Novotny runs "Big Red of the Rockies" sports shop in Estes Park, Colorado. Since it opened in 1996, the store has sold Nebraska Cornhusker merchandise less than 30 miles from the CU campus. (At the outset, they also carried CU and some other merchandise, but it didn't sell, so the store is now exclusively Big Red.) Novotny's brother Gary opened the store, and Gayle and his wife Denise have operated it since January of 1997. Gayle knows that referring to Nebraska as CU's "hated" rival is no exaggeration.
"The way they (CU Fans) act when the come in here," Novotny says, shaking his head, "They say things like ‘There's a bullet with your name on it,' or they're gonna ‘fire bomb the store'…they're not smiling when they say it. It only takes one unstable person…"
Novotny fuels the fire every chance he gets, of course, posting statistics on the walls of his store detailing Nebraska's history of domination in the series with CU. He doesn't back down from anyone who wants a verbal confrontation, even when Buff backers start bragging about last season's flogging of the Big Red in Boulder. "Once every ten years, I tell ‘em," Gayle smiles. "You won't beat us again until 2012."
The irony here is that Gayle grew up and lived for many years in Fremont, Nebraska has a die-hard Husker fan – but with Colorado as his second favorite team.
"When the ‘Miracle in Michigan' happened (CU's last-play win over Michigan in 1994), I immediately got out my Colorado flag and flew it…I had the neighbors pulling down the shades and calling me, telling me to get rid of that thing.
"I was still a Buff fan when I moved out here in '96 – but what I have heard and what I have seen since has just totally turned me off. Most of these Buff fans are the mouthiest bunch of classless individuals I have ever seen in my life." (He also notes that in all his years in Colorado, he's yet to receive a negative comment from a Colorado State fan. He says he's now a Rams fan, too.)
It took some major onions to open a store like this in the first place, but it was done after some careful planning.
"We knew Estes because we vacationed here as kids," Gayle recalled. "Gary knew that more than three million people per year come through here, and that there are more than 30,000 Husker fans living in the Front Range region. Estes is about 10% Nebraskans, and we can also service Wyoming and western Nebraska from here."
So far, despite early predictions of doom from locals, the store is thriving. It was the subject of a pre-taped, in-game feature during ABC's telecast of the 1999 game between CU and Nebraska in Boulder, and Novotny is currently taking orders from people all over the country…and beyond.
Not that the CU fans are giving up efforts to run Gayle and his "evil red horde" out of town. Recently, a car pulled up outside the store and a woman got out, exclaiming, "I can't believe this is here. I've gotta go in and see this…" she walked up to Gayle and said, "So what do you do, about $10 a day in here?"
Gayle responded like he always does, noting that on the average, Big Red of the Rockies does roughly the same amount of comparable business as the campus bookstore in Boulder. (Sometimes he throws in a comment about how a store similar to his in Boulder called "Buff Stuff" recently went out of business…).
The woman responded with some epitaphs and a whole lot of "62-36" references, which Novotny just shrugs off. "What made me ready for this job was my background in law enforcement. I was 25 years as a corrections officer in Dodge County, Nebraska. I heard comments like these every day."
Who's ready for some football?
Mark Knudson is publisher of (CSU) Rams Insider here on The Insiders