The 10th-ranked University of Colorado will play in its first football bowl game in nine years when it faces #12 Oklahoma State in the 2016 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.
However, the excitement of the game has been tempered by the death of former star Rashaan Salaam.
In 1994, Salaam, a once-unheralded running back from San Diego, rushed for 2,055 yards and 24 touchdowns in becoming CU's only winner of the Heisman Trophy, presented to the best player in college football. A first-round draft pick, he also enjoyed a successful rookie season with the Chicago Bears.
However, those successes came at a cost. His professional career cut short by injuries, friends say Salaam foundered. On Dec. 5, he was found dead in a park in Boulder, not far from CU. On Thursday, the Boulder County coroner's office ruled his death was a suicide.
TJ Cunningham, one of Salaam's best friends, spoke with Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel on the bittersweet nature of CU's recent on-field accomplishments amid the program's loss.
- Agony Of Defeat? Nope, CU Football’s Cinderella Year Has Delivered A New Feeling
- Former Football Star Rashaan Salaam's Death Ruled A Suicide
Interview Highlights with TJ Cunningham
On what the Alamo Bowl means for CU:
"We are going into this bowl game without one of our teammates. Someone from the family. That's the bitter part. But I'm sure those guys in Texas and Buff Nation will pull together, will use the love and the support we have for Rashaan. We'll be cheering for our team tonight."
On what Salaam meant for the program:
"He was our only Heisman Trophy winner. It'll mean a lot to every generation, and generations that played before, of Buff Nation. It was a tribute to our tradition, and how hard we were working and how hard we played during those years. There was some serious teams that were put on the field by coach [Bill] McCartney and his staff. Rashaan means a lot to us."
On Salaam's relationship with his daughters:
"I believe Rashaan loved [my] kids because he didn't have to be the Heisman trophy-winning Rashaan Salaam. He could just be Uncle Rashaan. He felt comfortable with those kids. He felt comfortable with my family."
On how he learned of Salaam's death:
"I was devastated. It was like losing a brother. It hurt. I was in disbelief. Obviously I have to move on. I have a family. But mornings ... sometimes I struggle."
On how players deal with expectations:
"There are a lot of players that look back on their careers and often say what they should have done, or what they could have done, or if they would have done this or that. They fail to realize what they have done, and really embrace that."