“At the end of the day, stuff like that’s going to happen… That’s football,” Colorado Buffaloes recover and cornerback Travis Hunter said on social media Monday. “Something bad is going to happen sooner or later, and you just have to get up and fight again. That’s what I’m going to do.”

Hunter was taking the high road, to say the least.

Hunter, a two-way threat who’s electrified the nation on his way to Heisman Trophy candidacy, saw that dream likely end after being struck in the midsection by a very late and unquestionably dirty hit by Colorado State Rams safety Henry Blackburn in the first half of Saturday’s thrilling, come from behind, 43-35, double-overtime victory by the Buffaloes at Folsom Field. Hunter, who reportedly suffered a lacerated liver, had to be taken to a local hospital by ambulance, and will miss “weeks,” according to head coach Deion Sanders.

At some point during the game, Blackburn’s phone number, address and the phone numbers of addresses of family members were shared on the Internet, leading to death threats and other forms of intimidation to the senior safety and his family, according to Rams athletic director Joe Parker.

Rams coach Jay Norvell missed an opportunity to throw water on on the fire when he shared his opinion on the hit that saw Blackburn penalized for a personal foul, saying, “I reviewed the play. It’s a play that happens sometimes. When you throw a deep ball, and have a guy playing middle safety, he’s got to react on the boundary and he’s going full speed. It was a bang-bang type of a play,” Norvell explained. “It’s certainly not something that we teach or coach. It happens in football sometimes. Seems to have been a lot of attention about that play, but it’s a play that happens.”
The truth is that the hit — which occurred well after the ball was on the ground, and after Blackburn had taken multiple subsequent steps to line Hunter up —wasn’t a play that “happens,” at least not in any legal sense, and the officiating crew should have immediately ejected Blackburn from the game. In what became a game rife with questionable officiating, the decision not to act was by far the most egregious.

On Tuesday, Sanders joined his injured star by taking the high road, but also made sure to call out the obvious: doxxing players and families, to the point of issuing death threats, is entirely unacceptable.
“Henry Blackburn is a good player who played a phenomenal game. He made a tremendous hit on Travis on the sideline. You could call it dirty. You could call it just playing the game of football. But whatever it was, it does not constitute that he should be receiving death threats. This is still a young man trying to make it in life, trying to live his dream… He does not deserve a death threat over a game,” Sanders said. “At the end of the day this is a game. Someone must win. Someone must lose. Everybody continues their life the next day. I’m sad if there’s any of our fans that’s on the other side of those threats. I would hope and pray not, but that kid was just playing to the best of his ability — and he made a mistake. So I forgive him. CU, my team, forgive him. Travis has forgiven him. Let’s move on. But that kid does not deserve that.”

With Hunter out, the road for the Buffaloes becomes much harder than it already was. As safety Shilo Sanders pointed out after the game, losing Hunter — their best defensive player, and probably the second-best offensive player behind quarterback Shedeur Sanders — is like losing a pair of stars. On Saturday, the Buffs will face No. 10 Oregon in Eugene, OR for their fourth consecutive nationally televised game.

The Ducks are scoring a mind-bending 58 points per game behind quarterback and fellow Heisman contender Bo Nix. It’s a bad week to be without your best cornerback, but “Coach Prime” understands that his No. 19-ranked Buffaloes will receive little sympathy. “We’re looking for the next man up. We’re looking for someone else to step up and take control,” Sanders said. “We have talent. We just have to get the talent to be talented, and to do what they’re capable of doing.”

Sophomore Kyndrich Breedlove filled in for Hunter against the Rams, and likely will get first crack at the role against the Ducks, but Sanders made it clear that the Buffs will need more than one player to replace the Uber-talented Hunter.

“No one in the country can fill Travis Hunter’s shoes. He’s one of a kind. He’s the best player on offense, the best player on defense. That’s just who he is — in the country, not just on his team. So having guys step up… they just have to step up and do the job we’re asking them to do.”

The Buffaloes’ 10 takeaways — six of which have come within the Colorado 25-yard line — have made the defense look better than it really has been. The Buffs rank 122nd in yards per game allowed (460.3) and 102nd in scoring defense (30.3)… and they haven’t played anybody who can puts up numbers like the high-flying Ducks. Deion Sanders knows that the Buffs’ best performance will have to be in front of them.

“We don’t want to get to that point where we have to be resilient; we want to get out to a great start,” he said, referring to Saturday’s 11-point comeback victory against their in-state rivals. “We have not played a complete game. We have not played a game with offense, defense and special teams all showing up in the same manner.”

“Coach Prime” didn’t mince words. “[If] the offense is playing well, the defense is hot garbage. If the defense is playing well, the offense is horrible, and special teams aren’t special. We have to put it all together to be able to defeat a team like Oregon.”
Doing that without Travis Hunter makes that task infinitely more difficult.

While the Buffaloes and Rams now have their fierce, if one-sided, rivalry renewed after Blackburn’s cheap shot, the off-field discourse will hopefully cool thanks to Sanders’ — and especially Hunter’s — forgiving, diplomatic responses. But in the end, only one player, and one team, will pay the price going forward. How expensive that is depends on fate, expert medical care, and the Buffaloes’ performances over the next few weeks.