BOULDER — At 10:15 a.m. Saturday, an hour and 15 minutes before kickoff, the line of cars turning off 28th Street and onto Colorado Avenue toward Folsom Field stretched all the way past ...
At 10:30 a.m., the group of ticket takers had little work, making going into the stadium as easy as entering a bank. At kickoff, with Colorado seeking its first home win of the season, fewer than 20,000 people were there to cheer. Or boo.
Or whatever they do at games this season besides watch CU lose.
The 1-10 Buffaloes (1-7 Pac-12) are careening toward their worst season in history, but not many are watching. They drew only a paid crowd of 43,148, the smallest since Dan Hawkins' last season in 2010.
The attendance dropped their average to 45,236, more than 5,000 under last year, when coach Jon Embree took over, and the lowest since 1988, when they averaged 39,190.
"There's a silent protest," said Nelson Miner, a former Buff Club president and fan for 42 years who did attend Saturday. "It's not organized, but people are voting with their feet right now."
In reality, 53,613-seat Folsom Field isn't close to being filled. The school announced an "actual" attendance from Saturday's ticket takers of 38,600.
Before kickoff, with the naked eye, between 15,000 and 20,000 fans appeared to be in the stadium. By the end of the first quarter, Colorado's habitually late-arriving crowd had filled a little more than 30,000 seats.
After halftime, with Colorado still showing hope by trailing Washington only 7-0, the crowd appeared to be under 30,000. By the end of the Buffaloes' 38-3 loss, it looked like a typical crowd for the spring game.
The drop in attendance is concerning to Colorado on a number of fronts. How many season-ticket holders will renew after so many stayed away this season? The Pac-12's TV contract will fill some of the athletic department's coffers, but a drop in revenue from its biggest revenue sport is a dangerous downward spiral.
"A good percentage would like to see a change immediately," Miner said.
A good percentage will be disappointed. But while Embree is safe after only two years, coordinators Greg Brown and Eric Bieniemy (Jeff Tedford, anyone?) are in deep trouble.
Also, the bland game atmosphere won't help Embree convince visiting recruits to help turn around this school record of seven consecutive losing seasons. However, Embree says it hasn't been a factor so far.
"We have a kid that was here at the Stanford game that committed," Embree said. "For them, it is about opportunities and what the university offers academically. Being around the freshmen and upperclassmen, they are able to talk to them about how they feel about things going forward.
"Attendance is just part of the equation."
It's a big part of the equation to the athletic department, and the marketing department is working overtime to correct it. Last week, in what seems like a page out of the Appalachian League, season-ticket holders received an e-mail saying they can fill out an online form and receive four free tickets to Friday's season finale against Utah (4-7, 2-6).
"With the students gone, it gives us an opportunity to reach out to our fans and give them something to show how much we appreciate them," CU athletic director Mike Bohn said.
Friday isn't just a battle for last place in the South Division. It also could be history. A loss would make Colorado 1-11, its worst record since its inaugural 0-4 campaign in 1890, and mark the first winless home season since 1920.
For the players, at least the other students are out of town. Then again, the student section has been getting smaller every week.
"There hasn't been any outright kind of mean comments," senior tight end Nick Kasa said. "I haven't heard anything to my face. Of course, I see it on the Web, but I think they're still behind us.
"We knew this week it would be (smaller) because people are going home for Thanksgiving and we're not doing as well as we should. That's something we need to get right. If you don't win games, people don't want to see you."