Wyoming Football: The Day The Cowboys Rolled to a 103-0 Victory
On the eve of renewed Border War hostility, take a look back at one of the most epic wins in Cowboys history.
The Cowboys might have a talented QB and stout defense now, but what UW did in 1949 was downright historic.
On Saturday at War Memorial Stadium in Laramie, the University of Wyoming Cowboys and Colorado State University Rams will play for the 108th time. The “Border War” rivalry is played for a Bronze Boot which is, like the Old Wagon Wheel and the Old Oil Can, a wonderfully appropriate prize. Indeed, the Mountain West has much to be proud of on the rivalry trophy front.
But this weekend also marks the anniversary of the most egregious act of football violence ever committed by one football team from the Equality State (Wyoming, in case you didn’t know) against a foe from the Centennial State (Colorado). On November 5, 1949, the University of Wyoming traveled to Greeley, Colorado and defeated Northern Colorado 103-0.
“Some kind of record was made,” was how a puzzled reporter at the Jackson’s Hole Courier described Wyoming’s romp.
What the 103-0 result was not, however, was a case of a higher-divisioned football power beating up on a completely inferior program. This was not Oklahoma State defeating Savannah State 84-0 (2012), or Kansas State demolishing Ball State 76-0 (2000), or even Oregon State rolling up a 77-3 tally against Nichols State (2012).
Nor was this an ACC school, Georgia Tech, pummeling a tiny school, Cumberland College, 222-0, due to the fact that the latter had discontinued its entire football program but had been unable to extricate itself from a previously contracted game.
A Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Tradition
No, up until 1949 Wyoming and Northern Colorado (then called the Colorado State Teachers College) had been near-rivals. The two schools began playing each other in 1895. And while Wyoming held the upper hand in the relationship, leading the series 16-5-2 as the teams squared off in 1949, the games had often been close.
The schools had a relatively equitable home and home relationship. In ’47, the teams met in Greeley; in ’48 in Laramie. The institutions participated in the same athletic conference from 1924-1937.
The football programs had begun to part ways, however, in 1938 when the University of Wyoming left that shared conference—the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference—for more competitive football climes. Wyoming joined the Mountain States Conference, which featured BYU, Colorado, and Utah among others.
Despite the changes though, proximity (at least in the wide open west sense of the term) still kept Wyoming and Norther Colorado somewhat connected. The teams played as non-conference opponents in 1941, ‘42, ‘45, ‘46, ‘47, and ‘48. Only World War II had canceled the ‘43 and ‘44 games. So, as Wyoming made the just-under 100 mile trek south from Laramie to Greeley for the November 5, 1949 contest it was continuing a healthy tradition.
What transpired that day, now more than a half century ago, severed a football relationship.
Northern Colorado had fallen on hard times. After winning the Rocky Mountain conference title in 1948, the school opened the ’49 season 0-6. Several of the losses had been close, but Head Coach John Hancock’s team simply couldn’t find a way to win.
Wyoming, on the other hand, was all momentum, everything going right. Second-year coach Bowden Wyatt had installed a “Tennessee T” single-wing offense. He had also recruited several of his former players from Mississippi State (where he had been an assistant) to follow him to Wyoming. Most significantly future AP All American Walker “Sonny” Jones made the move. The Cowboys entered the first weekend of November 1949, undefeated: 7-0. The Pokes had won their 4 conference games by a combined score of 93-0.
How a Team Scores Fifteen Touchdowns
The Wyoming-Northern Colorado contest was ugly from the start. The Greeley crowd looked on, or perhaps looked away, as their boys allowed one touchdown after another.
Four minutes into the game, Jones took a handoff and trotted into the end zone. Seven minutes later, he scored again—this time after a Northern Colorado fumble. The score stood 14-0 at the end of the first period.
Then the floodgates really opened. Wyoming scored on an 8-yard run, an 89-yard punt return, a 60-yard pass and, finally, a 59-yard pass. The teams exited for halftime with Wyoming leading 42-0.
We don’t know if there were efforts made to hold down the score in the second half, but we do know, if the Cowboys did try to hold back, they failed miserably.
A 33-yard touchdown pass started off the second half, to be followed quickly by a 64-yard scoring bomb. Then there was a fumble recovery in the end zone and a 20-yard run for another score. Then another TD pass. End of the third quarter: Wyoming 77, Northern Colorado 0.
Still, somewhat inexplicably given the cordial ties between the schools, Wyoming kept pushing. A 12-yard rushing touchdown begot a short scoring pass, then a 56-yard passing TD. Then, following another fumble, a final 14-yard run to the end zone closed out the contest.
Final score: 103-0.
The lopsided tally caught the nation’s attention. The Salt Lake Tribune pointed out that the Wyoming basketball team had never scored more than 101 points in a game. The widely circulated AP report called the game “a scoring orgy that was stopped only by the final gun.”
Wyoming reporters defended the slaughter, noting that because 10 different players scored, “Coach Wyatt escaped any censure for ‘pouring it on.'” Perhaps there was nothing he could do.
Regardless of the reasons behind the lopsided score, the damage was done. Passing the century mark on the scoreboard was enough to end the football relationship between Wyoming and Northern Colorado.
The two schools would not meet for the next 63 seasons. Finally, in 2013, with Northern Colorado having transitioned to the NCAA FCS level, Wyoming once again took the field with the Bears of Northern Colorado. The Cowboys prevailed in the 2013 contest by a comfortable, but thankfully forgettable, 35-7 margin.