For the past 15 years, the day after Thanksgiving has become a sort of second holiday for diehard University of Colorado football fans, thanks to the Big 12 rivalry between the Buffaloes and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
But this week, that traditional Black Friday showdown comes to an end in Lincoln, Neb., as CU and NU — teams that first played each other in 1898 — face off for the last time as conference rivals.
Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. Friday
Getting there: According to Google Maps, it will take just under 8 hours to drive the 500 miles from Boulder to Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.
Directions: Just head to Denver and jump on I-76 East. Then drive east on I-80 to Lincoln.
Gas: Fill up on fuel before you hit the Nebraska border. The average cost of regular gasoline in Colorado is $2.72 per gallon, but that jumps 20 cents per gallon once you enter Nebraska, according to AAA’s Daily Fuel Gauge Report.
Next season, the Buffs will head west to join the expanded Pac-12, while the Huskers go east to play in the Big Ten Conference. Colorado fans say Friday’s final conference game will be sentimental and bittersweet.
“I haven’t gone to every game when we’ve played in Lincoln, but I’ve watched every second of those rival games on TV if I wasn’t in the stadium,” CU graduate Dave Eidenmueller said. “I love watching these games. I’m so excited, but I’m going to be really sad to see it go.”
Sue Carter, a longtime season ticket holder and “diehard” CU fan, said she expects Friday to be one of the most exciting and emotional days in the Big 12.
“Our whole season gravitates toward this game,” Carter said. “This game is not just about football. It’s about being with family and with our Buff family. There’s going to be something missing next year.”
For Carter, 57, who holds season tickets to see the Buffs and the Huskers, the CU vs. Nebraska rivalry is a family affair.
She has been attending the rival games with her mom and dad since she was too young to remember, but after her parents passed away in recent years, her two sons have taken over the extra seats.
“Mom was a true Buff fan,” Carter said. “But dad lived and breathed Huskers all his life.”
Carter inherited CU season tickets from her mom, Bev Arnold, and NU season tickets from her dad, Dorsey Arnold. She never misses a CU home game, but said she sells most of the Nebraska tickets to Husker fans.
“I’m partial to the underdog, so mom got me hooked on the Buffs early on,” Carter said. “The rivalry was always a huge part of our year. It was a big deal for all of us no matter what side we were on.”
Carter, who lives in Julesburg, just 1 mile from the Nebraska border, said she is losing more than just an annual game.
“I’ve always felt like as long as CU and Nebraska were playing, a little bit of them was still with me,” she said of her parents. “Every year, that day is full of happy memories with my parents, so it’s going to be even more sentimental this year then normal.”
Carter will sit in the visitor section of Memorial Stadium on Friday with her 30-year-old son, Andrew, who holds the second Buffs season pass. She will be decked out, head-to-toe, in black and gold at Friday’s game, but there will be a tiny piece of red fabric tucked away in her pocket — a sign of respect for her dad and his love of Big Red.
Eidenmueller, like Carter, spends most home football games and every Nebraska game with family.
“That’s part of what makes these games so fun,” Eidenmueller said.
Other CU students, alumni and fans said spending time with family and friends is an important part of the rivalry and the reason why Friday’s game has been sold out for weeks, despite increasingly low turnout at Folsom Field this season.
The modern CU-Nebraska rivalry began in 1982 when Buffs head coach Bill McCartney tagged the Huskers as his team’s big rival in an attempt to motivate the players. And the day-after-Thanksgiving tradition dates back to 1996, with the split of the Big 12 into north and south divisions.
Brian Cabral, named CU interim head football coach after the firing of Dan Hawkins earlier this month, has been a part of the Colorado program for the last two decades. He said Nebraska is not just another game — it’s history in the making.
“I’m going to remind the team, players and coaches what this game means,” Cabral said. “There’s so much tradition. I think it’s sad that it’s over. It’s been such a great fight and we’re going to treat this game with the emphasis it deserves.”
Cabral and several CU graduates said it’s unfortunate for current students who don’t fully understand the intensity of Friday’s game after Hawkins downplayed the tradition over the past five years.
“They just don’t quite see it like we do,” Eidenmueller said. “It was really big for most students before Hawkins, so it’ll be a big day for alumni more than anything I think.”
And CU senior Schermisia Chambers agreed that the rivalry seems slightly less significant to current students, most of whom are headed home for Thanksgiving break instead of to Nebraska.
“I do think that Nebraska game is more of a big deal traditionally to CU alumni, only because there seems to be more history there,” Chambers said. “However, the tradition is not lost. I and many other students I have spoken with are sadden by the fact that this is the last Nebraska rival game.”
And while Colorado boosters are focused on the history this week, banning red from their wardrobes and keeping up their traditions of tailgating early and wearing their lucky T-shirts, Nebraska fans aren’t quite as “pumped,” Cabral said.
“Nebraska’s not going to miss us,” Cabral said. “They’ve never really respected us as a rival. They have always played that way, but they would never admit it.”
Officials with the Nebraska program declined interview requests about the rivalry last week, saying coaches and players were too busy preparing for Saturday’s game against Texas A&M.
End of an era
Brandon Saranik, a recent CU graduate and self-proclaimed Buffs fanatic, said it doesn’t matter how Nebraska feels. Buffs fans will always cherish the rivalry, he said, and that itself may generate the kind of enthusiasm needed to push the Buffs to victory in Lincoln.
“A win this year could be huge,” Saranik said. “We have to win that game to be bowl eligible, so it’s not just another game. It’s not even just another Nebraska game. This one could be really major for us.”
Carter said a win on Friday would mean a lot to her and the tradition that she holds so close to her heart.
“I hope it’s a great game,” Carter said as she cleared her throat, getting emotional remembering her parents. “I’ll definitely be rooting for the Buffs to win, but a hard-fought game would be a great last game to honor my parents.”
Coach Cabral said winning will mean a lot to him and his team — and that’s his wish for the Colorado Buffaloes’ final Big 12 game.
“You can make a lot of things right with the Nebraska game,” Cabral said. “How befitting it is to finish with Nebraska.”