Former Colorado coach Bill McCartney still has fire for Husker rivalry: 'I’d rather be dead than red'

Nebraska is 49-18-2 all time against Colorado. The Huskers and Buffaloes renew their rivalry Saturday.

Halfway through Colorado’s weekly football press conference Tuesday, a Buffaloes staff member announced that CU had a “special guest.”

Former Colorado coach Bill McCartney. The same coach who won a national title in Boulder, was the subject of an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary and created CU’s rivalry with Nebraska in the 1980s. The Huskers became Colorado’s red-letter game, and McCartney was in a rivalry spirit Tuesday.

“I’d rather be dead than red,” he said to laughs from the CU media. “Seriously, here’s what you’ve got to understand about Nebraska. Here, we’ve got CU, (Colorado State), Air Force and the Broncos. You know what they got? Nothing! Just that team that’s coming. There’s nothing else for them to do. When they get up every day, that’s the only option they have, is to get behind that Big Red thing.

“We’ve got to beat ’em. That’s the only thing they understand. If you beat ’em, they’ll salute. If you don’t, you will hear about it. We don’t want to hear about it, especially from their media. Because they won’t stop.”

When McCartney went to Colorado in 1982, he arrived from Michigan, which had a defined rival in Ohio State. CU, at the time, didn’t.

“Kids between the ages of 18 and 22, you’ve got to give them targets to shoot at,” McCartney said. “You can’t just give them a big picture. You’ve got to say, ‘We’re going to put it all together, we’re going to keep getting better and better and when we go to Lincoln, trust me, we are going to hit them in the mouth until we take over the place. And when we shut ’em all up, then we’ll leave.’ You have to project things like that.”

McCartney said he picked NU over Oklahoma because it’s a “neighboring state. They’re next door.” He said he’d like to talk to the players about the game because it’s more important than any other on CU’s schedule.

“Give me two minutes with them,” he said.

McCartney’s family disclosed two years ago that he had been diagnosed with dementia. But the coach didn’t hesitate to name a favorite memory from the Nebraska series — shaking hands with NU coach Tom Osborne after beating the Huskers.

“Wow,” said McCartney, who finished 3-9-1 against Nebraska. “It didn’t happen near enough. (Osborne) was so gracious. I loved that. He was very polite. Now (Barry) Switzer, he used profanity. But Osborne, he was a gentleman. That was good.”

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