HOMEBioFilm rights, Screenplays, RepresentationCommentaries: On the Colorado Scene 2019Commentaries: On woodypaige.comHORNS, HOGS, AND NIXON COMINGHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming: PrologueHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming Excerpt: James Street, Wishbone WizardHorns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming Excerpt: July 1969 ... and beyondTHIRD DOWN AND A WAR TO GOThird Down and a War to Go: Screenplay opening pagesThird Down and a War to Go: Exerpt, Ohio State vs. WisconsinGrateful for the Guard: The Veterans Day story that led to Third Down and a War to GoOLYMPIC AFFAIR: HITLER'S SIREN AND AMERICA'S HEROOlympic Affair, Chapter 1: Leni's VisitOlympic Affair Excerpt: Aren't You Thomas Wolfe?'77: DENVER, THE BRONCOS, AND A COMING OF AGE'77 Excerpt: Red Miller'77 excerpt: Randy Gradishar'77 excerpt: Broncos at Raiders'77 excerpt: AFC Title GameTHE WITCH'S SEASONThe Witch's Season excerptPLAYING PIANO IN A BROTHELPlaying Piano excerpt: Avalanche vs. Red Wings, March 26, 1997March 1939: Before the MadnessMarch 1939 Excerpt: IntroductionMarch 1939 Excerpt: How the First NCAA Tournament Came AboutCompilation of book blurbs/reviewsOn the Colorado Scene 2018On the Colorado Scene 2017Guest CommentariesA Selection of Terry Frei's writing about World War II heroesFrench Legion of Honor MedalDenverGreeleyBig Bill Ficke's Big HeartBob Bell's Food For Thought

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2017 On the Colorado Scene Commentaries are here 

2018 On the Colorado Scene Commentaries are here.

 

 

For 2019 On the Colorado Scene commentaries, scroll down  
 
(Links to additional columns on Woodypaige.com are interspersed and also accessible here.)
(Links to selected additional columns in Greeley Tribune are interspersed. More are accessible here.)                                                 

 

 

 

The latest, in order below:

 


Mike Bobo departs
* Minus linemates, Nathan MacKinnon puts Avs on his back
PS at CSU: How CU handled MacIntyre buyout
Rams fall to BSU: What next? 
*Protesting students planned to occupy field at Big Shootout
On Avs goalie Philipp Grubauer

 
* = Woodypaige.com 

 


Keep scrolling past those for the entire 2019 archive 



December 4, 2019

A decidedly civilized 

departure from CSU

for Mike Bobo 

CSUBobo2017.jpg CSUBobo2019.jpg

Left: Mike Bobo in 2017. Right: Mike Bobo last Friday night. 

 

I had just arrived at the offices to go on the air on Mile High Sports Radio with Joe "The Hitman" Williams Wednesday afternoon when the news broke.

 

Colorado State and Mike Bobo had agreed on terms of his departure. Bobo was stepping down after five seasons with the Rams. 

 

Soon, while we were on the air, the official release came from the athletic department with word of a 5:30 news conference at Canvas Stadium.

 

About 15 minutes later, a Rams supporter forwarded me an "exclusive" video of CSU radio voice Brian Roth speaking with athletic director Joe Parker. You can watch it here. It soon also was posted on www.csurams.com.)

 

Surprising?

 

Of course not.

 

What happened was consistent with what I tossed out as one of the possibilities below, specifically in my November 16 piece.

 Nov16Bobo.jpg

I admit I was surprised the buyout was negotiated down all the way to $1.8 million, to be paid in three installments. That's a sign that Bobo acknowledged that playing hardball and insisting on the full $5.5 million or putting CSU in the position of perhaps stalling past January 1 to get the buyout down wouldn't have helped anyone ... including Bobo.

 

Similarly, playing hardball to the point where CSU kept him on the job only because the buyout was prohibitive would have required incredible salesmanship, and perhaps disingenuousness, to make it come off as a statement of faith in Bobo's ability to get the program turned around. 

 

Finally, getting the buyout down that far instantly lessened the justification for holding Parker's feet to the fire for Bobo's 2017 contract extension. In this era, as ridiculous as it sounds, if a situation has become untenable, spending $1.8 million to cut a coach loose is a bargain figure in the modern marktplace of college football.

 

Here's Parker at the news conference.

 

 So ...

 

What went wrong?

 

There will be no major revelations here, but random thoughts.

 

First, take a look at those pictures at the top. He aged five years in the past two, and perhaps 10 in his five years at CSU.

 

The job and his 2018 health battles, including with idiopathic neuropathy, aged him.   

 

In fact, he probably would have been far better off taking a leave of absence for the entire 2018 season. He came back hobbling, in pain and uncomfortable. I don't know what the effect would have been on the program and the record. Yet I am pretty sure it would have been better for Mike Bobo, the man. And once the Rams got through that season, perhaps Bobo could have returned stronger and reinvigorated.  

 

I also wonder if acting as his own de facto offensive coordinator, while largely a success in terms of quantifiable offensive prodution, distracted him from a head coach's duties as chief operating officer.

 

His staff wasn't all that stable, and the lack of continuity didn't help.

 

Nebraska transfer Patrick O'Brien was a competent stand-in after Collin Hill's season-ending knee injury. Hill suffered a torn ACL for the third time. Still, it was a setback.

 

Bobo had shown a lot of faith in Hill from the start after bringing in the South Carolina high school product after seeing him at Georgia's seven-on-seven camp. Hill even started ahead of Nick Stevens as a true freshman for a four-game stretch before his first ACL injury at midseason in 2016.

 

The coach didn't really ever get a chance to ride it out with a hand-picked, high school recruit quarterback.    

 

Attempting to recruit in familiar Southeastern Conference territory had spectacular successes -- e.g., Michael Gallup -- but it on balance didn't work. This still is a program still better off concentrating on Colorado, Texas and California.

 

Once in a while, too, I would wonder if Bobo would have been more successful here if he had more of a broad-based background. He spent all but one year as a player and coach at Georgia. (The one year was at Jacksonville State.)

 

You so often hear coaches say they take a little from all the coaches they've worked for and all the places they've been, and in this case, there weren't many coaches to borrow from or varied experiences to reference.

 

But maybe that's reaching with retroactive wisdom.

 

Fact is, after Bobo seemed an astute choice in late 2014 following a search that involved a respected search firm DHR International and executives Pat Richter, the former athletic director at Wisconsin, and Glenn Sugiyama. And when the new stadium opened, it seemed the program was set up to step back up to become a perennial Mountain West and Group of 5 power. Importantly, the project included adjacent practice fields. The Rams could be headquartered at the stadium full-time. They no longer would have a separate practice locker room at Moby Arena and continue using the fields there.

 

CSU seemed to be taken seriously as an aspirant to help fill out the Big 12 when the league took applications before deciding to stay at 10. 

 

We've been reminded of is that, yes, the stadium, with the revenue bond payments jumping to $12 million in 2020, heightens the financial pressures for the athletic department and the football program.

 

That's the next football coach's problem now.

 

With ex-CSU assistant Urban Meyer acting as a consultant in the search, apparently tossing others' hats into the ring rather than advancing himself as a candidate, the names will come fast and furious.

 

I brought some up in earlier ceommentaries below.

 

But Parker's declaration that CSU is looking for a candidate with head-coaching experience would seem to rule out the two ex-Rams mentioned most often, Ohio State assistant Tony Alford and Florida assistant Billy Gonzales.       

 

Despite what I mused about above, I'm shocked it didn't work out with Bobo.  

 

 

December 2, 2019

Minus linemates,

Nathan MacKinnon

puts Avs on his back 

 

MacKinnonWoody.jpg 

 Read it here

 

 

 

November 30, 2019

PS at CSU: If Bobo buyout 

comes into play, here's how

CU handled MacIntyre's 

 Mac11.jpg.w300h237.jpgRickGeorge.jpg

Mike MacIntyre, left, and Colorado athletic cirector Rick George.

 

I wrote about Mike Bobo's situation at Colorado State in commentaries posted below. One was last night after the Rams' 31-24 loss to Boise State, and that's directly below this. The other is farther down, on November 16.

  

After all the talk about Bobo's hefty buyout coming into play, either preventing his firing or adding to the athletic department's financial challenges if it is triggered, two additional thoughts struck me.

 

One, given the staggering amount of money potentially involved -- in a Bobo buyout, a new staff, and the bump in annual stadium revenue bond payments to more than $12 million next year -- the decision on whether to retain or fire Bobo shouldn't be and likely isn't solely or even predominantly in the hands of athletic director Joe Parker.

 

New CSU president Joyce McConnell, who assumed office on July 1, and system chancellor Tony Frank, involved in Bobo's 2014 hiring when he also was president, have to be signing off on the decision -- and perhaps more than that.  

 

Two, we've been through this before in Colorado, most recently with CU coach Mike MacIntyre last year.

 

MacIntyre was fired late in the season as a 5-0 start was turning into a 5-7 collapse. His contract called for a $10.3 million buyout -- or nearly twice that in Bobo's deal. As I've laid out before, Bobo's contract calls for a $5.5 million buyout before the end of the calendar year, or $3 million next year. 

 

At CU,  MacIntyre's buyout eventually was negotiated down to $7.23 million after he accepted the defensive coordinator job at Mississippi. He received roughly half of it earlier this year and is scheduled to receive the other half in early 2020.

 

CU officials emphasized the payments come through and from the athletic department, not from student tuition, tax monies, or the general fund.

 

At CU's football media day in August,  I asked athletic director Rick George if the athletic department has been able to mitigate the hit from the buyout and where it left the Buffs.

 

"When we made the decision we took all those factors in play, obviously," George said. "We were able to finish the fiscal year, we were able to fund the first half of that buyout because of an accounting principle, the additional payment that we'll make in January was included in this year's budget and that's why we showed a deficit in our budget. But going into it, we knew our ticket sales for this coming year would be better and we do a great job of fundraising. There are some other factors from contract extensions and things like that.

 

"What it has done for our program, I told our staff that we were going to operate flat compared to where we were last year and everybody's on board with that. They know that. I think the prospects of what's ahead and where our football program can generate for this athletic program is going to be significant moving forward.

 

"For us to be able to compete at he level I want to compete at, with all of our sports teams, they all need more resources, football and men's basketball are our two biggest drivers. When they're consistently winning at a high level, it means a lot. So all the buckets will rise and I'm very confident in our revenue generation and the way we handle our budget.


"It's certainly a little bit of a setback, when you have too have a payout like that, but we're well-positioned for the future and I feel pretty good about that."

 

That was four months ago, of course, and I don't claim to know how the 2019 season under new coach Mel Tucker -- another 5-7 record, but a perception of considerable progress -- affected the athletic department's bottom line in the wake of MacIntyre's buyout. But it's also worth noting CU still has more than $3 million left to pay to MacIntyre in early 2020 on that negotiated-down buyout, regardless of which budget it appeared in.  

 

CSU followers, I throw that out and say ... for what it's worth. 

 

 

 

November 29, 2019

CSU Rams fall in finale

to Boise State, end season

at 4-8. So ... what next? 

CSUBoiseBoboField.jpg CSUBoiseBobomic.jpg

Left: Mike Bobo, with tight end Trey McBride, on the field as players for both teams gather for post-pame prayer. Right: Bobo at the microphone soon after in the interview room.   

 

FORT COLLINS -- Colorado State's season had been over only about 15 minutes, after Boise State's 31-24 Friday win over the no-quit Rams at snow-filled, frozen Canvas Stadium.

 

I asked CSU coach Mike Bobo anyway.

 

Where did this 4-8 season leave the program, and did Bobo hope to, want to, and expect to be back with the Rams next season?

 

"Yeah, I hope to be back," Bobo replied. "Obviously, that's a lot of noise out there, but I've been focused on this football team, getting ready for Boise State and putting together a plan. It's like I told them in there. I said despite the noise outside, we are really, really close to being really, really good.

 

"But it's a bottom-line business. I know that. I think we all know that. We didn't get it done this year, (4-8) is disappointing. But I can't say enough about our football team. They didn't fall apart, they played hard every week, we just didn't make enough plays to win the ballgame tonight. And really, that's how our team had played since I've been here, with the exception of last year. I did not think we played with the effort (last year) that needed to be played, being a CSU Ram."

 

OK, that wasn't exactly a definitive answer.

 

A little later he was asked if he had meetings scheduled with athletic director Joe Parker, and whether the small crowd Friday -- albeit under ridiculously adverse conditions -- could enter into Parker's evaluation.

 

"I can't tell you what Joe's thinking," Bobo said. "We had meetings, very supportive, gives us everything we need to be successful. I do not have a scheduled meeting. I can't tell you what Joe's thinking."      

 

As much as some might belittle this as a low-ambition orange-slices mentality, the fact is that after scraping back to 4-5, the Rams' three-game skid to end the season wasn't about embarrassing showings as much as was just not being good enough. And they played well Friday, hanging in with the No. 20 team in the country.

 

Granted, Bobo's decision to punt on 4th-and-14 from the BSU 45 with a little more than two minutes remaining was mystifying. Bobo said the Rams would have gone for it if they didn't have all three timeouts remaining or needed fewer than 10 yards. Really? Fourth down is fourth down. Five yards shouldn't make any difference in that scenario, especially under that what-the-hell circumstances. If CSU was going to go down, go down going for it ... in more ways than one.

 

Sure enough, after the punt, BSU got the needed first down to eat up the clock and CSU never got the ball back again.              

         

In the next few days, it seems to me the possibilities are: 

 

 

1, Parker sends out a blast email to the Rams' constituency, saying the season again was a disappointment, standards are higher than that, but he is confident that Bobo deserves another chance to get the ship righted. It would be similar to Parker's announcement after last season. A public release and proclamation follows from the athletic department to the media, and there might even be a news conference. I know this will rub a lot of Rams' followers the wrong way, but I can make the case to do this ... only if CSU can sell it as a sincere strategy for the right reasons, rather than just because of Bobo's hefty contract buyout.  

 

OR... 

 

 

2, Parker announces that CSU and Bobo have agreed to part ways, with the two sides coming to agreement on a lump-sum buyout that isn't as high as the $5.5 million buyout specified in his contract if he is fired before the end of 2019. I believe this one is the leader in the clubhouse. I alluded to this in my Nov. 16 column (scroll down), when the Rams still had Wyoming and Boise State left to play. 

 

OR ...  

 

3, If the CSU administration decides that Parker is linked to Bobo not because he oversaw his hiring in 2014 -- Parker wasn't at CSU at the time -- but because in 2017 he was instrumental in the signing of Bobo to an extension that took him through 2022. In this scenario, both Parker and Bobo are let go. (That one's a real longshot for a whole bunch of reasons.)

 

I took the below pictures at kickoff Friday. Official attendance later was anounced as 12,324.

 

I know many of Bobo's detractors will point at those images and others like them as evidence of the disaffection with Bobo. The irony is that many of his most vehement critics probably are in those photos. They're the Stalwarts and they keep coming. They're unhappy and many want Bobo gone. 

 

 

The seats weren't empty Friday.

 

They were filled with snow, and there was no need for CSU to be more ambitious in clearing out sections than it was.

 

It was a bit embarrassing, yes, but it's only fair to take into consideration that we just went through our worst November snowstorm in 25 years, and most CSU students aren't on campus because of the Thanksgiving break.   

 

 

But as I pointed out in that column two weeks ago, the financial considerations, tied to many issues, including attendance, season ticket sales and donations, are many and staggering. They also include this: Bond payments on the on-campus stadium financing bump to more than $12 million annually next year. I also ran through some of the history of the stadium project, putting this in context. Debating or belittling the ambitious construction now is a waste of time, especially when it's coming from: a) those who didn't pay much attention during the three-year debate before the green-lighting from the CSU Board of Governors; or, b) those fixated on NIMBY. Imagine. A stadium. On a college campus!  

 

Moving forward?

 

 

If CSU keeps Bobo, but gives off the impression the only reason for that was his hefty buyout -- whether the buyout is that $5.5 million specified if he is fired before the end of the calendar year, or the $3 million listed if he is fired in 2020 -- it will completely paralyze an already troubled program. 

 

Recruiting would be more adversely affected by the lame-duck, no-faith perception -- and believe me, it would get around to recruits in today's blanket recruiting coverage -- than it would by the Rams' seven combined wins the past two seasons. 

 

(Settling buyouts for lower lump-sum settlements is common, eliminating the offsets if the coaches get other jobs. Bobo quickly would be an offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach in a Power 5 program.) 

 

I've also said many times that Bobo, so used to SEC standards and seemingly accepting of the win-big-or-else mandates, likely won't walk off on his own, but will be neither shocked nor completely embittered about being asked to see if terms of his exit can be worked out. 

 

So I'll come back to this: 

 

 

If CSU can't with some sincerity pull off advancing the idea that the program would be better off giving Bobo one more shot than bringing in a new coach, who then would go through the multi-year process of transforming the program with the by-now familar steps of "changing the culture" and cleaning house (even if it isn't put in those terms),  then it should make the change. I ran through some of the possible candidates in that earlier column, not because I was arguing for a change, but to provide the backdrop for comparison to keeping Bobo.

 

Yes, that's even a bit cynical, since I'm essentially talking about peception and more about whether Parker can come off as sincere than it is about whether he really believes. How good of an actor can Parker be if the decision is made ONLY because CSU couldn't write a huge buyout check? Heck, he has to work to forestall that if-not-for-the-buyout perception even if it ISN'T why he keeps Bobo.

 

"Everybody on the team loves coach Bobo," said the Rams' latest star wide receiver, Warren Jackson, who had eight receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown Friday against the Broncos. "I love him. Just when he was started to recruit me, I could feel that good evergy that he had, that drive he gave me while he was here. I love coach Bobo and I really appreciate him. You could tell by how we played that we all do love him."    

 

We'll know more soon.  

 

rCSUBoiseEast.jpg 

At Colorado State-Boise State kickoff at Canvas Stadium, looking across at the East Stands. 

 

CSUBoiseWest.jpg 

A look down from the press box at the West Stands, just after kickoff. To be fair, the rows of fans stretched farther back, under the overhanging and empty balcony.

 

CSUBoisePorch.jpg

Now, here are the REAL Stalwarts. The New Belgium Porch behind the north end zone as the game started.

 

 

 

 

 

November 27, 2019

Not up to Grubauer alone, 

but his goal is to prove 

stretch run was no fluke 

 

GrubauerMileHigh.jpg

 

A version of this ran in Mile High Sports Magazine.

 

The Avalanche has hung in there despite a potentially troublesome run of injuries, including to Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog, and after a 4-1 win over Edmonton Wednesday, is 14-8-2 going into the Friday and Saturday home-and-home set with the Blackhawks.

 

That's good for only fourth in the Central Division, but the Avs have games in hand on those they're chasing, and treading water in this situation -- especially with Rantanen set to return Saturday in Denver -- is praiseworthy.

 

Nathan MacKinnon again is showing he has made the transition from underachieving after his rookie season to retroactively becoming a "generational" No. 1 overall pick -- instead of the guy at the top of the board in a year minus that kind of player.  

 

One of the major Avalanche issues going into the season was whether Philipp Grubauer's work in the net down the stretch and in the playoffs last season was a promise of long-term success. That, plus whether Czech veteran Pavel Francouz, who didn't come over to the North American game until a year ago, when he was 27 and spent most of the season with the AHL Colorado Eagles, could be an effective backup ... or even more, if need be.

 

Given this team's young talent and offensive skill, the Avalanche's style will put pressure on its goalies and at times leave them on islands the size of Oahu.

 

That's another reason Grubauer more should be subject to the eye test than to cold numbers.

 

Is he coming through when he needs to?

 

Is he bailing them out when it's called for?

 

Can the Avs trust him to allow them to keep the pedal to the medal?

 

So far, for the most part, yes. 

 

 Grubauer is 8-5-2. Among qualifiers, his 2.86 goals-against average is 27th and his .912 saves percentage is 22nd.

 

Francouz is 4-2-0, with a 2.55 goals-against and a .920 save percentage. (Scroll down for my October 12 commentary on Francouz's first NHL start and win.)         

 

Grubauer's story has remained low profile in Colorado amid the coverage preoccupation on numbers and the short term. 

 

I'll tell it here.

 

In Rosenheim, Germany, a young Grubauer pondered his athletic choices. 

 

His hometown is about 40 miles southeast of Munich, in Bavaria, and roughly the population of Castle Rock.

 

“It was a really big hockey town, but all of my friends played soccer,” Grubauer recalled in the Avalanche practice locker room at Family Sports Center in Centennial. “I just wanted to do something else. My mom always took me to games when I was 2 or 3 and then took me on a frozen lake. That’s how I started skating.”

 

Initially, Grubauer was a defenseman only.

 

“Then when I was 6, I’d always wanted to be in net,” he said. “The coach left and I was the first guy in net the next day. From there until I was 14, I always switched back and forth between defenseman and goalie. Not to toot my own horn, but I could skate well and shoot a little bit.”

 

At that point, he knew he was coming up on being eligible for the “import” draft for major junior’s Ontario Hockey League. Yes, even then, he was looking ahead to playing in North America. Nobody gets drafted as a defenseman-goalie.

 

“I knew I’d have to pick one,” he said. “I liked goalie a little more because you can be a difference-maker. I’m not saying goalie is more important than other roles on the team, but I just felt when I was younger I wanted to be a goalie.”

 

His path was mapped. After being drafted in 2008, he came to the OHL at 16, and played four seasons in the league with the Belleville Bulls, Windsor Spitfires and Kingston Frontenacs. Living with billet families, he improved his schoolboy English – picked up in classes from 5th to 10th grade -- by watching television and listening, including in the locker room (which can be risky). “In school, it was more really grammar stuff,” he said. “You don’t really learn how to talk. . . I didn’t really say anything over here for the first two or three months, but then I picked it up pretty quick.”

 

It also helped that his Belleville teammate was defenseman Bjorn Krupp, Buffalo-born but the son of German-born former Avalanche defenseman Uwe Krupp, who scored the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in overtime of Game 4 against the Florida Panthers in 1996. Uwe Krupp would  be around every once in a while to provide advice and tips to the young German goaltender. (Krupp is a former head coach of the German national team and now coaches Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic.)   

 

A fourth-round pick of the Washington Capitals in 2010, Grubauer spent most of his first four pro seasons in the ECHL and American Hockey League before cracking the NHL for good with the Capitals in 2014.

 

And after serving four years mostly as a backup, he came to the Avalanche in a June 2018 trade and signed a new contract with Colorado a few days later. He was coming off being able to raise the Stanley Cup on the ice and then show it off in Rosenheim during the offseason, but he came to Colorado to challenge the injury-prone Semyon Varlamov for the No. 1 job – or perhaps share it.

 

The funny thing was, when the Avalanche was in the doldrums last season, from early December to late February, the major problem was that neither Varlamov nor Grubauer was playing well.

 

It wasn’t as bad as when Colorado Rockies coach Don Cherry – yes, the Don Cherry recently ousted after his nearly 40-year run on "Coach's Corner" – bemoaned his goaltending as (bleep) and said he had tried “everyone except the guy who works in the confectionary store.”     

 

But it was close.

 

Then, finally, Grubauer stepped up.

 

There was no mystery to the Avalanche’s turnaround. The major reason was Grubauer. As he figured out as a kid in Germany, the goaltender can be the difference-maker, and that’s exactly what he was.

 

Grubauer.jpg

The Avs were 15-3-6 down the stretch, made the playoffs as the No. 8 Western Conference seed for the second season in a row and knocked off Calgary in the first round before falling to San Jose in the conference semifinals in seven games.

 

Playing 37 regular-season games in 2018-19, Grubauer finished 18-9-5, with a 2.64 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. In the playoffs, he was 7-5, with a 2.30 GA and .925 save percentage.

 

“I look back, for sure,” he said. “I’m not really proud of how we finished. For sure, I made some adjustments throughout the year. Obviously, it was my first year with a different team in terms of stuff like how guys play in front of you, what different guys do. That was a little bit of a learning process for myself, too, and we will look back and build on what we accomplished.”

  

On the personal level, what he accomplished was locking down the No. 1 job moving forward. Varlamov wasn’t re-signed and moved on to the New York Islanders, signing a surprisingly lucrative four-year, $20-million deal in the offseason to join Thomas Greiss in the net.  

 

Grubauer's 37 games in the Avalanche net in 2018-19 were the most he ever has played in an NHL season. Although he has been unavailable for several games because of minor injuries, he still far surpass that figure this season. A basis of comparison is that in his seven full seasons with the Avalanche, Patrick Roy’s workload always was from 61 to 65 games.      

 

Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said Grubauer proved his resilience last season.

 

“He was outstanding down the stretch and in the playoffs,” Bednar said. “That’s where his ability lies for me. That’s where we’d like to see him play, from start to finish. Is that realistic? Maybe not. So the difference for me is we traded for him (last year), and he was hoping to be our starter. He got in a battle with Varly and it didn’t go great, or it went pretty well and then it didn’t go r either guy midseason. He worked through that and became our starter by the end of the year.

 

“Now, to me, he’s more of a proven guy. Whether he sees it that way or not, for me he is. I have more trust in ‘Gruby’ now because he’s done it for us down the stretch and in the playoffs. We’re hoping that he feels more comfortable now in his surroundings and with his teammates, which I’m sure he does, and gets out to a better start and a more consistent year that he had last year, which will in turn help and lead us to more wins.”

 

So this time, Grubauer knows he’s the guy.

 

Grubauer treated the past offseason differently, staying in Colorado and not returning to Germany. He worked out at Family Sports with Casey Bond and Chase Engdahl, the Avalanche’s strength and conditioning coaches.

 

“I was here basically all summer,” he said. “I adjusted to the altitude and got a little bit of altitude training in here. It was nice to stay at home here this summer because the last two or three years have been really short and really busy, so it was nice to stay here in Denver.”

 

He doesn't necessarily need to be great, not even in the postseason.

 

He needs to be good enough. 

 

 

 

 

Additional 2019 Archive:
Scroll down for ...
 
*Protesting students planned to occupy field at Big Shootout
The state of the state's college football
* Injuries fair game in CFP
On CSU coach Mike Bobo
AFCA honors Boulder's Chuck Neinas
*Ralphie writing her retirement speech
Running into ex-CU linebacker Derrick Webb
Buffs get a kick out of beating Stanford
Did our guide just say he was a hostage in Iran?
Avalanche explodes as Duchene returns
* Buying out coach in second season is nuts
* If NHL, MLB trends continue, what about this in NFL?   
A night for the ages at DU
Landeskog is out. So is Landeskog
Nuggets: Honoring Jokic, buying time for a telethon
*With CFP at 4, you should have to win your league
*Another Buckeyes-Badgers showdown in final-fling atmosphere

Hockey's on a roll in Denver

Crosby, MacKinnon: The Boys from Halifax  

* Draft and watch: The NBA could learn from the NHL

* My final word on Altitude vs. Big 3...for now 

CSU WR Warren Jackson

*NBA officiating is pretty good.I'm serious. 

Pavel Francouz: It was a long time coming

*Donnie Edwards' passioni taking vets back to battlefields 

Buffs are offficially mediocre

Avalanche opening night

Plan the parade, Mayor Hancock 

Coaches under fire: Vic Fangio and Mike Bobo

Altitude vs. DISH/DirecTV/Comcast 

Celine Dion, Columbine and Opening Night at the Pepsi Center  

*30 years ago, the earth moved under our feet at World Series
Ag Day and Orange Out at CSU
*You shouldn't have to pass an exam to become NHL fan
Updated Collin Hill ... Damn
RIP, Coach Ralston
Go ahead, blame Bolles for climate change,too
*Pay college athletes? We already do!
It went to OT, but it was AFA dominance
*An OT system for both college and NFL
A sea of red, but a crushing Cornhuskers loss
*A year after CTE case settlement, Deb Ploetz still at war with NCAA
 Mel Tucker gets his first
Advice for Andrew Luck from another former Stanford QB
Bobo sets high stakes for Showdown's last stand in Denver
My story on Pat Bowlen in SportBusiness
CU's Steven Montez: Throwing against the wind
Would you let your kid play football? 
From CSU: Collin Hill 
From CU: Are they "Mel's Guys" yet?
Vic Fangio: His Way
Rockies: No Excuse. No excuse at all.
No rebuild at Columbine
Garett Bolles' make-or-break season
Denver's Dan Ficke named coach at Belmont Abbey
Erik Johnson's filly wins at Saratoga
Jared Bednar, the man from Saskatchewan, signs extension
Coloradans Horan, Pugh celebrate World Cup title
WWII combat nurse Leila Morrison on returning to Omaha Beach
And at the end of the day of dealing, Joe Sakic said...
RIP, Pat Bowlen   
Just another day at Sloan's Lake
Avs pick Matthew Stienburg: Self-professed "late bloomer"  
Avs and Bowen Byram. What's the rush? 
On Coors Field becoming Wrigley Field West
Colorado Eagles and the Pat Kelly Cup fiasco
For $3 million more, Broncos bought Chris Harris' happiness
NBA should steal elements of the NHL/MLB draft systems
Memorial Day: Why Dick Monfort was named after his uncle
Senators' choice has Avs connection, but it's not Patrick Roy
The most obvious Ring of Fame omission still is ...
Avs vs. Nuggets? One is closer, one is better
Killers want(ed) fame. Do we give it to them? 
Bittersweet end to Avalanche season
You know what they say about Game 7s...
On the Kentucky Derby fiasco
If Grubauer plays like that ...
"Z" on the line between physical and irresponsible
The Sky is falling. Ah, the fluctuations of playoff hockey
Girard & Makar: What a bad ... What a great idea!
Last time both Avs and Nuggets made second round?
20 years ago, at another Sharks-Avalanche Game 1 ...
For Grubauer, 6 days off is a good ... and bad ... thing
On 30th anniversary of release, a look back at Field of Dreams visit
Honoring a man who went back to his school and made a difference
The Beloved 13
Them Flames is done like dinner
Regardless of result, Bednar back on solid footing
No. 1 vs. No. 8: In the NHL, either can win
Welcome to the NHL, Cale Makar
Donated heart, do-over ... and a kicker.
Previewing Mile High Sports Magazine story on Irv Brown patch
St. Patrick's Day II: Rockies' home opener
Just making the playoffs not enough for Avs
Great night at Colorado Sports Hall of Fame  
Embedding with the All-American High School Musical
MacKinnon soldiers on
CU in the NIT ... just like the first NIT
Catching up with Tad Boyle, about then and now
Trying to make a case for keeping Keenum
Two young Israelis in Colorado to play hockey
On the trade for Joe Flacco
Two columns on the great Irv Brown
Sakic's support of Bednar is the right thing to do
 Is it time to play the confectionary salesman in net?
Can Kroenke Sports Stay on a Roll?
Here's why a Colorado nurse was with Supreme Court
Alex English could score 50 ... quietly 
Flying The Hump and more: An epic life  
 
 

November 26, 2019

Protesting students

planned to occupy

field at Big Shootout  

BigShootoutPoliticos2.jpg

Read it here

 

 

 

 

 

November 23, 2019

Latest Colorado poll:

1, Falcons take state.

2, Buffs finish strong.

3, Rams? Well, uh ...  

 

KordellWoody.jpgMontez23.jpg

 Postgame on Senior Night: The CU quarterback of 25 years ago, Kordell Stewart, posing with a fan; the CU quarterback of the present (for a little while longer), Steven Montez, with a teammate's mother. 

 

BOULDER -- This is a refreshing change.

 

Instead of remaining in the doldrums after a mid-season slide, as was the case the past two seasons under Mike MacIntyre, the Colorado Buffaloes -- who knocked off Washington 20-14 Saturday night at Folsom Field -- have finished out their 2019 home schedule under Mel Tucker with wins over two recent Pac-12 powers.

 

The Stanford Cardinal and the Huskies.

 

Stunningly, the CU defense, which has had its problems for much of the season, limited the Huskies to 238 yards of total offense. The Buffs hadn't allowed an opponent under 30 points all season until giving up only a combined 27 in these last two games, both at Folsom and sandwiched around a bye. And CU has won both.

 

"It means a lot because our fans have been great all season," Tucker said. "Our fans have been tremendous. Our student section, they show up and really supported this football team and they deserve to see good football out there and see the team win, and a winning effort. So it was very important and it's important to play well at home and win at home. It means something for us to play at Folsom. It means a lot to us. It means a lot to our seniors. We don't take it for granted.

 

"My hat goes off to our fans.  They've supported us all season. It's a tough place to play. They're loud, its very impressive, Buff Nation is so strong and it's impressive to our recruits and their parents."  

