CHRIS LEHMANN discovered that he had become an unlikely object of curiosity when he learned that the media speculated about his whereabouts as if he were some kind of fugitive with an 18-wheeled truck full of football equipment. He discovered he was a small celebrity when he realized he was about 400 miles from where they thought he was.
The 16th. In December, Lehman left the University of Colorado campus with almost everything Buffalo would need for the Pac-12 championship game in Los Angeles two nights later.
But when he left, Buffalo wasn’t in the championship game. There was only one chance they were halfway between Boulder and Los Angeles. The whole story is a jumble of logical guesses, bureaucratic indecision and aimless chatter, making Lehman the perfect emblem of an illogical, indecisive and often aimless year, both in university football – two conferences that were cancelled and then did not take place, more than 150 lost matches, the championship conference of university football qualifications after six matches – and in the world.
Colorado’s entry into the absurd began when Washington had to forfeit a game as a result of the COWID-19 outbreak. That made the state of Oregon, runner-up in the Northern Division, the champion of the Southern District, which led to the cancellation of Colorado’s game this weekend against Oregon. But, uh… and this is where the saga gets so weird it ends with a 48-year-old trucker from Wellington, Colorado. The managers responsible for planning the games and cashing the TV vouchers realized that the conference needed reinforcements if USC was the only one to test positive. With Colorado as the second team from the south and the prospect of not having a game at all that sends a cold and bitter wind to the conference office, the Buffalo were told to be ready in case USC couldn’t play.
We’re in code red mode, Buffalo coach Carl Dorrell said on local radio Tuesday as he waited to hear about his team’s calls. We’re preparing as if we’re going to play, but we’re waiting for an answer. The way the conference created and defended this championship, they put us on the spot to make sure that everything was in order at some point during the week and then leave us alone.
There are many projects in football, but there are still many things – things that should be there, but that nobody really thinks about. These are the same things that do not fit in an airplane when it is also used to transport people. And what Lehman is doing is driving a truck that moves Buffalo’s stuff from place to place. It carries boxes of tape and pre-packed pallets, as well as scissors, ribbon cutters and bandages. He carries boxes and boxes of Gatorade products, which he thinks are protein bars, but which have never been thoroughly researched. (I’ve never looked into it, he says, but if I break down and get hungry, that can change). He wears helmets and spare helmets, shoulder pads, nail shoes and communication equipment, as well as removable medical tents. Everything you see on the sidelines, except the couch, said Christopher Dontas, director of Colorado’s football equipment.
Fault! File name not specified. Lehman’s 18-wheeler filled with Colorado equipment parked on its way to Los Angeles in case the Buffalo play the Pac-12 2020 championship game, courtesy of Chris Lehman.
On Tuesday, about 72 hours before kick-off, the Buffalo were informed about their possible participation in the title game. The journey from Boulder to Los Angeles takes more than 15 hours non-stop, weather permitting. This is in accordance with the regulations of the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management that require drivers to take an eight-hour break for eleven journeys. So a two-day trip. The equipment, transported by a Lehmann truck, would arrive in Los Angeles on Thursday, preferably in the afternoon, to set up the touchline and dressing rooms the day before the game.
You can see where this is going.
Everything had to be loaded, and the truck went west before Colorado could guess if he was really going to play in Los Angeles. Lehman was supposed to leave Tuesday afternoon, but he was told to wait. Then he wanted to leave Tuesday night, but we told him to wait.
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Finally, on Wednesday morning, Lehman left the campus grumbling, thinking it didn’t make sense. He decided early on to head south towards Albuquerque to avoid a possible winter storm on the I-70 over the Rockies. Lehman says it was cooperating again. The wind has cooled down. There was also an avalanche near the Eisenhower tunnel and – to complicate an already difficult situation – there are silent rumors that Colorado could plan a replacement match against UTSA in Dallas if USC makes good tests and everyone can mobilize quickly enough. Lehman says if I get a call, I’ll ask: How soon can you get to Dallas? A lot faster when I’m in Albuquerque than when I’m on the I-70.
So Lehman drove the truck south and waited for word. He and Duntas mapped out a route that would take Lehman to Albuquerque in about six hours, from where he would either head west to California, or – if the USC remains in agreement with COVID – turn around and head back to Boulder, or – following here – east to Dallas. The whole thing became like a scene from an old western, where the lines on the map show the path of a wagon train before the game passes by and everything burns down. There is nothing else to do but stay on your bike and be there with your thoughts, says Lehman. And I’m thinking: Do I have to drive so fast? Because if I go so fast, I have to go much further if I have to turn around and go back. Here’s what I’ll take from this trip.
