There Is An Intrinsic Sadness When A College Drops Its Football Program for whatever reason, and that is the case this week with the terse announcement that Colorado College was eliminating the sport for budgetary reasons after 127 years of play………while local reaction in the media has been tepid to date, there are a lot of raw emotions bubbling around within the ranks of Tiger football alumni who have been part of the historic program that was as old as almost any collegiate gridiron program in the country………the sudden and surprising decision came without much buzz, and I was thinking about what a loss it is in a broad sense to the alumni, the quality of life for the student body, and the linkage between the college and the community………..true, attendance was not great at most games other than Homecoming, but that weekend alone tells you the value of college football……..scores of alums came “home” to the college for the game, social activities and to renew old friendships, all around three hours at Washburn Field…………there had been rumors floating around for months that CC was looking into the option of rejoining the venerable Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, which just celebrated its 100th Anniversary, upgrading its program to NCAA Division II status with the savings of money being spent on long road trips by men’s and women’s teams to far-flung Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference towns like Jackson, Miss., Birmingham, Alabama, Danville, Ky., Austin, Tex., Conway, Ark., Memphis, Tenn., Greencastle, Ind., Sewanee, Tenn., and Atlanta………..the savings might then be used to fund the partial athletic scholarships allowed by the RMAC and the NCAA DII rules………and there would be the natural rivalries enjoyed with old foes like Colorado Mines and newer ones like the red-hot renewed football program down the road at CSU-Pueblo, and even an intra-city one should UCCS someday add the sport………I could see crowds of 5,000 at Washburn Field for the CC-CSU-Pueblo games, tailgating parties for night games under the lights, busloads of students and fans heading down the road to Pueblo for games there, and all kinds of things like basketball showdowns at the World Arena or OTC with powerhouse Metro State and the growing UCCS Mountain Lions programs………I don’t pretend to know the inner workings of NCAA Division III sports philosophies and CC faculty concerns with sports, but I graduated from a smaller school, Nebraska-Omaha, that plays DII football and all other sports other than DI Ice Hockey, and the niche the Mavericks have carved out in Omaha, even with the suffocating, almost religious fervor for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, has been a big deal for the students, alums and many citizens who can’t get to Lincoln or afford the tickets……..now I have seen the amazing restoration in Pueblo of the ThunderWolves football program, dormant since 1985, with a brand-new campus stadium, a buzz in town, and a revival in student body spirit……and that is what can happen when a group of alums, boosters and civic leaders came together as the “Friends Of CSU-Pueblo Football,” raised the cash, and convinced the school’s president to bring it back………..that kind of thing can happen here as well as in Pueblo, and I hope that day comes………Colorado Springs has lived for decades on a well-earned reputation as a “can-do” city, and this could be another example of just that……..everybody loves the Tiger Ice Hockey program, sellout crowds at the World Arena, NCAA tournament glory, and the reputation of the “little school that could,” as it slays the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Denver Pioneers, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers or Notre Dame………..but there’s a value in seeing the Tigers knock off CSU-Pueblo or Millsaps at Washburn Field, too……..and with the right promotional help, football there could be an afternoon, or evening, to put on your calendar…….it’s happened not only at CSU-Pueblo, bit in recent years at Georgetown, St. John’s, Drake, and elsewhere………..here’s hoping.
Thanks For the Memories (Borrowed From Tiger Football History)
Colorado College football officially was born on Christmas Day, 1882, when a small group of fans gathered on the sidelines of an improvised field near campus to watch the team’s first game ever against an outside opponent. Those few fans in attendance had plenty to celebrate as CC defeated a group of local volunteer firemen, the Sigafus Hose Company, by a score of 10-8.
Football, however, was not a well-known sport in 1882. Just six years earlier, in 1876, Harvard and Yale staged the first intercollegiate game in history, playing under modified rugby rules in Cambridge, Mass. Only a few eastern colleges adopted the sport in the next few years, but it caught on quickly at CC. In February of 1882, the men students organized the Colorado College Athletic Association and elected officers to govern and regulate three sports under their its jurisdiction: baseball, track and football.
A little more than three years later, in the spring of 1885, the CC Athletic Association responded to a challenge from the University of Denver by scheduling a game early on April 11. A severe windstorm that morning forced postponement of the game until the afternoon, when a large crowd turned out at Colorado Springs Athletic Park to see CC claim a 12-0 victory. The contest lasted an hour and a half, and was the first intercollegiate football game played west of the Mississippi River.