 

At times, we've worked very hard to allow Tucker a honeymoon grace period, but there is no downplaying the accomplishment: This team, largely made up of MacIntyre recruits, has done for Tucker what it didn't do for MacIntyre.

 

It hasn't quit.

 

It hasn't let a potentially demoralizing stretch drag it down so far, hope disappeared.

 

As unlikely as it seemed a few weeks ago, the Buffs (now 5-6) will go into the final game at Utah with a puncher's chance of becoming bowl-eligibile with a win.

 

Unlikely? Of course, but the Utes could get caught looking ahead to the Pac-12 championship game against Oregon in Santa Clara the next week. And a few bounces could go the Buffs' way. And ...

 

Never say never. 

 

In the wake of what has become the cliched and inevitable language of a program in transition, with the mantra about "changing the culture," the Buffs at least look as if they are buying in. Including the seniors who were honored Saturday. One of them was quarterback Steven Montez, threw for 223 yards and ran for 56. Laviska Shenault's acrobatic catch of the 39-yard pass that made Montez the CU career record holder, with 61 TD passes, was the game's highlight.  

 

"I'm really proud of Steven," Tucker said. "It is great to see him play well and finish on a positive note here in Folsom as a senior... With Steven and all those seniors, they just want it so bad. They worked at it, they believed in each other, they believed in our program and what we're doing."

 

Montez said of his final game at Folsom: "It doesn't feel like it's really happening. In the back of your mind, you're always going to feel like you're always going to get one more game at Folsom ... For us to go out and finish like we did, I'm just proud of the entire team."

 

RalphieBand.jpg 

The retiring -- and cranky -- Ralphie V wasn't on hand, but was honored with a video tribute and a CU band configuration in the pre-game performance.

(Here's my woodypaige.com column on college football's top live mascot.)

 

 

Here's what we know about the state of FBS college football in Colorado in 2019: 

 

Air Force took State.

 

No word on when the pep assembly will be at the academy, but the Falcons -- who will be 9-2 heading into its home game against Wyoming next Saturday, beat both the Buffs and Colorado State, significantly both on the road.

 

Colorado State is 4-7 after its Border War loss to Wyoming in Laramie, and the issue of Mike Bobo's future -- if not decided already -- will be tackled after the Friday season finale at home against Boise State.

 

 

November 19, 2019

Ir's not out of line

to consider injuries

in CFP rankings 

 

WoodyTua.jpg

Read it here

 

 

 

November 16, 2019

Play out schedule, then

(and only then) make 

Bobo decision at CSU 

Bobo2019Media.jpg 

When everyone was in a better mood: Mike Bobo on the Rams' 2019 Media Day  

 

 

Mike Bobo was sitting in his office in the summer of 2018, and we were talking for my profile of him for the upcoming Mile High Sports Magazine that would serve as the program for the Rocky Mountain Showdown.

 

He gestured out the window, to the field and the other side of Canvas Stadium.

 

"I went through the interview and they talked about this a little bit," Bobo told me. "I'm thinking, 'Okay, great, a brand-new stadium on campus.' But this is beyond my wildest dreams. It's first class, everything from every seat in the house for the fans to the functionality for the players. I believe this is all an ongoing process, putting your imprint on a program."    

 

The wheels have fallen off, or at least shaken loose, since that interview.

 

The Rams' Saturday night 38-21 loss to Air Force left them at 7-15 the past two seasons. And the financial issues, as happens everywhere in college football now (see Florida State, see Arkansas...), are brought into play to make the automatic-pilot, cliched argument that CSU can't afford to not fire Bobo.

   

Payments on the $239 million in revenue bonds for the $220 million stadium project were slotted to be $6 million, $8 million and $8 million in the facility's first three years, then are to be $12.1 million a year through 2055. The positive is the 15-year, $37.7 million naming rights deal with Canvas Credit Union, making it Canvas Stadium. And revenue has been on pace with expectations.

 

All that said, it's silly to retroactively debate or belittle the merits of the on-campus stadium project now. The time for that -- among media, supporters and critics -- was in the three-year planning and debate process. That played out after visionary businessman and former CSU quarterback Jack Graham in late 2011 first asked president Tony Frank for permission to attempt to raise money for an on-campus stadium. Graham was named athletic director and then rubbed some the wrong way, having the temerity to run the athletic department as a business. He was fired in August 2014 as the debate over the project was nearing a CSU board of governors vote.

 

That debate spanned many board of governors meetings and public forums.

 

Some opponents can claim 20-20 hindsight, but that's mainly if their stance was based on the premise that the Rams would need to be a perennial Mountain West Conference power -- or, eventually, a Power 5 conference member -- for this to work economically. The big test comes after the annual bond payment goes up next year.      

 

The most vehement podium-pounding opposition, though, involved NIMBY.

 

Nobody but the charismatic and popular Frank -- now the CSU system chancellor alone, and no longer also CSU president -- could have gotten approval. But the man who most deserves credit (or blame) for the project being green-lighted was Jim McElwain, because without that karma-filled 10-2 regular season in 2014, the board of governors would have voted no, or the project would have been taken off the table to save face. McElwain botched his departure to Florida. There could have been a way to do it with class and walk out the door popular, but messing that up shouldn't cause all his contributions to be erased.

 

The timing was fortuitious.

 

Canvas Stadium was built, with indispensible adjacent practice fields jammed into the available space. The stadium is not a Taj Mahal, but a B+ type project because of budget and either/or choices made to meet it. Without the practice fields in the project -- and at one point that wasn't certain -- the Rams still would have had to practice outside Moby Arena and probably dress there for practice, too.

 

Now Bobo is coaching for a third season in the stadium, and by all means should be held accountable for the not only lack of progress, but regression. CSU's viability as a choice in Power 5 league expansion has lessened since both the Rams and Falcons at least were taken seriously when the Big 12 considered adding two schools to make its league name accurate.       

 

So what now?

 

Wait.

 

CU fired Mike MacIntyre during his sixth season with the Buffaloes a year ago. Part it was he reacted petulantly to criticism during the collapse, belittling the program he had inherited and the players early in his tenure. (He was "right"; it was just tacky.)  

 

I can't see Bobo doing that, and not only because the circumstances in taking over a then-successful program are different. The roster unquestionably is "his" now.

 

Firing him now doesn't seem to be under consideration, and it shouldn't be. Firing a coach during a season accomplishes nothing.

 

I can't see Bobo forcing it, either since it would completely contradict his "play-to-the-end" mantra. One thing you have to give him credit for is that no-quit consistency, even in calling timeouts when opponents are in Victory Formation and are trying to be nice, or the other sort of end-of-game gambits that have angered San Diego State's Rocky Long, among others.

 

For a lot of reasons, it also would not be wise to invite both Bobo and Air Force's Troy Calhoun to your barbecue, as evidenced with the icy "handshake" after the game Saturday night.     

 

Florida State (Willie Taggart) and Arkansas (Chad Morris) fired their second-year coaches during the season and committed to huge buyouts. Yes, Bobo has had more chance than that, a full recruiting cycle that has brought in electrifying wide receivers, but not enough roster depth, especially on defense. But he at least deserves an asterisk for the health problems that especially affected his work in the 2018 season.

 

Plow on. See what happens at Wyoming and at home against Boise State. Then decide.

 

If the decision has been made and this is a charade, that's unfortunate.     

 

Athletic director Joe Parker wasn't part of the hiring process for Bobo. John Morris, who was heroic in keeping the stadium project viable as others tried to add boondoggles or otherwise tinker with it, was the interim AD at the time. But Parker is tied to Bobo because of the decision to sign Bobo to a contract extension in December 2017.

 

The deal inclues a $5.5 million buyout if he is fired before the end of the year, then $3 million in 2020.

 

Here's the big picture and the issues CSU should consider.

 

Don't succumb to the off-with-his-head temptations of college football.

 

Make the decision, yes, weighing the realities, including the dissatisfaction among many Rams fans, both season-ticket holders and donors. Among other things, the Mountain West's ridiculous television contract that pushes some finishes until after midnight, is a major test of Stalwart loyalty in anything but winning times.            

 

I get it. It's impossible to say how distasteful it is to allow checkbooks to have so much influence with much credibility, because now the entire operation is based on appealing for financial support beyond tickets.   

 

But there still are valid reasons to consider retaining Bobo, even if some of them come off as half-hearted.

 

First is the buyout, of course. Waiting to bring it down and then fire Bobo isn't a viable option because it would affect an entire recruiting class, even if the new staff scrambles to retain those who have announced they will sign with CSU and lands others as minds keep changing up until NLI day. (The is no such thing as a "commitment" until the signing dates.)     

 

Then ask: Are you willing to be patient as the next coach inherits the Bobo program? And this also is a sincere question: Does CSU stand more of a chance of getting this turned around with Bobo getting one more chance with "his" program and the new stadium and its facilities than hiring whoever might come out of the search firm, interview and hiring process?

 

Another Power 5 coordinator? They now make tons of money.

 

Two former CSU teammates, Ohio State assistant head coach for offense/running backs coach Tony Alford, and Florida co-offensive coordinator Billy Gonzales, were in the mix when Bobo was hired. Alford then was at Notre Dame, Gonzales at Mississippi State. Alford, a Rams star running back from 1987-90, is from Doherty High in Colorado Springs. A CSU wide receiver of the same era, Gonzales, 48, is from Thornton.

 

 

Or could the Rams turn to a former-coach-turned broadcaster itching for another chance, even at the Group of 5 level? Turn on your TV on Fridays and Saturdays and you'll see them. But the best of them are unlikely to seek or take a Group of 5 offer. 

 

Do you attempt to lure Mark Helfrich, who took Oregon to the national championship game in 2014 before being fired after the 2017 season, away from the Chicago Bears staff? Then the Broncos, Buffaloes and Rams all would have former Bears coordinators as their head coaches.

 

Or check out a former college assistant at Oregon and Washington who now lives in Fort Collins and works for the credit union that is the stadium's naming rights partner? Fellow named Matt Lubick.   

    

I don't have all the answers. I bring up the possibilities only as backdrop to consider in weighing the advantages -- and there would be advantages -- of continuity, of stability, of sticking with Bobo.

 

If you made me bet and be right?

 

CSU drops the final two, at Wyoming and at home to Boise State, finishes 4-8 and the three-game losing streak at the end sets the one, rather than the three-game winning streak that preceded it.   

 

Then Bobo, who as I have noted many times can sound like a booster in emphasizing the need to win, agrees this isn't working and negotiates the buyout down to, say, the $3 million he'd get next year. He'll have an offensive coordinator or quarterback coach job within 11 minutes. There would be no need to feel "sorry" for him. It wouldn't be quitting on his team.

 

But there still are two games left. He also could pull this off, winning the final two. It's a longshot, but it could happen. Winning one and playing well in the other also should be considered a sign that his team didn't quit and the Rams would have finished 4-2.

 

This is going to sound contradictory. The entire decision, either way, shouldn't come down to just the final games of closing stretch. It's about envisioning whether, all things considered -- including money -- Bobo should get another year.  

 

Wait and see.      

 

                  

CSUToledoOrange.jpg

This is part of the equation, certainly. It's a stylistic issue more than strictly an accounting one. This is what Canvas Stadium looked like early in the Toledo game on September 21. The crowd was decent. And then...

CSUToledoEnd.jpg 

This is what it looked like when it cam down to the final play of the game, with the Rams in positiion to possibly score the winning touchdown. It was 12:34 a.m., and that was the major isssue, but the sight of the vacated seats was glaring. By Saturday, appearances were that many in the seats at the Toledo kickoff had become no-shows against Air Force.  

 

 

 

 

 

November 15, 2019

Boulder's influential

Chuck Neinas will

get top AFCA honor

Neinas2.jpg

 

Long-time Boulder resident Chuck Neinas will receive the American Football Coaches Association's Tuss McLaughry Award, the organization's top honor for "service to others," at the AFCA convention early next year in Nashville.  

 

Previous winners have included many U.S. presidents, major military and entertainment figures, former coaches and administrators.

 

Neinas previously won the AFCA's Amos Alonzo Stagg Award, more specifically targeted for contributions to college football, in 1996. 

 

He was an NCAA adminstrator when the organization more resembled a small mom-and-pop firm run out of downtown Kansas City than the huge entity it is today, and he all but ran the NCAA basketball tournament (before it became Madness) and also the College World Series.

 

The Wisconsin native has been commissioner of both the Big Eight and many years later, the Big 12; executive director of the College Football Association; and head of Neinas Sports Services, a consulting and headhunting firm tied to the hiring of many prominent football coaches. He also served as chairman of the board for Ascent Entertainment Group and acting CEO in 1999-2000 until the company was sold to Liberty Media Group, which soon passed the Pepsi Center, Nuggets and Avalanche on to Stan Kroenke.

 

For many years recognized on national "most- powerful" lists, his level of influence in college sports has been much higher than his profile.

 

Raised in Marshfield, Wisconsin, Neinas attended Central State College in Stevens Point (now Wisconsin-Stevens Point), played basketball and enlisted in the Naval Reserves during the Korean War. He was called into active service in January of his sophomore year. He didn't serve in combat but was on the Queenfish and Tilefish submarines in the Pacific.

 

His commander on the Tilefish, Giles Featherstone Bunn III, punctured the pretensions of those who wanted everything done by the book, but he ran a tight ship when needed.

 

"He knew how to get the best out of his men," Neinas told me. "I took those lessons with me."

 

After returning to Central State and playing basketball as a sophomore, Neinas transferred to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He helped out the Badgers' radio voice, Art Lentz, and when Lentz left to join the U.S. Olympic Committee in early 1956, Neinas took over the play-by-play role while a student and stayed in that position, for football and basketball, after graduation.

 

In August 1961, he joined the NCAA. The entire staff was four secretaries, plus four administrators. "I was the eighth employee, and now they have 500," Neinas told me with a laugh.

 

He worked under legendary long- time NCAA executive director Walter Byers and served as director of the NCAA Basketball Tournament and the College World Series.

 

"Walter was not the easiest person to work for," Neinas told me. "He was demanding. As a result, you learned how to do things and do them right. . . . It was a lot different when I worked for him than it was later, when you couldn't have coffee cups on your desk or anything like that. When I worked for Walter, at 5 o'clock, he'd say, 'Neinas, get in here and join me for a drink.' And he'd light up his little cigar."

 

Neinas left the NCAA in 1971 to become Big Eight commissioner. Fissures soon appeared in his relationship with Byers, including when Neinas testified before Congress that he believed the NCAA's Committee on Infractions had too much power, and that investigative and enforcement functions needed to be separated.

 

In 1980, Neinas accepted the executive director's job of the CFA, which was organized to bring together the major football programs in an attempt to have better control over their own rules and ultimately television packages. The schools remained NCAA members, but it was an upstart subgroup, minus the Pacific 10 and the Big Ten schools. Neinas moved its office from Kansas City to Boulder in 1981.

 

"We were instrumental in prompting the reorganization of the NCAA into Division I, II and III, and eventually Division I into I-A and I-AA," Neinas told me. "It was so that people who were affected by the legislation voted on the legislation."

 

It's most remembered for backing the lawsuit against the NCAA hoping to break up the organization's monopoly on television rights. It was an era of limited games on national TV.

 

The lawsuit came after the CFA reached a tentative agreement for its own four-year, $180 million television package with NBC for the 1982-85 seasons. Each of the 63 CFA schools would receive $1 million or more in TV revenue. The NCAA Council ruled that any CFA members in the agreement would be kicked out of postseason competition in all sports. That killed it. The resulting lawsuit included dueling Neinas and Byers appearances on the witness stand. The CFA interests won, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision in 1984.

 

That verdict opened the floodgates for college football on television.

 

Years later, Neinas was checking in with Wayne Duke, the retired Big Ten commissioner he worked with at the NCAA. Duke had been critical of the CFA's militant stands.

 

"I asked Wayne if he was attending any college football games, because he'd had some physical problems," Neinas told me. "No, he said, it was really difficult for him to get around. And he said, 'You know, I can sit at home and watch three Big Ten games on Saturdays on TV.' And I said, 'Yeah, Duke, I was the son of a bitch who opened it up."

 

Neinas was laughing when he told that story.

 

The CFA eventually dissolved in June 1997, after conferences began selling their own television packages. "We basically completed our agendas," Neinas told me. "It did things in a practical, realistic manner. The NCAA doesn't always do that. The NCAA has basically legislated common sense out of the rule book."

 

Neinas got into the consulting business, helping universities select coaches and athletic directors, often acting as a go-between. Soon after, he didn't make the hires, but communicated with, checked out, and brought viable candidates to the table.

 

"It's about confidentiality and trust," Neinas told me. "My motto was to try to move forward in a manner in which no one gets embarrassed."

 

In June 1999, Ascent's board of directors asked Neinas -- a stockholder in the company that owned the Nuggets, Avalanche and Pepsi Center and other entertainment interests -- to take over as chairman and CEO after an announced sale to Bill Laurie was set aside. He served as CEO for six months and chairman of the board until the next year, through another failed sale attempt to Denver businessman Donald Sturm. Finally, the sale of Ascent to Liberty Media went through that March. Neinas again turned his focus back to college sports.

 

In 2011, Neinas was stepping away from consulting to spend more time traveling when the offer came to return, take over and shepherd the Big 12 through a leadership crisis. He did a spectacular and much-praised job with that before going back into semi-retirement. The league added two teams -- West Virginia and TCU -- and helped land a $2.6-billion television deal.

 

The AFCA award is well-deserved.    

 

Past Tuss McLaughry Award Winners
 
1964 Gen. Douglas MacArthur, armed forces
 
1965 Bob Hope, entertainer
 
1966 Lyndon B. Johnson, U.S. President
 
1967 Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. President
 
1968 J. Edgar Hoover, director, FBI
 
1969 The Reverend Billy Graham, evangelist
 
1970 Richard M. Nixon, U.S. President
 
1971 Edwin Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Apollo 11 astronauts
 
1974 John Wayne, actor
 
1975 Gerald R. Ford, U.S. President
 
1977 Gen. James A. Van Fleet, armed forces
 
1979 Jimmy Stewart, actor
 
1980 Lt. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, armed forces
 
1981 Dr. Jerome Holland, educator, business executive
 
1982 Robert Crippen & John Young, astronauts
 
1983 Ronald Reagan, U.S. President
 
1985 Pete Rozelle, NFL Commissioner
 
1986 Gen. Pete Dawkins, armed forces
 
1987 Gen. Chuck Yeager, armed forces
 
1988 Lindsey Nelson, sportscaster
 
1989 George Shultz, U.S. Secretary of State
 
1990 Burt Reynolds, actor
 
1993  Tom Landry, Head Coach, Dallas Cowboys
 
1994  Charley Boswell, armed forces
 
1996  Eddie Robinson, Head Coach, Grambling St.
 
1998  George Bush, U.S. President
 
2001  Andrew Young, United Nations Ambassador
 
2002  Roger Staubach, businessman, NFL Hall of Famer
 
2003  Stephen Ambrose, Author and historian
 
2004  Gen. Tommy Franks, armed forces
 
2005  Dr. Christopher Kraft, NASA
 
2007  Paul Tagliabue, NFL Commissioner
 
2008  Tom Osborne, Head Coach, Nebraska
 
2009  Rudy Giuliani, former mayor, New York City
 
2010  Tony Dungy, Head Coach, Indianapolis Colts
 
2013  Robert Mueller, Director, FBI
 
2014  Jeffrey Immelt, CEO, General Electric
 
2016  William McRaven, Chancellor, University of Texas System
 
2017  Grant Teaff, AFCA Executive Director, Head Coach
 
2018  Jack Lengyel, Head Coach and Athletic Administrator
 
2019  Verne Lundquist, Sports Broadcaster 
 
 
 
 

November 14, 2019

College football's best

live mascot preparing

retirement speech

 

Ralphie.jpg

Read it here

 

 

 

November 11, 2019

Running into the ex-CU

LB I shadowed through

the Buffs' 2013 season  

Derrick2019.jpg

 

As I walked cross the field Saturday after Colorado's win over Stanford, I ran into ex-Buffalo linebacker Derrick Webb and we had a nice chat. He's back in his hometown of Memphis and doing well with his mucic.

 

In 2013, with the cooperation of Webb, CU coach Mike MacIntyre and even a couple of members of the faculty, I shadowed Webb off and on over the course of the season to tell the story of a college football experience. Various photogaphers joined me for several of the visits.

 

When I was with The Sporting News, I had done a similar narrative story and portrait, but only covering a week, with Texas linebacker Jason Reeves in 1995. I knew it could be an effective narrative, a way to remind readers that there is much, much more than players using the college game as a path to the National Football League. In both instances, I looked for a senior starter who was perceived to be a good player, but was considered to be a longshot as an NFL prospect.

 

I had pitched and we had agreed on the Webb package as a multi-part series to run shortly after the season ended. I wrote it was a narrative on the fly, to speak, in chronological order.

 

But not much of the Webb narrative story ran in the paper. That was not my call. A tone-deaf sports department editor considered non-clickbait narrative to be of little merit.  

 

For print, it turned into a single story of moderate length covering the final two weeks and games of Derrick's CU career. The first three months of his senior season -- and the first 10 games -- disappeared. I did manage to put together and get posted online a "prequel" as what amounted to Part 1 of a two-part story, telling the story of the first part of the season. Most of the terrific pictures the photogs gathered while spending time with Derrick weren't ever seen.      

 

I wish I had saved, or I could find, the original draft of the multi-part story and my recordings and transcripts. 

 

But for posterity, I put together a single "director's cut," essentially with the "prequel" added to the front of the story that appeared in print.

 

You can read it here.

         

 

November 9, 2019

Ralphie again a no-show,

but Buffs get a kick

out of beating Stanford

 

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Buffs' Evan Price (43) connects on the game-winning, 37-yard field goal as time expires.

 

BOULDER -- After the desultory, dreadful showing against UCLA in Pasadena the week before, this was especially needed to etablish that the Colorado Buffaloes hadn't packed it in. Yes, by now, this is beyond wins and losses, but is about re-establishing resilience in their first year under Mel Tucker.

 

So the 16-13 win over Stanford Saturday in the Homecoming game at Folson Field did more than snap a losing streak at five and get CU to 4-6 for the season. It at least showed that this won't be a complete replay of the horrific 2018 collapse that got Mike MacIntyre fired and dropped a pall over the program.

 

When freshman backup kicker Evan Price -- stepping in for James Stefanou, out with a hip injury -- nailed his third field goal of the game as the final seconds rolled off, the celebation was as enthusastic as if the Buffs had just clinched a Pac-12 division title.         

 

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It was that much of a relief.

 

Going into the game, Deja Vu wasn't just a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album that had been in  the vinyl collection of many of the alumni in the Homecoming crowd when they were in school.

 

It was a feeling about what was unfolding in the transition season. 

 

On an afternoon when Ralphie's run again was waved off, apparently for injury and safety reasons, the Buffs said: Enough. 

 

With Washington and Utah left, the chances of closing out the regular season with a three-game winning streak and attaining bowl eligibility are mimimal, but this still was important, and also because significant recruits were in attendance, sampling the atmosphere.          

 
 
"It feels good," said quarterback Steven Montez, who was 20-for-30 for 186 yards. "We'll take this momentum and hopefully get some good work into the bye week and hopefully come out strong against Washington. We saw a lot of things in front of us. We can still can do the things we want to do if we play good football and we play fundamentally sound and play as a team. Everybody's still hungry, everybody's still trying to work. We still understand that if we win the next two we can be bowl eligible and that's a big thing for us."
 
The beaten-down CU defense played well in this one, for the first time holding an opponent to under 30 points and limiting the Cardinal to 372 yards of total offense. (One asterisk: The 30-23 Air Force loss came in overtime, with the score tied 23-23 after regulation.)
 
The last time CU won on a game-ending field goal on the final play of regulation was in September 2007, when the Dan Hawkins-coached Buffs knocked off third-ranked Oklahoma 27-24. That got CU to 3-2 that season, Hawkins' second in Boulder. As it turned out, it was the high point of his five seasons at CU -- the only time the Buffs won as many as six games and played in a bowl. They also beat Nebraska and were 6-6 before losing to Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide in the Independence Bowl. 
 
 
Now it's Tucker's turn to try and build back the program.  
 
"That was a very good team win for us," Tucker said. "Offense, defense and special teams playing complementary football, playing together. We talked all week about guys playing for each other and playing for the man next to you and I saw that out there today. . . It's been a tough stretch for us. It's always good to be in the left-hand column. We're going to enjoy it beecause it was a victory that was earned."  
 
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At one point in the first half, it seemed that Laviska Shenault Jr. (at right) had been knocked off the field again, this time going to the locker room with a knee injury.
 
 
The word was he was probably done for the day, but he came back and made crucial contributions, with eight catches for 91 yards and rushing from the slot for a drive-prolonging first down in the game-winning drive.
 
"It was something I had to deal with," Shenault said. "It's the game of football. I'll be all right. I can't quit now. There's no point in quitting. I'm going to give my all, any chance, any way I possibly can. . . I live for moments like this."  
 

November 8, 2019

Reprise for Vets Day:

Wait. Did our Fort Logan

tour guide just say he

was a hostage in Iran? 

 

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About this time as he spoke to the Greeeley group at Fort Logan National Cemetery, James O'Neal Hughes casually mentioned he had served in Vietnam and was a hostage in Iran.    

 

In May 2018, shortly before Memorial Day, I joined a "Life After Loss" group of 11 mostly senior citizens from Greeley on their trip to Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver. 

 

It was going to be a nice little story about the group's tour of the national cemetery I had been to many times.

 

My parents -- Jerry, a World War II P-38 fighter pilot who flew 67 combat missions in the Pacific Theater; and mother, Marian, who worked during the war packing parachutes in Milwaukee -- are buried together at Fort Logan.

 

But this time, I was with a group on a trip put together by Greeley's Adamson Life Celebration Home and was planning to write about what the visitors from saw and heard on their official tour.

 

We rode down from Greeley in a van and met up at the administration building with our tour guide, a Fort Logan staff assistant.

 

He was introduced as "O'Neal."

 

Just O'Neal.

 

The word was, that's what he goes by on the job.

 

Just O'Neal.

 

His head was shaved, and his goatee was graying. At the start of the tour, his dark Fort Logan jacket was zipped just far enough to partially obscure the credentials on the end of the lanyard hanging around his neck. His dry sense of humor was part of his narration, so the Greeley contingent supplied a laugh track throughout.

 

The tour's second stop was in Section N, along Sheridan Boulevard in Fort Logan's northwest corner. There, "O'Neal" stood among the oldest graves on the 214-acre site, which date back to 1889, when Fort Logan was a new military installation and long before its 1950 designation as a national cemetery.

 

He rattled off considerable general information about the cemetery, where veterans and their spouses are buried free of charge.

 

Eventually, he said the most visited grave in recent years is that of Navy SEAL Danny Dietz, from Littleton, who was killed in a firefight with Taliban forces in 2005 in Afghanistan and was a prime figure in the 2014 film, "Lone Survivor." O'Neal also noted two posthumous Medal of Honor recipients from the Vietnam era, Major William E. Adams and First Sergeant Maximo Yabes, also are among those buried.

 

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James O'Neal Hughes speaking to the "Life After Loss" group from Greeley.   

 

"Everybody asks who's famous here," he told the group. "I say everybody here is famous. You put your hand in the air, whether you were drafted or not. Spouses are famous, too, because it's hard on the spouse. Like I spent two years in Vietnam. I was already married. I spent some time as a hostage in Iran and I was married. So I could imagine what my wife was going through during those times."

 

Within moments, we were climbing back into the three oversized golf carts, moving on to the next stop.

 

I asked the others in my cart: Had I heard right? Did O'Neal just say he was a hostage in Iran?

 

He sure had. 

 

* * *

 

The guide's real name is James O'Neal Hughes. I quickly figured that out on my smartphone and in a brief communication with writer-editor Dan England. "O'Neal" would confirm that later.    

 

On November 4, 1979 -- or 40 years ago last Monday as I write this -- Hughes was an Air Force staff sergeant, Vietnam veteran and intelligence assistant who was one of 65 hostages taken during the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

 

I hadn't known that when our tour started at one of the committal shelters.

 

Then, he still was "O'Neal."

 

He explained Fort Logan doesn't have graveside services, and the ceremonies at the committal shelters are limited to 20 minutes. He also explained about 70 percent of the burials now involve cremation containers rather than caskets.

 

"When I first started here, back when we had wooden shovels, it was only about 10 percent," he said.

 

Next, at the oldest section, Section N, "O'Neal" first gestured in a sweeping motion and noted the wide variety of headstones there. He explained that the carefully aligned upright white marble headstones became universal in the late 1950s. He said about 135,000 were buried or interred at Fort Logan and the cemetery averaged about 20 services a day.

 

Hughes also plugged the upcoming 2018 Memorial Day ceremony on May 28 and said it took volunteers about two-and-a-half hours to place U.S. flags at every grave in advance of the weekend.

 

For many years on Memorial Day weekend, we had placed flowers next to the flag at our parents' headstone.

 

That's when he mentioned his service in Vietnam and being a hostage in Iran.  

 At the Columbarium mausoleum area, one of the newer options at Fort Logan, Hughes ran down the possibilities for terms of endearment on headstones and the choices involving casket burials and cremations. The only cost for veterans and their families are the services from the funeral homes involved.

 

In the nearby all-dirt area, workers had dug a hole for a cremation vault that would arrive after a service later in the day. "We just started this section Monday," he said.

 

In the same area, several new headstones already were in place and worker Gabriel Arguello was painstakingly settling the marble headstone of Air Force vet Richard W. Laugesen, a prominent Denver attorney who died in March 2018, into the ground, before replacing the dirt around it. The group marveled at his meticulousness.

 

"I've set over 12,000 headstones," Arguello said.

 

Other new graves in the area still had temporary cards, identifying the deceased. Soon, they also would have headstones and the grass would be replaced. Then, as time marched on, the next wave of burials would be in another section.

 

Hughes estimated there was enough space still available for about 30 more years of burials, and noted the then-imminent November 2018 opening of Pikes Peak National Cemetery in Colorado Springs would eliminate some of the pressure.

 

The last stop was the shop were the marble headstones are created.

 

Back at the Administration Building, Hughes bid his farewells.

 

"OK, guys," he said. "I hope I answered all your questions."

 

He handed out the Fort Logan fact sheets.

 

"I hope this won't contradict too much of what I said," he added with a smile.

 

Another tour was over.

 

"I enjoy educating people and talking to them about the services that are available here and about honoring the veteran and the spouse for their honorable service," Hughes told me.

 

This is just part of his job, he explained. He had been working at Fort Logan since 1997.

 

"I do anything from budget to administrative work," he said.

 

Sensing more questions were coming, he headed them off. Although I had introduced myself and he knew I was with the folks from Greeley to do a story, he clearly didn't want this to become an "interview."

 

"I'm not much of a talker," he said.

 

After his two-hour tour narration, that was a curious remark. Did that mean he didn't like to talk about Vietnam and Iran?

 

"I don't like to talk about it," he said. "I just don't."

 

By then, though, with friendships made and gratitude from the group obvious, he at least would confirm his real name.

 

* * *

 

A New Orleans native, James O'Neal Hughes in 2019 is 70 years old and lives in Aurora. He retired as an Air Force master sergeant in 1992.

 

In 1979, Iranian captors released Hughes and 12 other African-American or female hostages 16 days into what became known as the Iran Hostage Crisis. The cited reason was sympathy for suppressed minorities in the U.S. While in captivity, they were fed only bread, goat cheese and rice.

 

Belatedly, in August 2012, Hughes was awarded the Defense Department's Prisoner of War Medal in a ceremony at - where else? - Fort Logan. In an interview with Richelle Taylor, a public affairs specialist with the National Cemetery Administration, Hughes noted he hadn't endorsed the circumstances of his release.

 

"The attempt by the Iranians to divide along gender and racial lines did not set well with me," he said. "Part of my mental health treatment was dealing with the guilt of leaving others behind."

 

He also told Taylor he initially believed the crisis would be short-lived, perhaps ending in a few hours.

 

"After being searched, tied up and blindfolded, and marched out of the embassy, I understood that it was something different," he said. "During long periods of isolation I would have thoughts of never seeing my family again and that I would die blindfolded and tied to a chair."

 

After the release of the 13, the remaining 52 American diplomats and citizens ultimately were held for a total of 444 days, until they were released on January 20, 1981 - the day Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, succeeding Jimmy Carter as president.

 

Hughes, one of the early releases, told the Greeley group he planned to be buried at Fort Logan.

