The 1978 Border War

    Week 11: Written by Ryan Nanni

I imagine one of the challenges college football coaches have to navigate is finding the right balance when it comes to firing up their team before a game. On the one hand, you want your locker room to have a certain aggression and tenacity. On the other, it’s not very productive to turn your players into Taz.

But sometimes a coach has an idea, a stroke of inspiration so perfect he’s convinced it’s just the thing his team needs to play with passion and energy. Colorado State’s coaching staff had just such an idea before their 1978 rivalry game with Wyoming, and I’m going to tell you how it went.

First, it’s worth noting that the Rams were in the middle of a fairly frustrating year. After going 9-2-1 in 1977, Colorado State was expected to challenge BYU for the WAC title, but they opened the year with three straight losses. By the time they got to the week of the Wyoming game, Colorado State was 2-4 and had just lost an incredibly sloppy game against UNLV, where they turned the ball over eight times. And they remembered how Wyoming had upset them 29-13 the year before, a defeat that wound up keeping the Rams from being co-champions of the WAC that season.

That loss was in Laramie, which meant Colorado State would have a shot at redemption at home. Wyoming rolled in and came out onto the field for pregame warmups. And this was the first moment where something seemed amiss because the Colorado State players just weren’t there. Minutes before kickoff, Wyoming, still waiting on the home team to show up, sent two representatives out for the coin toss.

Then the Rams showed up, but not through the tunnel. The whole team came down from the stands, hooting and hollering and slapping high-fives with Colorado State fans on the way. You see, CSU’s coach, Sark Arslanian, had his team warm up away from the stadium, riled them up, and then put them on a bus to have them make this grand entrance through the bleachers.

Colorado State did not stop at their sideline either. The entire roster came out to the field for the coin toss. Arslanian had asked the officials beforehand if he could have 55 co-captains that day. The referees declined that request, but that did not stop this exceptionally rowdy bunch from encircling Wyoming’s coin toss pair all the same. A series of unpredicted events then led to something very, very easy to foresee: a bench-clearing brawl. It was not just a quick series of shoves, either – newspaper reports after the game said it took ten minutes to separate the teams. Players who were there describe a fight that sounds like a barroom brawl in a Western film.

Maybe you think the game was called off at this point or that dozens of players were ejected from a contest that hadn’t even formally begun. There was just one penalty assessed once the fight died down: Colorado State had to kick off 15 yards back from their usual spot. Never let someone tell you millennials have it way easier than their predecessors.

Of course, a plan like this is only stupid if it doesn’t work. Given that Colorado State only managed one field goal in a 13-3 loss where the Rams committed 12 penalties for 145 yards, it was stupid. But the entrance and pregame fight was somehow not the end of the game’s weird, questionable choices.

With four seconds left to play, Colorado State’s quarterback, Keith Lee, was injured after a big hit. His offensive coordinator, Charley Armey, ran onto the field, and what happened next was a subject of some confusion. Armey believed either a) he’d been flagged for coming onto the field or b) his QB had been thrown out of the game, but the referee was apparently trying to indicate that c) Lee had to leave the field for a play because of his injury. Armey, according to newspaper reports, didn’t handle this miscommunication very well. He had to be restrained from going after the officials and wound up kicking the door to the referee locker room in the tunnel; one report even said that police had to turn him away from further pursuit of the officials.

Wyoming, meanwhile, just hung back. Coach Bill Lewis made the team take a knee on the sideline for five minutes after the game ended just so the Cowboys could avoid any possible repeat of the pregame fiasco. Lewis was so pissed after all of this that he didn’t talk to the press after the game and skipped his two usual radio appearances.

Later that week, Armey was suspended for the rest of the season by the Colorado State athletic director and wound up resigning. Armey has since said the discipline taken against him was more about finding a scapegoat for the field entrance than him chasing down the refs. However, I’m not sure that’s significantly better.

Special thanks to Jon Bois of Secret Base for his help in the research for this edition of Buried Treasure; this story was originally part of an abandoned project we were working on that I can never tell you about!

1 comment

  • David

    Super secret project? Must of been the Punt Brothers reboot.

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