Four years later, in 1889, Colorado College and the Colorado School of Mines tangled for the first time. The rivalry continued for an entire century, ending in 1990 with Mines owning a 46-39-5 advantage in 90 meetings after that historic kickoff. Colorado College athletics entered a new era with the construction of Washburn Field in the spring of 1898. In addition to the football field, it included a baseball diamond and quarter-mile track that encircled the gridiron; a grandstand seating 500, including 100 box seats; and parking spaces on the sidelines for carriages and other horse-drawn vehicles.
Today, a century later with its recently-added lights, Washburn Field still stands on its original site as the Tigers’ home turf. Throughout its storied football history, Colorado College has produced outstanding teams. One of its most famous victories occurred on October 24, 1908, when the Tigers traveled to Austin and handed the University of Texas its first defeat (15-0) in three years. CC was instrumental in founding the Rocky Mountain Conference the following season (1909) and went on to reign as league champion or co-champion seven times during a 54-year association the RMC. In the early 1970s, under Coach Jerry Carle, the team compiled a six-year record of 46-7-2 while earning an NCAA playoff bid in ’75.
The Tigers also have boasted many outstanding individual players over the years. The legendary Dutch Clark is one of 13 Colorado College players to earn All-America honors, joined most recently in that distinction by defensive end Ryan Haygood in 1996 as well as Todd Mays, Jesse Whitehead and Chris Jones of CC’s outstanding 1993 squad. Haygood and Rhodes Scholar Ryan Egeland also were named first-team GTE Academic All-Americans in 1996 by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Defensive back Chris Smith followed with second-team honors in 1997.
Mays (1992) and All-America linebacker Scott Robertson (1988), meanwhile, are former recipients of The Denver Post’s Colorado Small College Defensive Player of the Year distinction. In 1943, All-America end Robert Hall helped CC wind up as one of only nine undefeated teams in the nation. In 1952, running back Andy Gambucci finished fourth nationally in scoring with 16 touchdowns. And, in 1980, Pat Geonetta set a school modern-day rushing record with a 298-yard performance in a 38-3 triumph over Nebraska-Wesleyan.
In 1993, the Tigers posted a school-record eight consecutive victories to start the season. Nick Mystrom became Colorado College’s all-time single-season (110 points) and career (263) scoring leader along the way, while eight other team and individual records were smashed.
HOME FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY
Tigers Played at Washburn Field Since 1898
The marriage between Washburn Field and Tiger Football officially became a century old in 1998 as Colorado College celebrated the 100th anniversary of its first game there. Named after Rev. Phillip Washburn, rector at Grace Episcopal Church and an avid CC football fan, the original facility included a football field and baseball diamond surrounded by a quarter-mile running track. Of the 500 seats, 100 were boxes. Special parking spaces accommodated horse-drawn carriages. The first football game was played against North Denver High School on Oct. 1, 1898 — ironically the same, windy day that the historic Antlers Hotel burned to the ground with 50 other downtown buildings.
The game itself, called at halftime so that players could help battle the worst fire in Colorado Springs history, went down in the annals as a 24-0 victory for Colorado College. And Wasburn Field, whose dedication ceremony had been held in May of that year, began accumulating its century of memories. Almost immediately, the drawing power of the new field combined with the success of CC’s teams created a demand for additional seating. In 1900, Cripple Creek millionaire Jimmie Burns paid for construction of an 800-seat covered grandstand in the south end zone. And, in 1907, gifts from Charles Washburn (Phillip’s brother) and Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer financed installation of 430 more seats.
It still wasn’t enough to satisfy the city’s soaring appetite for football as in 1908 a game against Denver University attracted 2,600 spectators. Fortunately, college officials anticipated the big crowd and had time to rent extra bleachers from a circus performing in the area. About this same time, the school newspaper began to call for the field to be sodded, contending that the cost would be made up in savings on uniform damage. The greening of Washburn Field was under way.
The most drastic changes to the facility came just in time for the Dutch Clark era, after school trustee Edmund C. Van Diest laid out a plan for remarkably grand improvements in 1925. Although Van Diest’s dream of an enormous 32,000-seat stadium never reached fruition, Washburn’s seating capacity was increased to nearly 9,000 with seating on both the east and west sidelines. The west-side bleachers that stretched the entire length of the field. By 1926, some even began referring to the newly renovated venue as Van Diest Stadium. A public address system was added in time for the 1930 season. Floodlights were installed in 1948 to allow for early-season night games.
The stadium began to be downsized, however, during the 1960s. In 1964, large sections of the west-side bleachers were dismantled. The east-side stands were taken down and replaced with the current concrete base with wooden seating that would accommodate Tiger fans through the 1996 season. The field itself was shifted about 100 north to allow for construction of the El Pomar Sports Center. When the tennis courts were built, the rest of the west-side seats were removed and the lights came down.