 

"I tell my wife, don't spend a lot of money on me," he said. "Cremate me. Put me in the ground. And then go find two 30-year-olds and go on a cruise."

 

On the way back to Greeley, we stopped at the Cracker Barrel.

 

There, the tour group members told me how inspired they had been by "O'Neal" and what he had told them.

 

To "O'Neal" ... and all the veterans.

 

 

November 7, 2019

Avalanche explodes

in Duchene return

with Predators 

 

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Matt and Ashley Duchene at a Nuggets game shortly before his 2017 trade to Ottawa.

 

The Nashville Predators' dressing room in the Pepsi Center was a somber scene Thursday night, and with good reason. The injury-riddled Avalanche had just ended a losing streak at five, blasting the Predators 9-4, getting a hat trick from Joonas Donskoi, who joked that if he ever had one before at any level of hockey, it was when he was 5 years old.

 

But I caught up with former Avalanche center Matt Duchene, anyway.

 

He had an early second-period goal that gave the Preds a 3-2 lead before the collapse.

 

That drew a few boos from the crowd, whether just for form sake, or because they held Duchene's 2016 trade request against him.

 

It was a strange end to what seemed to be a storybook pairing of young Avalanche fan-turned Avalanche draft choice and cornerstone. He was the kid from Haliburton, Ontario, who grew up idolizing the Avalanche's glory years teams and especially the stars, including Joe Sakic. He had a framed and signed Sakic jersey hanging in his basement. 

 

But it has worked out for both sides, with Sakic, the Avalanche GM, landing an incredible package for Duchene in the three-team November 2017 deal that sent him to Ottawa, and with Duchene eventually signing a seven-year, $56-million contract with the Predators last summer as an unrestricted free agent.

 

Duchene's wife, Ashley, is from the Denver area, and they held on to their area home until after he signed with the Predators.

 

"We actually just sold it last week," Duchene said. "We'll be out here plenty, visiting family. We have lots of friends and it's always nice to come here. Well, not for a game like that. That's not very fun, but they had a great game tonight and we were not very good. But I enjoy coming out here and seeing the people that I've built relationships with over the years. . . We're really, really happy in Nashville. It's a similar type living situation as here. They're both great cities. so we're very happy."

 

It has been two years since the trade. He came back with the Senators a year ago before he was traded to Columbus and finished out the season and the playoffs with the Blue Jackets as a rental. Is playing in Denver as an opposing player old hat yet?

 

"No, not yet," he said. "There's still some nerves, for sure. Obviously, with us battling with them in the (Central) Division now, along with St. Louis, it's going to be a good rivalry all season. Obviously, it didn't go the way we wanted it to tonight, but we'll move forward." 

  

Duchene had seemed right at home at the 2016 All-Star Game in Nashville, playing guitar in an on-stage appearance with country star Lee Brice at the All-Star Friday Night festivities.

 

But he said his affinity for country music wasn't an issue in his signing with the Predators.

 

"People draw a lot of conclusions with that, but this summer it was more about the hockey fit, number one, and lifestyle fit, number two, for my family," he said. "We've got a young lad now (10-month-old Beau) and it's going to be a great place for him to grow up."  

 

He said he didn't take the boos personally.

 

"It happens to everybody when they go back," he said. "I've said many times, I gave it everything I had when I was an Av here and hopefully, there's enough people who understand that. . . They're a heck of a team over there. They have a ton of speed and Joe's done a heck of a job over there with their team."

 

Does he have any lingering bitterness?

 

"No," he said. "I've moved on. We're good."  

 

 

 

November 5, 2019

Buying out a coach,

any coach, in second

season is nuts 

 

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 Read it here

 

 

 

November 4, 2019

If NHL, MLB trends

continue, this could

happen in NFL 

 

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Read it here

 

 

 

November 3, 2019

Tyson McLellan and

a night for the ages

for DU Pioneers 

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As former University of Denver hockey players filed on the ice in groups divided by decades and acknowledged the cheers from the Magness Arena crowd between periods Saturday night, it was a remarkable sight. That, and a reminder of the program's deep roots, going back 70 years, to a time when the Pioneers got started in an unlikely DU Arena that essentially was a World War II surplus building moved in from Idaho.

 

"That was awesome," said Pioneers senior center Tyson McLellan, who watched the ceremony from the bench with his teammates. "Every one of us is to lucky to be here. I've never been somewhere that has such a great culture, such great people from the top down. It's an amazing place to be and I just feel so fortunate to be here.

 

"It gives you chills. We were sittting on the bench and talking to them coming by, and they werre going, 'This is going to be you guys one day.' It kind of just opens your eyes. It shows how much people love it here. For 170 guys to come back for a weekend, to take times out of their lives, out of their work, it's just awesome to see them."

 

The tradition is continuing.

 

The Pioneers are 8-0 under second-year coaach David Carle and undoubtedly will retain their No. 1 ranking in the college hockey polls in the wake of their weekend seep of Niagara. McLellan had an assist in the 4-0 win Saturday night, and he has four goals and two assists on the season. It gets tougher next weekend, when the Pioneers -- who reached the Frozen Four last season and lost to Cale Makar and UMass in the semfinals -- open National Collegiate Hockey Conference play with a two-game set on the road against two-time defending national champion Minnesota Duluth.

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 The former Pioneers leaving the ice after the ceremony.

 

"We have all the confidence in the world right now," McLellan said. "With the conference starting, it will be a real test for us. I know we're ready for it. We're ready to show people how good we really are." 

 

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The 5-9, 165-pound McLellan (at right against Boston College) is not a big-time pro prospect, but he's also the sort of leader and glue-type player every elite NCAA program needs. The Pioneers have seven NHL draft choices on their current roster, and McLellan isn't one of them. He attended the St. Louis Blues' development camp before the season, and, yes, his father is Todd McLellan, now the coach of the Los Angeles Kings. When Tyson arrived at DU and was on an NCAA champion in 2017, Todd was entrenched with the San Jose Sharks and Tyson still lists San Jose as his hometown, though he spent this summer in Kelowna, B.C.

 

Todd moved from the Sharks to the spend three-plus seasons with the Oilers, then to the Kings for this season.

 

Todd played only five NHL games, with the Islanders, and was coach of major junior's Swift Current Broncos when Tyson was born in early 1996. Tyson's first hockey memories actually stem from when Todd was an assistant for three seasons with the Detroit Red Wings before getting the San Jose job. Tyson's formative years in youth hockey came in San Jose, duing his father's seven-season stint with the Sharks.  

 

"As a little kid, I was able to run around the Red Wings' locker room, not really knowing what was going on," Tyson said. "I was playing mini-sticks with some guys who are going to be in the Hall of Fame."

 

Tyson played for the Madison Capitols in the USHL before coming to DU. In 106 career games, he has 15 goals and 23 assists.

 

"It's definitely been a whirlwind," McLellan said. "Coming here freshman year and winning a championship. You kind of think that's what it's going to be like every year. You don't make the Frozen Four your sophomore year with probably the best team we've had, that humbles you. Last year, there were no expectations at all, but we found a way to get there. It's a different ride every year. We're just trying to write our own story this year. I'm trying to be good on both sides of the puck and maybe provide more offense than maybe I have in the past. But I'm still relishing the faceoff role, the penalty killing role, just trying to be a complete player."

 

McLellan hasn't ruled out a pro career -- somewhere. 

 

"First, I want to play as long as I can," he said. "I want to have a good season personally and with the team this season and see where that takes me. I don't have any goals set for that, I just want to see where it takes me."

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In what has become their practice after home game wins, the Pioneers throw themselves against the glass in front of the student section after the Saturday night win over Niagara. 

 

 

 

October 30, 2019

Minus both Landeskogs,

Erik Johnson keeps racing 

with 4 in Breeders' Cup

 

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 Erik Johnson with another of his horses, Crosscheck Carlos, at Del Mar in 2016.

 

(UPDATED WITH FRIDAY AND SATURDAY RESULTS. SEE BELOW.)

 

Landeskog is out.

 

So is Landeskog.

 

Go up to Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson and say, "Too bad about Landeskog," and his answer might be, "Which one?"

 

He'll be asking: His teammate or his horse?

 

With the Breeders' Cup, horse racing's biggest days - yes, even bigger, at least to insiders, than the Kentucky Derby and the other Triple Crown races - coming up, the coincidence was bizarre. (A real longshot.) The Breeders' Cup schedule includes five juvenile (2-year-old) races Friday and the nine featured races on Championship Saturday.    

 

On Tuesday morning, the word came that Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog would be out "indefinitely" - at least for weeks, not days - because of a "lower body" injury. He had played against Anaheim Saturday night and I was among those who spoke with him post-game. He practiced Sunday, but suspicions that something was wrong with him were confirmed and, cutting though hockey's curtain of vague assessments, he will be out quite a while. (My guess: Hernia or stress or hairline fracture.)

 

The additional problem is that his linemate, Mikko Rantanen, already had been out of the lineup and considered "week to week" since suffering a lower body injury - it's going around - at St. Louis on October 21. 

 

That's fairly commonplace on its own, and the Avalanche will try to fight through the absence of two of its stars.

 

But also on Tuesday morning, noted thoroughbred trainer Doug O'Neill announced after a workout that Landeskog -- a 3-year-old gelding co-owned by Johnson's ERJ Racing - would be scratched from the $2 million Breeders' Cup Sprint Saturday at Santa Anita Park.

 

"He's just telling us he's not 100 percent, so it's a pretty easy move to make," O'Neill told scribes - and horse-racing writers are scribes - at Santa Anita.

 

By then, O'Neill knew that the hockey player the horse is named after was injured and would be, well, scratched for the foreseeable future.    

 

"I heard the namesake got hurt too," O'Neill said. "Maybe it's twin pain or something."

 

However, as ERJ Racing, Johnson had co-ownership stakes in four other horses that went to the post Friday and Saturday.

 

On Saturday:

-- Bowies Hero in the TVG Mile. Jockey: Flavien Pratt. Trainer: Philip D'Amato. Morning line: 12-1. RESULT: Bowies Hero, going off at 17-1, was fifth in the field of 13. The Equibase chart's comment said Bowies Hero "stalked outside a rival, then a bit off the rail, came three wide into the stretch, bid between foes in upper stratch and was outfinished."    

 

On Friday:

-- War Beast in the Juvenile Turf. Jockey: Abel Cedillo. Trainer: Doug O'Neill. Morning line: 20-1. RESULT: War Beast, going off at 86-1, was 11th in the field of 14. The Equibase chart's comment noted War Beast "stalked three deep then outside a rival leaving the backstretch and into the second turn, came three wide into the stretch and lacked a rally."    

-- Two horses in the Juvenile Fillies:

Lazy Daisy. Jockey: Rafael Bejarano Jr. Trainer: Doug O'Neill. Morning line: 12-1. 

Comical. Jockey: Abel Cedillo. Trainer: Doug O'Neill. Morning line: 8-1.

RESULT: Lazy Daisy was sixth and Comical seventh. Lazy Daisy went off at 21-1, Comical at 19-1. The chart's comment: Lazy Daisy steadied off heels into the first turn, settled toward the inside, angled out but failed to make headway. Comical was allowed to settle four wide and failed to respond." 

 

Johnson and I have talked several times about his horse-racing interests over the years.   

 

Raised in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, Johnson first sampled horse racing at Canterbury Park southwest of Minneapolis. "I went a handful of times," he said. "You just put the $2 win bets on the 20-1 shot and it's kind of fun."

 

From there, he mainly followed the Triple Crown races and attended opening day of the Del Mar meeting.

 

"I was kind of in awe at how big of a spectacle it was," he told me.

 

He got into the ownership aspect in 2014, mostly through bloodstock agent Dennis O'Neill, Doug's brother, and hasn't looked back. His highlight has been when the 2-year-old filly he co-owned, Shane's Girlfriend, won the $400,000 Grade 3 Delta Princess by 13 lengths in November 2016 at Delta Downs in Louisiana.


I understand the feeling of enjoying the racing, though my involvement never has been more than a tourist, casual fan, inept handicapper and - most of all - a writer who loves to tell the stories of the characters at the track, whether at the rail or on the back side. Some of my favorite stories have been about the horse world, including at second-tier tracks.

 

I thank legendary Nuggets trainer Bob "Chopper" Travaglini for that. 

 

When I moved to the NBA beat early in my journalism career, in a time when that meant traveling with the team on commercial flights, Chopper told me two things.

 

One: “Piss me off, kid, and your bag’s in Tawian.”

 

Two: He occasionally would let me know in advance of a trip where he thought it might be a good idea for me to reserve rental cars.

 

It usually had nothing to do with getting to the hotels, arenas and airports.

 

That was so I could take Chopper to and from horse tracks, from coast to coast.

 

I already had covered the ponies some at sprawling Centennial Race Track, in Littleton, in an area of major commercial development now. The track has been replaced in the Denver area by Arapahoe Park in Aurora.

 

It was enjoyable to go to other tracks and marvel that the same wise guys or Runyonesque characters seemed to be at every track.

 

They were the guys arguing with their buddies in the mutuel lines, bemoaning the “woulda,” “coulda” and “shouldas” and grousing that the licenses of the jockeys on the horses that let them down should be revoked before the next race.

 

They also seemed to be at the other major and minor tracks I visited in my later newspaper travels after leaving the Nuggets beat, and in occasional junkets to tracks on vacation — including Santa Anita Park, Belmont Park, Gulfstream, Pimlico, Bay Meadows, Arlington Park, Longacres, Portland Meadows … and more.

 

The Breeders' Cup series of races Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita Park will nudge a troubled sport into the national spotlight, at least to the point of sharing it with college football for one day.

 

It’s a short-lived flashback to when horse racing and boxing coverage often outstripped the attention paid to, say, the NFL in the nation’s major sports sections. When I’ve done book research and gone back through archival microfilm, it’s absolutely stunning to be reminded how big horse racing was. 

 

Now, the sport is troubled for a lot of reasons.

 

Alternative wagering, from State Lottery tickets to casinos, have hurt the leisurely paced horse racing as a gambling enterprise. For years, Arapahoe Park’s three-month live racing meet has been a tradeoff for management, which makes its money off year-round satellite wagering on other tracks at Arapahoe Park and its other state-licensed outlets.

 

With sports wagering about to be implemented across the land, live horse racing and wagering will be even more bruised and perhaps shoved farther in the background. The survival of second-tier tracks probably depends on being allowed to also be outlets for state-licensed sports wagering.

 

The decision to stick with Santa Anita as the site for the Breeders' Cup raised eyebrows and perhaps even ire in the wake of 36 horse deaths at the track in the 2019 calendar year. Outgoing Breeders' Cup CEO Craig Fravel, who it should be noted is about to go to work for Santa Anita's parent company, was quoted by horseracingnation.com, saying that the Breeders' Cup stayed put because "when people are trying to do the right thing, you need to stick with them." 

 

Regardless, Landeskog won’t be among those running Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita.

 

And Landeskog won’t be skating, either.  

  

October 25, 2019

Nuggets home opener:

Buying time, pleading case,

honoring Nikola Jokic  

 

 DTJokic1.jpg

From the scoreboard, pre-game: David "Skywalker" Thompson and Nikola Jokic,

the Nuggets' only first-team all-NBA choices. 

 

If you were watching the Altitude TV feed of the Nuggets-Suns game on Channel 20 Friday night, and you're old enough to remember the era when Nuggets games regularly were on over-the-air television, you might first have been reminded of Al Albert and Irv Brown saying operators were standing by to take calls to reserve the $2.20 Channel 2 ticket special for the next home game. (Between Al saying, "Issel with the missile," and Irv noting, "He's a little stiff in the hips.")  

 

 

Then as the night went along, although Altitude bought the time for the home opener on Channel 20, it came off more and more like a fund-raising telethon for a PBS station. (I know it wasn't; it came off that way.) Call in, make a pledge, and get a DVD of the Peter, Paul and Mary 25th Anniversary Concert or the "Chess" concert version in London, with Josh Groben, Adam Pascal and Idina Menzel.

 

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 The phone numbers for the "Big 3" carriers -- Comcast, DirecTV and DISH -- were on the bottom of the screen and KSE executive Matt Hutchings, a good guy, sat in with Chris Marlowe and Scott Hastings and -- as he has done on Altitude Radio's daytime sports talk shows -- presented the company line unchallenged. At least Altitude/KSE seems to have dropped the unfortunate DON'T BLOCK MY ..." campaign, since nobody with a brain was buying it.

 

 

I've said my piece on this, summarized in more detail here.

 

 

Some have mistaken my views for taking sides. To repeat, I'm not.

 

 

It is three mega-corporations in a business dispute with a company that's part of a sports empire controlled by a wing of the richest family in America. Nobody is a plucky underdog. This is Goliath vs. Goliath. There is no moral component here. It's about how much the Big 3 pay Altitude to acquire its programming. Businesses argue all the time about what one will pay the other. In this instance, the outlets have no obligation to carry the programming at all. They've made their offers in an evolving marketplace. They have weighed what they are willing -- or not willing -- to pay. That's business. Altitude, bankrolled by a couple worth $17 billion, hasn't taken the offers, insists the regional sports network has to be considered separately rather than as a promotional arm or even a loss-leader wing of an empire, and is carefully picking the times and places to make its case. Each side has pondered its options and made its decisions. That's business.   

 

 

During the game, KSE released  details of what Hutchings mentioned as a next step, allowing sports bars and other outlets to legally stream Altitude feeds of Avalanche and Nuggets games through the "upcoming" weekend.

 

 

The Avalanche beat Vegas 6-1 on the road Friday afternoon, and KSE said the short-term agreement was finalized just before the hockey game started. Next, the Avs face Anaheim Saturday at the Pepsi Center. Basically what this does is formalize what was becoming an open secret around town, that KSE might look the other way if sports bars "discovered" and showed the Altitude feeds. Without dotting every "i" and crossing every "t," looking the other way would undercut Altitude's claim to strictly control its own product, as it stridently did when organizations with Avalanche media credentials virtually instantly posted broadcast video clips on social media.        

 

So that was the side drama to the Nuggets' 108-107 overtime win over the Suns. The irony is that as the broadcast drama plays out, the Avalanche is off to an 8-1-1 start and the Nuggets are 2-0. It also has two of the dynamic figures in pro sports, with the Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon, who has had a point in all 10 Colorado games; and the Nuggets' Nikola Jokic, who had 23 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists as the Nuggets almost blew the home opener and had to go overtime to win it.

 

Jokic's emergence was emphasized before the game, when former Nuggets great David Thompson presented him with his first-team all-NBA award for last season. Thompson, whose career was derailed by injuries and drug problems, but whose game was breathtaking in his early seasons in the league, was Denver's only other first-team all-NBA choice, in 1977-78.

 

 

Thompson also appeared with other former marquee Nuggets at the home opener in 2017, and I wrote a commentary about D.T. then. (That's here, scroll down to October 27.) 

  

Now we'll find out how good Jokic can be in the long run, combining his uncanny abilities to see the floor, pass and score.

 

Nuggets coach Michael Malone is 48 and the son of a long-time NBA coach, Brendan Malone. So he had a sense of who and what David Thompson was before he came to the Nuggets.

 

"I think it's wonderful," Malone said of the pre-game ceremony. "I think it's great that we as a franchise have tried to stay in touch with the great tradition that we have, and David Thompson being one of the all-time greats. I go back and watch that (ABA All-Star Game) dunk contest in 1976 here in Denver, when David Thompson had a lot more hair, as well as Dr. J."

 

Malone brought up the 2017 ceremony.

 

"As great a player as he was, what a humble man," Malone said of Thompson. I think Nikola said it, 'David Thompson is Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan came on the scene.' I think it's great he came back. The only two first-team all-NBAs. What a special moment."

 

The pre-game ceremony took Jokic by surprise.

 

"To be honest, I didn't know ... I didn't even know that they were going to give me that," he said.      

 

         

 

October 25, 2019

With CFP stuck at 4,

you should have to

win league to be eligible 

 

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Read it here 

 

 

 

 

October 21, 2019

Another Buckeyes-Badgers 

showdown in final-fling

campus atmosphere  

 

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Read it here

 

 

 

 

October 19, 2019

With Avs, Pioneers,

hockey's on a roll

in Denver  

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Pioneers celebrate Saturday night's 6-4 win over Boston College.

 

The Avalanche is 7-0-1 after beating the Lightning 6-2 at Tampa Bay Saturday night. 

 

The University of Denver Pioneers are ranked No. 1 in the country and are 6-0 after finishing off a two-game weekend sweep of sixth-ranked Boston College with a 6-4 win Saturday night in Magness Arena.

 

There isn't a hotter hockey market in the country. Not Detroit's Hockeytown. In the broader sense, not Minnesota's State of Hockey. Not anywhere.

 

I was at Magness Arena Saturday night, watching the Pioneers hold off the Hockey East's Eagles, who got goals from a pair of freshmen who also were 2019 Avalanche high draft choices -- winger Alex Newhook (16th overall) and defenseman Drew Helleson (47th). This game was much more wild than DU's 3-0 win Friday night. That one still was 1-0 late.

 

I almost never get into this, but the most perplexing thing about it is the scarceness of coverage from Denver traditional media for the nation's current No. 1 team and Frozen Four semifinalist last season.

 

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 Ian Mitchell against BC Saturday night.

 

The Pioneers are younger and faster than they were last season, with sage leadership from senior center Tyson McLellan, who had two goals against BC Saturday; and junior defenseman Ian Mitchell, DU's captain, who got his third goal of the season.

 

The young Eagles came with 10 NHL draft choices on the roster, while seven Pioneers have been drafted.

 

"They're a top 10 team and we knew that they were going to be very skilled," Mitchell said of BC. "They had a push there in the third period" -- closing to within 5-4 -- "but we withheld it. There's a great feeling in our dressing room that we can be one of the best teams in the nation. That's one of the most skilled teams we're going to face all season and we were able to handle them and limit them to four goals for the weekend was pretty solid."              

 

The program played host to the 2019-20 roster's families, but McLellan's dad, Todd, wasn't able to make it. He's the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings and had other matters to attend to over the weekend. But Mitchell's family was in from Calahoo, Alberta, just outside of Edmonton, and they were going out for sushi after the game.

 

Mitchell, a second-round choice of the Blackhawks in 2017, quickly and decsively announced his intention to return to DU for his junior season after the semifinal loss to Cale Makar and UMass, rather than explore signing with Chicago. If he'd done that, he'd likely be with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

 

"I kind of always knew in my heart that I needed to come back another year," Mitchell told me. "I wanted to come back. And this kind of start definitely validates it. I'm thrilled to be back. Being the captain is a hige responsibility and a huge honor. I'm a guy that the other guys on the team look up to and I don't take that lightly. Every day, it's the little things I do on the ice, and to prepare for practice. I hope what I'm doing is rubbing off on the rest of the team."

 

I asked DU coach David Carle about Mitchell's evolving leadership role.

 

"What makes him special is he's able to look in the mirror better than anyone else and hold himself accountable," Carle said. "That allows him to hold his teammates accountable and adds to the selfless culture and the level of accountability we have in that culture."

 

The Blackhawks who would control his rights until Aug. 15 following his senior season if he stays at DU for a full four-year career. Then he would become an unrestricted free agent.

 

"They probably call once a week to see how I'm doing, and check in on me," he said of the Blackhawks. "I'm very thankful that they've been supportive about me coming back here another year. . . I'm just trying to focus on this year. Obviously, I want to sign with the Blackhawks. They've been great to me and I think there's a great opportunity for me there. It's not somehting I'm thinking about too much, but I definitely want to play for the Blackhawks."

 

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 DU coach David Carle  

 

Carle, in his second season as Jim Montgomery's successor, still is only 29. He hit the ground -- or ice -- running last season after moving up from assistant coach, and he seems to be even more emphatically putting his stamp on the program in his second year behind the bench.

 

After the Saturday night win, he agreed that the series against the Eagles was an early season  measuring stick for the Pioneers, who previously had swept non-conference road series at Alaska Fairbanks and Lake Superior State.   

 

"We feel like if they're not the best team in the East, they're one of the top three teams," Carle said of the Eagles. "That team resembles a BC team of four or five years ago ... They have some really good players over there. We had a mental challenge, too,coming off the road after coming back 4-0 and not thinking it was going to be easy just because we were at home, and I thought our guys rose to the occasion really well this weekend."   

 

DU has a weekend off before a November 1-2 home series against Niagara. Then they open the National Collegiate Hockey Conference schedule against the two-time defending national champion, Minnesota Duluth, on the road on November 8-9.

 

 

October 16, 2019

The boys from Halifax

meet again -- and maybe

have another donut  

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Nathan MacKinnon as a rookie in 2013-14,

when he won the Calder Trophy as the

NHL's rookie of the year.. 

 

Tonight in Pittsburgh, the Penguins' Sidney Crosby and the Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon will meet again on the ice at PPG Paints Arena. It will be on NBC Sports in a thing called a “Avalanche televised game.” 

 

The longtime friends both were raised in the Halifax, Nova Scotia, Regional Municipality -- MacKinnon in Dartmouth's Bel Ayr Park neighborhood, Crosby in nearby Cole Harbour -- and both played in the Cole Harbour Bel Ayr Minor Hockey Association programs. MacKinnon, now 24, is eight years younger than Crosby, and as the Avalanche's star center has progressed, the two annual Pittsburgh-Colorado games have evolved from curiosities early in MacKinnon’s career to rightfully hyped meetings of two of the league’s top players.

 

In 2017-18, MacKinnon was second in the Hart Trophy voting to New Jersey's Taylor Hall (he should have won), and Crosby was 17th. Then last season, 2018-19, Crosby was second to Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov and MacKinnon was sixth.     

 

For several years, Crosby and MacKinnon have trained together in the offseason. They also did commercials together for Tim Hortons. The Hortons chain, named after and co-founded by NHL defenseman Tim Horton, is a Canadian institution, but now roughly 20 percent of its outlets are in the United States. The Crosby-MacKinnon campaigns were hilarious.

 

In 2015, for example, a woman was shown at the drive-through screen at a Tim Hortons in Dartmouth.

 

She heard the young man taking her order ask her a strange question.

 

"Who would you rather be stranded on a desert island with? Sidney Crosby or Nathan MacKinnon?"

 

Reflectively, the woman answered: "I love 'em both, both hometown boys. But Nate's a little young for me, so I guess I'll go with Sidney."

 

The Hortons worker retorted: "All right. I mean, young at heart, but I'm very mature for my age."

 

Starting to put two and two together, the woman looked like she was suspicious.

 

After she drove forward, reached the window and spotted MacKinnon and Crosby, she exclaimed, "Holy ..." then added to MacKinnon, "You're still too young for me."

 

I talked with MacKinnon about the campaign after a practice as the Penguins were about to play in Denver in December 2015.

 

"He came in the league when I was about 10," MacKinnon said of Crosby. "Being from the same hometown, it was exciting to have someone like that to look up to. Now it's more of a friendship. It's funny looking back that I idolized him. I consider him a buddy, one of my closest friends. We train together the majority of the summers and do golf trips and stuff like that. It's different now, for sure."

 

They've been linked even more the past few years by the Tim Hortons shoots.

 

The raw footage in 2016 showed Crosby announcing: "Welcome to Hortons. May I take your order, please?"

 

And the two local boys went from there.

 

They shouldn't quit their night jobs.

 

"We were both terrible," MacKinnon said. "They show the average time it should take for cars to come through. The normal was like 22 seconds, and we were over a minute. We were pretty bad. But we were giving out free stuff, so people enjoyed that."

 

MacKinnon said he was at first a bit anxious.

 

"Everybody knew who Sid was, obviously, but I think the majority of people recognized me," he said. "Which was nice, because I was a little nervous."

 

At several points, Crosby asked customers -- who still were at the ordering screen and couldn't see the window workers -- trivia questions.

 

One was: "Can you name a hockey player from the East Coast?"

 

"Uh, Sidney Crosby?" a woman answered

 

"Good answer, drive right through."

 

When several answered Crosby, MacKinnon was exasperated.

 

Then Crosby tried to prompt a woman who had named him. "From Cole Harbour, who else comes to mind?" he asked.

 

"Oh!" the woman exclaimed. "There's this guy, my God, he just got drafted a year ago! Oh, last name begins with an 'M.' Um ... McGinnis!"

 

MacKinnon, as are many Canadians and U.S. residents in select markets, was raised on Tim Hortons.

 

"What do I like?" he asked. "Oh, a Boston Creme. It's like a doughnut with white goo inside. My dad always took me there when I was a kid after my early-morning practices to get a Boston Creme."

 

The next offseason, one commercial in the campaign showed driver Crosby and passenger MacKinnon pull up to the restaurant's drive-through screen in a red Hortons truck.

 

“Welcome to Tim Hortons," says an unseen female. "What can I get for you?"

 

"Hi, I've got a big order coming for you here," Crosby says. "A hundred and 35 coffees ..."

 

MacKinnon is cracking up, and the female asks incredulously: "A hundred and 35 coffees?"

 

When she punches in that part of the order, it triggers an automated voice response: "The quantity entered exceeds maximum."

 

After apparently placing the rest of a massive drink order, Crosby and MacKinnon pull up to the window. Workers, by now knowing what's going on, have gathered there to see the two hockey stars, and when Crosby jovially asks if the order is ready, he says they will instead pull the truck around to the parking lot and come in for the coffee, orange juice, water and milk. In the lot, MacKinnon gets out and tries to guide Crosby -- unsuccessfully at first -- to back the truck into a spot between the lines.

 

"It took about five hours," MacKinnon told me of the commercial shoot. "It was awesome."

 

"The past couple of years, he's become one of my best friends," MacKinnon said. "We see each other every day in the summers training, or hanging out, or going on golf trips or whatever. We've become closer as I've gotten older."

 

The 2016 commercials, for example, were packaged as three "stops":

 

"Tims Run, Stop 1: Loading Up," involved picking up the huge order in the truck.

 

"Tims Run, Stop 2: Game On," showed Crosby and MacKinnon visiting a kids' street hockey game.

 

"Tims Run, Stop 3: Fire Drill," featured the hockey stars' visit to a firehouse.

 

MacKinnon also appeared on, and was a huge fan of, the 2001-18 Canadian television series "Trailer Park Boys."

 

Did he have his actors' union card?

 

He laughed and said he actually got a letter from the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

 

"If I paid, I could be a certified actor," he said.

 

(Postscript: If you "got" that headline, you're a true hockey fan.) 

 

 

October 19, 2019

Here's something

NBA could steal

from the NHL 

 

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Read it here

 

 

 

 

 

October 14, 2019

My final word on

on Altitude vs. Big 3 ...

at least for now  

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I've tweeted and written my views of the Altitude vs. Big 3 carriers for more than a month. I get frustrated when it seems that so many still seem to misunderstand the realities on both sides of the equation. But I've decided that after this, my stance, at least until something happens, will be ...

 

Wake me when it's over.

 

I've deleted my earlier commentaries on the issue, and my October 10 column on woodypaige.com will stand as my view on the matter.

 

For now.

 

 

  

 

 

October 14, 2019

 Next man up in

CSU WR tradition:

Warren Jackson 

 

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Colorado State wide receiver Warren Jackson Monday was named the Mountain West Conference's offensive player of the week. He had nine receptions for 214 yards and two touchdowns in the Rams' win at New Mexico Friday night. He has missed two games with injuries, and he has 40 catches for 541 yards and five touchdowns. The loss of starting quarterback Collin Hill for the season in the third game, after he suffered a torn ACL against Arkansas, hasn't helped, but Jackson and Hill's successor, Patrick O'Brien, were in tune against the Lobos.  

 

During pre-season practices in August, I did this profile of the Rams' latest marque receiver:

 

FORT COLLINS -- Rashard Higgins is with the Cleveland Browns, Michael Gallup is with the Dallas Cowboys, Preston Williams is with the Miami Dolphins and Bisi Johnson, a seventh-round draft choice this year, so far is hanging on with the Minnesota Vikings. (NOTE: Johnson, from Bear Creek High, made the Vikings' roster and has nine catches for 94 yards.) 

 

That's the roll call of wide receivers at Colorado State from 2013 on who have moved on to the NFL.

 

Warren Jackson likely will join them in the pro game in a year or two, but for now, the 6-foot-6 junior from the Los Angeles area area is poised to step into Rams' top-receiver role after the departure of Williams and Johnson.

 

He had 32 receptions for 405 yards and four touchdowns for the Rams as a sophomore in 2018.

 

And he knows that if the Rams have any chance of rebouding from a 3-9 season a year ago, he will need to step up, additionally hone his chemistry with redshirt junior quarterback Collin Hill and be the sort of threat to make favorable comparisons to CSU's recent big-play receivers appropriate.            

