'Team of Champions' Endows CU Football Scholarship
BOULDER — The idea came to Emery Moorehead and Jeff Austin at a reunion of players from the 1970s Colorado Buffaloes teams.
The two couldn't help but notice how much their fellow Buffs were not only enjoying the reunion, but also how much their time at Colorado had molded them for the future.
Decades later, they were still a "team."
"When you have those reunions, it's amazing the stories and memories that come back," Moorehead said recently. "Guys that come back realize how important an era it was to their lives. When you are 18 to 22, you're changing from a kid to a man and you have those experiences that mold you for life. You realize we all had ups and downs, good and bad experiences, and you remember how much of an impact that time as a young football player had on your life from that point forward."
Those reunion events sparked a discussion. Why not, the players asked themselves, help more young men have that same experience?
Simply, why not pay it forward?
"Jeff and I started talking and we thought we should be able to give back to something that was important to all of us," Moorehead said. "So we decided we'd try to raise some money for a scholarship. Maybe we can help another young man get that true feeling of being a Buff."
Thus was born the Team of Champions Scholarship Endowment, funded by players from the 1970s. The goal is to help fund a scholarship with a preference for a player who arrived at CU as a walk-on and earned a scholarship through his hard work and dedication to the program.
"We just wanted to put something back into the program," Moorehead said. "All of us who were on scholarship got so much out of it — we wanted to reach back and pay it forward. It's a chance to give another young man that experience that will help shape his future."
Other Buffs who played a key role with Austin and Moorehead in establishing the Team of Champions endowment were Marty Erzinger and Jim Kelleher. All played for Colorado in the 1970s, an era that produced the No. 3 team in the nation (1971), a Big Eight champion and Orange Bowl team (1976), and approximately 70 NFL Draft picks.
"It was a special time in our lives," Austin said. "When we started talking about it, we wanted to give back to the university that gave us so much fun, such a great adventure and so many memorable moments. We've all stayed together. Just about everybody on the team has invested in (the endowment). The friendships that we made were for a lifetime. Everybody was close… the first team, second team, third team. This endowment is really a team concept."
The reunion that now brings together players from the entire 1970s era — teams coached by Eddie Crowder, Bill Mallory and Chuck Fairbanks — was born at a meeting of the 1976 team several years ago.
"When we were at that 1976 reunion, we talked about how that 1971 team that finished No. 3 in the country really kind of set the table for us," Moorehead said. "That's when I said we needed to have a 1970s reunion for everybody from that era. What we remembered was those guys from the early 1970s would come back after making the pros and tell us, 'You're next. You're going to be there, don't worry. Just keep working.'"
Moorehead was one of those players. After a standout career as a wide receiver at Colorado, he was a sixth-round draft choice of the New York Giants. He played 12 years as a wide receiver and tight end in the NFL, including eight years in Chicago, where he won a Super Bowl ring with the 1985 Bears.
But he is just one of literally dozens of players from the era who went on to successful careers, both in football and the business world.
For many of them, their time at CU and in Boulder proved to be the springboard to that success.
"Boulder was a thousand miles from my Chicago home," Moorehead said. "But it's where I met my wife, where I became an adult, where I met so many good people."
It's also where he developed relationships that have stayed with him through the decades.
"When you play on a football team, the closeness is amazing," he said. "In some ways, it's all you have — it's your family. You grow up together. It molds you for life and you make friends for life. When you see people 30 years later, it's like you never left. Those are the times that shape you .. and if we can help another young man have that experience, it's worth it."
Moorehead has seen what scholarship endowments can mean for a program. His son Aaron — who won a Super Bowl ring playing for the Indianapolis Colts — later served a stint as a wide receivers coach at Stanford.
There, every scholarship is endowed. That means more athletic department funds can go to improving the student-athlete experience, from academics to nutrition to career development to facilities.
"Every little bit helps," Moorehead said. "If we can help endow one scholarship, that frees up money CU can use for other things."
Austin said endowing a scholarship for a former walk-on has special meaning.
"When I was playing, walk-ons had to wear these green jerseys," Austin said. "They worked their tails off. They never knew if they were ever going to play. They did it for the love of the game, the love of the chance to be a Buff. You pulled for them and just had so much respect for them because they just wanted to be part of the team, part of the program."
Now, Austin said, the scholarship will help one of those players.
"They become a Buff for life," he said. "There's so much pride in that. It's a special part of all of our lives, and I think all of us who have contributed are proud to be a part of helping pay it forward."
The Team of Champions endowment has no minimum (or maximum) donation amount. Those who wish to contribute can give whatever amount they feel comfortable donating.
As Austin said, "It's a true team concept. There are a lot of guys who have pitched in to make this possible."
CU Assistant Athletic Director/Senior Director of Development Scott McMichael worked with the Buffs players to help organize and establish the endowment.
"It has been both enjoyable and inspirational working with this group of former players," McMichael said. "For so many, football is the ultimate team sport and 'team' was the constant theme in putting this endowment together. Emery, Jeff, Marty and Jim have provided great leadership throughout this entire process. In all of my interactions over the years with the former players, I have always emphasized we do not care when you played or how much you contribute, we just want you to be involved. It has been fun to watch this endowment grow over the years and now approaching the $100K level. This is a great group of passionate Buffs and I am proud to have played a small role in moving it forward."
Now, the Team of Champions can watch as future walk-ons earn the opportunity for a scholarship
"We want to help a young man make sure he knows he's a Buff for life," Moorehead said. "All of us who played there know how important it was to who we became. We just started thinking about giving something back, helping the program and making sure more young guys have the same opportunity we had. Just pay it forward and help continue that tradition."
Anyone interested in being a part of the "Team of Champions" endowment is encouraged to contact Scott McMichael (email@example.com) or the CU Buff Club for more information.