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Plati-'Tudes Story Time: Chuck Fairbanks

Sep 27, 2020

With CU sports still on "hiatus" due to the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, we're all trying to create some unique content to keep fans engaged until we can return to the fields, courts and slopes.  Earlier this summer, I did a review of what I thought were our best three games each week where they fell on the schedule; if you missed those, go to the Plati-'Tudes archives.  So for my next "act," I'll go back in our history and relay some stories some may remember or never knew at all.  Included in my job responsibilities is the historian role; our late S.I.D. Fred Casotti once told me, "Historian is a title that demands great age."

So every week I'll recall a story from the past along with a little-know historical note.  Let me begin with an expanded post that I made on Facebook last month.  Watching Herschel Walker speak during the Republican National Convention, and when he said he knew (Donald) Trump for 37 years, which dates back to 1983, it reminded me of the following story and sequence of events.

Now in 1982, Chuck Fairbanks abruptly left CU on June 1 for the head coaching job, president and a limited stake in the ownership of the fledgling United State Football League's (USFL) New Jersey Generals, with 90 percent of the team owned by Oklahoma oil millionaire Walter Duncan.  Trump was supposed to be an original partner in ownership of that team but either dropped out or was no longer in consideration at the time. 

Walker opted to sign with the USFL club after he won the Heisman playing for the University of Georgia in 1982.  The Generals, under Fairbanks, started on 0-2 with 12 turnovers in their first two games and went on to finish 6-12 in 1983.  After the end of the season, Trump and his son, Donald Trump, Jr., bought the team from Duncan as owners of the Generals, and a week later, relieved Fairbanks of his coaching duties but said he could remain as a consultant. 

Back to June 9, 1982 ... the late Eddie Crowder hires Bill McCartney, and fast-forward eight years to 1990, CU wins its first national championship in football.  True story--four days before Mac's final game ('95 Fiesta Bowl vs. Notre Dame), Mac did his post-practice media session and I stayed around to drive him back to the hotel.  A nearly unrecognizable Fairbanks (who relocated to Scottsdale but was about 100 pounds heavier, he had quit smoking), saunters up to me in the parking lot and asks if Mac is still around (Chuck never remembered my name; he always thought it was Steve, but did remember I was the guy who kept all the crazy stats.  He once said I kept everything except "farts against the wind.")

So I bring Chuck back to our locker room where Mac had just finished dressing, and the two spoke for about 20-25 minutes (I did not hang around, I let them have their privacy).  Though it didn't work out for Chuck at CU, he wanted to congratulate Mac on the job he did with the program; and Mac always said he took his advice--to win, he needed to recruit California and Texas.  Pretty classy move on Fairbanks' part. -- funny how things come full circle at times, eh?!

When Mac was hired, he had seven comments at either his introductory press conference or in the few days afterward that would ring true after the Buffs won the '90 national title.  Was Mac a prophet, or did he know exactly what it took to create a winning program?  Judge for yourself:

  • "I promise you a program based on integrity and honesty, with the top priority on graduating students.  That's how we're going to measure success."
  • "We will win without compromising the rules or integrity of college football."
  • "I see Colorado as being a lot like Michigan in being able to attract the superior student-athlete.  Our standards are better than most, but that has to be looked at as an advantage."
  • "You achieve what you emphasize.  Until you set specific goals, you're liable to miss opportunities that come up along the way.  We will know what our goals are from the start."
  • "I can only predict how Colorado will play, with enthusiasm, togetherness and tenacity.  Every single squad that I coach here will be team-oriented."
  • "We need to enhance our reputation here (in Colorado).  You make your living at home first.  We want the high school players and coaches to develop their loyalties to us, not out-of-state schools.  We need to reach out to the communities in the state, then we'll work on other areas of the country."
  • "My family and I want to sink roots in this place.  We took a vote on coming here, and I told them where I stood but everybody's vote counted the same.  It was 6-0.  We plan on being here as long as you want us."

McCartney would coach the Buffaloes for 13 seasons, retiring from the profession after the 1994 season as CU's all-time winningest coach with a 93-55-5 record.  He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2013.

THIS WEEK'S OBSCURE HISTORICAL NOTE

Almost every associated with CU athletics knows the accomplishments back in 1937 by Byron "Whizzer" White.  He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting with 264 points, behind Yale's Clint Frank (524).  He was the first and only player from the Mountain or Pacific time zones to finish in the top four in the first six years of the award, and the only one in the top two from either time zone until Oregon State's Terry Baker won it in 1962.  The NCAA starting keeping official statistics in 1937, thus White set a national rushing record that year with 1,121 yards in eight games.  There were several unofficial marks prior to that year, the first 1,000-yard runner believed to be Beattie Feathers of Tennessee, with 1,015 yards in 1933.  But in 1935, White's senior teammate, Kayo Lam, led the nation in rushing with 1,043 yards, which was considered by many as the new national record at the time until White took over the top spot in two years.  Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago claimed the first Heisman in 1935; but the award that year was presented to the "most valuable football player east of the Mississippi" which eliminated Lam from consideration; and he had much better numbers.