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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Welcome to the history of the Rocky Mountain Collegian

Greetings. You are reading the first blog about the 125-year history of the Rocky Mountain Collegian, the student newspaper at Colorado State University.

This blog evolved out of a project underway to update a history book about the Collegian’s first century. “The First 100 Years” was published in the 1991-92 school year.

Now, in the 2016-17 school year, the update of the book is moving forward to include the last 25 years, back to the 1992-93 school year. The end product will be “The First 125 Years.”

As part of this blog, we’re asking former and current Collegian employees—and, for that matter, any readers from any decade—to contribute guest essays that relate, somehow and in some way, to the newspaper’s history.

If you’re interested in contributing an essay now or in the future, send an email to collegianhistory@yahoo.com.

{Read a PDF of “The First 100 Years”}

The Collegian was launched in December 1891. Back then, 100 students attended the school, known as Colorado Agricultural College. The school opened its doors in 1877 when the first five students began classes. Now, the enrollment is more than 32,000.

Printed on glossy paper less than the size of typewriter paper, the first Collegian was 12 pages, with more than 30 percent devoted to advertising. Only 190 college newspapers existed at the time. By 2016, almost every university, college and junior college publishes a student newspaper.

Advertisements from the first Collegian.

Advertisements from the first Collegian.

The first words in the first issue: “All progress is the result of mental activity….”  This proceeded into a lengthy esoteric, eloquent essay about the benefits of education, the search for God, the meaning of life and death, and the infinite depths of the human mind.

Taken from the winning speech in the college’s oration contest held a couple of weeks earlier, the essay was penned in the complex, formal language of the time period. It’s fun to read just to see what written language and student thoughts were all about in those days.

A poem and one other article — an essay on an imaginative and idyllic Thanksgiving — were the other main editorial offerings. The poem was about how adding tender to a campfire is like stoking one’s hope in life.

Like a Tweet before Tweets: The early Collegians were published monthly, often with news of what readers of today might consider gossip—that is, blurbs and short quips about the activities of students and professors.

With the small student enrollment, the campus was similar to a hamlet where everybody seemed to know everything about everyone. As a result, some of the information in the first issue was meant for insiders who already were privy to the background of issues.

There is no way of telling today what was meant by such lines in the first Collegian as:

Did you go left?

Are you a member of the family circle?”

Hand your dollar to “Tommy.”

And, of course, this mysterious numerical one-liner lost now in the long halls of history: 124.

{Read the first issue of the Rocky Mountain Collegian}

During its 125 years, the Collegian carved out a remarkable history. It helped shape the minds of students, faculty and community members. Its news coverage and editorials swayed elections of student leaders and campus issues; and even balloting in the city of Fort Collins and Larimer County. It was the local leader in advocating equality for races, religion, sexual preference, and many other issues, sometimes long before those issues emerged on the national scene.

The Collegian supported American World I and II efforts, strongly opposed the Vietnam War, and captured in stories, editorials, photographs and political cartoons such unusual times as “streaking” when hundreds of students raced naked back and forth on the lawn on the west side of the Student Center.

1896: The first photograph of a Collegian staff. When it came time in June 1896 for the Collegian to publish the traditional biographical sketches of graduating seniors, the staff members didn’t let anyone off their witty hook. About editor R.W. Hawley (standing in the middle of the back row), they wrote, “By actual measurement he is found to be five feet high and the ratio of his breadth to his height is 1:2. he wears a No. 7 1/8 hat; weighs 140 pounds, greater part of which is feet; has a warm heart especially for the ‘fair sex’ and among them he is known as ‘Robbie,’ which is quite significant.” Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountain Collegian.

The Collegian applauded individual students, skewered some, reported on tragedy, editorialized about student fee hikes, made students cry and laugh, and caused administrators to grit their teeth in sizzling anger. A few editors-in-chief were loved by readers. Others were hung in effigy from trees on campus…

Well, you get the point. For Collegian staff members throughout the decades, life often boiled down to staying ahead of the proverbial curve, falling behind the just-as-proverbial eight-ball, and learning, failing, getting back up, and succeeding—and then back to work to prepare the next issue. Oh, and then there were those pesky academic classes…

Work at the Collegian: I always encourage students—regardless of whether they are journalism and mass communication majors—to work at the Collegian as reporters, editors, columnists, photographers, graphic artists, or ad sales reps. About 2,500 to 3,000 students worked there throughout the 125 years. Many learned skills and a craft that benefited them throughout their lives.

The experience to be gained can best be explained by an editorial written more than four decades ago by Pat Noel, editor-in-chief during the last part of the 1973 school year:

“College journalism remains, for the most part, the last creative medium now published. Here, one can try on ideas, discard them, play with photographic layout, typography, toy with prose and rhetoric…All within the journalistic credo that there is no idea so sacred that it is not subject to questioning criticism and affirmation or negation as a result.”

For many reporters, editors and other employees, the Collegian was the first time (and, unfortunately, sometimes the last time) when they had access to a medium where they were the ones solely in charge.

Regardless of how the newspaper evolved and changed throughout the 125 years, one tradition remained strong: The Collegian has always been run by students. Their judgement calls were occasionally wrong; most often, good; and, to paraphrase a sentence in the first article in the first Collegian, the power of the mind began to unfold itself for them.

Examples of upcoming blog topics:

  • Sex and the Collegian
  • Collegian fights against racism when the KKK ruled northern Colorado
  • Burning of Old Main