Ben Bruns: Ownership

By Ben Bruns, Contributor & former All-American

It’s Sunday morning as I write to you this week from Boulder, the day after Iowa State’s 34-14 loss to Colorado. Our hotel room faces west, looking up at Folsom Field and the mountains beyond. You couldn’t ask for a more picturesque place to play football. Packing up and leaving Boulder for the last time will be hard; much harder, for some reason, than moving on from the yearly Nebraska game. I’m not really sure why that is. I suspect it has to do with the uniqueness of the Colorado campus – a place totally unlike Waco, Lubbock and some of the others. Playing Colorado always felt a little different.

In 1998, Iowa State and Colorado traded shots but ultimately, Ben Kelly’s kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns put the game out of reach. It was cold that day – cold but clear, much like most of Saturday’s game. In 2000, the weather was nasty. A heavy snow-rain mix fell during the entire contest. By play two or three, I’d slipped on the ground and was soaking wet. As a center, getting the ball to the quarterback is the obvious first concern. But as anyone who has played in that weather can attest, the pigskin gets hard and slick when it is cold and wet. While out on the field, it was a blast to play in those conditions – once I got the ball out of my hand successfully. But standing on the sideline while CU had the ball, it was freezing.  That day we had an additional trick up our sleeves for the Buffs: a counter play off our zone action. We called it 23T because the back side tackle pulled to block the play side linebacker, much like a power play. While most spread teams run something similar in this day and age, it was an innovation back then. Between our success running it that day and the heroics of J.J. Moses, Doug Densmore, and Carl Gomez, 10 years ago the 2000 Cyclones walked off the field with victory number seven on the season.

I never thought that would be the last game I saw us win at Folsom Field.

Walking outside the Colorado locker room for the last time yesterday, my wife and I rounded the corner of the football building on the north end of the field. Standing outside, in front of the buses alone, was Paul Rhoads. For years, Bob Foster and I would be the last ones on the buses; a role now enjoyed by Brent Blum and me. As Eric finishes up the locker room show, all the radio gear is still set up in the press tower. When he signs off the broadcast, we tear it down, pack it up, and hustle it out to the truck – then head for the buses. There is always a higher urgency to pack up and get on the road to the airport after a game like yesterday’s than there is, for example, when you shock Texas in Austin.

Coach Rhoads was standing there, waiting for us. He didn’t look happy.

By now, you fans have no doubt broken the game down, talked about the way our offensive line got worked over like we were starting three or four new guys in their first games, talked about the injury to Austen, talked about our defensive line’s lack of pressure against what was a top three offensive line we faced this year (Oklahoma and Utah were as good or better), talked about the special teams plays that weren’t so special for us and talked about how our tackling sucked in the first quarter – so you don’t really need me to get into that. Paul Rhoads was also unhappy about all of those things, but I was struck by something more as I shook his hand and continued the walk back to our hotel.

Paul Rhoads was standing out in front of our buses, alone, because he believes that is where he’s supposed to be. Paul Rhoads was standing out in front of those buses because, win or lose, he’s responsible and he knows it. For all the success the Auburn Tigers are having, Gene Chizik was never out in front of those buses on a day like yesterday. His director of operations was.

I respect the hell out of Paul Rhoads because he owns this thing. With the good (and there has been some really good stuff) and the bad (like yesterday), he owns it.

I’ve always tried to stay out of the coaches’ offices. I realize they work unbelievably hard and I don’t believe they need me bumming around patting them on the back or asking what went wrong. So I don’t spend a lot of time talking to Paul. For some reason though, I don’t have to. When I shake his hand and look him in the eye, we have a mutual respect that I deeply value and don’t need to talk about.

Yesterday, I could tell how disappointed he was. He was disappointed for his players, coaches and fans. But standing out there in front of the buses, he was facing music that wasn’t even playing. He owns this thing.

Today, as I reflect on yesterday’s experience, pack my bags in Boulder for the last time and look forward to next week, I have no idea how our game will go next Saturday night. If we somehow pull another big upset, a much-deserved payoff will be there for our players, coaches and fans after enduring a meat grinder of a schedule. If not, I believe we will have had an outstanding season, one filled with monumental triumphs and disappointments. But no matter what happens, we have a guy standing out in front of the buses owning this thing. He is one hell of a coach.