BOULDER – The first Saturday in September arrived with perfect sleeping-in weather.
Spotty rain, cool temperatures.
What most people still call the Denver-Boulder Turnpike was quiet and the leaves were turning early along the highway that would hours later be jammed with football fans about to see the University of Colorado cleanse its football soul with a heart-stopping 27-14 win over Colorado State University.
But Mike Spivey didn’t sleep in on that dank Saturday morning.
It’s uncertain if he sleeps at all.
The 49-year-old former CU defensive back and ordained minister was amped up well before the team’s 9 a.m. chapel service — the interdenominational service he conducts at the team’s Omni Interlocken Resort headquarters on home-game mornings.
While the full, dark Afro he sported when he left CU for the Chicago Bears in 1977 is now a close-cropped head of white hair, Spivey can still turn a hotel meeting room into a revival tent.
Even at 9 a.m. on a Saturday.
As white hands clasped black hands in prayer, Spivey seemed to be speaking more for the Buffs than to them while evoking “the things that were said about you in February, March, April and May.
“Everything they said about you was a lie,” he bellowed in direct reference to the off-season accusations that rocked the CU football program. “They are trying to build a lie into you — they want to make every man in this room invisible, but you guys are building some great things. You must tell yourself, ‘Tonight I will not hide.’ ”
While he never quite got around to mentioning brimstone, Spivey — accompanied to the service by New York City firefighter Steve Wojo — used fire to remind the Buffs of the position they have occupied since recruiting allegations exploded last winter.
“(Firefighters) understand standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the most dire of consequences, with the fire and heat surrounding you,” he said.
While some players attended Mass prior to Spivey's chapel service, others joined head coach Gary Barnett in front of a TV in a meeting room across from the chapel room. A seemingly-relaxed, almost-jovial Barnett chatted with players as he watched ESPN’s Game Day show. He smiled when host Chris Fowler referred to him as “the embattled Gary Barnett.”
At the pre-game breakfast, Barnett ate a bowl of oatmeal while his players threw down stacks of pancakes, eggs, ham and bacon and gallons of juice.
“Why weren’t you at chapel this morning?” Barnett joked to defensive end Abraham Wright as the player sat down to eat. Wright explained that he was busy with his visiting family.
“I did get up and read my Bible and pray,” he told his coach.
Defensive end James Garee was quiet but as antsy as Tom Arnold at Starbucks when he plopped into a seat at Wright's table.
“I prefer playing in the morning,” he said. “There’s nothing to do all day when you play at night.”
After a couple of quick meetings, the Buffs lounged in their rooms and watched the rest of the nation kick off the 2004 season as they waited for a 3 p.m. meeting that would be last one before they boarded buses for the trip back to Boulder.
Heads bobbed under headphones as the silent players left the lobby and not a word was spoken on the 10-minute ride to Folsom Stadium. The only noise came from outside the buses, where horns honked and sirens wailed from the State Patrol escort cars. When the motorcade passed a green on the Coal Creek Golf Course, a group of golfers stopped and saluted the team.
As the entourage rolled into Boulder, a love fest-in-the-streets replaced the vitriol aimed at the CU football team for most of 2004. Screaming fans lined the route and the team marched through a screeching human tunnel as it entered the stadium.
A little more than five hours later, thousands more fans would mob the Buffs in a celebration that would make them feel like Sally Field at the Academy Awards.
On one of the most important nights in CU football history, the Buffs made Spivey proud.
They didn’t hide.
For the first time in a long time, they didn’t have to.