 

"I feel like I can be a real spark for this offense and help us win games," Jackson told me. "Collin and I always had good chemistry. From my freshman and his redshirt freshman year, we were always on the field together. It's something we've built in our time here and I think it's starting to pay off now. It's just catching the ball where he wants me to be, where he's going to put the ball, knowing where I like it and how he likes certain routes run. It's a lot of little things like that."    

 

Jackson's decision to come to CSU was a bit of an upset.

 

In Jackson's recruiting profile updated after he signed a national of intent with the Rams in early 2017, ESPN.com listed him with scholarship offers from CSU, Arizona, Colorado, Fresno State, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon State, San Jose State, Washington State and Wyoming.

 

Yes, Colorado was in there.

 

Jackson attended Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach and played football there his sophomore and junior years before transferrring to Bishop Alemany High in Mission Hills, about 35 miles north, midway through his junior year.

 

At the end of his stay at Redondo Union, his father, Ron, had been taking him to Redondo Beach, though Ron lived and worked in the San Fernando Valley.

 

"I lived in the Valley and was driving to the South Bay every day," Jackson said. "It was tough on my dad, going that hour and a half every morning. We just decided I'd go somewhere that was five minutes away, great school, Catholic school with a pretty good football team."

 

He said that on the day he transferred to Bishop Alemany, he had just taken an entrance test when the schooll's football coach found him and announced that CU assistant coach Darian Hagan wanted to talk with him.

 

"They offered me on the day I transferred," Jackson said of the Buffaloes.

 

Jackson called Hagan "a real good dude. He came out and said, 'We've been watching you, you have a scholarship,' and I was really shocked. I had never heard from them until that day. I was, 'Wow!'"        

 

After finishing his junior year at Bishop Alemany, Jackson announced via his Twitter his "commitment" to Arizona. But as is so often the case, he changed his mind by the national letter of intent signing date about eight months later and instead signed with CSU. (The use of the term "commitment" at that point of the recruiting process -- even when qualified as "verbal" -- continues to be a joke, but remains the norm.) 

 

Jackson said the CSU staff was recruiting him early and that the Rams offered him a scholarship during his sophomore year at Redondo Union.

 

"I didn't know too much about them," Jackson said. "I'd seen Rashard. watched his tape and said, 'Man, he's really good,' so I kept tabs. They kept recruiting me that following year, but then I had the commitment to Arizona. I was set to go to Arizona, but then I took a visit there. I liked Arizona a lot. It was a great environment, great team, great teammates. But then I took a visit here and it was something I never had experienced before. I loved the atmosphere, I loved the team, I loved my soon-to-be teammates. The staff was amazing and builing that new stadium helped too."

 

Two weeks after his official visit to Arizona, he announced his "decommitment" on Twitter.

 

Following his visit to Fort Collins, he signed with the Rams in February 2017.

 

Why not CU -- the Rams' in-state rival and opponent in the Aug. 30 Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High? (Hagan, by the way, is a holdover from the Mike MacIntyre staff and is running backs coach under Mel Tucker.)  

 

"I don't know," Jackson said. "Me and the coaches didn't have that relationship. We talked once in a while, but it wasn't as much as we talked here and with Arizona."

 

 At6 CSU, Jackson didn't redshirt and played as a true freshman in 2017, and he had 15 catches for 265 yards and two touchdowns.

 

"I'm glad I got my feet wet," he said. "I'm glad I got an opportunity to learn this offense by playing it. You learn better when you're actually doing something. I'm glad I didn't redshirt, I'm glad I had the opportunity to play with these guys. Mentally, I've gotten a lot tougher. Physically, I got a lot stronger. I've gained probably 25 pounds since I've been here. I got faster as well. It's just the mental things, the Xs and Os of football. I've learned a lot more of the playbook, and watching film and watching my opponent.

 

"I learned every (receiver) position by being here and watching those guys, watching how they ran certain routes. I watched the route the ran, and now it's the routes I have to run because I'm in that position now."

 

 

 

October 13, 2019

All things considered,

NBA officiating is pretty

good. Seriously. 

 

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Read it here

 

 

 

October 12, 2019

Long time coming:

Francouz gets win

in first NHL start 

  AvsPavel.jpg

Pavel Francouz makes a third-period save   

 

 

Pavel Francouz is 29 and he played profesionally eight seasons in Europe, including in his Czech Republic homeland and in the Kontinental Hockey League with Chelyabinsk, Russia.

 

Finally, he signed with the Avalanche organization a year ago and came to North America, spending most of his indoctrination season with the AHL Colorado Eagles and making two relief appearances with the NHL club during brief callups.  

 

Francouz got his first NHL start with the Avalanche Saturday night and made 34 saves as Colorado beat Arizona 3-2 in overtime.

 

It was significant for a lot of reasons, including that the Avalanche swept the season-opening four-game homestand in advance of the upcoming and testing stretch of six consecutive road games. (It's not one trip; the Avs will be home between the fifth game, at St. Louis, and the sixth, at Las Vegas.)    

 

And after, his teammates -- mainly Gabe Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon -- insisted on skipping interviews at their stalls, suggesting the media members head over to Francouz. "Go talk to Frankie," MacKinnon told me. "It's his first NHL win ... go talk to him."

 

OK. I went to Francouz’s stall, waited for him to remove his gear and asked him about the satisfaction of his first win. (At this point, the rest of the media were in a pack with Austrian Andre Burakovsky, who scored the game-ending goal in OT.)   

 

"It's been a long journey for me," Francouz told me. "I was dreaming about playing here and it's just a fun time for me. I know it's only one regular-season game. But for me, it was big. The guys helped me a lot. They played really good in front of me. It was a defensive game, it was even on zeroes after two periods. We were fortunate to score the first two goals and then unfortunately, we got scored on twice, but we won in overtime and we're really happy.

 

"Actually, honestly, I was expecting to be more nervous. I really don't know why, but I just tried to enjoy the game because it's only going to happen once in your life. It's your first NHL game and I just wanted to enjoy this one as much as possible."

 

Francouz had to make only one save in the three minutes of overtime.

 

"It was in their end, mostly, and I was just hoping the guys would score," he said.

 

They did.  

 

And it made a winner of Francouz, who last season mostly was 50 miles up the road. He accepted that as a transition season, but there were some nervous moments before the Avs signed him to a one-year NHL deal in May, signaling they were ready to move on from Semyon Varlamov, even as Philipp Grubauer's backup. It wouldn't have been shocking if he had decided to return to his solid career in Europe, minus a gesture of commitment from the Avalanche. 

 

I asked him if he was looking ahead to this night when he was with the Eagles.

 

"I didn't really think that far," he said. "I would say I was just trying to play the best as possible in the minors."

 

Others joined us at that point.

 

He told me his two relief appearances last season helped.

 

"One of those was against Arizona, too," he said. "I think it helped a little bit because I kind of knew how it feels to play in the NHL."

 

I asked him if he had noticed how happy his teammates seemed to be for him.

 

"Of course, there's a great group of guys," he said. "You could see that they were trying to help me as much as possible. They were blocking shots and playing really solid defense. I can only say thank you to them."

 

A few minutes later, I asked Avalanche coach Jared Bednar about how the "room" seemed genuinely thrilled for Francouz.

 

"The backup, that's one of the toughest jobs in hockey," Bednar said. "You're sitting around and working, and working, in practice, before and after practice with guys who are putting in extra work, the injured guys. You're committed to the team gave, right? That's the most selfless guy in the room. He has to watch it all and cheer everyone on.

 

"So when he gets a chance to go in, the guys want to see him succeed and they play hard for him and check hard for him. I thought we did (that), tonight. For him, he's still an unknown to our group a little bit. So for our team to gain confidence in him and know that he wins hockey games is great and that's the type of atmosphere we want."

 

Francouz played roughly half the time in his three KHL seasons -- which has 62-game schedules -- with Traktor Chelyabinsk and also was in net for the Czech Republic in several World Championships and the 2018 Olympics at PyeonChang. Here, if Grubauer is able to hold up to the No. 1 scrutiny all season, and both stay healthy, Francouz seems likely to get 20 to 25 starts.

 

"It's a little bit hard because you don't have as much game feeling," he told me. "I'm trying to see it from the positive side. I would say I was rested and ready to play."

 

The best bet for his next start is at Tampa Bay next Saturday. That's the second half of a back-to-back for the Avalanche, following the game the night before at Florida against the Joel Quenneville-coached Panthers.

 

     

October 9, 2019

KSE honcho Hutchings

takes to the (Altitude)

airwaves, re: TV dispute

 

I just got done listening to Matt Hutchings, executive vice president and COO of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, plus President and CEO of KSE Media Ventures, on Altitude Radio's morning show with Vic Lombardi, Marc Moser and Brett Kane. Matt's a good guy and I consider Vic and Marc good friends. (I haven't met Brett.)

 

Here, I'll mainly have Hutchings  lay out the Altitude position about the contract discussions involving the KSE "house" network that carries Nuggets, Avalanche, Mammoth and Rapids games.

 

"There's information out there that we came out and asked for a huge increase because our teams are both really good, all three teams at the Pepsi Center were good last year, so we came out and asked for really high rates," Hutchings said on the air. "That is blatantly false. That's not true. For anybody to say that is disingenuous and it's just not true.  

 

"Our agreements expired at the end of August. We had 15 years of relationships and deals with Comcast, DirecTV and ATT/DISH. Five years ago, they all stepped, we had great renewals, they were happy. So we took the rate that we finished with and we asked for a nominal increase, percentage increase to move forward with the next round of our extensions. They came back and said no, that was not in their wheelhouse, so we came back and we offered 5 percent. And we said, 'Look, we're happy to even stay the first year flat.' We could go with any term. They have not accepted that.

 

"So we did not come out and ask for a huge increase. We's even come back on multiple occasions to ask for various ways to get a deal done, and they're not engaging with us. Essentially what they've come back with ... is two of the carriers came back with economic terms in the deal they presented were less than 50 percent of what we had previously. One was a 70 percent reduction. So to put that in kind of easy terms to understand, essentially if we paid somebody $10 an hour for something, what they came back with, two of them said we are only going to pay you $5 now and one of them came back and said we're only going to pay you $3."

 

Lombardi jumped in and said accepting those rates "would not allow us to broadcast the games."

 

Hutchings responded, "It's economically not viable. They know that. They knew we can't accept those deals. So when they say, (Altitude) took the games away from you, no, they took the games away from us and the fans. They know that it's not economically viable and more important ... two of the big carriers have their own regional sports networks. They are not asking themselves, they are not putting this in deals they're putting in front of their own networks and they'ree not putting them to each others' networks. We are the only network in the country that's being asked to do this right now. We're an independent t and there are only four or five independents in the country. We are the only network in the country that is being asked to do this. They know that this is not economically viable.

 

"In order for sports teams to be successful in today's world, and really for the last 15, 20 years, you have to have broad-based distribution. What they've put forward is just not economically viable. And they know that."                            

 

One problem, though, is that the KSE "DON'T BLOCK MY ..." campaign is backfiring with intelligent consumers who get that nobody is blocking anybody, that it's a business dispute in an evolving marketplace, that contracts have expired and nobody can carry the games without contractual agreements. And sports fans sometimes have a hard time accepting that not everyone is a sports fan, and many consumers are rebelling against high cable or satellite bills, and the companies would be derelict as business models -- the sort of business models Hutchings cites -- to not react. Plus, there is no moral obligation on the part of the Big 3 to "buy" the Altitude product at all.       

 

 "Those three carriers have taken these games from the fans," Hutchings said. "The disinformation out there is that we've been unreasonable, we're trying to get more money, we're holding back is just patently false. It's not true. We have come to the table multiple times trying to get a deal done and offering every kind of option to these carriers to get something done. All three of them have come back and refusd to engage in good-fath negotiations and put something there that's economically viable for us and good for them. What they put forward is absolutely not ... we can't accept it. And they know that.

 

"And again, you have to go back to the fact, why are they picking on Denver. Why are they picking on our teams? Why are they picking on Colorado and the  region when they're not doing this to anyone else? And by the way, AT&T and DirecTV just extended their deal with our friends down the street at Coors Field and we're happy for them, that's terrific. The bottom line is they all know what we've offered is fair and equitable for both. We're happy to negotiate in good faith, but they've got to come to the table ... They're all saying the same thing at the same time, which is concerning."

 

 

 

October 7, 2019

Donnie Edwards' passion

is taking veterans back

to their battlefields 

 

WoodyEdwardsShaw.jpg

Read it here

 

 

 

 

October 5, 2019

After loss to Arizona,

let's face it: Buffs are

officially mediocre 

 CUArizonaTate.jpg

    Khalil Tate after he threw for 404 yards against CU. 

 

BOULDER -- The Buffaloes were banged up, most significantly minus their two injured marquee receivers from DeSoto, Texas. Laviska Shenault Jr. again didn't play and K.D. Nixon wasn't on the field in the second half.  

 

Tight end Brady Russell also left the game.  

 

They also were short of manpower at defensive back by the end of the game, eliminating packages and flexibility.

 

At low ebb, the Buffs were minus nine starters overall, five defensive and four offensive. 

 

So there were reasons, not excuses for their 35-30 loss to Arizona Saturday at Folsom Field. 

 

And it came down to not making a stop as the Wildcats went 77 yards in 13 plays to get the go-ahead touchown with 6:51 left and then stalling out on the subsequent possession with 2:23 remaining.

 

Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate might wish that he can play all his road games in Boulder. Two years ago, as an 18-year-old coming into the week as the Wildcats' backup, he piled up 469 yards of total offense (142 passing, 327 rushing) in a 45-42 Arizona win in Boulder, stealing the headlines from a CU senior running back -- Phillip Lindsay (whatever happened to him?) -- who ran for 281 yards as be became the program's all-time leader in career all-purpose yards. 

 

This time, Tate was 31-41 passing for 404 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing only four times for 23 yards.

 

So the Buffs are 3-2 and this is coming into focus: That's what they are in their first season under Mel Tucker. Decent. Gutty. Yet ultimately mediocre.

 

There will be no mouth-dropping turnaround with Tucker taking over after the collapse that led to Mike MacIntyre's ouster last year.

 

With Oregon coming up in Eugene Friday and a tough conference schedule remaining, this now has the look of a team that again will go into the stretch hoping -- at best -- to attain bowl eligibility.

 

The comeback overtime win over Nebraska now seems less impressive, given the Cornhuskers' hiccups since.

 

The overtime loss to Air Force at home remains disappointing.

 

The split with the Arizona schools wasn't a surprise and the loss at home to the Wildcats canceled out the thrilling win over Arizona State at Tempe.

 

"We've got a really disappointed locker room, obviously," Tucker said. "We've got to give Arizona a lot of credit. They made more plays than we made, they executed more often than we did. We felt like in the first half like we left some plays on the field on both sides of the ball."

 

"On offense, we had penalties. On defense, we were stopping the run, but we weren't getting off the field on third down early in the game and we gave up some big plays. We were able to start to get off the field on third downs where we stopped the run game, but still, we gave up some big plays in the second half. Offensively, we were able to move the ball ... We had some guys open, we missed some plays and when you play a good football team, you really can't afford to leave plays on the field."

 

Tucker noted, "Injuries are part of the game. Next man up is not a cliche. It's what's required. We had enough guys to finish the game. We were able to put 11 out there on each snap, so there's really no excuse or no explanation." 

 

During the game, CU revealed that cornerback Chris Miller underwent ACL surgery Friday and is done for the season; defensive end Mustafa Johnson has a high ankle sprain and in addition to missing the Arizona game, will be out another one to four weeks; and that Shenault has a core muscle strain and will remain day-to-day. Nixon threw for a 38-yard TD to Dimitri Stanley on an end-around pass in the second quarter before departing.        

 

Against the Wildcats, Steven Montez continued to be maddeningly mercurial, impressive one moment, befuddled the next. He was 28-42 for 299 yards and one TD,with 10 of his completions going to Texas Tech transfer Tony Brown, for 141 yards.

 

"It's definitely disappointing because we don't practice our butts off all week to go out there and lose," Montez said. "I think it definitely can be taken as a learning experience. I think there's a lot of things that we can clean up, especially on offense specifically. I think we did a lot of good things, too, so it's not all bad."

 

It's a lot of mediocre.

 

A year ago, this team was 5-0 ... a deceptive 5-0.  

 

This year, they're 3-2 ... and it seems about right. 

 

CUArizonaTate2017.jpg 

Look familiar? Khalil Tate, then only 18, after he amassed 

469 yards against CU in Boulder in 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

October 3, 2019

It's a Mikko Ran-ta-nen

kind of Opening Night

for Avalanche 

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Since he signed a six-year, front-loaded $55.5 million contract last weekend, and then arrived to practice with the Avalanche, Mikko Rantanen has taken some teasing.

 

"Probably have to buy a few dinners when we go on the road, " he told me Thursday night. "But that's for the start of the year, and then the other guys can pay again."    

 

This was after Rantanen scored twice in the Avalanche's 5-3 opening night win over Calgary at the Pepsi Center. Despite not having training camp and he exhibition season together, the top line -- Nathan MacKinnon centering Gabe Landeskog and Rantanen -- clicked as the Avalanche knocked off the Flames in a rematch of Colorado's first-round playoff upset last spring.

 

"When you play so many games together, it's easy to come together again," Rantanen said. "It takes maybe a couple of games, but we got three practices together, so that helps."

 

The potentially awkward issue is that at 22, Rantanen -- who will be paid $12 million in each of the next two seasons, now is far and away the highest-paid Av. And he likely will remain so through at least through the next four seasons as MacKinnon finishes out his seven-year, $44.1-million deal. In the final years of his contract, Landeskog will make $6 million this season and $6.5 million in 2020-21.

 

The given, though, is that renegotiation is verboten under the terms of the NHL's hard-cap collective bargaining agreement, so the Avalanche couldn't give MacKinnon a raise -- even if it wanted to. In a business in which competitive athletes also use dollars as the scorekeeeping mechanism, the inflexibility of the NHL's system can forestall problems. Yet human nature can come into play, and MacKinnon's determination to make winning the primary consideration will be tested.

 

For now, the line is back together for the four-game homestand to open the season and Rantanen has demonstrated his European workouts were grueling.

 

"There's doubt before he gets here," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. "Then as soon as I watched him practice for a couple of games, I could see he was going to pick up where he left off. He came in and practiced and it looked easy for him. I know he's got a lot of confidence, he's happy, has a new contract and we're glad to have him back. He must have put in some good work there in Switzerland for a couple of weeks."  

 

After the morning skate, Rantanen told me, "I feel good. I missed training camp and all the preseason games, but I skated and practiced hard in Finland and Switzerland. I feel good now. . . Sometimes it was hard to watch the guys here when I was back in Finland. I'm glad it's over now and I can just focus on helping this team win. We can put that in the past. I know what's going to happen in the future, so it's a good feeling."

 

Rantanen's fellow Finn, Joones Donskoi, the offseason signee from San Jose, also scored twice in the opener, getting the first goal and then the clinching empty-netter. For a team that made most of its offseason moves with secondary scoring in mind, that also was encouraging.

 

The Avs have been one of the most fashionable choices for postseason success -- including by me, per below -- and while the Altitude vs. Big 3 fiasco limited eyeball exposures here, the opener drew a lot of attention around the league landscape, including north of the border.

 

"Every line can score and every line can defend," Rantanen said. "That's what winning teams have. . . I think we got stronger this year. Our lineup is stronger than last year. It's nice to be one of the favorites. You don't want to be an underdog. We're going to show that we can be the favorite and go deep this year."  

 

 

 

October 2, 2019

Plan the parade,

Mayor Hancock:

Avs will win Stanley Cup

SakicOpening.jpg


 This is not a "per sources" news flash, nor was it leaked to me by, oh, I don't know, NHL Central Registry. 

 

One of the beauties of the NHL is that any of the 16 teams making the playoffs could win the Stanley Cup.

 

It's not just rhetoric.

 

It's not marketing department propaganda.

 

It happens, thanks to hot goaltending and other variables in the most physically and mentally testing postseason in professional sports. The Blues were the worst team in the NHL for a significant part of the 2018-19 season before starting the run that culminated in an unlikely.championship  

 

The Avalanche has gotten that good. It usually takes good fortune and a few good bounces, not flukish good luck, to make it through and end up taking turns holding aloft Lord Stanley's lovely parting gift to the Dominion of Canada. But now, the planets don't even need to be completely aligned for the Avalanche to claim the franchise's third NHL championship -- and its first in 19 years.

 

It may well turn out  might turn out that the Avs are a year (or more) away, or that we're all overrating them, but on the eve of the regular-season opener at home against Calgary, I'll get this on the record. I'm a contrarian, and in 24 years of covering the franchise, I've been accused of bending over backwards to avoid being labeled a homer, but I honestly believe this. Coming out of the challenging Central Division, the Avs can -- and will -- pull it off.   

 

If you're reading this, I probably don't have to rattle off the reasons, or the potential pitfalls.

 

This mainly assumes Philipp Grubauer's work in goal during the regular season stretch run and postseason was a harbinger, not an aberration. 

 

I might be the only person on the planet still wondering if Colorado's defense, with the unquestionably electric and talented Cale Makar and Samuel Girard still possibly paired, could be too small for the 82-game grind -- even after the departure of Tyson Barrie. Joe Sakic's offseason acquisitions -- some of which he discussed at his Wednesday news conference (pictured) -- seem to have addressed the issue of secondary scoring, and Nazem Kadri's sharp-edged emotion could be beneficial for this team ... if he finally knows when not to step over the line to counterproductive and selfish.

 

Nathan MacKinnon's progress from underachieving and disappointing, to being the sort of generational talent he wasn't even billed to be when he went first overall in the 2013 draft, has been enjoyable to watch. There no reason to expect his improvement to slow, and part of that is his attitude: He has remained hungry, he is in superb condition as a leader of offseason work in Vail, in addition to with Sidney Crosby in their native Halifax, and he won't be affected by the weirdness of his contract situation.

 

He was wide-eyed and awed when he signed a seven-year, $44.1 million extension that runs through 2022-23. He initially was overpaid. For the past couple of seasons, his deal was about "right." And now, in part because Mikko Rantanen's cap hit will be $9.25 million for the next six seasons, MacKinnon will be "underpaid." But that's the NHL's hard cap -- I still hear folks saying the Avalanche should do right by McKinnon and give him a new deal -- and renegotiation is impossible. 

 

The most underplayed aspect of the Avalanche's return is that Colorado is only a little over two years removed from the worst bang-for-the buck season in NHL history, when it had 48 points in a hideous 2016-17 as it scraped the salary cap ceiling. (That's really hard to do.) In that context, the turnaround -- which led to No. 8 seeds the past two seasons and a first-round upset of the Flames last season -- has been stunning.

 

Now comes the bigger challenge. This hasn't gone unnoticed. The Avalanche won't sneak up on anyone. Colorado is a fashionable choice to make additional waves this season. I hate going along with the crowd, caving in to fashion.

 

But count me in.

 

"We expect to make the playoffs and make a run at the Stanley Cup," Sakic said Wednesday. "Pretty much every GM at the start of the year is going to say the same thing. Tht's our expectation, get off to a good start, play consistent. We like our group internally. We want to win and that's our goal. . . I believe in this group. I believe that we have a chance. It's not going to be easy. It never is. But we're confident in this group and we know the type of character we have in there. They have one goal. That's to win. And we believe in them." 

 

 

 

September 29, 2019

Vic Fangio, Mike Bobo:

A combined 1-8 and

appearing shell-shocked 

  

BroncosJaxFangio.jpgCSUToledoBobo.jpg

Orange Crushed: Vic Fangio after loss to Jaguars Sunday, Mike Bobo after loss to Toledo on Sept. 21 (and 22)  

 

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Gardner Minshew II on the field after the game. 

  

Vic Fangio waited nearly 40 years for a head-coaching opportunity, with a couple of college stops, but mostly bouncing around the NFL.

 

 

He was the sort of journeyman assistant that long-time NFL umpire (and former NFL fullback) Pat Harder had in mind when he told a former Wisconsin teammate who had just moved to the NFL after a long stay in the college game: "Jerry, I see the same coaches every year ... but they're in different places."    

 

("Jerry" was my father. who ended up coaching with three franchises before becoming a scout and administrator in his second stint with the Broncos. He and Harder spent their common time in the NFL together arguing about what constituted holding.) 


 So I've admitted I'm pulling for first-year Broncos coach Vic Fangio, now 61, in the sense that I believe he's carrying the torch for all those long-time NFL assistants who were typecast, whether as coordinators or position coaches, and never got their head-coaching chances.

 

After the Broncos blew an 11-point halftime lead and fell 26-24 to the Disney movie that is Gardner Minshew II and the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High, Fangio is 0-4 as a head coach.   


Ouch.

 

Up the road in Fort Collins, Mike Bobo's Colorado State Rams are 1-4 in his fifth season as head coach after losing 34-24 at Utah State Saturday night.

 

Ouch.

 

 On Sunday, I asked Fangio if this start has affected his confidence in his ability as a head coach, and in what his staff is trying to do. Frankly, I considered it a softball slow pitch, an opportunity to be defiant. 

 

He didn't really take advantage of it.

 

"It's not," he said. "I'm sure it's harder for the players to believe in it because this is a bittom line business and our bottom line isn't very good right now.  But we're going to keep treading forward, we're going to keep coaching these guys, keep trying to correct our mistakes, trying to get better, and that's what we're going to do."


 It would be ridiculous to give up on Fangio as a head coach this soon, and it would be lazy, cheap-shot clickbait to do it. 



 

As was the case when Vance Joseph was head coach, Fangio is working with a roster that isn't close to elite.

 

The ownership mess and the decisions of John Elway and the football operation are fair game for criticism. But Fangio also still looks uncomfortable on the sideline as the ultimate decision-maker after years as the coordinator piping in from the coaches' box at the press box level.

 

Elway obviously was looking for a veteran, a Joseph antithesis in his latest coaching hire. Football SOP is that when one approach doesn't work, you go for the antithesis. Joseph had been a defensive coordinator one year. The issue now is whether a better choice among the finalists would have been veterans with head coaching experience, Chuck Pagano or Mike Munchak.

 

Munchak joined the Broncos anyway as offensive line coach. 

 

So the jury still is out for Fangio. In some ways, he’s every bit as much learning on the job as Joseph.

 

At CSU, there are strains of similarities in that Bobo is a first-time head coach after a long stint as a quarterbacks coach and coordinator, albeit all but one year of it at his alma mater, Georgia. He didn't bounce around or work under a lot of head coaches, and the narrowness of his perspective shows.

 

Head coaches typically can filibuster about how they took a little bit from each coach they've worked under as assistants.

 

 

Bobo is mainly his own man, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But he has lost the support of a significant portion of the usually doggedly loyal CSU constituency with the Saturday Homecoming game against San Diego State coming up.

 

Ridiculously, it will start at 8 p.m. or later (maybe even much later) because of the Mountain West's relatively small-change television deal. A similar situation led to an embarrassing exodus of fans at the previous home game, the loss to Toledo that came down to the last play in the early morning hours on Sept. 22.

 

 Under the terms of his contract extension, which went into effect in 2018, Bobo now would be due a $5.5 million buyout if he is fired before 2020. That's at the heart of why I long ago ceased to have sympathy for fired college coaches. The typical buyouts are golden parachutes. When fired (unfairly) at Oregon, Mark Helfrich walked away with $11 million. The examples of that phenomenon, including Mike MacIntyre at Colorado, are legion.

 

 

Once you get a Division I head coaching job, you're all set. Regardless of how long you stay in it. Plus, thanks to the coaches' network, if you want a job, you've got one -- as with MacIntyre returning to Mississippi as defensive coordinator. 

 

 

So Bobo? 

 

 

Let him coach out the season and then evaluate. In-season coaching changes do no good, including at Colorado in 2018. 

 

The elephant in the room is the $12 million in annual bond retirement payments for Canvas Stadium that begin next year. Season-ticket bailouts will be significant. Rams followers are frustrated over the record and the absurd past-midnight finishes for the petty-change MWC payoffs to appear mostly on "what number is that?" secondary cable networks. Why put yourself through that when single-game tickets are easily available and you cann pick your games  — and times? 

 

Gotta-fire-somebody approaches are short-sighted, and unless the rest of season is a complete embarrassment, giving Bobo one more year is pragmatic. It would lower the buyout and give him one more chance with touted recruiting classes.

 

I've noted many times that Bobo, a good man, sometimes sounds like a winning-is-the-only-thing SEC booster. I believe one of the possibiliities is that if the season is that disaster, Bobo ultimately recognizes this isn't working and he reaches a settlement with AD Joe Parker, agreeing he's resigning and settling his buyout for the $3 million if he is fired in 2020.


I'd love to be a fly on the wall if Bobo and Fangio get together for a beer ... or two.

 

 

September 27, 2019

It's All Coming Back

to Me Now: Celine Dion,

Columbine and Opening

Night at the Pepsi Center 

 

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Dion.jpg

Tuesday is the 20th anniversary of the Pepsi Center's Opening Night, and it seems frequently forgotten that the building's first event was a concert, not a sporting   event.

It was not coincidental timing that it opened with a stop on Celine Dion's "Let's Talk About Love" tour.

 

Rene Angelil and Celine Dion 

 

It also ended up an extraordinaily emotional night because Dion's special guests were Columbine High School students and faculty, including those injured and the families of the 12 students and one teacher killed in the April 20 shootings earlier that year.   

 

Here's the way Frank DeAngelis, the school's principal from 1996 to 2014, described it in his recent book, They Call Me "Mr. De": The Story of Columbine's Heart, Resilience and Recovery. (Disclosure: I was proud to be Frank's collaborator and help him with the book.)

 

 

In October 1999, Denver’s new Pepsi Center – the home of the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche – was set to open. The opening act was singer Celine Dion, whose husband, Rene Angelil, was the best friend of Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix. Lacroix lived near Columbine and, along with several Avalanche players, had been very supportive in the wake of the killings.

Celine asked if our vocal music group could go down to the concert, and she also invited the injured students and their families, plus the families of the murdered. The choir director, Leland Andres, asked I would join them as a chaperone. I jumped all over that.

Dion rehearsed with the kids and I was up in the seats. When they were done, we went into this little locker room, and Avalanche players Claude Lemieux and Joe Sakic and others started walking through to go to the concert. Then Celine walked in and she was the nicest person you’d ever want to meet.

At the concert, they let us stay down near the front after the kids’ part with her was over. As the concert was ending, one of her representatives came over and told me Celine wanted us to come to her reception. So went up and the kids were all there, and we got more pictures, including one that hung on my office wall for years. And it turned out that she donated all the proceeds from the concert to the Columbine mental health foundation for Columbine victims. 

 

 

Many of the Columbine delegation were in the front row, including Patrick Ireland, the heroic "Boy in the Window" who crawled for hours across the library floor after he was shot twice in the hjead and once in the foot by one of the killers, climbed out the window and dropped into the arms of SWAT officers.

 

Dion's first song was indeed “Let's Talk About Love.” The Columbine choir came out wearing “We Are … Columbine” T-shirts to sing the final chorus with her. After the song, she talked directly to the Columbine kids, saying: “Your pain and suffering was felt around the world. Everyone grieved with you, everyone prayed for you, everyone wanted to comfort you and everyone cared, and they still do.” The choir members presented the injured and the families of the murdered with roses, and Dion came off the stage to greet the Columbine delegation. Frank didn't mention it, but at the after-party on the club level, where Dion again visited with the Columbine kids and families, many of the Columbine students formed a Conga line and danced. That made Frank misty. It struck him that this was the first time since April 20 that he had seen "Mr. De's" kids act like kids.

 

Dion's set list that night.

 

In part to have a construction delay cushion, the Avalanche played its first five games of the 1999-2000 season on the road before facing the Boston Bruins in the Oct. 13 home opener, winning 2-1.

 

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was there.

 

"The building is spectacular, absolutely beautiful," Bettman told us. "The sightlines, the spaciousness ... They've done a great job."

 

The Avalanche goaltender at the time -- a fellow named Patrick Roy -- said: "It was weird at times. I mean, going out there, and even here, it's almost long distance if you want to talk to the guys at the other end of the dressing room. It was fun. We could hear the crowd pretty good. It was a concern, whether we would have the same kind of feeling we had at McNichols. I think it was pretty good."   

 

 The Nuggets didn't open at home in the regular season until Nov. 2, against Phoenix.

 

Denver had a new arena.

