CHRIS LEHMANN DISCOVERED He had become an unlikely object of curiosity when he found out that media were speculating about his whereabouts as if he were some sort of fugitive with an 18-wheeler loaded with soccer gear. He discovered he was a minor celebrity when he noticed he was about 400 miles away from who they thought he was.
Earlier that day, December 16, Lehmann had rolled away from the University of Colorado campus with almost everything the Buffalo would need two nights later for the Pac-12 championship game in Los Angeles.
But when he set off, it wasn’t the buffalo in the the championship game. They only had one chance would At the time he was about halfway between Boulder and LA. The whole story is a jumble of logical guesswork, bureaucratic indecision, and aimless wandering, making Lehmann the perfect emblem of an illogical, indecisive, and often aimless year in college football – two conferences that were canceled and then canceled, more than 150 games lost to COVID-19, a college football playoff conference champion who only played six games – and the world.
Colorado’s entry into the absurd began when Washington pulled out of the title game because of a COVID-19 outbreak. That raised the North Division runner-up in Oregon to play against South champions USC, which in turn forced the cancellation of Colorado’s game with Oregon that weekend. But – and this is where the saga gets so strange that a 48-year-old truck driver from Wellington, Colorado finally got involved – those in charge of scheduling games and cashing television checks realized the conference was a Backup needed in case USC produced its own set of positive tests. With Colorado being the runner-up team in the south and the prospect of no game at all sending a cold and bitter wind through the conference office, the Buffaloes were told to be ready to play a game if USC couldn’t.
“We are in code red mode,” said Buffalo trainer Karl Dorrell on the local radio on Tuesday as he waited for the news about his team’s goal. “We prepare like we’re playing, but we’re waiting to hear it. The way the conference built and protected this championship, they keep us hooked to make sure it gets there by a certain time.” the week when everything is fine, then take us off the hook. “
There’s a lot of planning for a soccer game, but there’s also a lot of stuff – the stuff that needs to be there, but nobody really thinks about what’s the same stuff that can’t fit on a plane when that plane is also used Transportation is used by people. And what Lehmann does is drive the truck that takes the buffalo from one place to another.
He carries cardboard boxes with tape and pallets with prepackaging and scissors as well as tape cutters and bandages. He carries cases and cases of Gatorade and boxes of food that he suspects are protein bars but that he has never fully investigated. (“I’ve never looked there,” he says, “but if I break down and get hungry, that story might change.”) He wears helmets and spares for helmets and shoulder pads, cleats, communications equipment, and pop-up medical tents. “Anything you see on the sideline except the benches,” says Christopher Dountas, Colorado’s director of football equipment.
The Buffalo received a message on Tuesday, about 72 hours before kick-off, of their possible participation in the title game. The drive from Boulder to Los Angeles takes more than 15 hours, with no stops and weather permitting. The rules of the Ministry of Transport are adhered to, according to which a driver must take eight hours of break every eleven hours. So a two-day trip. The equipment that was pulled into Lehmann’s truck had to be in Los Angeles on Thursday, preferably by noon, so that the sideline and locker room could be set up the night before the game.
You can see where this is going.
All that stuff had to be loaded and the truck driven west before Colorado had any idea whether it was actually going to be playing in Los Angeles. Lehmann planned to leave on Tuesday afternoon, but he should wait. Then he wanted to leave on Tuesday evening, but he should wait.
Finally, on Wednesday morning, Lehmann rumbled away from campus, assuming none of this would ever make sense. He had previously decided to head south towards Albuquerque, New Mexico, to avoid a possible winter storm on I-70 over the Rocky Mountains. “The weather was blowing in,” says Lehmann. “Winds increased.”
There was also talk of avalanche control near the Eisenhower Tunnel in Dillon, Colorado, and – to complicate the already overcomplicated issues – there was a low rumble that Colorado could plan for if the USC tests were good and everyone was quick A substitute game against UTSA in Dallas could mobilize enough. Lehmann says: “If I get a call that asks, ‘How fast can you get to Dallas?’ My answer is, “When I’m in Albuquerque, a lot faster than I-70.”
So Lehmann would drive the truck south and wait for a word. He and Dountas designed a route that would take Lehmann about six hours towards Albuquerque. At that point, he would either head west towards California or – if USC stayed COVID compliant – turn around and head back to Boulder or – follow this way – east to Dallas. The whole thing felt like a scene from an old western in which the lines on a map show the route of the wagon train before a match appears and the whole thing burns.
