FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – Both CSU Rams and CU Buffaloes fans can probably all agree it wasn’t a dull Rocky Mountain Showdown on Saturday. The in-state rivals played a down-to-the-final-minute thriller with the Rams pulling the upset.
Maybe new Rams coach Jim McElwain has already changed the culture and attitude in Fort Collins. It’s not Alabama, where he was an assistant, but that’s just the way McElwain likes it.
“It’s not quite the national championship trophy, but it kind of feels pretty good,” McElwain said while holding the trophy after his first win with CSU. “But (this win) might have felt better.”
He said he’s proud of his team for how they’ve bought into his program.
“We told them if you just keep slugging, just keep working the cut, it’s going to happen,” McElwain said.
He got a little emotional after game as well.
“I’ve asked so much of them and you know it’s just great for our fans, the city of Fort Collins, and I’m just really excited.”
So how did McElwain reverse CSU’s fortunes so quickly? The Rams lost their final eight games last season and finished in the basement of the Mountain West Conference. Last year the Rams were lacking confidence. After Saturday it’s apparent to everybody that this year’s team isn’t.
“I don’t want to disrespect Coach (Steve) Fairchild or anything. It just seems like they believe more this year,” CU head coach Jon Embree said.
PHOTO GALLERY: Rocky Mountain Showdown 2012
“He instills so much confidence in us, and we can’t lose when we’re playing with him, playing under him,” CSU quarterback Garrett Grayson said. “He just makes you feel so confident in yourself and in your teammates that the belief meter is just out the roof.”
“Now we know that we can win,” CSU defensive lineman Shaquil Barrett said.
“Having been a part of something like this, I can already feel it’s a special thing,” CSU center Weston Richburg said. “He cares about us and he’s going to do what it takes … I’m just so excited about the future.”
Maybe now the students and the Fort Collins community will catch on, too. CSU only moved 18,000 tickets for the Showdown, and the head coach noticed.
“That’s what a rivalry should be and those who weren’t here missed a heck of a ballgame,” McElwain said.
“To do it in front of our fans and get them behind us, that’s what we wanted to do here,” Grayson said. “We just wanted to come out here and change the way people think about us and get them behind us.”
While the Rams are hoping they inspired their fan base, McElwain is keeping it real. He knows CSU isn’t like his old team the Crimson Tide, but it’s not stopping him from doing his best Nick Saban imitation.
“We did not play a good football game by any stretch of the imagination,” McElwain said. “Plain and simple, we have long way to go.”