 

The twist is that the Avs' original corporate ownership, Ascent, wasn't in control of the franchise when the team finally made it into the new privately owned building. The NHL approved the transfer of the Avs to Donald Sturm earlier on Oct. 1. Even that was bizarre. The Pepsi Center empire had seemed to be going to Bill and Nancy Laurie before Ascent stockholders contested the sale and it was scuttled, and Sturm then won an auction.

 

That didn't work, either, and Stan Kroenke eventually took control in July 2000.  

 

In 2019, the Pepsi Center has held up as well or better than other arenas of its generation. The most jarring thing about McNichols Sports Arena is that it was only in use for 24 years. Like other arenas of that wave, such as Reunion Arena in Dallas and Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, it was out of date virtually the second it opened, with skinny concourses and minimal private boxes. The Pepsi Center's weakness is its lack of intimacy for basketball, plus it seems to cause those in control of such things at Nuggets games to (get off my lawn) play the music and announcements at 77 kazillion decibels, ruling out any conversation other than two fans sitting next to each other screaming in each others' ears.

 

But it's still a nice, big-time arena and I'm grateful that it has had only one name rather than undergoing a name change every two years, as seems to have happened in other NBA/NHL markets.  

FanFest.jpg

Twenty years later: At the Pepsi Center Thursday night: Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer faces Colin Wilson in a pratice-closing shootout.      

 

 

 

September 25, 2019

30 years ago, earth

moved under our feet

at the World Series  

 

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Read it here 

 

 

 

 

September 21, 2019 

 

On Ag Day "Orange Out,"

Aggies -- er, Rams -- roll

up yards, but lose

 

CSUToledoOrange.jpg

The lower level on Canvas Stadium's east side at least was an "Orange Out" at the start of what turned out to be the Rams' 41-35 loss to Toledo. 

 

But by midway through the third quarter, with the game still close, it looked like this ... 

CSUToledoThird.jpg 

 

... and it would get much worse by the time the game ended. Below is  the final play. If CSU had scored, it would have won. Yet look how few remained in the stands, at least on the east side.

 

CSUToledoEnd.jpg 

 

 


FORT COLLINS -- This is really hard to do:

 

-- Amass 694 yards of total offense ... and lose.


-- Get 249 yards rushing from a running back (in this instance, Marvin Kinsey Jr.) and 405 yards passing from your quarterback (Patrick O'Brien) ... and lose.

 

-- Start a game on Saturday ... and end it on Sunday.   

 

But the reeling Colorado State Rams pulled it off in their 41-35 loss to the Toledo Rockets. The backdrop was the ridiculous 8:26 opening kickoff -- that's not CSU's fault, other than it is a willing participant in the relatively small-change Mountain West TV deals that insult the fans who actually show up and are loyal -- and a mass exodus from the stands in a game that wasn't decided until the final play.

 

 

Too bad so few were around to see the second half.

 

Kickoff, originally scheduled for 8:15 p.m. on ESPN2, actually came 11 minutes later because the Old Dominion-Virginia game ran long.

 

Even at that, the start of the game at Canvas Stadium was switched over to ESPN News.

 

Then the first half took a tortuous 1:56, and by the time the third quarter kicked off, it looked as if at least half the fans in the announced crowd of 24,464 decided to bail at halftime. 

 

And the score was 14-13 -- with Toledo leading. So we're not talking about heading for home because the outcome seemed certain.

  

They'd had their tailgates.

 

They'd shown their Ag Day and Orange-Out colors -- alfalfa and pumpkin.

 

Doing the math and realizing this was going to last well past midnight, they'd had enough.

 

As it turned out, the game ended at 12:34, with the Rams getting to the Toledo 2 on a 23-yard pass from Patrick O'Brien to E.J. Scott as time ran out. 

 

And they left. 

 

Look, Toledo is a decent Mid-America Conference program with tradition. Nick Saban coached there on his way up. This was no "disgrace." The Rockets had 547 yards of total offense themselves, including 228 yards rushing from Bryant Koback. 

 

 

Yet CSU let this one get away, and now the Rams are 1-3 heading into Mountain West play. They've lost their quarterback, Collin Hill,  for the season (again), yet O'Brien -- the transfer from Nebraska -- doesn't appear to be a major downgrade. 

 

The defense, though, can't stop anyone. And it's going to have to undergo a quick transformation for the Rams to have any shot of salvaging Mike Bobo's fifth season as Jim McElwain's successor.

 

"A lot of disappointed guys in the locker room," Bobo said. "And rightfully so. We worked as hard as they worked and you can't find a way to win, it's disappointing. I'll tell you  ahat I told them. There's fight in that room, guys are playing their butts off, all right? But we're not good enough to make the mistakes that we're making to win ballgames. You can't have self-inflicted wounds in the red zone ... We have to take advantage of every opportunity to score points. We don't line up on the ball correctly. We false start, we call the wrong formation, and that's nobody's fault but me as coaching.

 

"Defensive side of the ball, we've got to stop the run. You can't give up 240 yards rushing and expect to beat anybody." 

 

The late game was actually more of a potential disanvatage for Toledo, given that on Eastern Time Zone body time, it ended after Closing Time in Ohio. But I asked Bobo about whether it lessened the chances for good football.


"I mean, I don't control that," Bobo said. "People tell us what time and we show up and play. There's a lot of arguments both ways. If they say we play atb 8 a.m., we play at 8 a.m. If they say 8:20 and they slide it to 8:25, we're goingto be ready to play. I don't think the time had any affect on the way we played the game. It had an effect on people leaving early, but at the end of the day that's the time, so I don't get caught up in it too much."   

  

I asked O’Brien about the Rams’ situation heading into the conference season. 

 

“I feel like we’re good, you know?” he said. “I mean we’re four games in and we haven’t quit once. We’ve been in every single game and so there’s just some little things that we need to get better on. And those little mistakes, those penalties, us getting into the red zone and scoring touchdowns instead of field goals, that’s the difference between the games. So we just get rid of those things and continue to get better we’ll be fine.”

  

Addendum: A Tree Grows in Fort Collins

 

Maybe it was because Glenn Morris was an Aggie athlete and he was the student body president of CSU when it was known as Colorado A&M.

 

Before entering the media gate Saturday night, as I have periodically  on my visits to CSU the past two years, I made my way to outside the northeast corner of the stadium and checked on the growth progress of the Glenn Morris Oak Tree and then went inside the Iris and Michael Smith Alumni Center to take another look at Morris' actual gold medal from his victory in the decathlon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

 

I actually held the medal when it was in the trusteeship of educator Morris Ververs in Morris' hometown of Simla as I began the research that eventually would lead to my book Olympic Affair.

 

Below is how the oak looked Saturday.

 

You can compare it to how it looked two years ago, when the tree was moved from near the Glenn Morris Field House on the east side of campus to the stadium area. My On the Colorado Scene commentary, which explains how this all came about and shows the tree then, is here.

    

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The Glenn Morris Oak outside the Alumni Center at Canvas Stadium.

 

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And inside the Alumni Center, here's Morris' actual gold medal 

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Here's Glenn Morris with that same gold medal on Glenn Morris Day in Denver after his return from Europe. 

 

September 20, 2019

You shouldn't have

to pass an exam to

be admitted as NHL fan 

 

Blues.jpg 

Read it here 

 

 

 

 

 September 17, 2019

Horrible news for Hill, Rams 

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CSU coach Mike Bobo Tuesday confirmed that junior quarterback Collin Hill suffered a torn ACL against Arkansas Saturday and will miss the rest of the season. It's the third time he has suffered the same injury in his left knee, and it's a pity. Hill actually stayed in the game for two more plays before coming off. He'll undergo surgery again after the swelling lessens.

 

“He’s in good spirits. He was out at practice today after you guys (media) left,” Bobo told reporters at his post-practice availability. “Like I said after the game, great human being. I just can’t say enough about the kid. Even during the game, he knew it was torn and he came back out and was being supportive of the guys and the quarterback Pat (O’Brien) who was in there.” 

 

O'Brien, a redshirt junior, is a transfer from Nebraska, and his backup will be redshirt sophomore Justice McCoy. 

 

I went back and read the stories I did on Hill after a one-on-one interview with him on Media Day for this site and for the Mile High Sports Magazine September issue that doubled as the Rocky Mountain Showdown program.

 

I only wish the optimism had turned out to be warranted.

 

Now the decision will be whether to try to rehab a third time and give it another shot next season, if doctors approve. It would seem unlikely that he would be ready for spring practice.

 

(Scroll down for my August 5 commentary on Hill: How a young quarterback from South Carolina ended up in Fort Collins.)

  

 

September 16, 2019

 

R.I.P., Coach Ralston

 

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John Ralston and his Broncos staff. Top row from left: Doc Urich, Myrel Moore, Bob Gambold, Jerry Frei, Dick Coury. Bottom row from left: Max Coley, Ralston, Joe Collier. 


Former Stanford and Denver Broncos coach John Ralston passed away over the weekend.

 

Denver owes him gratitude because during his five-season tenure with the Broncos, he was instrumental in getting the franchise moving in the right direction after its early days of ineptitude in the AFL and then the NFL. Much of it had to do with his ability to spot and judge talent. During his five-season stint as GM and coach, the Broncos took, among others, Randy Gradishar, Otis Armstrong, Louis Wright and Tom Jackson,  when there were reasonable justifications to overlook them, and it laid the foundation for the Broncos' improvement.

 

 

His exit was complicated, far more so than the way it is often portrayed -- as the result of a widespread player revolt.

 

In fact, the "revolt" was led by a very small group of players, it was rebuffed by ownership and management, and the manifesto loosely attibuted to a "Dirty Dozen" was leaked after many present at a team meeting to discuss it believed they'd not approved it, agreed that it would not be released and instead endorsed a much more mild statement, only offering support for general manager Fred Gehrke.

 

Ralston ultimately was fired when it became clear that he wouldn't be able to stick to his promise to just be the coach after he was given a choice between his two jobs -- GM and coach -- and he picked coaching. Fred Gehrke was named GM, but it became obvious early on that couldn't work because Ralston  continued to act as if he was in charge of personnel, too. He was good at that and he could have been a Hall of Fame GM.   

 

 

I told the story in'77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age. 

 

 

A link to the pertinent pages follows. 

 

Later in the book, when profiling the '77 players, many of them when into more detail about their gratitude to Ralston. And it was sincere. 

  

My father, Jerry, had coached against Ralston in the Pacific 8 and moved from Oregon to be Ralston's offensive line coach in Denver from 1972-75. After Ralston's fourth season, my dad kept his promise to his closest friend in coaching, John McKay, to join his staff if he ever moved to the NFL. So my father was not on Ralston's staff for the climactic 1976 season. He and Ralston remained friends, though. 

 

Click for John Ralston excerpt from '77 

  

 

 

 September 16, 2019

 

Go ahead, let's

blame Garett Bolles

for climate change, too

 

 

You know the details of the Broncos' wrenching 16-14 loss to the Bears Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High.

 

You also know it was trendy to blame it on Garett Bolles, the Broncos' struggling -- and I'll agree that's putting it mildly -- left tackle. This time, he drew four holding calls (two accepted, two declined) and then had the wisdom to agree to face the music after the game, telling media members he would get this turned around. If there was a bit of denial and a persecution complex strain in his remarks, that's probably human and understandable.

 

Vic Fangio emphasized Bolles would remain the left tackle going forward and essentially that he would be Mike Munchak's special project.

 

So is there any hope?

 

I still think so. Stop laughing. I still do.

 

Later Sunday night, I watched Ty Sambrailo, a former Denver second-round draft choice from Colorado State, holding down the right tackle spot for the Falcons against the Eagles. There are some commonalities there, including that like Bolles, Sambrailo caught the eye of John Elway and the Broncos with mouth-dropping athleticism for a big man. Sambrailo was a national-class age group alpine skier at one time and Bolles was an impressive lacrosse player. The Broncos gave up on Sambrailo in part because they became impatient with his shoulder problems, but he seems healthy enough now to be entrenched on the right side with the Falcons.

 

Is that a reach in trying to justify not giving up on Bolles?

 

Perhaps. And perhaps this is the contrarian in me, reacting to the pervasive and searing criticism of Bolles as responsible for everything that ails the Broncos ... and more.

 

And after listening to the Monday reaction, it apparent to me that Bolles can and should be also blamed for:

 

a) Climate change.
b) I-25 projects making traffic worse, not better.
c) In-N-Out taking so darned long.
d) Comcast/DISH/DirecTV vs. Altitude dispute
e) Landeskog offside call. (Once some sports talk radio hosts were told who Landeskog is.)
f) Outrageous cost of ski passes.
g) The Godfather Part III
h) The Rockies' bullpen.
i) James Holzhauer losing on Jeopardy
j) Famine, pestilence and drought
k) Game of Thrones' final episode of Season 8
l) Pineapple on pizza
m) Donut spare tires

And as of this typing, the broadcast day isn't over. 

 

It's coming from some whose expertise is undeniable, whether from former players and offensive linemen and broadcasters who know what they're talking about, plus from others jumping on the pile.

 

There's no denying this: Bolles is awful right now. The problem is, the Broncos have no viable alternative. Look, we all know Fangio isn't as locked in to staying with Bolles as he's saying, because with nobody he can plug in, what's the purpose of saying he's giving up on him?

 

With all due respect to those scoffing at the notion that some of this is self-fulfilling prophecy, that Bolles sometimes is called for holding because he is known to hold, I believe that can't be completely dismissed. No way does it excuse or explain all of Bolles' problems, so I'm not offering that as a complete rationalization. I'm not even criticizing individual calls, but saying that one thing you learn covering sports is that reputation -- pro and con -- is a crucial factor in any league. What's holding on the perceived problem player -- and it is holding under the letter of the law -- isn't holding on the superstar.

 

That's the truth.  

 

(Scroll down for my earlier July 22 On the Colorado Scene commentary on Bolles' make-or-break season, with a reprise of my profile of him following the 2017 draft.)    

       

 

September 14, 2019

Pay college athletes?

Good idea, except ...

we already do! 

 

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Read it here 

 

 

 

September 14, 2019

That was no fluke:

Falcons dominated Buffs

most of the game 

 

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CU coach Mel Tucker congratulates AFA running back Kadin Remsberg,

who rushed for 150 yards on 23 carries.

 

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The last play of overtime: On 4th-and-12 from the AFA 16, Steven Montez's

pass for Leviska Shenault Jr. falls incomplete.  

CUAFAKaden.jpg CUAFALauf.jpg

Kadin Remsberg, left, ran 25 yards for the winning TD in overtime and guard Nolan Laufenberg, right,

from Castle Rock's Castle View High School, did strong work up front in his home state. 

 

BOULDER -- Air Force coach Troy Calhoun Saturday afternoon enthusiastically greeted and congratulated the Falcons as they entered the tiny visiting locker room lobby in the Dal Ward Center at the north end of Folsom Field.

 

They had just beaten Colorado 30-23 in overtime in a game the Falcons dominated, yet almost slip away before Kadin Remsberg ran 25 yards for a touchdown on the first play of overtime and the AFA defense kept the Buffs out of the end zone to end it.

 

As raucous as the on-field and even locker-room celebration seemed to be, Calhoun a few minutes later almost seemed to be doing an imitation of Bill Belichick at a podium, unexcitedly saying, in effect, "It's on to Boise."

 

As he finished up his post-game radio interview on the Falcons' network, he did allow, "For about 45 minutes of football, it was really pretty impressive. From the middle of the first quarter to the middle of the fourth quarter, I don't know if you could have played much better defense."

 

But when I next asked him what the win meant to him and his program, he didn't exactly gush. The Falcons' Mountain West Conference opener is Friday night at Boise State.

 

"It was a really, really good one, but at the same time we have to get back on feet," he said. "We have a short week this week, so we have to bounce back and get to Friday."

 

I politely suggested he wasn't allowing himself to be joyous about what might be the biggest win of his coaching tenure at his alma mater.

 

"I probably would if I had a real week, a longer week to be able to do that, Terry, but at the same time it was really a remarkable effort by our guys and their guys too. Just tip your cap. . . Last week (against Nebraska), you know what Colorado did and they did it again today. So credit to them, too."

 

He said of the in-state rivalry, revived after 45 years: "It's one game. It really is. That's not to understate any one game. For our grads, there are a lot more importan things going on in the world."

 

It's been so long, prhaps it's understandable that few seemed to get the context and background of the rivalry's end -- and then resumption. The last three AFA-CU games in Boulder -- 1968, '71 and '73 -- were played during the Vietnam War, and Falcons players of the era had to steel their ears to derisive taunts from students in opposing stadiums. In fact, in my novel, The Witch's Season, set in 1968, a protest turning ugly at a Falcons road game is a major plot element, and it was based on what I saw as a kid and heard since.             

 

But times have changed, and Saturday, there was a fighter flyover befrore kickoff and as far as I know, the CU students' reaction to the Falcons was either respectful or a shrug, with AFA being just another opponent on the field at Folsom.

 

It was just football, and the Falcons would have romped minus their two lost fumbles.

 

And then it ended in OT, shortly after Remsberg ran down the right sideline and dived into the end zone for the tie-breaking -- and ultimately winning -- touchdown.

 

"It's huge win, it's exactly what we needed going into the (conference) season," Remsberg said. "We have Boise next week..." -- I have a hunch Calhoun made that point in his post-game speech -- "...coming off a huge Colorado win, and we're going to be rolling from now."

 

Remsberg's TD run turned out to be the Falcons' only offensive play in overtime.

 

"I got the ball and I knew my team needed me and I told myself there's no way I'm not scoring on this play," he said. "As soon as I got in open space, it was over. . . It would have taken a lot to tackle me."     

 

Remsberg is a junior from Newton, Kan., and the Falcons' national roster and appeal in theory would water down the impact of its games against in-state opponents, with Army and Navy higher on the list of concerns and priorities. That's especially true with CU, given the long gap between meetings.

 

"It means a lot more," Remsberg said. "We haven't played them in so many years and we come up here. We want to be the kings of Colorado. That's how we look at it. We're going to play CSU this year, too, and we're going to beat them. That's our stance on playing the Colorado teams, so this feels great."                  

 

Remsberg also mentioned the axe many Falcons have when facing Power Five conference teams, and that's not receiving scholarship offers from Power Five programs. For Falcons junior starting guard Nolan Laufenberg, it's more personal than than when he goes against both CU and CSU. He's from Castle Rock's Castle View High School, and neither the Rams nor Buffs showed any interest in him.

 

"I feel like I was passed over by a couple of Colorado schools," Laufenberg said. "This is one of them. To come here and put it to them is awesome."

 

Gone are the days the Falcons can't get behemoth linemen into school -- their nose guard, Mosese Fiftita, is 6-foot-1 and 330 pounds and even Laufenbeg is listed at 6-3 and 295 -- but they're still not supposed to be as dominant up front against a Power Five opponent as they were Saturday.

 

This was no fluke.

 

It was a beatdown.

 

 

September 10, 2019

Here's an overtime

system for both

college and NFL

 

Murray1.jpg 

Read it here 

 

 

 

September 7, 2019

OK, we give ... renew

the rivalry when possible

and put it in Denver  

 

 FolsomRed5.jpg

Folsom Field's west side  

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And here's the east side  

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And here's the south end zone, which includes the CU student section in the lower portion   

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Daniel Graham, the John Mackey winner as the nation's top tight end in 2001, congratulates CU tight end Beau Bisharat 

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Mel Tucker after the game. Both of his two wins have come in front of neutral crowds. 

 

 

BOULDER -- Steven Montez violated his coach's, um, guideline about not saying much about opponents.

 

"You guys saw all those crazy quotes they were putting out early in the week," the Colorado quarterback said after the Buffaloes' comeback 34-31 overtime win over Nebraska Saturday at Folsom Field.

 

"I mean, to be honest, truly I think they talked themselves out right out of the game. I think they came in too amped up, they talked themselves right out of it. They were talking before the coin toss. They were talking trash. At the bottom of piles, they were spitting, they were doing dirty stuff, so they got what was coming."

 

Curiously, that came right after I asked him about his -- or his team's -- reaction to the sea of red that was Folsom Field Saturday.  Estimates varied, but it seemed that roughly half of the sellout crowd of 52,829 was in Cornhusker red.

 

Either that, or they were Stanford fans who got on the wrong flight and decided to make the most of the weekend, anyway.

 

"I mean, credit to Nebraska's fans, they travel real well," Montez said. "There was a lot of red in the stadium today, but there was a lot of black and gold in the stadium, too, which we loved to see. And I'm almost positive that our fans were definitely louder than theirs, so take that as you will."

 

Let's be blunt here. At halftime Saturday, with the Buffs down 17-0, Montez had thrown for 84 yards and many in both the stands and the press box were trying to figure out who his backup is. (Answer: After the offseason switch of Montez's 2018 backup, Sam Noyer, to safety, the Buffs' No. 2 quarterback is sophomore Tyler Lytle, from Redondo Beach, Calif.)

 

A couple of hours later, Montez finished 28-for-41 for 375 yards and two touchdowns -- one a 96-yarder to K.D. Nixon on a flea-flicker after a handoff to Alex Fontenot and a flip back to Montez in the end zone; and the other a 26-yarder to Tony Brown with 46 seconds left that forced overtime.

 

And the Buffs won it when James Stefanou, the 32-year-old Australian, kicked a 34-yard field goal and Isaac Armstrong's 48-yarder was wide for the Huskers.

 

As it turned out, a possible difference maker was Mustafa Johnson's third-down, 7-yard sack of Adrian Martinez, making the field goal attempt more daunting.

 

Look, it was a terrific game.

 

In this era of the secondary and online markets, it's futile to even try to control who ends up with the tickets. It's especially ridiculous in pro sports, with franchises openly facilitating the resale market and taking a cut. 

 

Nebraska fans came from Arvada, Denver, Highlands Ranch, Cozad, Kearney, Lincoln and Omaha. And maybe even Vail, Grand Junction and St. George. 

 

Some of them even can credibly claim to have been to Misty's or the Sidetrack Lounge in the past on the eve of gameday in Lincoln.       

 

I'm on record that the college game should be on campuses, and that putting the next three meetings in the CU-Colorado State rivalry in Fort Collins (twice) and Boulder (once) was the right thing to do.

 

But I've come around on this: If Nebraska could be talked into it, renew the rivalry, create spots on existing schedules for the non-conference games (it can be done), anywhere from annually to once every three years.

 

And put the games in Denver at (OK, here goes...) Empower Field at Mile High.

 

Accept and embrace the idea that half the sellout crowd of 76,125 -- or nearly one-third larger than a sellout at Folsom -- will be in Nebraska red.

 

That's the reason it's in Denver.

 

Yes, the capacity of the frequently expanded Memorial Stadium in Lincoln is 85,000 and change, but turning this into the western versions of Oklahoma-Texas in Dallas and Georgia-Florida in Jacksonville would be energizing.

 

Lincoln is nearly 500 miles from Denver, but it's a manageable eight-hour drive, or roughly four minutes longer than from Highlands Ranch to Thornton in rush hour. And then there's this: Towns in western Nebraska are closer to Denver than to Lincoln. Ogallala, for example, is 211 miles from Denver and 274 from Lincoln. Many Big Red fans in the western part of the state are fans of the Broncos and perhaps the Rockies, Nuggets and Avalanche.     

 

Maybe I'm dreaming here, but the exposure of the Cornhuskers' program in Denver, and the positives of also having Big Red fans pulling into the parking lot with Colorado plates and Cornhusker bumper stickers are many.

 

Going in, you know this is a neutral site for the meetings of the programs that long were Big Eight Conference rivals, but now would be non-conference opponents.

 

CU's move to the Pac-12 was wise; Nebraska's to the Big Ten still is open to debate, and not only because it has gone to a 14-team league that can't count.     

 

Empower Field could be like Lodo, with the bars welcoming fans of both local schools and programs from afar. Half red, half black (or silver or gold ... which is one of CU's problems. It doesn't have a single most recognizable color. Like, oh, I don't know ... red.   

 

I honestly don't know what percentage of the Nebraska fans at Folsom Saturday were Colorado residents. But I'm thinking that in this transient, transplant state, many of them were. They were the equivalent of local Cubs and Red Sox fans at Coors Field, plus Lakers, Celtics, Red Wings and Blackhawks fans at the Pepsi Center.

 

But what the heck.

 

Renew the rivalry. Whenever it's possible. 

 

And move it to Denver.     

 

 

September 1, 2019

A year after setling CTE

suit, Deb Ploetz still at

war with NCAA 

 

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Read it here

 

 

 

August 30, 2019

CU's Mel Tucker

gets first win as head coach.

How come nobody's excited?

 

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Mel Tucker, his sons and the Centennial Cup

 

It was the most low-key Rocky Mountain Showdown victory celebration I've seen on the field in ...

 

Well, ever.

 

It was if the Colorado Buffaloes had just beaten Idaho State Friday night -- or, more accurately, Saturday morning, since it ended six minutes after midnight.

 

Yes, there were some yells and whoops, especially as they were presented the Centennial Cup. Yet it still came off as more of a routine post-win reaction than a rivalry beat-down. That's what the 52-31 rout of Colorado State was in the final Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver for the foreseeable future.

 

But the Buffs took it in stride, and not even Mel Tucker was particularly giddy after his first win as a collegiate head coach, at age 47. (He was credited with a 2-3 record as the Jacksonville Jaguars' interim head coach in 2011.)

 

That's supposed to be a take-the-game-ball-and-and-have-everyone-sign-it moment, but at least the trophy ended up in Tucker's hands as he headed off the field.

 

He stopped to pose with his sons, then carried it to the locker room as he walked with athletic director Rick George.      

 

A little later, I asked Tucker -- Vic Fangio's predecessor as the Chicago Bears' defensive coordinator -- about the emotions involved.

 

"It was very gratifying," he said. "Not so much for me, but I just really felt good for our team. The players and for the coaches, all of the hard work that they put into it, just really believing and in me and our coaching staff and our process. Then to see us compete and come out with a win ... and it wasn't easy. There was some adversity on both sides of the ball and special teams.

 

"I was also really proud of our fans. It was a great environment for college football. It was loud. Everyone was into it. It was an important game. This team, this football program is so important to so many people and you could feel that leading up to the game. You could feel it tonight."

 

It usually takes time for the meaning of a season-opening Showdown's result to come into focus (as in, "We should have known that..."), but in this case, Steven Montez's steady night for the Buffs -- he threw for 232 yards and two touchdowns -- and sophomore running back Alex Fontenot's emergence, with 125 yards, were encouraging.

 

But why so subdued?

 

"I mean, it was another day at the office," Montez said. "We work hard all week. We want to win a whole lot more games and this was just the first game. We're business as usual and we're going to come back to work Monday and start getting prepared for Nebraska."       

 

And the Rams?

 

Turnovers and mental glitches plagued them, and CSU coach Mike Bobo -- whose teams now are 0-5 against the Buffs -- was peeved about some of the circumstances as the Rams were overrun after trailing 24-21 at halftime.

 

Unprompted in his opening pre-question remarks, Bobo brought up what was ruled a Marvin Kinsey Jr. fumble on the Rams' first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, leading to CU taking over on the CSU 27 and scoring on Fontenot's 7-yard run three plays later. But it also should be noted he both prefaced and followed up his comment with disclaimers.

 

He started with: “First of all, give them credit. They made more plays, took advantage of more opportunities in the game. It's hard to beat anybody when you turn over the ball four times and you lose the turnover ratio four to zero. I will say this, our team played their ass off, they played hard. We didn't make the plays when we had to and they did. We had some opportunities.

 

"I don't understand how big this game is, that you don't have neutral refs. . . That's all I'm going to say about that."

 

No, it wasn't. He paused for about 1.4 seconds, then plowed on, touching on the fact that the officiating crew was from the Pac-12 -- as it was in the Showdown two years ago, when bizarre offensive pass interference calls on CSU were glaring in a 17-3 CU win.              

 

"The fumble in the second half, the damn umpire's saying, 'Ease up, ease up, ease up everbody,' and they allow it to be a fumble," Bobo said. "That's not right.”

 

This is important. Then he added, “But we got our ass beat."                   

 

Later, when I asked him if what happened in the 2017 Showdown affected his thinking and if his memory is that long, he said: "Yeah, it is. I think it's bullcrap." 

 

But this wasn't all gloom and doom for CSU. Collin Hill looked healthy and impressive, throwing for 374 yards and three touchdowns. If the Rams play like this offensively, they'll at least hang in contention in the Mountain West's Mountain Division until the final few weeks, rebounding from the 3-9 mess of 2018.       

 

So the Showdown in Denver now is history ... for the foreseeable future.

 

Next season's game is in Fort Collins, then there's a home-and-home in Boulder in 2023 and Fort Collins again in 2024.

 

I'm on record: The Showdown should continue as an annual rivalry, on the campuses.  

 

And this game -- on a Friday night for ESPN, but delayed nearly 50 minutes because of lightning strikes in Kentucky (or something like that) -- was remindful that playing the Showdown in Denver on a Friday night is a stupid idea. A walk through the parking lot inevitably causes questioning about how these freshmen/rookies throwing up two hours before the game are getting back to Boulder and Fort Collins.

 

After midnight.

 

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Mel Tucker and CU athletic director Rick George heading to the locker room.  

 

 

August 26, 2019

Advice for Luck from

another ex-Stanford QB

who quit young  

 

Boryla2.jpg 

 

Read about anti-NFL activist Mike Boryla here. 

 

 

 

 

August 26, 2019

 

Bobo sets the stakes

high in Showdown's

last stand in Denver 

 

Bobo2019Media.jpg 

Mike Bobo

 

Colorado State's Mike Bobo and Collin Hill came to Denver last week to appear at the Front Range Media Huddle at the Blake Street Tavern, joining the head coaches and players from Colorado, Air Force, Northern Colorado and Colorado School of Mines.

 

The major topic of conversation, of course, was the upcoming CU-CSU Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at Mile High Friday night.   

 

Bobo is acutely aware of the stakes as he goes into his fifth season in Fort Collins.

 

The Rams are double-digit underdogs, are coming off a disappointing 3-9 season, and haven't beaten the Buffaloes during Bobo's tenure.

 

Annually, there's considerable talk about the Power Five Buffs having more to lose against the Group of Five Rams in the Showdown -- and that's justified -- but this time that's not true.

 

If CSU pulls off the upset, it's a shot in the arm for the Bobo program and also provides reason for hope that the Rams' 2018 was an aberration, partially the product of Bobo's health issues as the season approached and in its early weeks.

 

There would be considerable grousing among CU supporters, but Mel Tucker has the cushion of a honeymoon season, including the temptation for fans to blame misfortune on Tucker's predecessor, Mike MacIntyre. By citing the need to get bigger, stronger and more physical, that emphasizes inherited deficiencies -- and short-term rationalizations.               

 

So now, with what likely will be the final Showdown in Denver a few days away, the banter (and lunch or beer wagers) between CU and CSU alums in downtown Denver offices -- or anywhere else -- will take place against that backdrop.

 

"I think we're very conscious of the Denver market and the amount of Colorado State graduates that live in the Denver market," Bobo said. "As much time as our athletic director (Joe Parker) spends down here in Denver, I think he drives down here three to four times a week. We -- myself and our coaching staff -- have come down numerous times. It's engagement and activities, dealing with people, alumni of Colorado State. It's not right here in Denver, but it's an hour away. I think everything we're doing is to make people proud of their university, proud of their athletic program, and that takes a passionate fan base as well. It takes one, filling that stadium up. 

 

"I have to do my part, And our team's got to do our part, and that's going out and putting a good product on the field and represent them the right way. It goes hand in hand. Personally, I think the passion has to be there week in and week out. If you don't get it done as the head coach, the next guy's got to come in. But the passion has to be there."

 

I've mentioned this before, but Bobo -- whose previous coaching experience all was at Georgia, with the exception of one season at Jacksonville State -- can sound like a well-heeled booster at times, setting the bar high and even directly mentioning the inevitability of change if a coach doesn't win enough games, almost as if he'd be fine with that and be joining the chorus.

 

It's easier for coaches to speak that way in this era, with golden parachutes built into contracts, but it's still noticeable.

 

"In rivalry games we have not done well at all since I've been the head coach," Bobo said. "We have not beaten CU in the game, in the Rocky Mountain Showdown. It's something that I'm not going to sit here and lie to you about it and say aw, it doesn't matter. It does matter. And I know it matters to Colorado State alumni, our fans. Because CU thinks they're better than the Colorado State University. That hurts our fans and my job is to go out there and make sure our team's ready to play and put a good product on the field."

  

 

The Showdown will be at Fort Collins in 2020, and then after a two-year lapse, resume in Boulder in 2023 and Fort Collins again in 2024. 