Somewhere along the way Duntas told him that people were looking for you, so keep your eyes open, which Lehman thought was funny, because he didn’t know where he was going or if he would know when he got there. But the Los Angeles Times and several other publications questioned Duntas after a Colorado football Twitter account left a photo of Lehman Boulder (a message that was later deleted). My phone started blowing up, Duntas says. I had no comment.
The Colorado sent its equipment truck halfway between Boulder and Los Angeles so that it would be ready to complete the journey (if necessary) or return. We were told the truck was somewhere near St. John’s, Newfoundland. George, Utah. #Dolls #
– Brian Howell (@BrianHowell33) 16 December 2020
Lehman has become so weird, one of those weird things and then ……. Sandwiches delivered with a nice smile at the end of the local news. They reported that Lehman traveled halfway down the Boulder to Los Angeles and was dropped off at a hotel in St. George, Utah, so we can point him in the right direction. There are some problems with this story: St. George’s never been on the road. George is on the I-70, so it’s part of the Dallas weather/lavener/potential game, and the hotel was never on the road because Lehman was planning on resting in a half-bicycle booth. Hey, they’ve got St. George, Dontas said, so we handled it.
We laughed about it, Lehman said. I’ve never been to St. George’s. But if you Google it, it’s usually the quickest way to get to Los Angeles, and it’s about halfway there. People have tried to understand, and I think if you bet and you don’t take time into account, I can understand why you think St. John’s is a good place to be.
(In other words, amateurs.)
Like this. Albuquerque. He’s arrived in Albuquerque and still hasn’t heard anything. He turned west. I still haven’t heard anything. Duntas called: Where are you? Where are you? In the middle of nowhere, Lehman replied. When Lehman arrived at Gallup around 10 p.m., they decided that Flagstaff, Arizona would be a logical stop. On Wednesday he got a message from Boulder: That’s enough. We’re still in contact with Pac 12, but we don’t know what to do. The hole is there, and we hope to get an answer in the morning.
So I had enough time to wash the truck, Lehman says, and I went to bed for the night when I got the message: Young man, it’s time to go home.
USC played the title game, in which the Trojans lost to the Ducks 31-24. Lehman went back to Boulder for the game.
Fault! The file name is not given. Oregon faced USC at the Coliseum – but Colorado had been in the game a few days earlier. Harry Hoe/Getty Images
Colorado will Texas tonight at the Valero Alamo Bowl (9 p.m. Eastern Time, ESPN and ESPN App), an invitation that the team accepted despite the fact that five other teams eligible for the Pac-12 Bowl have decided not to participate in the post-season. I think our players felt ready to play another game, Dorrell said at the press conference that announced the game. We just wanted to finish the season so that the fruits of our labor would be rewarded. They’ve worked hard in such a short time, and they deserve it.
And where the Colorado goes, Lehman goes. He’s talking to me Saturday afternoon from a room at the Hyatt on the Riverwalk in San Antonio. He rode the Buffalo chassis, even though it meant breaking a pact never to ride the 18-wheeler on River Street again. He talks while looking at the real Alamo and says his room is so beautiful and the view so good, that he expects to be half-deviated when the buses arrive later in the evening.
Lehman is a real character. He grew up in the moving business and says my dad taught me how to drive a truck before it was legal. When I try to calculate how many kilometres and hours he has spent from Boulder to somewhere near Gallup, Lehman tells me that I just want to say that I have a fast truck and that I respect all DOT laws – and yes, I encourage him right now.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Lehman, pictured here with his son Christian, made it halfway to Los Angeles before learning that Colorado wouldn’t be in the Pac-12 title game. Thanks to Chris Lehman.
And in many ways, Lehman was the right person for the job, more familiar than most with changing circumstances. He drives a part-time truck and transports supplies to Colorado and the state of Colorado, but his main job is to serve as a chaplain in the Wyoming Air National Guard. He enrolled at the age of 38 and when he arrived at the basic training of the Air Force, the instructors, who were all 10 or 15 years younger than him, did not know what to do with him.
They look at me and ask: Is this a court order? Living without options, old man? – he says. I don’t want to sound weird, but sometimes we feel that God has called us to do something. And then at night you sit around your bed with a bunch of kids crying because they’ve never been away from home, and you’re closest to a parent, and you understand: Oh, God, I’m right where I need to be.
Yet he didn’t expect to be seen as the perfect symbol of the 2020 university football season: a man with a truck full of equipment on a road to nowhere waiting for the results of one of the team’s COVID tests to take him to his destination or force him to turn around and go home.
This is probably one of the hardest things in the world, says Lehman. For me, the emotional side wasn’t the same as for the players or the coaches. I just had to know whether to go east or west. With everything that has happened in the world this year, a 12 hour journey and then having to return is not a problem for me.