It was an honest mistake, explained the mayor, a big football fan who happens to hold a degree from a University of Colorado campus.
Late Friday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock found himself with a microphone on Sports Authority Field at Mile High, surrounded by jubilant players and coaches from Colorado State University reveling in a victory over their in-state rivals from Boulder.
But when Hancock tried to congratulate Rams football coach Jim McElwain, he stumbled and stammered over his name.
That prompted McElwain to grab the microphone from the mayor and state it loudly and clearly. That was followed by a series of events that included an apology, an accepted apology — and an awkward moment for a major public university that has spent millions in recent years to boost its profile and presence in the state's biggest city.
"I did flub coach McElwain's name in the moment and I certainly apologize to him for that," Hancock, a graduate of the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs, wrote Monday on Facebook. "It was an honest mistake. ..."
Hancock said he hoped his stumble did not distract from the team's 31-17 victory over CU.
Hancock posted a similar message on Twitter, to which McElwain responded: "On behalf of Ram Nation, thanks for your message. Really proud of our team — looking forward to next year's game in Denver!"
McElwain, hired in 2012, brought up the perceived snub Monday at the end of a news briefing.
"I do understand where we are on the food chain from a relevance standpoint because the mayor doesn't even know my name," he said.
"I guess that really shows where we are and where I am as a program," McElwain continued. "Boy, that makes a guy feel good. Guy giving you the trophy and can't spit your name out. Shows you how much they care about Colorado State, right?"
CSU has about 47,000 alumni in the six-county Denver area, while CU claims nearly 59,000, according to the schools. For CSU, about an hour's drive north of Denver, forging connections in Denver is more challenging.
The university's efforts historically have been sporadic, but for the past six or seven years it has devoted more manpower and money to cultivating alumni contacts, fundraising and corporate partnerships in Denver, said Kyle Henley, CSU's assistant vice president of strategic communications.
CSU is spending more than $1 million a year on its Denver presence, which includes up to 25 people working here, a retail space downtown and partnerships with companies such as Coca-Cola, he said.
Donors in the metro area have doubled, Henley said. A few years ago, internal surveys found about 15 percent of respondents in Denver named CSU when asked to name any college. Those numbers have since climbed to 30 percent, still behind CU, he said.
Henley did not want to dwell on Hancock's stumble or McElwain's response.
"The mayor made a mistake. He has acknowledged that, and we have accepted that. And we're going to move on," he said.
CU continues to exceed its rival by another measure — salaries paid to football coaches.
In August, McElwain was given a five-year contract extension through 2018 that pays him $1.5 million a year plus incentives. CU, a member of the Pac-12, one of the nation's elite football conferences, paid head football coach Mike MacIntyre $2.3 million in fiscal year 2013-14, a university spokesman said.
Hancock spokeswoman Amber Miller said the mayor did not have anything to add to his public apologies.
Zeke Lynch, a volunteer with the Denver Ram Network, an extension of CSU's alumni association, said Tuesday he is glad McElwain seized the initiative to correct Hancock.
He views it as a mistake and on the whole thinks CSU has a strong reputation.
"Historically, we have been — how do I say this? — CU has been the university of preference in Colorado for a long time, and CSU has always been a little bit of an underdog and up-and-comer," said Lynch, a traffic engineer and 1999 CSU grad. "In the heat of the moment, I think getting the coach's name wrong could make anyone upset."
Eric Gorski: 303-954-1971, email@example.com or twitter.com/egorski