Kordell Stewart wasn’t christened “Slash” until after he left Colorado and began tormenting NFL defenses with his versatile array of skills.
Still, one can easily picture the many off-field opportunities the talented and engaging former Buffaloes quarterback might have enjoyed had his time come along 30 years later.
Stewart is one of the many former Buffs football greats descending on Boulder this weekend, as the most anticipated spring game in program history unfolds at a sold-out Folsom Field on Saturday (1 p.m., ESPN) in the unofficial on-field debut of new head coach Deion Sanders.
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Stewart, his former teammates, and the rest of the CU football dignitaries will return to campus to encounter a much different college football world. The transfer portal has introduced a form of free agency, with player movement that continues to reshape the CU roster. Nearly every game is available to a national audience. And the availability of name, image and likeness deals allows athletes chances to put a little spending cash in their pockets that those of Stewart’s generation could only dream about.
“It’s great that guys can get paid now,” Stewart said. “If you’re giving a boat load of money to institutions, but these kids only get stipend checks for a certain amount of money based on what the community says they can afford to have. They’ve got to pay the rent and so forth, they’re living off campus, even to just having money in their pockets. These are some of the indirect things that we may have spoken about back then, but we made it work because we worked in the summertime and we stayed here. Things like that. We just lived together and made it work.
“Now that you see it happen, the transfer portal, it’s great for the game. It gives these kids opportunities to really enjoy it and not feel so controlled with how they live their lives. They leave home in certain situations and certain circumstances — good, bad or indifferent — to come here to be in school away from where you live and come from to get paid to (play) the game? Especially they’ve got kids getting NILs in high school. Are you kidding me? I’m jealous. ”
While he met with the media this week at the Champions Center, Stewart recounted his relationship with Sanders. The pair competed against each other in Super Bowl XXX following the 1995 season, when Sanders’ Dallas Cowboys defeated the rookie Slash and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The pair finished their NFL careers together as teammates at Baltimore in 2004 and 2005.
The pair maintained a relationship over the years, but even Stewart was forced to do a double-take when he first heard Sanders’ name linked to the job at Colorado.
“I’ve got to be honest with you. I’m like … really? At first,” Stewart said. “I’m thinking about the love affair you guys know with seeing me back here and hearing my back here I have for this place, and I’m like, that dude? My university? I said let’s do it. Let’s make it work.”
As long-suffering Buffs fans know, CU football has produced just one winning record in a full schedule over the past 17 seasons. It has been even longer since the late 1980s/early 90s, featuring talents like Stewart and moments like his Miracle at Michigan Hail Mary heave to Michael Westbrook in 1994. Stewart isn’t much different than the other 45,000 fans expected to fill Folsom Field on Saturday in his belief that Sanders will eventually spark CU’s return to the ranks of the nation’s elite.
“Coach Prime’s effect is beyond words when it comes to this institution where I’ve had so much success with my teammates,” Stewart said. “He’s really come in and kind of reenergized how we think about football here at CU. It’s like there was a plug sitting on the floor next to a socket. Someone had to be brave enough to put it in the wall to get this thing lit up again. And while I know some are waiting for some to say, ‘See, I told you so,’ or for there to be a mistake, that’s a part of the game. I’m not concerned about that part. The part I love is this community is in the mix with loving the Buffs again.”
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