The Border War: A Football Game, a Boot, and Great Stories

Photo of crowd on the field taking down the goal post after the Rams defeated the Wyoming Cowboys in the annual Border War game on November 5, 1994.

By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)

In 1899, the Aggies went to Laramie to play a football game. Since that first game, which ended in controversy, these two rivals have played more than 100 games in three different centuries. The Border War, as it now is known, has spawned great stories and shenanigans as well as divided family loyalties. It also awards the best traveling trophy in college football—the Bronze Boot.

Some of the stories are recounted in a recent book, The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry between Colorado State and Wyoming. Authors Ryan Thorburn and Robert Gagliardi are Wyoming alumni, but their book is a balanced account of the rivalry and includes quotes from former players, members of coaching staffs, and sports writers from both sides of the border. The book also includes statistics of the Border War.

One story details the controversy of that first game. The teams could not agree on the rules, so the Aggies left the field before time expired. Wyoming counts the game in its all-time statistics; Colorado State does not. The strange thing is—Wyoming lists the game as an Aggies’ win. One divided-family-loyalties story is that Ram legend Fum McGraw’s two sons played football for Wyoming.

A 1983 Collegian article first labeled the game “Border War,” according to CSU Athletics historian John Hirn in his book, Aggies to Rams. A perfect moniker for the rivalry, that name has stuck.

The Bronze Boot is a battle-scarred boot worn by alumnus Army captain Dan Romero, Sr., in the Vietnam War. The trophy was first awarded in 1968, and keeping “The Boot” has become a focus of the rivalry. At men’s basketball games between the schools, when the home football team won The Border War that year, football players have paraded The Boot on the court to fire up their basketball team.

The shenanigans are legion. One year a north-of-the-border hooligan burned “Wyo” into the grass field in Hughes Stadium. In one of the book’s two forewords, Gary Ozzello, long-time CSU sports information director, fans the flames of the Border War: “it was comforting to know the culprit knew how to spell the three-letter acronym.” Long-time Wyoming sports information director Kevin McKinney wrote the other foreword. The delightful banter between the two illustrates that the Border War has created friends as well as rivals.

A Border War tradition that merits only a mention in the book is the Bronze Boot Run. Each year ROTC cadets from the away team run the game ball from their stadium to the Colorado-Wyoming state line and hand it off to cadets from the home team, who run the ball to their stadium and hand it to game officials. Why do the authors give the Run short shrift in their book? One possibility is that Cowboy cadets only have to run 26 miles compared to 39 miles by Ram cadets. We consider the Bronze Boot Run an apt metaphor—Rams work harder and run farther!

Get the Book

The Border War: The Bronze Boot Rivalry Between Colorado State and Wyoming covers the history of the rivalry from its controversial beginning in 1899 through the snowy battle for the Boot in 2017. The Border War combatants agree to disagree on the all-time series ledger, but both sides have enjoyed their share of legendary coaches, players, and victories over the decades. Order now from Amazon.