Sal Aunese didn’t play a single snap in 1989, but he carried the Colorado football team to a perfect regular season that year and left a lifelong impact on those players.
On March 30, 1989, it was announced that Aunese, CU’s returning starter at quarterback, had inoperable stomach and lung cancer. He spent the next several months in and out of the hospital as he went through chemotherapy and other treatment. On Sept. 23 of that year, he passed away at the age of 21.
When identifying the most inspirational players in CU football history, it’s likely that Aunese tops the list. Yes, CU was kicking off the greatest run of success in program history, but there’s no question his illness and his memory lifted the Buffs for at least one season, and maybe two.
“His story, it’s tied into a very special time here,” linebacker Chad Brown said to Buffzone.com last year. “Certainly we were talented, certainly we were well-coached. Coach (Bill McCartney) had been building the program up to that point, but I’m not sure the story would be the same without (Aunese’s impact).
“Without that, I don’t know if we would have been able to come together as tight as we did and be able to lose the Orange Bowl in 1989 and bring ourselves back together in 1990 to win a national championship. Even if in 1990 we weren’t talking about Sal, the lessons, the gained insight and gained perspective I think was a big part of our success in 1990.”
Aunese’s memory has lived on for more than a quarter century, but in the 130-year history of CU football, there have been quite a few inspirational players. There were certainly some inspirational players that only guys on the team can truly know about; and certainly there were some from the early days that belong, but here are some that deserve some mention (in alphabetical order):
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