“There is nothing left but to hold on to the steering wheel and be part of it with your own thoughts,” says Lehmann. “And I think, Should i drive that fast? Because if I drive that fast, it will be so much further to drive if I have to turn around and drive back. I will remember that on this trip. “
Somewhere on the way Dountas said to him: “People are looking for you, so watch out”, which Lehmann found funny, because even he wasn’t sure where he was going or whether he would know when he got there. But the Los Angeles Times and several other outlets called Dountas after Colorado football’s Twitter account posted a photo of Lehmann leaving Boulder (a post they later deleted). “My phone blew up,” says Dountas. “I didn’t have a comment.”
Colorado sent its equipment truck halfway between Boulder and Los Angeles so it could either finish the drive (if necessary) or come back. We learned the truck was parked somewhere near St. George, Utah. #cube
– Brian Howell (@ BrianHowell33) December 16, 2020
Lehmann had become this curiosity, one of those bizarre “And finally …” Sendoffs that were delivered with a friendly smile at the end of the local news. They reported that Lehmann drove halfway from Boulder to Los Angeles and wandered off to a hotel in St. George, Utah, trying to find out which direction to turn next. A couple of issues with this story: St. George was never on the itinerary because St. George is off I-70 and therefore part of the Dallas weather, avalanche, and potential gambling problems, and a hotel was never on the itinerary , because Lehmann was planning to rest in the semis’ sleeping cabin. “Hey, they kicked St. George out,” says Dountas, “so we just went along.”
“We laughed about that,” says Lehmann. “I never got to St. George. But if you google it it’s usually the quickest way to LA, and it’s about halfway there. People were trying to figure it all out, and I think if you’re a bettor and if you don’t take the weather into account, I might see where you think St. George makes sense. “
(In other words: Amateurs.)
In order to. Albuquerque. He came to Albuquerque and still not a word. He turned west. Still not a word. Dountas called: Where are you? “In the middle of nowhere,” replied Lehmann. They decided that Flagstaff, Arizona would be the logical rest stop, but when Lehmann rolled into Gallup around 10 p.m. Wednesday he received a message from Boulder: Stop. We’re still talking to the Pac 12 but we have no idea what to do. Hole up there and we hope to have an answer in the morning.
“So I had just enough time to have the truck washed,” says Lehmann, “and I was just about to lay my head down for the night when I heard: Young man, time to go home.”
USC was cleared for the title game in which the Trojans lost 31-24 to the ducks. Lehmann was back in Boulder before kick-off.
On Tuesday night, Colorado will play Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl (9 ET, ESPN, and ESPN app), an invitation the team accepted even though five other Bowl-qualified Pac-12 teams decided not to go into the postseason play. “I think our players felt ready to play another game,” Dorrell said during a press conference to announce the bowl. “We just wanted to end the season with the reward of our fruits. They worked hard in such a short time and they deserved it.”
And wherever Colorado goes, Lehmann goes too. He’s speaking to me on Saturday afternoon from a room at the Hyatt on the Riverwalk in San Antonio. He drove the buffalo gear here, even though it meant breaking a pact never to ride an 18-wheeler down the Riverwalk again. He talks as he looks down on the actual Alamo, and he says his room is so beautiful and the view so good that he halfway expects to be kicked out if the coaches arrive later that evening.
Lehmann is entirely the character. He grew up in the moving business and said, “My dad taught me to drive a truck sooner than it was legal.” When I try to calculate the mileage and the hours he drove from Boulder to near Gallup, Lehmann says, “I just want to state that I have a fast truck and comply with all DOT laws – and yes, I do keep your fingers crossed. “
And in many ways, Lehmann was the perfect man for the job, more familiar with changing circumstances than most. He drives the truck part-time and hauls equipment for Colorado and the state of Colorado, but his primary appearance is as a chaplain in the Wyoming Air National Guard. He entered when he was 38, and when he showed up for basic Air Force training, the drilling instructors, all about 10 or 15 years younger than him, didn’t know what to think of him.
“You look at me inquiringly, ‘Is this ordered by the court?’ ‘Life without options, old man?’ “, He says. “Not to be funny, but sometimes you feel called by God to do something. And then you find yourself crying around your bed with some kids at night because they’ve never been away from home and you’re the one. Am next to a parent and you realize, ‘OK Lord, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.’ “
Even so, he never expected to be considered the perfect symbol of the 2020 college football season: a man driving a truck full of gear on a road to nowhere waiting to hear if the COVID-19 test results are one Teams would help him achieve his goal or force him to turn around and go home.
“This whole thing is probably one of the silliest things ever,” says Lehmann. “For me, the emotional side was not like it was for the players or coaches. I just had to know whether to go east or west. Given everything that has happened in the world this year, I had to drive and for 12 hours then you have to turn around is really not that big a deal. “