 

And that's all that's on the future schedules ... for now.

 

But the short-term back to the campuses was appropriate.

 

Thet's where the Showdown belongs, especially after CSU's investment in the new Canvas Stadium.

 

I'm fully aware of -- and even have covered -- showcase games on neutral sites, including Oklahoma-Texas in Dallas, Florida-Georgia in Jacksonville and formerly Auburn-Alabama at Bimingham. And while they don't involve traditional rivalries, the trend toward early season games on neutral sites, such as the upcoming Auburn-Oregon matchup in Dallas, isn't going to abate.

 

Still, I'm an advocate of home-and-home in rivalries, including CU-CSU. In this instance, it would require members of the Denver media who especially require use of a GPS to find their way to Fort Collins (or to a lesser extent, even Boulder) to get out of their comfort zone.

 

But it's best for college football in this state.

 

The truth is, if CU could have gotten this 2019 game placed in Boulder, it might have scheduled the upcoming sea-of-red Nebraska game for Denver and that would have lessened the Buffs' argument for games belonging on campus.

     

But especially if leaving the game in Denver came with 8:10 Friday night kickoffs, as will be the case again this year, getting the game out of Denver for the three remaining scheduled Showdowns is the right move.                     

 

 

August 23, 2018

My story on Pat Bowlen   

is on SportBusiness.com

 

The site is subscription only for the viewing of articles, but here's a look at how it's presented. The story covers Bowlen's legacy and also the drama involving the Bowlen Trust and the maneuvering over which of two Bowlen daughters -- if either -- takes over as principal owner. SportBusiness is based in London, but also has a Miami office.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 22, 2019

Buffs' Montez never has

minded throwing

against the wind 

 

Montez.jpg 

 Steven Montez Thursday in Denver, 

 

 

In the fall of 2013, Jim Jeffcoat, the former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman on Mike MacIntyre's Colorado staff, was on a recruiting trip to El Paso, primarily looking at a defensive lineman at Americas High School.  

 

CU quarterback Steven Montez, from El Paso's Del Valle High, not only has heard the story.

 

He lived it.

 

He retold it Thursday.

 

Montez was at the Front Range Media Huddle, featuring the region's Division I and II programs, at the Blake Street Tavern, a one-block walk from Coors Field.

 

"I guess the story goes, Jeffcoat kind of asked, 'Is there any other talent here in El Paso I might as well go look at while I'm down here,'" Montez, 22, said. "The head coach at Americas at the time, I forget his name, but he was like, 'Yeah, go over to Del Valle, they got a really good quarterback over there,' talking about me.

 

"Jeffcoat came over and I ended up meeting him, and he asked if I could throw for him. At the time, there was like 30 mile an hour winds outside. It was ridiculous. There was dust everwhere, it was as windy as it can be, I was just like, 'Oh, man I don't know how I'm going to throw in this, I gotta be crazy.'

 

"But I went out there, threw to some receivers, threw the ball well, was cutting through the wind, so he ended up liking me, and he ended up talking to Coach (Mike MacIntyre) about me, and they ended up getting me up here to camp (in the summer of 2014)."

 

Neill Woelk of cubuffs.com spoke with Jeffcoat about it in 2016. Jeffcoat said the Americas High coach asked, "Have you ever been to Del Valle High School?"

 

Jeffcoat added, "I said no I haven't. That's when he said the best player in El Paso is at Del Valle, and his name is Steven Montez."       

 

Montez went to many camps, but he eventually signed a national letter of intent with CU, and he will open his senior season as the Buffs' holdover starter in the Rocky Mountain Showdown against Colorado State next Friday at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.

 

It makes for a better story, of course, to make this sound as if Montez was completely unknown and the Buffaloes were the first to check him out, period.

 

That would be exaggeration. There's just too much information and video out there about prospects. And his father, Alfred, played at Texas Tech and Western New Mexico and briefly was on the Oakland Raiders' roster shortly before Steven was born.

 

Alfred also had been a multi-sports star --playing on state champions in 8-man football, basketball and baseball -- at small-town Granada High School in the southeast corner of Colorado, 140 miles east of Pueblo. He got into coaching at Deming, N.M., before moving to El Paso.       

 

His son, Steven, was a junior at Del Valle. Most notably, this was his first look from a Power Five program. Until then, he had been considered more of a second-tier prospect, and his first scholarship offer had come from hometown UTEP. One reason was because Del Valle was no powerhouse, and playing there wasn't the greatest way for a quarterback to draw attention.

 

"My tallest O-lineman was probably like 6-foot maybe, probobably 265, 270 pounds," the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Montez said Thursday. "We had a lot of guys who worked hard, had a lot of heart, had a lot of toughness, had a lot of grit, but we didn't have the most talented guys out in El Paso, Texas. . . It was definitely harder to get noticed because I was playing in El Paso, I wasn't playing in Dallas or California, where it's a hotbed for a lot of talent. I' m just luckly, I'm blessed, that Colorado came out and found me."         

 

(By the way, Jeffcoat, the coach who initiated the Buff' contact with Montez, was caught up in the ouster of MacIntyre's staff after last season and now is the defensive line coach of the Dallas Renegades, beginning play in the XFL next year.)

 

His four scholarship offers were from UTEP and nearby New Mexico State, plus CU and Air Force. 

 

Air Force liked Montez's 3.6 grade-point average and his athleticism, and while Montez wasn't tailor-made for the Falcons' option game, coach Troy Calhoun has demonstrated a willingness to tweak his offense for his quarterbacks, or move his "athletes" to other positions.

 

"To be honest, I got the offer and I was excited about it, but I didn't really want to go the military route," Montez said. "It was kind of just there. I was leaning more towards UTEP before Colorado offered. I was thinking about staying home. Looking back at it now, I'm glad I didn't."  

 

Now Montez is set to play in the final Showown in Denver in the foreseeable future.

 

"It's just really special," Montez said. "Especially when you get all the students from each college going and getting Mile High rocking and everyone's excited," Montez said. "Half the stadium's green and half the stadium's white or black or whatever color we're wearing that day. It's a very high energy game, there's a lot on the line, a lot of bragging rights. It's a rivalry game, it's in state, so it's just a special game to be a part of. I love playing on an NFL field, eventually that's one day where I want to be. It's very special."

 

Steven Montez's CU statistics

2016: 83-for-140, 1,078 yards, 9 TDs, 5 interceptions.    

2017: 228-for-377, 2,975 yards, 18 TDs, 9 interceptions.

2018: 258-for-399, 2,849 yards, 19 TDs, 9 interceptions.

 

Scroll down for previous on the Colorado Scene commentaries on the Buffs and Rams, including on CSU quarterback Collin Hull. 

       

 

August 11, 2019

 

High school football

hanging in there ...

more so than I expected 

 

Strasburg.jpg 

 Limon vs. Strasburg

 

If you drive past your area high school Monday in Colorado, you might see the football team going through its opening day of practices.

 

Reports of high school football's imminent death have been extremely exaggerated ... and I was part of it.    

 

Over the years, as I've played (briefly) and written about football, I've experienced and witnessed the physical toll the game can take.

 

I've seen how many of my journalism and book subjects in college and pro football have been struggling later in life with various maladies and after death have been shown to have had significant CTE, or brain damage.

 

The most notable on that front was Greg Ploetz, the Texas defensive tackle in Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming. For what I've written about Ploetz, go to my HHNC page and scroll down to where an archive of my stories on him appear at the right. New there (and also here) is a link to my column on woodypaige.com about his wife, Deb, reflecting a year after accepting a settlement in her lawsuit against the NCAA and continuing her crusade against football itself.    

 

Beyond the college game, the NFL's $1 billion concussion settlement highlighted the peril of playing the game -- especially as a career -- while also essentially limiting the league's liability. (Albeit at a staggering cost, but there's plenty of money to go around.)  It can be both stunning and aggravating to notice how today's players still often are in denial, acting as if they are invulnerable or at least willing to put off consideration of the risks.    

 

Yet as this has played out, it hasn't been unreasonable to wonder about the future of the game. The most expreme scenario would be that liability and other issues literally kill off football at all levels, but that isn't happening.     

 

The more pertinent big-picture issue is whether participation at the youth and high school levels drops so significantly, NCAA and NFL football becomes more of a gladiator pastime than it even is now.

 

Would parents' concerns about the sport cause more of them to say, "No, you're not playing football."?

 

It has become a cliche, but the water cooler or easy talk-show question often has been whether you'd let your kid play.

 

If you'd asked me in, say, 2012, I would have thought that by 2019, high school football would be in more trouble than it is now, and that participation would have slipped far more than it has. I wondered if rural school districts could afford the liability insurance now, as the end of the decade approaches.

 

No question, the numbers have dropped. The National Federation of High School Associations says the peak in particpation for 11-man teams was a in 2009-10, and that it has dropped about 6.5 percent since, but the number of players still is over one million nationally. The other significant possibility is that we haven't seen the effects of the doubt over the safety of the game show up in participation levels at the high school level, and that could take place as those declining to play -- or not being allowed to play -- youth football get older.

 

But for now, football is hanging in there.

 

Part of it is due to the realization that the risk of suffering concussions is almost universal in sports, especially given the increased awareness of the issue, the need to diagnose and dictate protocol. In football, yes, but in soccer, lacrosse, even baseball, certainly hockey ... and more.  Plus, we've gotten so much smarter over the physical parameters of practices. I'm not sure Oklahoma drills were the embodiment of evil they have been portrayed to be, and I believe some of the no-contact, or no-tackling-to-the-ground standards in practices have been a bit of overreaction. But I understand why it has happened.

 

 So....

 

This is my stand on football now.

 

It's still OK for kids to play it.

 

As long as they're not rushed into it too young.

 

As long as their coaches are qualified.

 

As long as they WANT to play it and aren't being pressured into it by parents, peers or anyone else.

 

And as long as it's made clear that if they don't enjoy it, quit. Don't buy into the crap that you'll be a quitter in life if you quit football ... or the piano.

 

In my generation, the problem was that if you were a good athlete, or even a marginal one capable of donning pads, holding tackling dummies and liked being known as a football player, you were both under pressure -- even in the mirror -- and expected to play football. Even if you liked another sport more, and were better at it.  

 

It's healthy that we're past that.

 

It's a fine line because I believe that while skipping football because you enjoy another sport more is fine and understandable, or because you don't enjoy it, period, overspecialization can be a plague. 

 

It's good for young men and women to play multiple sports, rather than a single one, often year-round on traveling and club teams and buying into it because of the usually ridiculous belief that a college athletic scholarship is the inevitable reward.

 

Yes, some of the slippage in football numbers has been because of overspecialization, and that bothers me.    

 

 But if the kids out there Monday for the first football practices are there because they want to be, I'm still with the program.

 

NOTE: This column also ran in  the Portland Tribune and its afillates, the Clackamas Review/Oregon City News. Access that version here.

 

 

 

 

August 5, 2019

Collin Hill won't look

back. Now, he's healthy

and ready to lead Rams 

 

 

BoboHill.jpg

Mike Bobo and Collin Hill (Don Reichart photo / CSU)

 

FORT COLLINS -- In that 2014 offseason, Collin Hill was the heir apparent starting quarterback at Dorman High School in Roebuck, S.C.

 

He and his Cavaliers teammates traveled to Athens, Ga., and won the 7-on-7 camp competition at the University of Georgia.

 

The Bulldogs' offensive brain trust -- head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo -- noticed the big quarterback, who actually lived in Moore, S.C., adjacent to Roebuck.     

 

"We wound up winning it," Hill told me Monday at Colorado State's Canvas Stadium, on the Rams' Media Day. "It was after our first or second game, my coach said, 'Come over here,' and I talked with Coach Richt and Coach Bobo. So I was like, 'Whoa...'

 

"That was the first time a college coach talked to me. I was really kind of nervous and excited. Coach Bobo met my parents and established kind of a bit of a relationship. We talked on the phone and I went to a camp and a visit."

 

The problem was that Jacob Eason, one of the nation's top quarterback prospects in the Class of 2016, committed to the Bulldogs in July 2014 and Hill became, at best, the fallback.

 

"They just said, 'Hey, if something changes, we'll call you, and we're not sure we're going to take another (quarterback) or not,'" Hill said.

 

But after Hill's junior season, CSU hired Bobo to succeed Jim McElwain as head coach in late 2014, and Bobo knew the Bulldogs' fallback could be a higher-priority recruit in the Mountain West.

 

"He kind of hit me up," Hill said. 

 

Quarterbacks coach Ronnie Letson watched Hill throw to be sure.

 

"They offered me and I came out on a visit and loved it," Hill said.  

 

So that's how the 6-foot-5 kid from South Carolina ended up in Fort Collins, and he has been through ups and downs since arriving on campus in 2016. The downs include two ACL surgeries on the same knee in a year and a half, and he's entering the 2019 season as a redshirt junior starter, holding off a challenge from Nebraska transfer Patrick O'Brien.

 

Although he made it back on the field last season after suffering his second knee injury as a Ram while playing pickup basketball in mid-March 2018, just before the opening of spring practice, Hill wasn't close to full strength and mobility. Washington transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels was the starter much of the season as Hill essentially rehabilitated on the fly, completing 109-of-202 passes for 1,387 yards.

 

"I feel great, I really do," Hill said. "It was really nice to go through a full offseason, starting in January, doing all the lifting and the running and then getting in 15 practices. The knee feels really strong."

 

It was a bit surprising in 2016 when Bobo benched holdover starter Nick Stevens early in the season and abandoned plans to redshirt Hill. After a one-game trial for Faton Bauta, Hill ended up playing in five games and starting four as a true freshman before suffering the season-ending knee injury against Utah State on Oct. 8.

 

He redshirted in 2017 as Stevens finished out his career, then was poised to be the starter when his knee went out in that pickup hoops game and he again faced a long rcovery.

 

Now he still can seem a green quarterback, though he's going into his fourth season in the Bobo program and the Rams' coach considers him a savvy veteran.  

 

"I feel line he's crossed that threshold," Bobo said Monday. "I feel lik being able to play at the end of last year was very beneficial for him and then having a spring practice ... Last year was little like a sophmore year, though there were years in between. He had a lot of success early on as a freshman and then his second year, he struggled and we struggled a little bit. He had that spring practice to go through and kind of work through some things, I kind of feel he's in a good position.

 

"He's got really good command of the offense and the more he can do, the better we can be on offense because  can put our offensive line in a better position to execute when we can get in and out of the right play. . . We have to put more on him this year."

 

On the first day of all drills, Bobo noted that Hill was more decisively playing the part of leader.

 

"He has taken over this team and doesns't shy away from those expectations," Bobo said. "He's got an ego, too. He wants to be considered one of the best quarterbacks in the country. But you have to go out there and do that. I think he's embraced that."    

 

Hill labels his CSU career a "mixture" of experiences.

 

"I don't know exactly how many games I've played in," Hill said, "but I haven't played in as many as you'd think I would have. At the same time, I do fel like I've been in the offense a long tiome and I know what's going on. I could look at it like I haven't been in a lot of games, but at the same time, I'm still in all the meetings, I'm still watching the games, watching the film, so I feel very confident in the offense. I do feel like I have command of the offense and that's the key to moving the guys."    

 

One question about his career revolves around what might have happened if Hill had been redshirted as a true freshman rather than being rushed in to temporarily supplant Stevens.  

 

"I don't play the what if game," Hill said. "It hasn't been easy. It hasn't ben all sunshine and rainbows, but I think I've grown in the situation I've grown as a player, and as a man, and in my relationship with the Lord. It's all been a bit of a atest fo me. You could look at it like, 'Oh, man, this guy has had it rough.' But if you put things in perspective, it's just a game, it's just a knee ligament. There are a lot of worse things out there. I totally understand that."       

 

Of course, with Bobo running the offense, Hill has worked with his head coach more than most quarterbacks.

 

"I've learned so much, I really have," Hill said. "That's one of the reasons I came out here, why I ended up coming all the way out here. I wanted to play for him. I know what he did for guys at Georgia. He's taught me so much about Xs and Os and defenses, so I feel like he's really helped me develop as a quarterback."    

 

This fall, starting with the Aug. 30 opener against Colorado, Hill will be charged with helping lead a recovery in the wake of the Rams' 3-9 debacle a year ago. This will be his second appearance against CU. He was 1-for-4 for 5 yards in the 2018 Showdown. 

 

"I really think we've had a really good offseason," Hill said. "I feel like as a result of the things I've gone through, the way I carry myself, that has given me an opportunity to be a leader on this team. I'm an older guy and it kind of goes with the position too. I'm really excited to kind of take over and be that guy, the leader trying to push everybody."

 

Part of that offseason for him was serving as a counselor in June at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La.   

 

"Man, it was cool, it was a lot of fun," Hill said after the first preseason practice. "The Mannings were really cool. They're really good people. . . It was cool to meet other college kids. I got to work with eighth though 12th graders. That was cool to kind of build relationships with them, too. I enjoyed it. You work out really twice a day, in little sessions with the high school kids, too."

 

He said he talked with Peyton Manning "for a while one night, about what he did in the offseason, how many times would he be throwing, if you're doing drills, what drills, how much film are you watching, What are you watching? Is it teams? All that kind of stuff. I don't think there's necessarily one specific thing, but there were a lot of nuggets along the way."

 

During one drill, with the quarterbacks rotating, Hill threw a pass and heard a voice behind him, saying, "Good ball."

 

"I turned around," Hill said, "and it was Peyton Manning. I was like, 'Ooooh, that's pretty cool.' But, yeah, he was really down to earth, to talk to, and it was really kind of surreal to talk to him. He's a legend, don't get me wrong, but to talk to him, he's super humble."

 

Collin Hill's CSU Stats 

2016, true freshman: 75-for-129, 2 INT, 8 TDs, 1,096 yards

2018, redshirt sophomore: 119-for-202, 7 INT, 7 TDs, 1,387 yards

 

 

 

August 3, 2019

So whose players

are they? Tucker's

or MacIntyre's? 

 

MelTucker.jpg 

                Mel Tucker                                                         

 

BOULDER -- It's right out the modern-era coaching transition handbook.

 

In part because the change usually was made because the previous coach didn't win enough football games, his successor speaks of changing the culture -- the new buzz phrase -- plus usually getting bigger, tougher and more physical.     

 

That's the way it has played out at CU, with the well-traveled Mel Tucker advancing that agenda at CU after taking over for Mike MacIntyre.

 

One of the potential downsides to that is that while there is an element of a my-way-or-the-highway ultimatum, there also is the reality that a college football program requires bodies, turnover takes time, and you've got to get the best out of athletes you're implying -- as a group -- need to be upgraded.

 

How do you earn that loyalty?

 

And in the next few seasons of transition and recruiting classes, how do you avoid the "Mac's Guys" vs. "Mel's Guys" schism? 

 

That was going through my head Saturday as I attended CU's Media Day gathering after the Buffs' third pre-season practice -- the first in shoulder pads -- at Folsom Field. The names have changed. The situations haven't ... much.

 

I've gotten teased or been derided about this, and bitterness over the circumstances of his departure makes this unfashionable even among Colorado State fans. But the best job I've ever seen of shepherding a team through that sort of transition and overachieving with inherited players was Jim McElwain and his Rams staff from 2012-14. 

 

Over and over, the same scenario plays out.

 

But I was impressed with the way Tucker addressed the issue.

 

Repeatedly, he framed it as nurturing his inherited players, challenging them in the weight room and conditioning, and not running them off or finding replacements as quickly as possible.

 

Of course, it's not as if the cupboard is completely bare, given the presence of a decent -- if wildly inconsistent -- senior quarterback in Steven Montez, plus wideout Leviska Shenault Jr., and others.

 

Tucker never is going to publicly badmouth his inherited talent, anyway, but I've seen and heard coaches wink and get across the message by implication that they deserve a lot of leeway the first few seasons.

 

"December 5 was his first team meeting," junior inside linebacker Nate Landman said Saturday. "I'll always remember, (Tucker) came in and he told us we were his players and he was our coach and nothing was going to change that, even though he didn't recruit us. He believed in us and he just wanted to win games. I think that instantly made the team more comfortable just because it's hard to come into a new situation, especiaally when the guy who did recruit you is no longer in the program.

 

"But I think the biggest thing he did was make us feel comfortable and instill a winning mindset in the team."

 

Senior guard-center Tim Lynott Jr., from Regis Jesuit, will finish out his career under Tucker as a four-year starter.

 

"He's been great," Lynott said of Tucker. "He's accepted all of us as players, he knows we're not his players like in recruiting, but he's accepted us all and brought us all in and he's trusting us all to be the best we can. I think that's very beneficial to us ... (to) put it aside. He's including every single one of us to make us all feel part of the team."

 

I mentioned to Lynott that I had seen programs fall apart in the transition coaching change seasons. One way it happens is for the next staff to shove aside marginal veteran starters and replace them with underclassmen, to get the changeover into higher gear.

 

"I know," Lynott said. "That was kind of my thing I was scared about, coming into my fifth year. I was worried about would he like us, would he kick us to the curb, but he's definitely done a good job. He's included us and it's been beneficial to the entire team."

 

The most stunning aspect of the coaching change is that last October, it seemed inconceivable that MacIntyre would't be coaching the Buffs in 2019. They were 5-0, lost two, but then led lowly Oregon Sate 31-3 at halftime before the epic CU collapse led to the Beavers winning in overtime.

 

The Buffs didn't win again.

 

As it turned out, that game cost MacIntyre his job. If CU had won, however shakily or even in OT, the Buffs would have been 6-2 and bowl-eligible. I'm convinced that with momentum and karma being what they are, CU would have found the way to win at least two more and an 8-5 year would have saved MacIntyre's job.

 

There would have been grumbles about what ultimately would have been a disappointing season after the misleading start against a softer-than-it-initially-seemed schedule, but MacIntyre wouldn't have been ousted.       

 

Instead, he was fired, with his contract calling for a $10.3 million buyout that eventually was negotiated down to $7.23 million after he accepted the defensive coordinator job at Mississippi. He received roughly half of it earlier this year and is scheduled to receive the other half in early 2020.

 

CU officials emphasize the payments come through and from the athletic department, not from student tuition, tax monies, or the general fund.

 

Nice work if you can get it.

 

On Saturday, I asked CU athletic director Rick George if the athletic department has been able to mitigate the hit from the buyout and where it leaves the Buffs.

 

"When we made the decision we took all those factors in play, obviously," George said. "We were able to finish the fiscal year, we were able to fund the first half of that buyout because of an accounting principle, the additional payment that we'll make in January was included in this year's budget and that's why we showed a deficit in our budget. But going into it, we knew our ticket sales for this coming year would be better and we do a great job of fundraising. There are some other factors from contract extensions and things like that.

 

"What it has done for our program, I told our staff that we were going to operate flat compared to where we were last year and everybody's on board with that. They know that. I think the prospects of what's ahead and where our football program can generate for this athletic program is going to be significant moving forward.

 

"For us to be able to compete at he level I want to compete at, with all of our sports teams, they all need more resources, football and men's basketball are our two biggest drivers. When they're consistently winning at a high level, it means a lot. So all the buckets will rise and I'm very confident in our revenue generation and the way we handle our budget.

 

"It's certainly a little bit of a setback, when you have too have a payout like that, but we're well-positioned for the future and I feel pretty good about that."

 

In other words ... despite all he talk about student-athletes and GPA and graduation rates and everything else cited in pumping up the football program as an academic enterpise, there are millions of reasons it comes back to this:

 

Just win, Mel.

 

Regardless of which staff recruited these guys.        

 

 

   

 

 

July 31, 2019

Vet assistants, Fangio

included, take notes

as they await chances 

11ST.jpg 

"These go to eleven." -- Nigel Tufnel in "This is Spinal Tap"

"I don't care. Keep the damn things off." -- Vic Fangio

 

Football as a workplace is unique, but it also has many things in common with other businesses.

 

One of them is the tendency to take mental notes and say something along the lines of, "If I'm ever in charge, this is how we're going to do it ... or not do it."

 

I'm hearing and seeing a lot of that in Broncos coach Vic Fangio, the well-traveled 60-year-old veteran assistant who has worked extensively in both the pro and college games. And he stablished the precedents early, from his introductory news conference on.  

 

Turning off the music at practice runs counter to recent tradition and even against the grain of the iconic "mockumentary" movie that came out when he was 25. (Yes, it was that long ago.) 

 

It's really a very minor thing -- with Fangio saying he wants to be able to hear the guy across from him as they talk at practice -- but it also is a noteworthy indication that he doesn't feel the need to avoid being accused of chasing players off his lawn. That phrase has become such a lame, tiresome reaction to anything that doesn't pander to, say, a radio ratings group, it's aggravating -- and I. of course, just did it.

 

The most underrated point in hiring or eventually evaluating head coaches is there is no one-size fits all, though many try to reduce it to that in chasing after the latest "type" or hot trend. Fangio was a "hot" coordinator after his stretch with the Bears, no question, but was plagued by the frequent tendency to wonder out loud about veteran assistants: How come nobody has hired him for a head-coaching opening by now? (It's the same in the draft. The NFL tends to be what-do-they-know-that-we-don't-know league.)

 

I'll keep coming back to this: The head coach is the CEO. He can be a de facto coordinator on either side of the ball, with the coordinator in title tending to the details the head coach doesn't have time to get to, and actually being too controlling can be counterproductive. Great coordinators as head coaches can sabotage themselves. The potentially great CEO head coaches, those with innovative ideas about how to run a staff and a roster, often don't get their chances because their latest organization hasn't drafted a decent linebacker in 12 years.

 

So after waiting all these years, Vic Fangio not only saying he wants to do it his way (which all coaches say), but also carrying through with it (which fewer do as they get caught up in perception and convention), is refreshing. There is no B.S., he says what he means, he means what he says. He doesn't bluff when someone asks him how so-and-so looked. If he wasn't watching him, rather than offering up some cliched response that would have been good enough for the sound bite, or the 3,214 Tweeted quotes that will come in trhe next 10 seconds, he says he wasn't watching him.

 

He seems to have trust in his staff, including in veteran Ed Donatell, his defensive coordinator, and Rich Scangarello on the offensive side of the ball. That's easy to say now, before the season starts, but important.

 

Nobody likes to talk about this much, either, but the NFL also has had many teams that were well-coached during the week, but the head coach jumped in and screwed everything up on Sundays. That happens less nowaways, or can't be hidden, in the information explosion and also the increase in the number of assistant coaches to an astounding number (I can't even count them ... and it depends on definition of terms).  

 

I don't know if Vic Fangio is going to be a great head coach. Coaches, especially those getting their first chances as had coach, often are affected by much beyond their control.   

 

But I respect the way he seems to be setting the trend that -- cue up Frank Sinatra -- he'll do it his way.     

               

 

  

         

July 25, 2019

This is as disappointing

as Rockies ever have been.

They're better than this.   

 

On a night when starter Kyle Freeland deserved a better fate at Washington, the Rockies last night lost 3-2 to the Nationals and fell to 3-16 in their last 19 games.

 

 There's no excuse. None.

 

There are rationalizations and "reasons" -- the problematic bullpen, inconsistent starting pitching, a lack of punch and inept play at first base from Daniel Murphy ... and more -- but no excuse.

 

Usually in the Rockies' past, it always came back to the reality that the 162-game season is a defining test, and that after all the inevitable ups and downs, the record is what you are. (To quote noted SABERmetrician Bill Parcells.)

 

But now with the Rockies sitting at 47-55, this just doesn't add up. Four All-Stars. Two of the best players in the game. Now, I get it, the Coors Field phenomenon has produced offensive imbalance all along, but never has it been this aggravating.

 

The Rockies are better than this.

 

Part of it involves the regression of the youg starting pitching, which seemed to be so encouraging a year ago.      

 

But there's more to it.

 

This team is thunderously underachieving.

 

So now the trading deadline is less than a week away, and the slide has made it far more likely that Colorado will be sellers in the year that post-deadline waiver deals no longer will be possible. We're already hearing the jabbering about the Rockies' struggles and the opening of Broncos training camp mean that the Rockies no longer are relevant and that anybody who goes out to Coors Field the rest of the way is a sap, and that going to a still-beautiful park for a fun night out is something we should apologize for.

 

Trade Charlie Blackmon? Move him to first and unload Murphy for anything you can get? Of course, rule out trading either Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story?

 

Here's the deal: My philosophy on this is pretty much invariable from sport to sport. The emphasis on the status of the team at the deadline, any deadline, sometimes deflects front offices from looking at the bigger overall picture. Rather than basing it on the buyer-or-seller definition -- do you have a chance to make the postseason or not? -- I'd argue that it always should come back to the same standards.

 

Does it make your team better?

 

Yes, that can involve interpretation, including whether you're talking short- or long-term, but I've never understood why executives don't operate under a single standard.

 

Whether in the NHL, NBA, NFL or MLB and anyone asks about trade possibilities or trade rumors -- in hockey, rumors are a cottage industry -- I'd just respond:

 

My answer is the same to any question about possible trades. If contractually possible, I'll trade anybody on this roster if it makes this team better. I'm not going to respond player by player. My answer is always the same.          

 

So my answer about whether the Rockies should be buyers or sellers is another question: Why should they have to pick one?  

 

    

    

July 24, 2019

Jeffco decides: No

Columbine rebuild.

But does that end debate?

FrankHOPECover.jpg

 

 

At former Columbine High School principal Frank DeAngelis' booksigning for They Call Me "Mr. De": The Story of Columbine's Heart, Resilience and Recovery Saturday night at Barnes and Noble in Glendale, the inquisitive moderator -- me -- asked DeAngelis what he thought of the proposal Jeffco Schools had floated to possibly tear down the existing school and replace it with a new building on adjacent ground.

 

Columbine's HOPE Memorial Library, built since the 1999 killings as a replacement for the original library, where 10 students were murdered, likely would have remained as the anchor for the new school. 

 

DeAngelis told us that news about the decision would break in the upcoming week, then again mentioned that what made Columbine great was the feeeling of community and spirit, and that involved far more than walls and a building.

 

The word came down Wednesday, in a letter from Jeffco superintendent Jason Glass to the Columbine and Jeffco constituencies: The school won't be torn down and rebuilt. (The full letter is appended to this commentary.)

 

Razing the existing school and rebuilding it on the same plot of land would have been a well-meaning project, but not one that necessarily addressed and overcame the issues that caused the proposal to be brought up in the first place. And that involved what Glass earlier termed a continuing "morbid" fascination with Columbine 20 years later. That led to, among other things, the school becoming a tourist site for the curious and harmless, but also a point of fascination for such warped personalities as the 18-year-old young woman who traveled to the area from Florida in April and easily (and legally) bought a pump-action shotgun within two miles of the school before committing suicide in the Arapaho National Forest west of Denver.            

 

With the emphasis on keeping the name, the nickname and the school's traditions, Columbine would have remained Columbine -- and not just in name. That's good. That's praiseworthy. For the past two years, Columbine has been graduating seniors not born at the time of the murders. As the subtitle of DeAngelis' book emphasizes, the school and community displayed defiance and courage in rebounding,. including in the 15 years DeAngelis remained principal after the shootings -- and beyond.

 

Yet even when Glass floated the proposal to tear down and rebuild, the response from DeAngelis and others underscored -- perhaps even inadvertently -- the fallacy.

 

Columbine is more than a building.

 

Columbine is a spirit.      

 

That would have remained the case if a different building carried the Columbine name.

 

Unfortunately, it still would have been Columbine to the nuts, too.

 

That's what I thought when I originally wrote about this after Glass sought public views on the tear-down-and-rebuild proposal.

 

It's what I still think after the period of public feedback.   

 

I'm a graduate of another Jeffco high school, Wheat Ridge, and I've noticed the upgrades in security at my alma mater and other schools in the district in recent years. The intrusion and crisis response protocol in place in 1999 at schools now seems unfathomably passive and lax. Securing the perimeter, with maddening delays, was the primary concern. First responders despised it; but they followed it. We've learned. 

 

For Columbine moving forward, I'll come back to this: I believe there were two viable choices. And tearing down the existing school and building a replacement a few steps away was not one of them. If it was guaranteed to enhance safety and lessen the lure of Columbine for the wackos, cost is no object. But I don't think it's distateful to say it wouldn't have changed enough to make it cost-effective.        

 

Option one, keep the existing school, with the concessions that remodeling projects at schools are routine, and they will continue at Columbine in upcoming years under the 5B bond program. The transformation of the old library into an atrium and opening the HOPE Library addresses the most painful emotional wounds. Also emphasize, as DeAngelis mentioned in his remarks at the booksigning Saurday, that Columbine 's level of security is not just extraordinary; it's unparalleled in a time of heightened vigilance. And as part of moving forward, that level of security will increase. 

