Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Wednesday, May 29, 2024 74° Today's Paper

Ferd's Words

Colorado counts on altitude to keep Hawaii in check

Ferd Lewis

If the majestic flatirons of Green Mountain overlooking Boulder, Colo., don’t take your breath away, then, as folks like to caution visitors, a short jog in the mile-high altitude definitely will.

Of course, when visiting football teams make the ascent to Folsom Field to play the University of Colorado, there are subtle, less scenic, reminders, too.

Like the metal tanks often strategically placed in the visitor’s locker room with "oxygen" prominently printed on them. Purely in case of emergency, you understand, a CU official contends with a chuckle.

Welcome to 5,345 feet above sea level, as the Buffaloes like to remind opponents. Especially those from the flatlands, such as Saturday’s opponent, the University of Hawaii.

When the old 16-team Western Athletic Conference fractured in 1998, the Rainbow Warriors thought they’d seen the last of their dreaded treks to the high country.

No more gulping for breaths in Laramie, Wyo., or feeling like your lungs were on fire at the Air Force Academy.


Highest elevations UH football team has played at:

School Elevation UH Record
Wyoming 7,200 3-5
Air Force 7,150 1-4
*Colorado 5,345 0-0
Denver 5,280 2-2
New Mexico 5,000 3-3
Colorado St. 4,800 2-6
Utah State 4,600 1-3
Brigham Young 4,553 0-8
Nevada 4,546 1-4
Utah 4,400 3-7

* Site of Saturday’s game.


But with the beginning of a home-and-home series with the Buffaloes, the Warriors find themselves going beyond 4,600 feet for the first time in 14 years.

CU plays its home games at the third-highest elevation in major college football, trailing only Wyoming and Air Force. And, these days, the Buffaloes need every advantage they can muster.

National champions in 1990 and producers of a Heisman Trophy winner (Rashaan Salaam) in 1994, the Buffaloes have fallen on hard times, as Saturday’s 52-7 blitz by Cal in Berkeley underlines.

CU, 1-1 at this point, hasn’t had a winning season in four years. Its head coach, Dan Hawkins, is 17-34 over that period, unable to approach the success he had at Boise State and not likely to be around for the school’s move into the Pac-10.

But in the brick confines of 53,613-seat Folsom Field, where they have one of the best homefield records in college football, winning more than two-thirds of their games, the Buffaloes remain a formidable force. As West Virginia, Nebraska and Oklahoma, all victims in recent seasons, will attest.

CU fans, for example, like to talk about the time No. 3 Nebraska had a 27-3 fourth-quarter lead, got gassed and, eventually found itself wheezing into overtime.

So concerned were the Mountaineers in coming from their 1,000-foot elevation two years ago that, legend has it, several of their offensive linemen spent time in WVU’s hypoxico chamber to simulate high-altitude conditions.

Not that it helped much: CU upset the then-18th ranked Mountaineers 17-14.

"(Visiting) teams have tried it all," notes David Plati, CU’s veteran sports information director, with amusement. "They’ve come in the day of the game, two days, three days… you name it. It has all been tried."

UH, which played Army at West Point on Saturday, arrived in Las Vegas (elevation 2,015 feet) yesterday and is scheduled to headquarter there until leaving for Colorado on Friday. UH head coach Greg McMackin, who was on the coaching staff of the Denver Gold in 1985, said without two weeks to acclimate to the altitude, the difference of a few days won’t matter for the Warriors.

And, anyway, as CU likes to remind its visitors from down yonder, there will be oxygen standing by, just in case.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@staradvertiser.com


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