Because of injuries, the Buffs were in need of a tailback to carry the load. Quarterback Bobby Anderson was a Heisman hopeful that season, but he was the best healthy runner on the team.
The Buffs had two good young quarterbacks in Paul Arendt and Jim Bratten, and Crowder thought they could afford to move Anderson, a senior, out of the position. When Crowder asked Anderson if he'd switch from quarterback to tailback, he didn't bat an eye.
The rest, including CU's 47-33 win over the storied Alabama team in the 1969 Liberty Bowl, is history.
"It was a transition year – anytime you take a guy who was on the Heisman watch list and move him from quarterback to tailback, you've already got heavy drama going," Crowder said. "As it turned out, it worked out well for us because we did then win enough to get into the bowl game."
The Buffs played their way to an 7-3 record that year, and earned the plane ride to Memphis for the match-up with the Crimson Tide.
That was nearly 40 years ago, a couple decades before the Buffaloes won a national championship. Alabama, on the other hand, was already a legendary program. The Crimson Tide came into the 1969 Liberty Bowl with nine conference, and eight national championships under its belt. They were coached by a guy who wore a plaid fedora.
"Bear Bryant, by that time he'd had such great success," Crowder said. "Why, he was a legend already."
Alabama also boasted All-Americans at quarterback (Scott Hunter) and running back (Johnny Musso), too.
The chance to play such an esteemed program caused a stir in the Colorado locker room.
"Our team prepared as well as any team I've ever been around," he said. "They were deadly serious. They took it as a once in a lifetime opportunity. The consequence was we had great performances by many players."
Among those great performances was an improvised play on a kick return by CU tight end Bob Masten. The Buffs had designed a reverse in practices leading up to the bowl. Anderson was to take the kickoff and flip it to speedy Steve Engel, who would be heading the other direction. Crowder called for the play in the second quarter. But instead of kicking the ball deep, the Alabama placekicker put it short and to the left side of the field.
"Not having expected that, we hadn't prepared anyone to catch that ball," Crowder recalled. "So Bob Masten, he caught the ball and had the good sense to run past Engel and just hand him the ball. It was totally unrehearsed. Engel swings around to the far side of the field and runs for a touchdown.
"When he crossed the 5-yard line, there was still one defender in his path. And Bob Masten, the guy who caught the ball, made the block on that final guy."
The touchdown gave Colorado a 31-19 advantage at halftime. Alabama roared back with two touchdowns in the third quarter, to take a two-point lead. The Buffs, however, owned the fourth and decisive quarter. Anderson scored twice, bulling his way across the goal line on two short runs. And CU's dynamic pair of defensive linemen, Bill Brundige and Herb Orvis, tackled an Alabama player in the end zone for a safety, too.
The bowl game was the first of four consecutive postseason appearances by the Buffaloes. During the era, the Buffs made a mark on the national college football scene in a way they hadn't done since Byron "Whizzer" White roamed Folsom Field in the 1930s.
Crowder credits the talented players he and his staff were able to recruit during that time. Anderson, his older brother, Dick, Brundige and Orvis went on to productive NFL careers. During the next two to three years, the Buffaloes roster included the likes of Cliff Branch, Cullen Bryant, J.V. Cain, Charlie Davis, Greg Horton and John Tarver — all players who had good tenures at the next level after their Colorado playing days were done.
Crowder thinks, in terms of recruiting, the era was equaled when Bill McCartney was coach in Boulder, and he sees signs of the same thing these days under Dan Hawkins.
"It would appear that he's got a chance to be ranked in the top 10 recruiting classes in the country," Crowder said. "That's going to put this program back on a par with what we were fortunate to have working when we beat Alabama."