BOULDER — Coach Prime wore sunglasses in Boulder at night.
“Dei-on San-ders! Dei-on Sanders!” the C-Unit student section roared at the new guy in town.
If it’s true the red-carpet arrival of Deion Sanders is going to lift all boats on the CU-Boulder campus, well, he’s also going to overshadow them. Thursday night, CU smoked the CSU Rams 93-65, and when Coach Prime strutted into CU Events Center in the second half, the basketball game immediately became the second topic of conversation for 11,000 Prime believers on the ride home.
In his first public appearance as BMOC, Sanders stole the stage even as the Buffs whooped the Rams by 28, the largest margin in a Buffs win in the basketball rivalry since 1945.
Rocking a white hoody over his head and dark shades over his eyes, Coach Prime brought son Shedeur Sanders ("Your quarterback," as Dad said) and an entourage that outnumbers Russell Wilson’s. This guy.
“I’ve never gotten an ovation like that in the second half,” CU hoops coach Tad Boyle joked after.
“Man, how could you not?” notice the rock-star entrance of Coach Prime, CU junior and Colorado native Nique Clifford said after the blowout. “He made an entrance for sure.”
Sorry, basketball Buffs. I’m breaking the same rule I established on the gorgeous drive up to Boulder: DON’T WRITE ABOUT PRIME. But like Nique said: “Man, how could you not?”
KJ Simpson had 27 points and CU basketball showed Coach Prime how it can be done here. Isaiah Stevens had 15 for CSU, which will prove to be a much better team than it showed.
But this guy.
Who knows if Coach Prime is going to reverse decades of losing and win more football games than he loses here? Crash or soar, the football operation sure is going to be entertaining.
If there’s anyone who knows the dynamics of a football coaching change, it’s Boyle, who has outlasted four football coaches at CU. Jon Embree, Mike MacIntyre, Mel Tucker and Karl Dorrell are somewhere else even as Boyle marches toward the Buffs all-time wins record.
“The energy that Coach Sanders has brought has been off the charts,” said Boyle, who needs three wins to pass Sox Walseth’s 261. "It’s unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime.”
OK, so we all know season tickets and “Coach Prime” gear are the hottest commodity here since legal weed. But here’s an angle of the Prime arrival I hadn't considered until Thursday: Even the most successful coaches on campus, long-timers like Boyle, now have competition for the spotlight. Spoiler: they'll lose that matchup.
“Successful basketball and successful football are not mutually exclusive,” said Boyle, the biggest CU football fan this side of athletic director Rick George. “We’ve been holding up our end of the bargain the last 12 or 13 years. We’ve got to continue that.”
Boyle added: “We have a great recruiting class ourselves. I’ve never felt better about the future of our basketball program. And I’m really excited for our football (program).”
I once watched Michael Jordan walk into a tiny Hawaiian gym to see his son Jeff play in the Maui Invitational for the University of Illinois. Thursday was like that, but louder: When Prime swaggered in, the whole building stopped to stare. And roar. Boy, did Buffs fans roar. Chauncey Billups or Kordell Stewart wouldn’t get that kind of roar. Even in Boulder, Jerry Garcia’s Grateful Dead could have been performing at center court, and Coach Prime had the attention of a packed house, even while the game restarted after a timeout.
Shoutout to the person running the videoboard, because Coach Prime and his entourage had not even found their seats before the board advertised “Commit to Prime!” with a donation to the CU Buffs Club. Hey, gotta pay that $29 million contract somehow.
CU officials didn’t know if Coach Prime would be there, at least not 20 minutes before tipoff. That's because CU’s on Prime time now. His clock, his smile, his gold chain, his new rules.
“It was almost like a Super Bowl, I guess,” Simpson said of the rivalry game.
CU hoops gets an influential crowd like that a couple times every season, sometimes for CSU, sometimes for Arizona, sometimes for a UCLA. Billups would tell you it was like that for Kansas back in the Big 12.
And when Simpson opened the second half with 10 points and helped the Buffs blow open a 29-point lead, the shoulder-to-shoulder audience no doubt impacted the outcome of the game.
“We could be a helluva better if we have 11,000 every night like we had tonight. My question is, ‘Why not?’” Boyle said. “That’s a challenge to the fans.”
Their loudest roar, though?
This guy: Coach Prime made his way down the steps with 2 minutes left. He saw a kid named Owen Robinson, whose parents (and grandparents) are Buffs lifers. Owen's 6 years old, and he was holding up a sign that read, "BABY, WE'RE COMING!" When Coach Prime saw that little Owen was wearing sunglasses at night, too, he scooped up the lifelong CU fan and smiled for the cameras.
“Owen couldn't believe it,” mom Ashley told me.