than they got tonight,” Buffs head coach Tad Boyle said. “And that’s what is gonna keep me up and eat away at my stomach, because our fans are great, and the way they came out tonight, our student section, this place was alive and we didn’t deliver.”
The C-Unit cleared out quickly after the final buzzer. A few stayed behind to sing the alma mater with the players, swaying, locked arm in arm — but soon they were gone, too, and nothing was left but trampled shreds of torn-up newspaper.
Contact CU Features Writer Tommy Wood at email@example.com