Larry Zimmer, KRMA-TV Sports Commentator
In the days leading up to the University of Colorado’s 1989 football season, CU fans were concerned about the quarterback situation. Sal Aunese had led the Buffs to an 8-3 regular-season record and a berth in the Freedom Bowl in 1988, but Aunese was diagnosed with stomach cancer the following spring and was fighting for his life.
His backup, Darian Hagan, had limited experience but Coach Bill McCartney was confident. Hagan had a good spring and was even more impressive in fall drills. It didn’t take long for the fans to find out. It was Labor Day evening with a full house at Folsom Field, a national television audience and the Texas Longhorns in town. On the game’s second play, Hagan raced 75 yards to the Texas two-yard line. Eric Bieniemy scored on the next play. Hagan finished the game with 116 yards rushing and 95 yards passing, engineering a 27-6 victory. CU historian, Fred Casotti, wrote: “The Little Buffalo was off and running and so were the Buffaloes. Hagan was for real.”
The Buffs finished the regular season unbeaten, only to lose to Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. Hagan rushed for 1,004 yards and passed for 1,002 yards, only the sixth player in NCAA history (at that time) to achieve the double-double.
Hagan was adept at running the option offense, largely because of his ability to make the timely pitch. In the key 27-21 win over Nebraska in 1989, Hagan got loose for 30 yards and as he was about to be tackled flipped the ball over his shoulder to J.J. Flannigan, who completed the 70-yard touchdown play without being touched.
In the opening game of the 1990 campaign against Tennessee, Mike Pritchard had an electrifying 78-yard touchdown run set up by a spectacular pitch from Hagan. Said Pritchard: “That was the magic of Darian Hagan.”
The little Buffalo (5’10”, 185) led those 1990 Buffaloes to an 11-1-1 season and the national championship despite battling injuries in the latter half of the season. Arguably the best all-around athlete in CU football history, he played a key role in two straight runs at the national title with the second being successful.
Hagan finished his playing career in 1991. He set a then-school record for career total offense with 5,808 yards. A three-year starter at quarterback, he had a career record of 28-5-2, including 20-0-1 in the Big Eight Conference, leading Colorado to three straight league titles.
He was a two-time all-Big Eight selection and was the league’s Offensive Player of the Year in 1989. He was named to several All-American teams and finished fifth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. After playing five seasons in the Canadian Football League, Hagan returned to CU for a brief stint as Director of the Alumni C Club. He worked five years for Transit Marketing Group before returning to his alma mater for a third time to coach the running backs. Today, he is Director of Player Development on Coach Mike MacIntyre’s staff.
Arguably the best all-around athlete in CU football history, he played a key role in two straight runs at the national title with the second being successful.