It was kickoff weekend and I was pumped to be back on the college football trail. I had not been to a football game at the University of Wyoming since a miserably cold, snowy afternoon back in November 1979. This time around, I would be in for a treat, as I rolled up on campus and was greeted by a beautiful 80-degree day and a sun-splashed stadium. The Cowboys were playing host to the Washington State Cougars, a Power 5 school from the Pac-12 Conference.
The first thing you notice here, is the family-friendly environment. The University of Wyoming makes it a priority to entertain kids at sporting events, and they do it well. In my travels to college football games, I have never seen so many kids at a game, supporting their team. The tailgating scene here is vibrant, with a huge lot adjacent to the stadium known as “Party Central.” Cowboy fans were excited for their home opener, and cautiously optimistic for life after Josh Allen. Many Cougar fans had also made the trek from Pullman, Washington.
Pre-game activities here are top-notch. They include a military flyover and several interactive videos on the scoreboard to get the fans revved up before kickoff. The football team enters the field to the song “Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi. The lyrics, “I’m a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride. I’m wanted, dead or alive,” whips the entire stadium into a frenzy. This introduction rivals that of Virginia Tech’s “Enter Sandman.”
WYOMING FOOTBALL BEGINS
Wyoming played It’s first football game in 1893 under the direction of Head Coach Fred Hess. The Cowboys were an independent program before joining the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in 1909. Football resumed in 1919 after the 1918 season was cancelled due to an influenza outbreak. Football was suspended from 1943-45 due to World War II. In 1999, Wyoming joined the Mountain West Conference, playing in the Mountain Division.
Wyoming has a long list of well-known coaches who have walked the sidelines in Laramie, typically before they were well-known. Bob Devaney, Fritz Shurmur, Bowdon Wyatt, Pat Dye, Dennis Erickson and the legendary Joe Tiller have all coached at Wyoming. Lloyd Eaton led the Cowboys from 1962-70, holding an all-time record of 57-33-2, the most wins by any coach here.
In 1969, 14 African-American players showed up at practice wearing black arm bands. The players were protesting against their upcoming opponent Brigham Young University. The players had claimed they had been the victim of racism the year before. Head coach Lloyd Eaton booted all 14 players off the team, sending the community and state into a staggering uproar that many think led to Eaton’s demise as coach. A recent documentary by filmmaker Darius Monroe called “Black 14” chronicles the event.
FUN FACTS ABOUT WYOMING FOOTBALL
- The nickname “Cowboy” was adopted when a player from Cheyenne yelled out that a student assistant from Wyoming was dressed as a cowboy in 1891
- War Memorial Stadium sits at 7,215 feet, the highest elevation of any stadium in the FBS
- The Cowboys have won 14 Conference Titles
- Wyoming has a 7-8 lifetime record in bowl appearances
- Famous football alums include, Jay Novacek, Jim Kiick, Jerry Hill and Mike Dirks.
- Pistol Pete, the mascot, first appeared in 1917. Pete, was later adopted at Oklahoma State and New Mexico State Universities.
The Cowboys have a bitter rivalry that is one of the longest running west of the Mississippi. The “Border War” between the Cowboys and the Colorado State Rams dates back to 1899 with the winner each season being awarded the Bronze Boot. Cowboy fans refer to the Rams as, “Sheep”, but the Rams lead the all-time series 58-46-5.
Bridger’s Battle is fought between Wyoming and Utah State. The two schools first played against each other in football in 1903, and fight for the right to possess the .50 caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken Rifle.
In my weekly prediction blog, I had predicted a Wyoming victory over the Cougars. I fully expected the Cowboy defense and the high altitude to make the difference in this game. Cougar QB Gardner Minshew overcame a sluggish start, throwing for 319 yards and three TDs. Minshew, a graduate transfer from East Carolina, hit James Williams with a 2-yard scoring toss to give the Cougars an early 10-0 first quarter lead. The Cowboys answered with 14 points in the second to lead 16-13 at halftime. Wyoming RB Nico Evans had rushed for 89 yards in the first half, but suffered a rib injury on the first drive of the second half, severely crippling the Cowboys rushing attack. After the Cowboys went up 19-13, the experienced Cougars took advantage of the young, inexperienced Cowboy offense, reeling off 28 unanswered points en route to a 41-19 victory.