Rocky Mountain Showdown, 1999 style: A football game marked by tear gas and arrests

“Jail is dark and cold and it smells,” wrote a Collegian editor about his incarceration after being arrested while taking photographs.

It was a football game like none other ever played in Colorado. The poor underdog bested the heavily favored nationally ranked team.

But what happened after the victory was the more important story reported by the Rocky Mountain Collegian.

CSU won the day on the field, but many students lost in the aftermath of tear gas and arrests. Photo of CSU's running back Kevin McDougal in the 1999 game taken by Matthew Staver, courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Collegian.

CSU won the day on the field, but many students lost in the aftermath of tear gas and arrests. Photo of CSU’s running back Kevin McDougal in the 1999 game taken by Matthew Staver, courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Collegian.

The 1999 game was the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown between Colorado State University and University of Colorado, played at the Broncos stadium in Denver.

The rivalry between the state’s two top universities has more to it than merely the outcome, although the final score is unquestionably important for bragging rights in the coming year

Just so you’ll know, the 2016 contest, played over the Labor Day weekend, ended in a CU victory, 44-7:

{Rocky Mountain beatdown. Read the Collegian coverage of the 2016 game.)

Prior to the 2016 game, Justin Michael, Collegian sports reporter, published a Sept. 2 article that emphasized the importance of the annual event:

“In a state that lives for the Broncos 365 days a year, the Rocky Mountain Showdown is the one day a year where college football truly reigns supreme. Throughout the rivalry, some of the greatest and most exciting games in the history of both Colorado State and Colorado football have come against each other.

“Winning the in-state matchup sets the tone for the entire season and whether either school will admit it or not, this game means a lot to both programs involved. Over the past two decades, the game has tended to be extremely competitive, no matter the state of either program.”

A CSU fan lies on the ground after Denver policy used pepper spray and tear gas to keep fans from storming onto the field. Photo by Nikolaus Olsen, the Collegian's regional editor in 1999. Courtsey of the Rocky Mountain Collegian.

A CSU fan lies on the ground after Denver police used pepper spray and tear gas to keep fans from storming onto the field. Photo by Nikolaus Olsen, the Collegian’s regional editor in 1999. Courtesy of the Rocky Mountain Collegian.

 

The Collegian has always covered the Showdown in sharp fashion: pre-game articles, in-depth coverage of the event with articles and photographs; and extensive post-game analysis.

But never has the coverage focused on such a bizarre post-game outcome as the 1999 game when the CSU Rams unexpectedly whipped the CU Buffs 41-14. The Rams hadn’t beaten CU in 13 years.

Immediately following the victory, some Ram fans swept toward the field as part of a victory tradition that follows many big games across the U.S.

Then, it all began:

As described in an article written by editor-in-chief Allison Sherry in the Sept. 7, 1999, Collegian:

“In the seconds after CSU’s surprise victory over the 14th-ranked University of Colorado, Denver police officers, donning riot gear, unleashed tear gas on the predominately student crowd in the northeast section of the stadium.

“Fans sitting up to 20 rows back were clinging to one another in agony and collapsing in the aisles. Police also sprayed a group of huddling cheerleaders and CSU band members who were playing the fight song.”

Sherry quoted a band member: “’People in front of me started putting their instruments down and coughing. I finished the song and that’s when the gas hit me. The police were all buddy-buddy and patting each other on the back.”

Leaving behind a cloud of tear gras, Denver police move away to safer ground on the football field. Photo by Matthew Staver, Collegian photographer. Courtesy of Rocky Mountain Collegian.

Leaving behind a cloud of tear gas, Denver police move away to safer ground on the football field. Photo by Matthew Staver, Collegian photographer. Courtesy of Rocky Mountain Collegian.

The Denver police chief said officers were trying to keep overzealous students from rushing the field. “Beer bottles and canned goods were being thrown,” Sherry reported him as saying. “We think we did respond appropriately.”

By the end of the fray, 15 CSU students were arrested. Among them was Nikolaus Olsen, the Collegian’s regional editor who was taking photographs of the melee.

“I wasn’t drunk at all,” said Olsen, a journalism major. “I think the cops thought I was drunk because my eyes were red and watery from the tear gas.”

He was charged with trespassing and failure to obey a lawful order. As a way to avoid a $200 bail or more time in jail, he did like some others who were arrested: pleaded guilty before a Denver judge. He received no sentence or fine.

But he did gain a good story to tell from spending 16 hours in the Denver County jail.

“Jail is dark and cold and it smells,” he wrote about the experience in a first-person article titled “I fought the law and the law won.”

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