 

Or ...

 

Option two, tear it down, close it, and celebrate Columbine's final 20 years as that story of heart, resilience and recovery. I get that some will say the killers would have won. I get that Columbine graduates would feel betrayed. I'd agree if we were talking about five or 10 years after the murders. But we're not. It's a generation later. Columbine "won."                  

 

That would require dispersing Columbine students to other high schools in the open enrollment district, or building a replacement school with a different name far enough away from Columbine to differentiate it.

 

But at least Jeffco, with feedback from its constituents, has ruled out the proposal that while drastic, really wouldn't have changed much.

 

Frank DeAngelis was in the Pittsburgh airport when I spoke with him. He had attended a conference in Triadelphia, W. Va.

 

"Dr. Glass consulted with many of us and we decided to explore to see if there was support for building a new Columbine," DeAngelis said. "After the input came back, there was a lot of emotion on both sides. There werte people who felt a new building was in order, and ehere were those sho felt the old building should remain. It was a good decision by Dr. Glass after getting all the feedback and now Columbine will be renovated as was planned prior to Dr. Glass exploring oher options. And Columbine will remain one of the safest schools."     

 

Here's Superintendent Glass' Wednesday letter:

 

Last month, we initiated a conversation in our community about the future of Columbine High School. The timing was driven by the number of “unauthorized individuals” (some 2,401 as reported in the Colorado Sun) who came onto Columbine’s grounds this past school year and the planned $15 million renovation of the current site using bond funds from the 2018 5B ballot question.

We put forth an idea in the Jeffco community for consideration: should we rebuild Columbine High School, further back from the street on which it presently sits, and redesign the building so as to remove the attraction as the site of the 1999 murders?

The ensuing discussion both locally and joined by those around the country, was emotional and complex and I want to express my appreciation and gratitude for the honest, respectful, and civil way these discussions took place in the Columbine and larger Jeffco communities.

In putting forth the idea of rebuilding the school, Jeffco Public Schools was careful not to say what we should do. Rather, rebuilding the school was presented as an option we should explore. In the course of our discussions, this option was considered and evaluated and other options and proposals also came forward.

In June, we issued a public statement and a brief survey to our stakeholders about rebuilding Columbine. Based on our analysis of survey data collected, evaluating commentary on this issue that has taken place on various social media sites, reading opinion statements published in a variety of formats, and engaging in face-to-face discussions on this matter, I do not believe there is sufficient support to move forward with a proposal to rebuild the school.

While this concept has supporters and merits, there are also valid concerns that were raised. It is clear to me that no consensus direction exists to rebuild the school.

Still, while Columbine High School is now arguably one of the safest schools in the world, the “unauthorized individuals” problem at the school must be addressed. In addition to the great lengths that our safety and security team take to address each “unauthorized individual,” more supports are necessary to mitigate the impact on the school. Therefore, we will be implementing changes to enhance the security and privacy of the site, including the creation of an improved and defined perimeter around the building.

While final plans have yet to be determined, it is our goal to create a classic and stately appearance for the school that the community will be proud of. The school already has an existing “Design Advisory Group” working on planned improvements as part of the 5B bond program and we will use these individuals to advise us on creating the perimeter and other security and privacy enhancements.

We will fund these security and privacy enhancements from existing district resources within our capital fund and will not be asking taxpayers for additional dollars. The planned 5B renovations and improvements to Columbine High School will not be reduced because of these additions and we will not take funds from other schools planned bond improvements.

I deeply appreciate the engagement and respect our community has shown in navigating this difficult question. I understand the prevailing wishes of the Jeffco community on this matter and we will work to meet those, keeping Columbine a great school and making it even more secure going forward.

        

July 22, 2019           

It's a make-or-break

season -- maybe even

preseason -- for Bolles

BollesKingston.jpeg 

After the Broncos' season-ending loss to the Chargers, I was on the field and then behind Garett Bolles as the Broncos' tackle headed to the locker room.

 

He went over to the section at the southwest corner of the stadium, near the dressing-room portal, and greeted his wife, Natalie, and their young son, Kingston.

 

The mood was somber, but the scene was touching.

 

Then Bolles went into the tunnel and once he was out public sight, while still on the move, repeatedly and heatedly bashed his helmet against the wall and punctuated it all with guttural shouts.

 

It hit me: That's Garett Bolles in a nutshell.

 

Now, at age 27 and as he approaches his third season and at least in training camp remains installed at left tackle -- now playing next to rookie guard Dalton Wisner, from Kansas State and Wiggins -- this is inescapable:

 

Bolles' development, or lack thereof, is one of the key issues of the 2019 camp and preseason,  and beyond. This new coaching staff, including offensive line guru Mike Munchak, should be and will be allowed to independently make a decision on Bolles' suitability to remain the starter or even on the roster. There's no guarantee he'll be either against the Raiders on Sept. 9. 

 

It's Bolles' make-or-break season, as least when it comes to the issue of whether he ever will be worthy of the faith the Broncos showed when they made him the first offensive lineman taken in the 2017 draft, at No. 20 overall.

 

To do that, he must be more than a journeyman bouncing around and hanging on in the league.

 

He must be that cornerstone left tackle. For the Broncos. And soon.

 

You're laughing? You're saying that ship already has sailed and the Broncos have scaled back their best-case scenario expectations for Bolles? If he can just hold on (to coin a phrase) to the starting job at a key position on merit, not on the basis of what Denver has invested in him, both in terms of money and expectations, that's about all you can hope for?

 

Perhaps.

 

But it would be a mistake to give up on him. Yet.    

 

There's so much at stake.

 

Unless the Broncos are better at protecting the quarterback than they have been in recent years, the acquisition of Joe Flacco will have only minor impact. 

 

At 34, Flacco is neither elusive nor a statue, but has the step-here, step-there maneuverability that can be part of the bigger picture. This is no newsflash, but he needs major-league protection to be effective. 

 

Case Keenum had his problems and Trevor Siemian never was going to be the answer, but the the ineptitude up front handicapped them and Siemian especially was banged up.

 

Now, in attempting to bill Flacco as the difference-maker, John Elway deserves credit for acknowledging the misjudgments about quarterbacks the franchise has made since Peyton Manning's retirement. (Hello, Paxton ...)

 

But the backdrop should include the reality that offensive line improvement -- under Munchak's tutelage -- should be at the top of the list of priorities.

 

And Bolles is the biggest variable there.                       

 

The way training camp works, story lines often reflect what the Broncos themselves are advancing and hoping for, but the talk of Bolles showing signs of maturation -- including from veteran guard Ron Leary -- is genuine. He also likely will benefit from playing next to Risner, savvy beyond his years and capable of providing on-field direction for Bolles.

 

Ah, but what of his holding and his mistake-prone play?

 

It seems as if he has drawn flags not just during the game, but during pre-game warmup and at halftime.

 

Some of them, perhaps even many or most, had been video-definition of holding calls, or overt tackles, but sometimes it's not so simple and reputation comes into play in such a subjective decision making process.

 

It isn't about what holding is; it's about what's called holding.

 

The respected veteran offensive lineman? Hey, (wink), it's not holding if it isn't called.

 

The guy with the reputation for holding at every opportunity? The same maneuver is holding.

 

That's the double standard so prevalent in all sports. Reputation plays a major role. 

 

I'm not turning this into an officials' vendetta defense of Bolles.

 

I'm just saying part of his battle is earning that respect and having the flags stay in the pocket on the gray-area calls.

 

He has to get better, much better, for all of that to happen.

 

I still think he's capable of it, and that the Broncos being enamored in 2017 of a big man with such athleticism was understandable.  Plus, he was raw. Lanky coming out of high school, he wasn't even a prospect. As my profile below outlines, before he developed an offensive lineman's physique, he took two years off from football and then played two years at Snow Junior College and only one at Utah in the Pac 12 before entering the draft and breaking in as a 25-year-old rookie.   

 

But this is his last chance to show he can be that cornerstone.  

 

What often seems to be forgotten or at least underplayed is that last November, he -- and the offensive line as a unit -- seemed to be coming around. The Broncos won three in a row and questions from the media to the offensive linemen were prefaced with remarks about them starting to prove the critics wrong. Then the wheels fell off down the stretch.              

 

I admit I'm rooting for Bolles in part because of that quick-hit profile I did on him from Dove Valley in the weekend of the 2017 draft. I'm proud of it for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I managed to put it together, tracking down other figures in his life and career, in about 36 hours. 

 

Bolles' story is compelling.

 

Read my Denver Post online version, with pictures, here. 

 

To read just the text, continue: 

 

April 28, 2017

 

In August 2011, Greg Freeman was in his company truck in Lehi, Utah, about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City.

 

The owner of a garage door installation and service company who dabbled as a high school lacrosse coach, Freeman spotted a teenager he had known for years, first coaching him in lacrosse as far back as seventh grade; and then as his own children and wife, Emily, helped tutor the kid through high school.

 

Garett Bolles, who had just turned 19 and had graduated from Westlake High School two months earlier, was at the side of the road near his family home, carrying garbage sacks and duffel bags full of his belongings.

 

Garett's father, Grove, fed up with his son's propensity to get into trouble at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people, and with the wrong things, had kicked him out, saying that for the good of all, Garett needed to find somewhere else to live.

 

Freeman pulled over. He spoke with Garett and got the story. He called Emily. He explained the situation and asked his wife: "What do you want me to do?"

 

At the Broncos' Dove Valley headquarters Friday, Emily Freeman, 47, recalled her reaction.

 

The Freemans had four children of their own, two boys - including a son, Josh, in the same graduating class as Garett at Westlake - and two girls. They both knew Garett fell far short of qualifying for a halo. Yet they were about to add a third son.

 

"I hit my knees and prayed," Emily said. "I thought, 'God will know. He'll know what's right for Garett, he'll know what's right for our kids.' ... It was clear as day. 'Bring him home.' I said, 'Greg, put his stuff in the truck and bring him home.' "

 

On Friday, Greg Freeman, 49, was only a few minutes removed from being teary-eyed as the Broncos' 2017 first-round draft choice, Utah tackle Garett Bolles, thanked the couple he now calls his parents at his introductory news conference at the team's headquarters. Bolles was the NFL's No. 20 overall choice, the first offensive lineman taken. And this was all less than six years after he literally had nowhere to go ... and ended up with the Freemans.

 

"He was struggling with growing up," Greg recalled. "He was known by the city police and things of that nature by first name and he knew them by first name. He did have an issue with vandalism and spent the night in the jail, and so, yeah, he was a wayward kid needing some love and guidance."

 

Said Emily: "Even behind all of the hard things that were going on at home and with the law, and everything he was facing, you just saw inside there was a kid with so much potential. He just needed someone to tell him it was there."

 

Grove Bolles works in real estate financing and has remained in Garett's life since that night, and attended the draft in Philadelphia on Thursday as part of Garett's entourage. The one thing that can't be doubted: This worked out for the best after Garett, always a handful, was adrift following his high school graduation.

 

"He had a pretty good senior year in high school football," Grove said Saturday. "Not quite good enough to be a college player, but you could see that that talent and the future was there. He kind of struggled with not having a landing board out of high school. His two older brothers, Kyle and Weston, served LDS missions and he wasn't quite sure if he was ready for that on the maturity level. He wasn't quite sure he was ready for the workforce and what he wanted to do.

 

"So he decided to start partying. It got pretty out of hand."

 

Grove and his wife had split up the year before and as a single father, Grove still had Garett and his two younger brothers and sister in the household.

 

"I'm a real hands-on dad," he said. "I've been an integral part of his life, his whole life. I've probably spent more time with him than any of my other children because he needed it. We've always been very close in that regard. When he started spinning out of control, we had a lot of talks about maturation and focus and direction and being patient in life's process and understanding he was going to have to find himself and be more disciplined in his choices. Well, he chose to hang around a bunch of knucklehead kids who were pretty bad kids."

 

Grove said he felt as if he had lost control of his son.

 

"I wouldn't say his partying was exceptional or extraordinary," he said. "Typical things of young boys trying to find themselves in life. Drinking, a little bit of drugs. But his disrespect at home had gotten off the charts. ... It was understandable what he was doing, but it certainly wasn't acceptable. Finally, one day I came home on a Saturday morning and there were three of his buddies in his room who were forbidden to be in my house. Two of those kids went on to prison and jail."

 

Grove said he told Garett's buddies to get out of the house.

 

Then he turned to Garett.

 

"I said, 'I'm going to give you four hours to get your stuff out of the house, and when I come back, if you're here, I'm going to get you arrested for trespassing.' He said, 'You're kidding, Dad.' I said, 'No, this has come to an end. You need to get out of the house. I'll still keep being your dad, still love you, still going to support you, but you can no longer live here. You're upsetting the household, you're not helping, your brothers and sister don't like you being around right now, you need to find someplace else to live. I'll be there for you, but you can't live here.'"

 

Grove said he emphasized that if Garett got his act together and showed he could be respectful long-term, he could return to the family's home. But not until then.

 

When Garett moved in with the Freemans, Greg and Emily declared there were three rules. Garett would attend weekly services at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he would tithe 10 percent of any income he made to the church, and he would turn off and turn over his phone every night.

 

"Garett and I have a real interesting relationship," Emily said. "He'll tell you he's scared of me, which is funny, my kids laugh so hard. But he knows when I tell him something, I'm serious about it. When he came in, I said there won't be any warnings. I said, 'You break one of these rules and we'll help you find somewhere else to live.' I wasn't going to leave him on the street. He never did break them. He went to church every single Sunday. He paid his tithing. None of the kids that worried me came around. There were other battles along the way that we would go through and work out one by one."

 

As Grove Bolles spoke Saturday, he was very enthusiastic in his praise of the Freemans and while expressing gratitude for what they have done with their rules that Garett accepted in reassessing his life.

 

"Garett would call me frequently, sometimes several times a day and say he was adjusting to a new household, new rules, a new environment," he said. "I said, 'That's Emily and Greg's house, I know what kind of household they have, it's a great place, you need to adjust and abide by their rules. But you can't come home.' I said, 'I'm here for you, I'm still your dad, I'm still going to love you, that's where you need to be right now.'

 

"I think it's a classic example of what a mother- and father-run household can do as compared to a single-parent household. ... I was completely involved in his life and all his activities. I want to focus on the positive, what's Garett's made of his life and how Greg and Emily have helped. I've been there supporting him unwaveringly the whole time. I didn't abandon him. I didn't disown him. If anything, I was more involved in his life than ever. But I had to support Greg and Emily in their efforts because that was his last chance. I saw that and he saw that."

 

Greg Freeman noted: "His real father put him out for lessons of good love. Grove is still a good friend of ours. At that point, Garett needed a different direction, and I happened to be there."

 

The lore is that, before all that happened, Garett was "kicked out" of five schools as he was raised in Lehi. That's misleading because it treats suspensions as expulsions.

 

"I just fought a lot," Bolles said in a conversation in the lobby outside the Broncos' position meeting rooms Friday. "I had a lot of anger, because there was a lot of turmoil at my house."

 

Struggling at times because of attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADDH), Garett transferred from Lehi High to the new Westlake High during his junior year. At Westlake as a senior football player, he got caught up in that vandalism incident at Lehi - his former school.

 

"I spray-painted my archrival high school," Bolles said sharply. "Whatever you want to think of that, you can. I was just a high school kid playing a high school prank that went wrong so I don't really think about it. That stuff's in the past. I'm going to bury it and never bring it back up. I'm a Denver Bronco and that stuff's behind me. Now I have to work with a team to make them better and make me better."

 

Michael O'Connor at the time was, and still is, the athletic director at Westlake.

 

"He can be a character at times, as everyone knows," O'Connor said of Bolles. "All the things he went through and all he's done to make his life better, it shows a lot about who he is. But he and a couple of kids obviously didn't make the right decision then and they spray-painted (Lehi's) turf field. That was at the very beginning of the season, so he ended up having to sit out a few games. That flustered him, and he's a passionate kid. He's emotional, and everything comes from his heart right away. I know they got fined and the kids had to pay for it. There were three or four of them, all suspended.

 

"He wasn't on track to graduate. But something sparked right after football season. ... He got his work done and then some and he graduated. We could have given up on him. We didn't give up on kids."

 

As he played football and lacrosse and also met the Freemans and others for tutoring during his high school years, Bolles talked about someday playing in the NFL. (Westlake didn't have a lacrosse program. Freeman was the lacrosse coach at Lehi. So even after Bolles transferred to Westlake, he played high school lacrosse for Freeman at Lehi.)

 

Emily Freeman, among others, reminded Garett that academically he wouldn't pass the NCAA's muster to receive a scholarship. He was a decent high school football player, but lanky and immature physically. His NFL talk seemed complete fantasy.

 

For the next 18 months, after moving in with the Freemans, Garett worked for Greg as a garage-door technician. He not only liked the work, he became very good at it. "It's my passion," he said. "It's something I love to do. Anyone out there that needs help with their garage door, call me, I'll be there."

 

Said Greg: "My thought was this guy probably will take over this business and be in the garage-door business his whole adult life."

 

Starting in early 2013, Bolles also spent nearly a year on an LDS mission to Colorado. He officially was based in Colorado Springs, but spent much of his time in Pueblo.

 

"I loved Pueblo," he said. "They're great people down there. The food's outstanding; they put the green chili on the burgers and they smother burritos. Fat food for offensive linemen like me. I loved them; I have so many friends and friendships that always will play a big role in my life."

 

Returning to the Freeman home in early 2014, he again worked with Greg's company. But by then, he had grown and gained a lot of weight. As he played on an adult team in a summer lacrosse league, with Greg as a teammate, he displayed eye-popping speed and athletic ability for a big man.

 

With encouragement from Grove, who did some checking with a football coach friend, and from the Freemans, Garett and Emily Freeman ended up meeting with a Brigham Young University assistant coach in Provo. The coach summoned Snow Junior College coach Britt Maughan to meet Bolles, and Maughan invited him to attend the start of preseason practices on what amounted to a tryout.

 

The Freemans told Garett, OK, if he earned a scholarship at the junior college program in Ephraim, Utah, great. If he didn't, it was back to the garage-door business.

 

"My mom told me, 'If you have cleats on you, you're the first one on the field and the last one off, you run everywhere,' " Bolles said. "That's what I did. I kept running and doing what I needed to do to make myself successful."

 

He got that scholarship, and after his freshman season, it was obvious he was capable of playing at the major-program level. In March 2015, he attended Snow's "True Badger Night."

 

"It's a dance, and then you go into the bell tower and it's a big kissing frenzy," he said. "I had a warm feeling to go and there she was, and I told her, 'Let me show you how a real man kisses.' That's what happened."

 

"She" was Natalie Williams.

 

"She gave me her phone number and I thought it was one of those when girls give you fake numbers, but it was the right number," Bolles said.

 

Now Natalie Bolles, she also was at Dove Valley on Friday.

 

"The first night we hung out, I asked him about his life because it was my first time meeting him," she said. "He just told me his life story. Like everything. I just saw the passion and the caring person that he is. I cried when he told me his story. I said this guy is so sweet, he's so nice, he's a guy I would like to keep hanging out with."

 

He even told her about garage doors. Really. "He loves to talk about it," she said. "That was one of his favorite things. If you ask him anything about a garage door, he'll tell you how to fix it, where to get it, how long it will last." She added something that's especially interesting in light of his ADDH struggles. "Once he retains information, it's there," she said.

 

They were engaged in June 2015, married in December 2015 and now are the parents of 4-month-old son Kingston, who was in "Lion King" Garett's arms when the Broncos' top draft choice joined NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the stage in Philadelphia on Thursday. Kingston also was with his parents at Broncos headquarters Friday.

 

As a sophomore at Snow, Bolles was the Western States Football League's offensive player of the year. As a tackle.

 

Once planning to attend BYU, he decided to consider other options after he became one of the most highly sought junior college players in the country. Sifting through offers from power five programs, he chose the backyard school, Utah, and was an all-Pac-12 choice as a junior last season before declaring for the draft.

 

"He had a strong desire to be the best and is willing to put in the time afterwards," Utah offensive line coach Jim Harding said. "If we would have an individual period, and he maybe didn't feel like he got the technique down, he would grab me after practice and ask to work that technique again."

 

Did he see any of the troubled kid that Bolles once was?

 

"No, I didn't, and that's what I told the scouts," Harding said. "I can't say that about every kid I have in the offensive line, but on Friday and Saturday night, I'm not wondering what Garett Bolles is doing or if he's doing the right thing. Nothing that is in his past ever showed up when he was at Utah. ... He got married when we were still recruiting him, and he's been with Natalie ever since he came to campus, and that's a real stabilizing influence for him.

 

"The Freemans are a tremendous positive influence on him, and I think it's tremendous where Garett is going because it's the closest place it could have been to Utah. Emily and Greg have done wonders for him."

 

It's a story that doesn't need to be made up.

 

 

July 20, 2019

Denver's own Dan Ficke

named head hoops coach

at Belmont Abbey

DanFickeBelmont.jpg 

Dan Ficke at Belmont Abbey 

 

The Ficke family has gone full circle at Belmont Abbey College, just west of Charlotte.

 

The Crusaders -- a Division II program playing in the Conference Carolinas -- named Denver's own Dan Ficke, 32, their new head men's basketball coach, succeeding Billy Taylor, who left to become an assistant coach at Iowa.

 

Dan's father, Bill Ficke, proprietor of Big Bill's New York Pizza in Centennial, is an iconic figure in the Colorado sports community -- and beyond. Bill knows everyone and everyone knows Bill. And it's not only because he's a former Nuggets assistant coach. His 9/11 "Day of Giving" at Big Bill's, with free food for voluntary contribiutions to the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation, annually raises six figures for Colorado cancer organizations and his heart is huge.

 

In 2007, JoAnn and Bill's son, Dan, then playing for Loyola (Maryland), delivered his mom's eulogy and there wasn't a dry eye in the church.

 

We felt, and still feel, as if we have watched Dan grow up, including at Regis Jesuit and Loyola and beyond.

 

So now we have all the more reason to be proud.

 

Dan's hiring at Belmont Abbey hire has been in the loop for several weeks, but Dan arrived at Belmont midweek and the official announcement came Thursday. 

 

Before his collegiate career at Loyola, Dan played at Aurora's Regis Jesuit.

 

Most recently, he has been an assistant for four seasons at the University of Denver, under Joe Scott and Rodney Billups.

 

Prior to DU, Dan worked in the programs at Wake Forest and Loyola.

 

Big Bill not only played at Belmont Abbey, he played there under legendary coach Al McGuire, whose first head coaching job was there from 1957-64. Bill already was ticketed for fall induction into the school's Hall of Fame. 

 

So this is a Ficke family return to the school. 

 

"It's hard to put into words how incredibly blessed I feel to have that opportunity," Dan told me from Belmont on Saturday. "My dad is probably, outside of my wife, my best friend and he's definitely my role model. I've walked in his very large footsteps for a very long time. So to be able to go back there to the school where he played and has such great memories of, it means everything for my first head coaching position to be at the place where he played college basketball. It seems like a divine intervention to be there."     

 

Bill was ecstatic. 

 

"Next to the day I got married to my wonderful wife, and then when my son was born, and then when I saw him become a father, I'd have to say it's all right up there," Bill told me. "Whoever thought 57 years later, there'd be a Ficke with the basketball team at Belmont Abbey? . . . The best thing that happened to Dan was his first job was with Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest, and Jeff laid the foundation for his work ethic and knowledge of basketball. He really worked with Dan and helped him grow."

 

Dan also is the president of the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation. The Day of Giving, a salute of 9/11 victims and first responders, predates JoAnn's 2007 death and subsequent formation of the foundation, and has raised $1.2 million overall. 

 

(For info on the JBFCF and on Bill and JoAnn's story, click here.)     

 

Dan and his wife, Jordan, have 20-month-old twins, William Winslow and Sloane Smith.  

 

Belmont Abbey athletic director Stephen Miss announced Dan's hiring. Dan had interviewed for the job when Taylor was hired in 2016, so he was in the Crusaders' memory bank when the job opened again. 

 

The Crusaders were 23-8 overall and 14-4 in league play last season, finishing second to Emmanuel. So the cupboard won't be bare.

 

"During what was a thorough and comprehensive national search, Dan Ficke emerged as the right individual at this time to lead Belmont Abbey College's men's basketball program," Miss said. "In addition to having benefited from playing for and working with many exceptional coaches, Coach Ficke articulated repeatedly during the interview process an appreciation of and conviction in our mission that positions him well to form and develop our students as they endeavor individually and collectively to realize their full potential: body, mind, and soul."

 

The fact that Dan played both high school and college basketball at Catholic schools was a plus for him in the selection process. Dan also can benefit from Bill's and his own connections in the coaching fraternity, and in the recruiting networks. Plus, some of Bill's former teammates are supporters of the program.   

 

"Back in December of January, I can't remember when it was, the president of the university came out and told me they were going to put me in the Belmont Abbey Hall of Fame," Bill said. "That's going to happen on October 12. So I said, 'Great 2019's my year.'"

 

He laughed and added, "Now I've been upstaged by my son."     

 

When Dan was playing at Loyola, his teammates labeled frequent visitor Bill as "Thornton Mellon,'" after the Rodney Dangerfield character in "Back to School." Ever since, I've pictured Bill on the Tonight Show couch, tagging on his tie and lamenting, "I tell 'ya, Johnny, I don't get no respect. No respect at all."

 

On Saturday, Bill joked, "I'm going back to school," then added: "No, I figure about once a month I'll go out and see him and the grandkids. During the season, I'll go when there's two or three games in close proximity and see him coach."

 

Fickes1.jpg

Dan and Bill Ficke on the Day of Giving, honoring

JoAnn B. Ficke, in 2016  

 

     

 

 

 

July 11, 2019

Erik Johnson got off

the train at Saratoga for

the 14th time ... and went 

to winner's circle  

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Erik Johnson with another of his horses, Crosscheck Carlos 

 

Comical, the 2-year-old filly co-owned by Erik Johnson, Thursday won the Schuylerville States, a Grade 3 stakes race at the famed Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the Avalanche defenseman was there to celebrate in the winner's circle.

 

"It's an unbelievable feeling to win at Saratoga," Johnson told Jeff Scott of the Saratogian. "Hats off to the entire team that got her here. We're excited to see what the future holds. Her dam is a full sister to (2008 Travers Stakes winner) Colonel John, so hopefully she can stretch out."

 

Going off as the 3-1 second favorite and ridden by Javier Castellano, Comical beat the Todd Pletcher-trained Kiss the Girl by a neck in the 6-furlong sprint on a muddy track. Both Comical and Kiss the Girl are daughters of successful sire Into Mischief.

 

The even-money favorite, Shippy, ran third.   

 

Comical now has won both her starts -- a maiden special weight race at Santa Anita on May 26, then the Grade 3 race for 2-year-old fillies at Saratoga Thursday. The filly earned her connections -- that's horse racing talk -- $39,000 at Santa Anita and $82,500 on Thursday.

 

Bloodstock agent Dennis O'Neill generally picks out the horses for Johnson and partners to buy, and they're usually trained by Dennis' brother, renowned trainer Doug O'Neill.

 

In addition to Johnson's ERJ Racing, the other co-owners for Comical are listed as Gary Barber, Dave Kenney and Madaket Stables.

 

Johnson, John Fuller, Kenney and Madaket Stables also are the co-owners of Landeskog, winner of $85,000 so far in three career starts. The latest was the Grade 1 Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes day last month. Landeskog was not offside, but was ninth in that race after winning once and finishing second once in earlier starts, both at Oaklawn Park  in Hot Springs, Ark.            

 

I've spoken with Johnson several times over the years about his horse racing interest, and how he managess to follow ERJ Racing's horses, even during the season.

 

“It’s so easy with the apps nowadays, you can just plug your horse into your virtual stable and then you get notifications on your phone,” he told me. “Like if they work out or when they run. It takes no effort at all, just pick up the phone and look at it and it takes a minute and a half to watch the race.”

By the way, Crosscheck Carlos -- the colt pictured above -- earned $136,453 in eight career starts, with two firsts and four seconds, before he was retired in 2017 because of injury.

 

Raised in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, Johnson first sampled horse racing at Canterbury Park southwest of Minneapolis. "I went a handful of times," he told me. "You just put the $2 win bets on the 20-1 shot and it's kind of fun."

 

From there, he mainly followed the Triple Crown races then attended opening day of the Del Mar meeting, near San Diego, when he was a high school student.

 

"I was kind of in awe at how big of a spectacle it was." he said. "I followed it casually since and I'd say in the last year and a half, I got into it on the ownership side and I've really, really enjoyed it."

 

Johnson has co-owned horses with other various partners, including former NHL player and current broadcaster Ed Olczyk; Paul Reddam, the Canadian businessman who separately owned 2016 Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquist; and Florida Panthers owner Vinnie Viola.
 
Johnson's trainers also include Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.
 
 
P.S.: Bonus points for any Guy or Doll who gets the headline.  
 
 
 
 

July 9, 2019

Jared Bednar's

contract extended

through 2021-22

 Bednar7.jpg

 

The Avalanche Tuesday announced that Jared Bednar, who had one year remaining on his contract, to a two-year extension.

 

So he's under contract through 2021-22, which passes for security in a league that champions the scapegoating of coaches in times of trial.

 

It's well-deserved. After three seasons as Patrick Roy's replacement, Bednar has settled in -- as much as a first-time NHL coach (or NHL anything) can -- as an unflappable, respected voice behind the bench, with an intuitive sense of which buttons to push.

 

It was a long time coming for the man from Saskatchewan.

 

*   *   * 

 

The grain storage elevator was the tallest structure in the village. Population fluctuated, and if the count was taken at the right time, it might crack 300. This was Elbow, Saskatchewan, halfway between Regina and Saskatoon, and elementary school student Jared Bednar was the son of an often transferred Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, settling in and making new friends.

 

Bednar was used to it.

 

"Every two or three years, we'd move," Bednar told me.

 

Born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Bednar spent the most time in his childhood in a big city, Humboldt, population 5,000, because his father, Wally, was stationed there twice, including when Jared was beginning to advance through the ranks of youth hockey.

 

"In rural Saskatchewan, you live, breathe, eat, sleep hockey," he said. "That's what you do. So it didn't matter what time of the year, you found a way to play, whether you're playing street hockey on the pavement or ice rinks or outdoors on ponds. That's all we did. Well, we played other sports as well, but we found a way to make sure we were getting our hockey in every night -- that and watching 'Hockey Night in Canada.' "

 

Bednar hoped to play for the Humboldt Broncos, the local Tier II team, or maybe -- just maybe -- major junior's Saskatoon Blades. As a big, tough defenseman who saw dropping the gloves and fighting as part of the job description, he attained both, eventually playing four seasons in the Western Hockey League with the Blades and the Spokane Chiefs, Medicine Hat Tigers and Prince Albert Raiders. He went unclaimed in the NHL draft and was 21 when he finished his major junior career.

 

"I assumed that I was going to play at at least the American League level," he said of the NHL's "triple-A" feeder. "When that didn't happen and I wasn't part of an NHL team and I didn't sign, I was thinking, 'What do I do now?' "

 

His coaches had contacts in what then was called the East Coast Hockey League, a step down from the AHL, and he caught on with the expansion Huntington (W.Va.) Blizzard.

 

"I didn't know anything about the league," Bednar said. "I'm 21 years old, I'm leaving Saskatchewan and Western Canada really for the first time to jump in my car and drive down to West Virginia and play hockey. I had no idea what it entailed."

 

Bednar was a stay-at-home defenseman, even more popular with crowds and his teammates because he dropped the gloves to avenge and defend and also because at that level, at least one good scrap a night was part of the league's identity and box-office allure.

 

"It was something I could contribute to help my team, so I did it," Bednar said. "I wanted to play and I loved my teammates."

 

In Huntington, the home of Marshall University, Bednar met and started dating the woman who later would become Susan Bednar. In his third season, though, he was traded to the South Carolina Stingrays, based in Charleston.

 

"I was crushed," Bednar said.

 

The immediate silver lining was that his teammate, roommate and best friend, Dan Fornell, was traded with him, and they quickly became valuable members of the Stingrays.

 

"We always referred to him as 'Bedrock,' " said Rob Concannon, a Stingrays teammate who now is president of the ECHL team. "He had a cool persona about him, and at one point he had the long hair and an earring. ... We find out that we're getting Jared Bednar and Dan Fornell from the Huntington Blizzard and we said, 'Let's look at the guys' stats!' That first (expansion) year, Jared was minus-82. Minus-82! So of course we were all saying, 'Who the hell are these two guys?' And then they came to town.

