How important can a game between two losing teams truly be? How much excitement can surround a battle of 2-6 and 1-7? Is this a Border War, or a charity case?
Questions like that come up when rivalry games slip.
Sometimes they are made as jokes. More often, they’re serious -- sighed complaints of fans who hope for something more. However they’re intended, they fit with this year’s rivalry showdown between Colorado State (2-6) and Wyoming (1-7).
The Rams, led by first-year coach Jim McElwain, were unable to sustain their season-opening win against in-state rival Colorado. They dropped every game since until beating Hawaii at home last weekend in battle of the Mountain West bottom dwellers.
That victory made Colorado State twice as good as their rival Cowboys. Wyoming has just one win to its name in Dave Christensen’s fourth year -- an overtime victory it pulled from Idaho’s hands. It seemed more substantial before Idaho derailed, firing its coach and dismissing a handful of players from its team.
Now the two struggling programs meet in Laramie on Saturday. It will be the 104th time they play. And while it would be easy to reminisce on years when this game mattered more, there is still importance to this game.
Maybe the Bronze Boot does look a little tarnished this year. Maybe this season’s Border War does lack a little luster.
But come Saturday, two teams with unrivaled distaste for one another are going to play a football game. And those teams say this game has the same importance every year no matter what.
“The Border War is the biggest and most important football gave every year in this program,” Christensen said. “And it will always be that way, I imagine, until the end of time.”
Here’s what makes that true this year.
BATTLE FOR RECRUITS
College football teams in border states battle whether they ever see each other on the field. This competition does not occur on grass, but rather in living rooms and the offices of high school football coaches. Wyoming and Colorado State recruit the same players.
"It's important to get those prospects out of Colorado," Christensen said.
The Cowboys are winning the battle so far. UW has 16 Colorado players on its roster. The Rams have none from Wyoming.
It certainly hasn't helped the Pokes' recruiting advantage that they've won the rivalry game three years in a row. Just ask McElwain.
When the first-year CSU coach was asked if he would like to have some of UW's Colorado-born players on his own roster earlier this week, he laughed.
"You've seen our games," he responded.
McElwain wants to start keeping that kind of talent in state. And he knows that starts by winning the Border War.
Mike Purcell’s shirt said it all. The UW senior defensive tackle walked into Wyoming’s media day on Monday wearing a brand new gold shirt that said “Border War Trifecta” across the back.
For Wyoming’s seniors, those who have not redshirted, beating Colorado State on Saturday would mean they never lost to the Rams. For the better part of four years, the Cowboys who are currently seniors have walked past the Bronze Boot trophy as they move in and out of the locker room at Rochelle Athletics Center.
Senior defensive tackle Kurt Taufa’asau -- who will not play Saturday due to knee injury sustained Tuesday -- said the Cowboys have no intention of letting the trophy leave their final year.
No one -- neither Wyoming or Colorado State -- is excited about how this season has turned out. Disappointment and Frustration have become themes of the year. The focuses have shifted toward making the best of what is left of a down year.
And the most important thing that is left is the Border War.
A win on Saturday would be the best thing that has happened in either team’s bad, bad seasons. Both Wyoming and Colorado State know it. Expect them to play like it, too.
“You don’t have to worry about the records, because they don’t matter,” Christensen said. “It’s going to be a street fight until the end.”