An injured shoulder forced safety Parker Orms to stand on the sidelines a week ago and watch his teammates snap Colorado's 14-game losing streak in the Pac-12 Conference on a bitter cold day in Boulder.
When that triumph over Cal was complete, Orms took a moment to look up into mostly empty stands and appreciate the few hearty fans who stayed long enough to celebrate. Coach Mike MacIntyre approached Orms in that moment and said the senior safety had tears in his eyes.
A similar scene unfolded Saturday night after Orms' final home game, a 47-29 bitter defeat to USC that ended the Buffs' hopes for their first bowl game since 2007 and their first winning season since 2005.
Orms was summoned to the railing behind the home bench near the 50-yard line where CU fans presented him with the 16th annual Buffalo Heart Award.
"I feel like all the seniors deserve that award," Orms said in a late-night postgame press conference. "Since we've battled through the last four or five years that we've grown together and battled every Saturday together. All the seniors deserve that award."
The tradition of CU fans honoring one player with the award after the final home game each season was started in 1998 by four friends -- Pat Grimes, Craig Augustin and Ashley and Thaddeus Cernac. Fans vote for the Buff who demonstrates grit, determination and toughness with his play throughout the season. Orms has done all that and more during his career.
During the fourth quarter Saturday, he had to remove his shoulder pads on the sideline so team athletic trainers could wrap his shoulder after he re-injured it in a collision. He put his pads back on and ran back on the field still in pain.
Torn knee ligaments ended his 2010 redshirt freshman season in the first game that year against Colorado State. That injury has continued to hamper him, but he has never allowed it to keep him off the field.
"I can't imagine how much better he would be if his knee wasn't hurt," MacIntyre said this week. "He would make a lot more plays than he's able to make because he literally drags his knee around every week and gets ready to play. Most guys wouldn't be trying to play. They'd say 'Oh, I've had enough. I've done what I can do.' He loves it so much and he loves this school so much. He loves playing."
Orms has also endured numerous concussions and other more minor injuries, as most players do, during his career. He entered Saturday's game as the Buffs' third leading tackler this season and led a gutsy defensive effort. Unfortunately for CU, the offense couldn't get anything going and CU fell behind 23-0 by halftime.
The defense even managed to score on the first series of the second half when Orms' fellow safety Jered Bell forced a fumble, recovered it and returned it 31 yards for a score.
The Buffs weren't able to mount a comeback beyond that and Orms and his fellow seniors were forced to confront the reality that they will leave the program after next week's season finale at Utah having never played in a bowl game.
But the score and the cold didn't seem to matter to Orms and a small group of fans for a few moments after the game when Orms joined a select fraternity to have earned the Buffalo Heart Award.
Orms was asked earlier this week after practice about the possibility of earning the award.
"If I could win an award like that it would mean everything to me," he said.