For Boulder’s World Famous Dark Horse bar and restaurant, the madness started just as the madness started to die down.

The phone was screaming soon after the Colorado Buffaloes’ shocking Week 1, 45-42 upset over TCU was in the bag.

“When are you opening next Saturday?” they asked in droves.

Colorado had an early kickoff, all the momentum in the world and hated rival Nebraska coming to town for Deion Sanders’ official home debut. Sean James — a CU alum who has been with the Dark Horse for 13 years, now as a general manager — knew what was coming.


Thought he knew what was coming.


Much has been written about Coach Prime’s splashy arrival in Boulder last winter. Splash? This was a cannonball from the International Space Station. Colorado football, heck the university itself, would never be the same.

But now that all of Prime’s bravado has begun to pay off, it’s clear that Boulder may be the biggest beneficiary of them all.

The financial ramifications of Prime’s hire have been enormous on the town, with an estimated gameday economic impact of $17 million, Boulder Chamber of Commerce President and CEO John Tayer told CBS Colorado’s Jasmine Arenas. Hotels were booked up for weeks. Bars were packed.

How packed?

“That day, I started getting calls at 5:27 a.m.; by 6:30, the line was around the building,” James said. “By 4 p.m., we’d broken our sales record for a day.”

But the Dark Horse was prepared.

A 15-to-20-minute walk to Folsom Field, the bar has been a Boulder staple since 1975. It’s seen the high and lows of Colorado football first-hand, boom and bust. Game days vacillating from epic parties to tea parties. Last year, you could see tumbleweeds pass through.

But for Saturday’s Nebraska game, every employee was called in. James tripled the food supply order, and he even had a buddy from local sandwich shop Snarf’s offer a helping hand of hoagies.

Food and supplies were stacked from floor to ceiling. The freezer was packed.

“Some of the things that got us through COVID got us through Coach Prime,” he said. “You don’t prepare; you just lay in bed awake at night saying ‘(expletive)!’ over and over again.”

This was a lot. For the Dark Horse. For Boulder.


A moribund gem tucked up against the Southern Rocky Mountains, about 30 miles northwest of Denver, Boulder’s once-proud football history has been dimmed for decades.

From 1985 to 1996, the Buffaloes went 86-19-3, peaking in 1990 with an 11-1-1 record and a share of the national title. They had 4 other top-10 finishes in that stretch. They were contenders. Since 2006, though, the year Dan Hawkins moved down the road from Boise State to become the new Colorado coach, Boulder bottomed out. Colorado lost twice as much as it won in that 17-year stretch — going 69-134 — and went to just 3 bowl games, all losses.

In 2022, the Buffaloes went 1-11 for the 2nd time in a dozen years.

“Last year, you couldn’t tell it was a gameday even for a home game,” James said.

He knew that wouldn’t be the case this year, because for his town, the buzz has been building for months.

Coach Prime’s hire was one of the biggest coaching hires in history, with the colorful and controversial coach taking HBCU Jackson State to unforeseen heights on the field, in the classroom and on the recruiting trail. The former NFL Icon with a capital I — one of the absolute flashiest, most stylish, most skilled, most charismatic characters the game has ever seen — was thought to be a red-hot coaching candidate, but much of the buzz around him centered around the southern states, particularly Texas and Florida schools. It’s the territory he knew best.

Between the hire and the roster overhaul and the influx of new talent from across the country, the noise has been deafening for, oh, 9 or so months.

And then the season started, a retooled Buffalo squad coming off a 1-11 season beat a Horned Frogs team that had advanced to last year’s title game in a back-and-forth fireworks bonanza and anything that was previously possible went out the window.

A week later, more than 50,000 fans took in the game in person, Colorado’s biggest home crowd in 15 years. Fox’s Big Noon Kickoff Show came to town.

And the Buffaloes delivered with a big win that was never in doubt, beating the hated Huskers, 36-14, behind 393 passing yards and 3 total touchdowns from Shedeur Sanders, Coach Prime’s son.

With another rival — Colorado State — coming to Folsom Field on Saturday at 8 p.m. local time, the Dark Horse is again steeling its reserve, as is the town, with Fox and Big Noon Kickoff back, along with ESPN’s GameDay Crew.

But the later kickoff does present its challenges.

“The thing that’s been hurting us is the game times,” James said. “At 8 p.m., the town is going to be day drinking, and then night drinking. It’s going to be harder to manage. We have a responsibility to not serve overly intoxicated people.”

On Saturday, that’ll be like trying to chase down Dylan Edwards.


Michael Belochi looked around BOCO Cidery and Taproom on Saturday and it was a ghost town.

Boulder’s only cider house is normally abuzz on Saturdays, but folks were nowhere to be found.

“All the excitement has created a fervor in Central Boulder,” he said. “They all went downtown! That was the place to be because of all the excitement. For folks on the periphery, it was the opposite.”

A Boulder resident since 1990 and CU Law School graduate, Belochi wasn’t sure what to expect come Week 1.

Even with the surprisingly light Saturday, Belochi considers Prime’s impact a net positive.

“This is a different animal,” he said “Deion has been talked about now for 10 months, tracked in the paper. People buying season tickets in record numbers. Can he pull it off? After purging the team, bringing together players from all over the country, his son playing quarterback is dicey anyway.

“There was a ton of speculation and a lot of hunger for not even a winning season but just something interesting.”


Speaking of hunger, you might want to read the rest of this story on an empty stomach.

Lexi Watkins is back working at the Dark Horse as of about 6 months ago, after first starting at the bar in August 2020, and she wasn’t quite prepared for what she saw on Saturday.

“It felt like horses coming out of the gate,” Watkins said. “We’d been preparing for this day, stocking up as much as we could. We’d been waiting for football season, our favorite season. Opening the doors felt like horses sprinting in.”

And this was at 7 a.m. They normally open at 11 a.m.

“A lot of us got here at 4 or 5 a.m. to start getting open, and we had 40 to 50 people waiting outside the door when we opened,” she said. “We maxed our capacity in a huge building before the game and were one in, one out until at least 2 hours after the game happened, again. It was like swimming through people.”

Given the crowd, all in all, they came out unscathed.

But that was because of weeks of preparation and an all-hands-on-deck attitude.

Well, almost. One key person missed part of the ruckus.

“So we serve Rocky Mountain oysters … nuts, right?” Watkins said with a laugh. “So Fox wanted some of our nuts to show before the game. That’s why Chris (another GM) got to go to the game — he had to deliver the nuts. We got to see our nuts on TV. We all thought that was pretty cool.”

The Coach Prime effect.

Pretty cool.