Things aren’t so good for the Colorado football program right now. But in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Buffaloes were one of the nation’s elite teams.
An undefeated regular season in 1989 and a share of the national title in 1990 for Colorado resulted in a shakeup of the Big 8 during that time, with the Buffaloes challenging traditional powers Oklahoma andNebraska for conference hegemony.
Coach Bill McCartney was the main reason for this success. He was an excellent recruiter and he raided the talent-rich Southern California area for many of his best players. One of the biggest names he brought to Boulder was a running back from the San Diego area namedRashaan Salaam.
The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder was highly sought after by schools from all around the country despite the fact that he played on an eight-man football team for a small private school. It took a year for Salaam to adjust to the 11-man game, as he rushed for just 158 yards in his first season for the Buffaloes. But by his sophomore year, he was beginning to make his mark, rushing for 844 yards and eight touchdowns as a part-time back.
To term his 1994 junior season as a ‘breakout year’ would be an understatement. In his first five games, he rushed for 892 yards and 12 touchdowns as Colorado jumped out to a 5-0 start, including wins over No. 10 Wisconsin, No. 4 Michigan and No. 16 Texas.
The sixth game was a tussle with No. 22 Oklahoma. It came on Oct. 15, 1994 … this week in Heisman history.
Salaam rushed for 161 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries as the Buffaloes throttled the Sooners, 45-7. It was the most points that Colorado had ever scored against Oklahoma. It was such an utter domination, it caused Denver Post columnist Woody Paige to write “The last time I saw such an awful Oklahoma performance was at a dinner theater in Tulsa.” Salaam took over the nation’s lead in rushing from Washington’s Napolean Kaufman and, from that point on, he was the Heisman front-runner.
It all goes to show you how important it is to play well against a traditional power like Oklahoma. While the Sooners were going through a down period, their tradition still resonated with Heisman voters. Salaam’s mastery against Oklahoma helped give him the credibility to hold off his Heisman challengers the rest of the way.
Salaam became only the fourth player to surpass 2,000 rushing yards in a season, finishing with 2,055 and 24 touchdowns in 11 games. The Buffs finished 11-1 and third in the national rankings.
Salaam captured all six regions and won the Heisman over fierce competition from Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter and Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair. He skipped his senior year to enter the NFL draft and became a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bears.
He didn’t have a great NFL career but, on that Saturday in mid-October of 1994, there wasn’t a better back in the country than Salaam.