At 5:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 3, a group of CSU’s Army ROTC students will gather in the November darkness to take part in a 50-year tradition that connects two campuses, two football programs and thousands of fans.
It will be 2 hours until the sun even rises, and most of their fellow students will still be nestled in their beds, but these ROTC cadets – about 100 of them are expected – are looking forward to a ceremony that celebrates the Bronze Boot traveling trophy and kicks off a 42-mile shared run with the game ball for Saturday’s Border War showdown between CSU and Wyoming in Laramie.
“Everyone in our unit knows the history and has great respect for the tradition of the Bronze Boot,” said Justin Olson, a senior history major from Loveland. “It’s really a pride thing – not only for our unit but for our football program. I’ve always looked at participating in the Boot Run as a great honor.”
Olson will be making his third Boot Run on Friday. The day will begin with a ceremony at CSU’s on-campus stadium that will include ROTC students and leadership, athletics director Joe Parker and football coach Mike Bobo.
Long, chilly run
The cadets will then begin their long, chilly – and very hilly – run toward the Colorado-Wyoming border. Non-ROTC students and other members of the campus community are invited to follow the cadre of cadets for the first part of the journey – unofficially called the “Bronze Boot Mile.”
“I think the greatest value to our cadets is that traditions are so important in today’s society,” said Maj. Troy Thomas, who oversees the ROTC unit. “Traditions give us our identity, and they let us know it’s OK to be proud of that. This is a great tradition for these two universities.”
ROTC units from the two schools meet at the state line on U.S. 287. CSU students run in pairs in one-mile chunks, with one cadet carrying the football. The rest of the participants ride along in support vans, catching their breath while awaiting their next assigned leg of the journey. Most will run between six and eight of the one-mile legs.
Weather or not …
The weather should be mild Friday, but that’s not always the case. Very often the participants have to battle snow and/or wind as they steadily climb to more than 7,000 feet.
“My first year running it was very cold and windy the whole way,” said Zac Harriman, a 2017 CSU graduate who did two Boot Runs, laughing at the memory. “I’ve never been so happy to be running in combat boots!”
The 42-mile run for the Rams is significantly longer and much more challenging than the 27-mile journey facing Wyoming’s students.
“That’s OK,” Thomas said, chuckling. “We’re tougher than Wyoming, and we can handle it.”
After reaching the state line, the two schools have a brief ceremony featuring the football coaches and athletics directors. Wyoming’s cadre in recent years has been arriving on horseback. CSU will bring along its famous cannon, “Comatose,” to mark the moment – quite literally – with a bang.
The Rams hand the ball to the Cowboys, who then carry it to War Memorial Stadium for Saturday’s game.
Bronzing a tradition
The trophy’s history is colorful and, very often, misconstrued. Fifty years ago, it was decided that the annual Border War needed a traveling trophy, and several ideas were presented. Capt. Dan Romero, an assistant professor of military science at CSU and Vietnam veteran, came up with the idea of bronzing one of his battle-worn boots. The Bronze Boot story had begun.
In the early years – it was first awarded during the inaugural season at Hughes Stadium in 1968 – the trophy was somewhat obscure. Many fans had no idea the trophy had been created, and the Rocky Mountain Collegian even called it the “Brass Boot” in one of its stories.
But over the years the trophy took its place among the most recognized in college football, joining other familiar – and unusual – rivalry trophies like the Old Oaken Bucket (Indiana vs. Purdue), Paul Bunyan’s Axe (Minnesota vs. Wisconsin) and the Little Brown Jug (Minnesota vs. Michigan).
There’s no doubting the importance of the Bronze Boot to the respective football programs. Even though it’s one of three trophy games on CSU’s annual schedule – the Rams play Colorado for the Centennial Cup and Air Force for the Ram-Falcon Trophy – the battle for the Boot generally is the most passionate of the three rivalries. For Wyoming, this is also the last of three trophy games on its schedule but by far the most storied and passionate.
“That’s one of the reasons I’m here, because there is tradition at this school and part of that tradition is the rivalry with Wyoming,” third-year coach Mike Bobo said. “There’s a lot of great storied games, a lot of hatred between the two teams. I think there is a mutual respect between (Wyoming) coach (Craig) Bohl and us and how our teams play.
“That day of the ROTC running the ball there and meeting on the border – that’s when you get the feeling that this game’s special. We’ve got to be ready to play; we know (the Cowboys) are going to be ready to play.”
The CSU-Wyoming series, which dates to 1899, is one of the longest west of the Mississippi River. CSU leads the all-time series 57-45-5, but since the Bronze Boot was first awarded the series could not be tighter: Wyoming, thanks to last year’s 38-17 win, leads 25-24.
This year’s game figures to be as spirited as any in the series. Both teams are in the hunt for a Mountain West title, but the loser will be on the outside looking in.
When Saturday’s game ends, the winning team will sprint to the Boot’s sideline location and parade the trophy around War Memorial Stadium. It’s the ultimate feel-good moment for the winners – and a scene dreaded by the losers.
ROTC cadets feel the joy – or the pain – depending on the outcome. Last year’s game was painful for the CSU crew.
“We don’t play the game but we’re always cheering for our team and hoping they win,” Harriman said. “It’s a big deal for the football program, but it’s also a big deal for us. It’s great when we win – we always feel a sense of pride in the victory.”