 

"I played a kind of antagonistic role and Jared would turn to me and say, 'Coocs, you go out there and do whatever you want, I have your back.' That's what he was. He always had your back."

 

BednarGoodCup.jpg

 As the South Carolina Stingrays' captain,

Jared Bednar holds aloft the Patrick J. Kelly Cup. 

 

Jason Fitzsimmons was the Stingrays' goaltender.

 

"He was a great teammate," Fitzsimmons said of Bednar. "He stood up for his teammates, he spoke with his actions and he held people accountable. I think those are things he has taken over to the coaching side."

 

The Bednars came to love Charleston so much, he and Susan Bednar and their two children made it their base during Jared's subsequent hockey travels.

 

The Stingrays won the league's Patrick J. Kelly Cup twice when Bednar played for them, in 1997 and 2001. In between, he had brief stints in the AHL with St. John's and Rochester, and in the International Hockey League with Grand Rapids, but wasn't considered an NHL prospect. He didn't mind going back to the Stingrays and winning championships.

 

"It was awesome," he said. "You don't know any better. I didn't know any better. I went down there and we were drawing 10,000 fans a game, selling out our building and they're treating us like we were an NHL team. We were Charleston's team, South Carolina's team and the fans were great."

 

In 2002 he was pondering whether to play another season when Fitzsimmons, the former goalie, moved up from assistant coach to head coach. On the night of his hiring, Fitzsimmons asked Bednar, who lived two blocks away, to come to his house for a talk. He asked Bednar to retire and become his assistant.

 

"I wanted to stay in hockey and I didn't know if I was going to be able to do that as a player," Bednar said. "Probably the biggest factor in me deciding was I had played one way my whole life. I wasn't the most talented, but I was real competitive. I had some anxiety at certain points in my career about fighting, but generally I fought because I was in the moment and wanted to do it. My last year, that kind of went away. I was at a spot where I had my son and I didn't feel that I battled to the point I did the rest of my career."

 

He was torn. He told himself he wanted to play one more season, return to his passionate role and go out that way. But he told Fitzsimmons yes.

 

His coaching career had begun.

 

"I fell in love with it," he said. "It gave me a chance to work and learn and make a lot of mistakes."

 

Bednar and Fitzsimmons, who remain close, were on the Stingrays' bench together for five seasons.

 

"Even though I was the head coach and he was the assistant coach, I viewed it as being co-coaches," Fitzsimmons said. "I learned a lot from him. I knew I was pretty green and we were both young kids and I knew that being an ex-goaltender, I used to talk about the game with him and I knew we had the same philosophy. I think I kind of talked him out of playing another year and I think now, 15 years later, he's probably thankful I did that for him."

 

In 2007, Fitzsimmons moved on to the Washington Capitals as a professional scout, and Bednar became South Carolina's head coach. In Bednar's second season, the Stingrays won the Kelly Cup again in 2009, and as much as he loved Charleston, he was wondering whether he might be able to coach at a higher level.

 

He signed on as an assistant to Jim Playfair, a former NHL defenseman who was the head coach of the AHL's Abbotsford Heat.

 

"I quickly realized that first and foremost, our personalities connected," said Playfair, recently named the associate coach of the Edmonton Oilers. "There just weren't many loose parts in his coaching and his disposition as a person. His connection to the players. His attention to detail. His preparedness. I was just really impressed that coming out of the East Coast League, that he was as well-versed in handling video tape and teaching structure and getting his point across to the players."

 

Playfair recalled a conversation with Bednar after the Heat was eliminated from the playoffs and the coaches and players were in the Calgary airport.

 

"I said, 'Look, you are past being an assistant coach at this level. I think you're good enough to be a head coach,' " Playfair said. "I made some phone calls to different general managers that I had relationships with that I thought might be looking for a good, solid, young coach."

 

The St. Louis Blues hired Bednar to be head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen. So he had gone from ECHL assistant to ECHL head coach, from AHL assistant to AHL head coach and he was on the path to the ...

 

Not so fast.

 

The Rivermen were 81-63-12 in his two seasons, but Bednar's contract wasn't renewed.

 

"It was disappointing," he said. "I'd put a lot into that and I felt like it was my chance. I'm a competitive person. I want to win and we didn't, but I thought our staff and myself put a lot into that team and I felt we did everything we could with the group we had. ... I think deep down I worried a little bit that that was my chance as an American League head coach. But I'm of the belief that everything happens for a reason."

 

BednarcoachCup-150x150.jpg

As coach of the Lake Erie Monsters,

Jared Bednar holds aloft the Calder Cup.  

 

The Columbus Blue Jackets hired him as the second assistant for their AHL franchise, the Springfield Falcons. After two seasons, Falcons head coach Brad Larsen -- a former Colorado winger -- moved up to the Blue Jackets' staff, andBednar was a head coach again. The Blue Jackets' affiliation switched to the Lake Erie Monsters in Cleveland for 2015-16, and the Monsters stormed through the AHL playoffs and won the league's Calder Cup. Bednar signed a new two-year contract with the Blue Jackets' organization, but after Roy's stunning Aug. 11, 2016 resignation, the Avalanche interviewed Bednar and hired him two weeks later.

 

He kept his poise through his painful introduction to the NHL, the dreadful 48-point season in 2016-17, and Joe Sakic kept the faith, conceding the rebuild in progress had placed Bednar at a great disadvantage. Then came the stunning turnaround in his second season behind the bench, when the Avs jumped to 95 points.

 

Although the Avalanche's midseason lull last season seemingly placed his job in jeopardy under conventional NHL standards, Sakic never came close to firing Bednar and Colorado recovered to claim its second straight No. 8 Western Conference seed and this time knocked off Calgary in the first round.

      

 And now he's under contract for three more seasons.

 

 

July 7, 2019

 

Coloradans Lindsey Horan,

Mallory Pugh celebrate

U.S. World Cup win

 

Rush.jpg 

Lindsey Horan, then 17 and heading into her senior year at Golden High School, is third from left, wearing a gray shirt and carrying her backpack, at a Colorado Rush practice in Littleton during the 2011 women's World Cup. 

 

I'm not going to dwell on the negative here. But I admit I was both surprised and disappointed Sunday morning when I heard that coach Jill Ellis' starting lineup for the USWNT's championship game meeting with The Netherlands didn't include midfielder Lindsey Horan of Golden.

 

Instead, Ellis went with Sam Mewis.

 

Horan, the reigning MVP in the National Women's Soccer League with the Portland Thorns, didn't play in the 2-0 win that will be -- and deserves to be -- much-celebrated from coast to coast.

 

It could have been even more of a boost for the NWSL, which began play in 2013 as the third attempt to make a women's pro league a thriving part of the American sports scene, if the league's MVP had been more visible in the tournament and especially the title game.

 

Horan even talked about the possible impact on the struggling NWSL in an Associated Press story as the championship game approached.   

 

But Horan didn't play. Neither did the other Coloradan on the roster, Mountain Vista graduate Mallory Pugh.

 HoranMug2.jpgHoranBeckham2.jpg

Lindsey Horan in Portland Thorns uniform, and with David Beckham when they both played for Paris Saint-Germain teams. 

 

I've done a handful of stories on Horan over the years, as far back as when she was a Parade High School All--American as a junior at Golden. That was quite a trick, considering she didn't play high school soccer, but instead concentrated on the Colorado Rush program, including playing on boys' teams. I wrote more on her through her choice to bypass a college soccer scholarship at North Carolina and turn pro to play for Paris Saint-Germain. I caught up with her after she established herself as one of the stars of the French league. I've followed her from afar since she returned to North America to play for the fledgling NWSL and become even more entrenched as a standout in the national program.

 

The picture above is from my visit to a Rush practice in Littleton, during the 2011 women's World Cup in Germany.

 

My mission that day was to get the reaction of several of Colorado's top young players to the U.S. victory over Brazil in the quarterfinals. I spoke with Horan; Wheat Ridge High's Annie Kunz, who went on to be a track star instead at Texas A&M; Morgan Kennedy and Morgan Stanton. They all mentioned they hoped the World Cup exposure would help women's soccer, and we hear it every four years. (Same with the men's program.)

 

PughMug.jpg

OK, this time it should mean the addition of a Colorado franchise in the NWSL, which now has nine franchises, with USA Soccer assigning the players to the various rosters and paying them. Bring home Horan and Pugh (left), who plays for the Washington Spirit, as initial draws.

 

But for now ... bring on the parade.  

 

On Sunday, Horan and Pugh accepted post-game award ceremony congratulations from a line of officials that included French president Emmanuel Macron, and it struck me that he now has been part of honoring three Colorado women over the past five weeks. Keep scrolling to come to the story about 97-year-old former combat nurse Leila Morrison of Windsor, who came ashore at Omaha Beach and was at the 75th D-Day anniversary ceremony at Normandy last month.   

 

 

June 17, 2019 

 

She came ashore at Omaha Beach, too:

WWII nurse Leila Morrison back in

Colorado after D-Day visit to Normandy

 

Leila.jpg

Leila Morrison in Normandy, signing the jacket of Best Defense Foundation program director

Ralph Peeters, who lives in The Netherlands. (Photo courtesy Ralph Peeters)

DDayonbeach.jpg

Leila Morrison is seventh from left (in white pants) among the Best Defense Foundation-escorted

veterans on Omaha Beach. (Best Defense Foundation photo) 

 

On June 6, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, former Army nurse Leila Morrison looked out over Omaha Beach.

 

"I just couldn't believe it," Morrison told me Monday. "It was so different from 75 years ago, when we arrived. There wasn't anything recognizable except maybe the sand on the beach. It brought back so many emotions and everything else you had inside of you."

 

Morrison is 97 and since 2010 has lived in a senior citizens' home in Windsor, between Fort Collins and Greeley.

   

This often is lost in the narrative, but Leila (then known as Leila Allen) and other Army nurses came ashore shortly after the D-Day landings and moved with the battle lines and the U.S. troops across Europe, working under trying conditions in operating "rooms" that actually were triage tents. With the 118th Evacuation Hospital, she witnessed both the carnage of war and, at the Buchenwald concentration camp, the results of the horrific actions of Nazi Germany in implementing the unspeakable "Final Solution."   

 

Ralph3.jpg

Russell Pickett, 19 when he made it through German fire

to reach Omaha Beach, at the landing site.

(Best Defense Foundation photo)     

 

Morrison was the only woman among the 14 U.S. veterans of the Normandy campaign taken to France for the D-Day commemoration by the Best Defense Foundation, a remarkable organization founded and run by former San Diego Chargers linebacker Donnie Edwards. The group sat behind President Donald Trump at the official commemoration ceremony, and Trump introduced and hugged one member of the party, Russell Pickett, who as an 19-year-old private in the 29th Infantry Division was among the first to arrive on shore, braving the German fire. French president Emmanuel Macron helped Pickett stand.


"Today, believe it or not, he has returned to these shores to be with his comrades," Trump said of Pickett. "Private Pickett, you honor us all with your presence."  

 

LeilaFrance.jpg

Leila Morrison with French children

(Best Defense Foundation photo) 

 

Leila Morrison was sitting nearby.    

 

"There are very few of us left from World War II," she said. "They told us while we were there that we were probably the last World War II folks who would be there for a public ceremony, and it really was a big one."        

 

The commemoration ceremony was the highlight of the Best Defense Foundation's 10-day trip, which also took the veterans to Paris and other and other French cities and sites. 

 

"It was quite a trip, especially for an old woman," Morrison told me. "It's taken me longer to get over than I thought. It was a schedule for a teenager. But we made it and I'm thankful I could. We were treated like royalty. The French people respected us and gave us every courtesy possible. They were just happy to serve us. Even though it's three generations later, the people seemed to really be willing to remember it and they're teaching their children about what happened. We went to a couple of schools and the children really welcomed us and had made little banners. They seemed to know and understand quite a bit about World War II."   

 

The Best Defense Foundation, which takes veterans back to the sites of their combat, came across her story and invited her on the momentous 75th anniversary trip.

 

She met the group in Los Angeles and they flew -- in First Class, thanks to upgrades from United Airlines -- to Paris and eventually ended up in Normandy.       

 

Leila2.jpg

At Normandy, Leila Morrison, center, is surrounded by

other Coloradans, from left: Julie Mann, Lilly Schroeder,

Brooke Moser, Quinn Schroeder, Carrie Vaughn.

(Photo courtesy Marc Moser) 

 

Activists who support Edwards include Jake Schroeder, who is the head of Denver's Police Activities League and sings the National Anthem at Avalanche games; and Avalanche television broadcaster Marc Moser. They have become close friends of Ralph Peeters, the Best Defense Foundation's Netherlands-based program director.   

 

Both Moser and Schroeder were at Normandy for the 75th anniversary with their daughters and interacted with Morrison.        

 

Morrison became beloved among Best Defense Foundation personnel and charmed the young people meeting the American visitors.

 

"She was an inspiration and a lovely lady to have on the program," Peeters told me. "She was an ambassador for all nurses who served in World War II."

 

Anna Becker, another Foundation program director involved with the trip, said Morrison "was the sweetest and nicest person there. An absolute angel! All the boys loved her!" 

 

Raised in Blue Ridge, Georgia, Morrison entered the Army Air Corps as a nurse after her graduation from nursing school in 1943. Her training was at Lowry Field in Denver and Santa Ana Air Base, and then Camp Bowie in Texas. There, she was shifted to the Army and soon was commissioned as an officer. Also while at Camp Bowie, she met a dashing Army officer named Walter Morrison at a dance and turned down his virtually immediate marriage proposal, saying she couldn't get married while a war was raging. But they remained in touch.  

LeilaUniform.jpg

Leila Morrison's Army uniform and medals

(Photo courtesy AJ Frankson / Collegian)   

 

 

She was transported to Scotland on the coverted (and packed) Queen Elizabeth, went through additional training and briefly was stationed in England before she was assigned to the 118th Evacuation Hospital. Then she and other nurses traveled on a British ship, the Southampton, to Omaha Beach.

 

Morrison said it was "a couple of months" after the D-Day landings. The battle lines had moved on, but the goal was for the medical personnel in the unit -- including 40 doctors and 40 nurses -- to catch up.     

 

"We could not come in very close, because of the mines and sunken ships still there in the harbor," she said. "So we had to swing off this little, bitty ship on this rope ladder. Some GIs were there in this little LST (Landing Ship, Tank) boat. I think that's the name of it. It opens up in the front. We went in on that, and we walked out of it onto the beach. There was a two-and-a-half-ton truck there, and that's what we toured Europe in, all the rest of the time. They took us down to a small town there in Normandy and then we proceeded on to where the lines were to set up our hospital."

           

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They moved through France, Luxembourg (in the Battle of the Bulge), Germany and Czechoslovakia.  

 

"It was all in tents," she said. "We lived in tents. The hospital was in tents. It was all a bunch of tents with a big red cross on top."

 

(That was to identify it as a hospital, making it off limits for bombing under international law.)

 

 In tents, the unit treated the seriously wounded, hoping to get them alive to better facilities, usually station hospitals. Yes, think a M*A*S*H unit -- but even more makeshift and more on the move.  

 

"Our hospital worked like a big emergency room" she told me. "We only took emergencies. If we thought a soldier would not make it back to a station of a general hospital, we took them and brought them out of shock and stopped their  hemorrhaging for surgery. We gave many, many units of blood plasma. There was no preservation of whole blood at that time, so the next best thing was blood plasma. It was a powder we had to mix with sterile water. We gave that to almost all of them."

 

When I asked her about following the battle lines, she responded: "Many times we didn't even know where we were. It was a complete blackout, of course, and we traveled a lot at night. We'd say, 'Where are we?' And most of us would say, 'Well, I don't know. Somewhere in Germany or somewhere in France.'"

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Veteran Pete Shaw and Leila Morrison on the trip to Normandy

(Best Defense Foundation photo) 

 

Eventually, they arrived at Weimar, Germany and the site of the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp. It had just been liberated.

 

"Some things I didn't believe," she said. "We pulled into the town and set up our tents and we were told that we would be moving on the next day. Then they told us that evening, 'Buchenwald is just across the stret here, you could walk over there,' They said, 'You girls be ready in the morning because we're going to have to go down there and help out.' The next morning, we were ready to go and they came and said, 'You girls can't go today. The doctors are already down there and the conditions are too deplorable for you girls. You have to wait until tomorrow.' So that's what we did.

 

"The next day we went down and they had it cleaned up -- I guess that's what you would call it -- to a certain extent, and we saw things that I still hav a hard time believing. The poor people."

 

They saw the crematorium, stacks of bodies and emaciated survivors.

 

"The crematorium, they had it worked out like a factory of murder," she said. "It was a two-story place and they had eight ovens on each side of this brick crematorium."

 

After Germany's surrender and and after returning to the U.S., Morrison was told she would be deployed in the upcoming invasion of Japan. But that nation surrendered in August 1945.

 

The storybook wartime romance had a happy ending. Leila married Morrison, who served in George Patton's U.S. Third Army. They were married for 65 years before Walter's death. Leila was a civilian nurse for 30 years, and she came to Windsor from Georgia to be near her son, Wally, and his family.  

 

For many years, Morrison said, she didn't talk much about her wartime experiences with anyone but he husband.

 

"The two of us could talk about it and understand," she said. "But just didn't talk to other people about it," she said. "I hear people say, 'Oh, my grandpa served, but he wouldn't talk about it.' We didn't either, for years. We had two daughters and a son and my daughter asked years later, 'Well, Mom, why didn't you tell us some of it? You never mentioned it to us.' It was all such a horrible thing and my husband and I could talk to each other. He understood. We had an outlet for the two of us because we could share it."        

 

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Leila Morrison is third from left in this shot from the Many 2018

Honor Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington D.C. She's with

four women veterans from the Vietnam War era and one from the Korean War era.

 

 The past 13 months have been dizzying for Morrison. She was one of 123 veterans who were part of the Honor Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington D.C. in May 2018, the next-to-last trip for that organization before it shut down in the wake of the death of Col. Stan Cass, its founder and organizer, then was rebooted as High Plains Honor Flight.  


Next, in a February ceremony at her retirement home in Windsor, she was one of six World War II veterans with Colorado connections who received the French Legion of Honor Medal for their service in Europe. I previously profiled Harry Maroncelli, Bill Powell, Philip Daily and Joe Graham, and will merge this piece with that to make it a single five-veteran group profile here.  

 

Other members of the Best Defense Foundation group received the medal while they were in France.

 

Honoring Morrison and the others was part of a labor of love for Donnie Edwards and the Best Defense Foundation, who earlier in the year escorted a group of surviving veterans to Iwo Jima.

 

During the trip to France, he told the Chargers' web site: “I am very honored and proud to bring these great men back to Normandy and also very proud to be bringing back a WWII nurse who served in triage tents, nursing our wounded men. We’ve attended ceremonies, parades, visited schools, and several of our veterans will be receiving their French Legion of Honor Award. We will spend time with the vets in private settings where they are able to reconnect with each other and share memories and stories.”

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Donnie Edwards on Omaha Beach with vet Pete Shaw

(Best Defense Foundation photo) 

 

The group also visited cemeteries and laid wreaths. But it all came back to Omaha Beach, the focal point of the trip.

 

"When we first pulled up, I looked out there at that big ocean," Morrison said. "It was a cloudy day. The wind was blowing. I thought, 'Oh, my goodness, how in the world did I ever have nerve enough to swing off the side of that ship?' I just couldn't believe I had done that. Of course, 22 years old and 97 years old makes a little bit of a difference there."  

 

 Ralph5.jpg

Leila Morrison and the other veterans on the Best Defense Foundation Trip at an

elementary school in Carentan. (Best Defense Foundation photo) 

 

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At the Carentan elementary school, Leila Morrison talks to the children.

(Best Defense Foundation photo) 

 

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In Paris, Leila Morrison is seventh from left among the veterans.

(Best Defense Foundation photo)    

 

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Leila Morrison in early 2018, on the Honor

Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington DC (Photo courtesy Tami Stieger,

Honor Flight Northern Colorado)

 

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Leila Morrison with her son, Wally, during the 

Honor Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington DC in early 2018.

(Photo courtesy Tami Stieger, Honor Flight Northern Colorado) 

 

 

 

July 1, 2019

 

Post-deadline reflections:

MacKinnon apparently fine

with abandoning "structure"

 

On the opening day of unrestricted free agency Monday, the Colorado Avalanche made a handful of moves.

 

If you're looking for a breakdown of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's faceoff proficiency or Joonas Donskoi's upside, there are other outlets for that.

 

By the end of the day, when Joe Sakic was made available for the second time on a conference call, I had two questions I couldn't get of my head.

 

This was after the Avalanche had finished off Monday by sending Tyson Barrie, the signing rights to Alexander Kerfoot and a sixth-round pick to Toronto for efficiently abrasive forward Nazem Kadri, fringe prospect defenseman Calle Rosen and a third-round pick.

 

The Avs, while collectively gritty, sometimes are too nice. Kadri is not nice. Not that there's anything wrong with that.    

 

My first question involved the fact that the Avalanche's best player, and one of the top handful of players in the NHL, Nathan MacKinnon, has just finished the third season of a seven-year, $44.1 million deal he signed in the summer of 2016.

 

In other words, he's locked in at $6.3 million a season through 2022-23.

 

I've even heard some Denver (radio) folks muse that, of course, the Avalanche will have to tear up that deal and give MacKinnon a renegotiated contract, because it's the right and fair thing to do. 

 

The problem with that, of course, is: You can't do that.

 

In football, the frequent focal point of preoccupation in Colorado, yes, you can do that.

 

In hockey, you can’t.

 

The NHL's "hard" salary cap, in place because the league was willing to shut down for the entire 2004-05 season to get it; and because the NHLPA both panicked and caved, forbids renegotiations.

 

Unless you consider buyouts renegotiations.            

 

This also is underplayed: When MacKinnon signed the seven-year deal, he had yet to break through. The Avs were showing faith in him.  

 

He was a No. 1 overall draft choice who had won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2014, but it still was clear that the perception of the 2013 draft at least then remained accurate -- there were no "generational" players available in his draft year. 

 

When he signed the deal, he had scored 58 goals in his first three seasons. That isn't mega-contract territory. 

 

We talked with him in a conference call.

 

And he said: "It was very weird signing it today. I hesitated before I sent it back. ... Just thinking where I'm from and that kind of money. It's just crazy to me, but I'm very lucky and I know I'm very fortunate."     

 

So he’s not going to whine now – when he is perhaps one of the most “underpaid” players in major league sports, measured against the evolved economic standards.

 

Also, he was awful in the first year of the deal, getting 16 goals in 2016-17 as the Avalanche stumbled to 48 points and the worst bang-for-the-buck season in NHL history, considering it was pushing the cap ceiling.

 

Since, he has been terrific. A finalist, he deserved to win the Hart in 2017-18 and without getting into silly and unknowledgeable hair-splittting, he was every bit as good last season. He has become a generational player.

 

OK, that's the recent background.

 

Going back farther, Sakic is only a few years removed from emphasizing "structure" in payroll issues. Bsck then, he said something along these lines repeatedly: We have to be mindful of our stucture. It wasn't just about money and the cap, but money was the internal scorekeeping mechanism.

 

At $6 million a year in a five-year contract signed in 2013, Matt Duchene was the "ceiling."

 

Erik Johnson signed a long-term deal at -- guess what -- $6 million, and I remember him mentioning that "structure" himself.

 

Semyon Varlamov's five-year deal, signed the same offseason as Duchene's, came in at $29.75 million. (You do the per-year math.)

 

When Ryan O'Reilly and his family were intransigent in seeking to go far above that Duchene ceiling in talks about an extension, the issue was that much-cited "structure." So he was traded to Buffalo and soon signed a seven-year, $52.5 million extension. (Add the 4, carry the 2, divide by pi ... that's $7.5 million a season for the reigning Conn Smythe and Frank Selke winner.) There is no disputing that if the Avalanche had signed him to a similar deal, the raised benchmarks would have affected the franchise to this day. It frustrates me when intelligent, well-meaning folks don't get that this isn't about being "cheap"; it's about managing the cap and, to a lesser point, egoes.        

 

In discussing the Avalanche free agency signings Monday afternoon in the first conference call, Sakic said he was willing to be very aggressive in both term and money for one UFA. (Guess who ... )

 

Later Monday, I brought up that "structure" backgound and asked Sakic if keeping his best player his highest-paid player was an issue or consideration at all, and whether he had had any conversations with MacKinnon and his camp about the issue.

 

"Absolutely," Sakic said. "Nathan just wants to win. It's a different landscape right now than just a few years ago. That's where all these restricted free agents are going now ... Nathan just wants to win."

 

Sakic -- who himself signed a front-loaded $21-million, 3-year offer sheet with the Rangers that was designed to make it impossible for the Avalanche to match -- conceded that RFA Mikko Rantanen would get a major deal, and it doesn't take hours of calculations to conclude he will be higher-paid than MacKinnon at some point in the next four seaons.

 

"That's just the way the league has gone the last couple of years," Sakic said. "The contracts have gone up, and there's new structures for all these players."

 

Fair enough.

 

The other question I had revolved around the issue of whether Colorado could get away with having three "undersized" defensemen -- regardless of how talented they are -- among its top six. At some point, flashiness aside, the task includes support of the goaltender in the defensive end. Yes, that's probably influenced by my buying into the league's traditional views in all my years of covering the NHL. Defensemen are big and physical. (Right, Patrick?) I'm teasing myself here, but I was apoplectic when the Avalanche paired Cale Makar -- hours removed from the Frozen Four title game -- with Samuel Girard in the playoffs.

 

It worked.

 

They were terrific together.

 

Could it work long-term, with both of them, plus Barrie, one of the most talented offensive D-men in the league, in the top six?

 

I'm not so sure.

 

I also wonder if Sakic was concerned about that, too.   

 

I still wonder if it were sustainable in the long term and whether there was more to the trade of Barrie than the fact that his four-year, $22-million contract is up in a year.

 

So I asked Sakic if there was any component to the deal involving trying to avoid having three undersized "D".        

 

"No, not at all," Sakic said. "We had no problem starting the D group with the three smaller defensmen. This is today's game, it's all about puck moving defensemen and moving the puck up and hitting your fast forwards. Size doesn't matter any more."

 

I don't completely agreee with that ... but I get it.   

 

 

 

June 14, 2017

RIP, Pat Bowlen,

a Hall of Fame

owner and man

 

BowlenCardFront.jpg

 

Among the first memories that flashed when I heard of Pat Bowlen's Thursday night death were these:

 

-- A triathlon competitor, he rode his bike to training camp. From Denver to Greeley, where the Broncos held training camp for the first 18 summers of his ownership. 

 

-- When my father, Jerry Frei, and John Elway's father, Jack Elway, died three months apart in early 2001, Bowlen spoke at both memorial services. He eloquently saluted the two veteran football men who were close friends and had worked for the Broncos for many years, much of the time sharing an office at Dove Valley and also serving as hosts for staff Happy Hour at their suite in the University of Northern Colorado's Lawrenson Hall. They were Jack & Jerry, and Bowlen called for a symbolic toast with Jack's favorite, Sky vodka.  

 

Those sorts of specific and personalized memories vary this morning, but whether you just follow the Broncos or were intimately involved with the franchise, you most likely have them.           

 

Sadly, Bowlen's upcoming induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2019 will be posthumous. 

 

After a five-person selection subcommittee recommended his choice last August, we heard and read the recitation of his "qualifications" mostly as if this is solely an exercise in analytics, accounting and merit points for serving on 15 league ownership committees during the league's phenomenal economic growth .

 

Updating following the 6-10 record in 2018, the Broncos still have had as many Super Bowl appearances (7) as losing seasons under his ownership.

 

As an influential member of the league's television committee, he was instrumental in pushing for Sunday Night Football, a revenue and ratings jackpot since 2000; and also in bringing the Fox network into the broadcasting mix in 1994, which pressured the rights fees additionally into the stratosphere.

 

All of that undoubtedly came into play in the talking-point consideration of contributor candidates in the meeting room at Canton last year.

 

This is what was underplayed.

 

Most important, Bowlen did it right.

 

From the top of the organization, he oversaw a mostly first-class operation for 30 years until he officially stepped aside from an active role in acknowledgment of his Alzheimer's diagnosis.

 

Not all has been perfect.

 

Before John Elway returned to the organization as the head of the football operation, there was toxic and counterproductive infighting within the front office and football operation. 

 

At times, because of all the maneuvering, the organization was dysfunctional and Bowlen's trust in the chain of command could be misplaced, until he stepped in and said, "Enough..." That could be in emotional times between friends, as when he and Wade Phillips and Shanahan parted ways, or when he was embarrassed and angered by Josh McDaniels' graceless incompetence and immaturity and signed off on firing him during the 2010 season.

 

The Broncos recovered under John Elway, who returned in 2011 as VP of football operations and added the GM title the next year. Since Bowlen relinquished control to the Pat Bowlen Trust, president and CEO Joe Ellis has served as de facto owner, and the possible passing of the controlling ownership torch to one of Bowlen's daughters, Beth or Brittany, remains a puzzlingly intricate soap opera.

 

In his active years as owner, Bowlen was not warm and fuzzy. But neither was he, as often has been tossed out there, especially in his early days in Denver, shy or aloof.

 

He picked his spots.

 

With those he trusted or respected.

 

Even in dealings with the media, he was far more accessible than sometimes has been portrayed. Plus, he was thoughtful, offering insight and information only he could have delivered. But you had to pay attention, had to get past the somewhat soft-spoken, matter-of-fact tone to realize just how unfiltered he was being. He answered all but the most unreasonable or brainless questions, rarely hiding behind the no-comment cloak. Attempts since his withdrawal from an everyday role to bill him as the supreme optimist are understandable, given the temptation to idealize his tenure, but inaccurate. He wanted to win, and he hated it when the Broncos didn't. That especially was true when he felt his trust was misplaced.

 

During the early years of Bowlen's ownership, affable GM John Beake could be his bad cop, in dealings both in the building and outside. But there was a sort of winking understanding that what Beake said could be coming from Bowlen. They weren't fooling anyone.

 

To me, the most interesting aspect of his influence in league and broadcasting circles is that it underscores his selectivity. Nobody tuned out Bowlen because of relentless, ego-driven bombast. When he talked, yeah, you darned well better listen. He not only knew what to say, he knew when to say it - and whom to say it to. He was a facilitator, but he also would call bluffs.

 

In the era of increased player movement, the "family" feel within an organization is harder to nurture. Yet when Bowlen was operating as the owner, that feel could permeate the organization even if the family, as many families do, has traumatic moments.

 

He is "Mr. B."

 

He was not a meddler, as is the Redskins' Daniel Snyder.

 

He was not a former football player and astute businessman who operated as his own general manager and loved the spotlight, as does the Cowboys' Jerry Jones.

 

He was the owner, working out at the Broncos' facility in the early mornings as the players arrived, and greeting players by name as they joined the organization. He was not one of the "guys" so much -- i.e., he wasn't a regular at the Smiling Moose or the State Armory in Greeley during training camp -- as he was the man in charge who didn't expect pandering.

 

Perhaps even uncomfortably, he successfully campaigned for six-county voter support for an indispensable new stadium, with more than two-thirds of the funding coming from the public. That was 1998, shortly before voter rebellion and recognition of revenue possibilities made predominantly privately funded stadiums more feasible.

 

He was a class act.

 

In that sense, he was a Hall of Famer all along. 

 

P.S., June 18

I was among the approximately 5,000 who showed up at Broncos Stadium at Mile High Tuesday to honor Bowlen.

 

Here are my amateur pictures from the well-done and touching displays.

 

It was as much a tribute to the Broncos' accomplishments and first-class operation during Bowlen's ownership tenure as it was to Bowlen himself, but the two are inexorably intertwined.

 

And that's the way Bowlen would have wanted it.

 

That's the point.  

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Lombardi Trophies                                                       Pat Bowlen's desk

 

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Left: Jacket signed by Broncos Hall of Famers

Right: Bowlen's famous fur coat and a more modest outfit   

 

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Left: Bowlen and Jim Nantz, Super Bowl post-game

Right: Bowlen's boots and binoculars

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Left: Super Bowl L game ball

Right: With President George H.W. Bush

BowlenToDo.jpg 

On Bowlen's desk 

 

 

 

 

 

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My commentary on Pat Bowlen is

in July issue of Mile High Sports Magazine

 

Digital issue 

 

 

 

 

 

June 27, 2019

Offseason caravan rolls on 

for Tyson Jost, Cale Makar 

... with wheelbarrow duty 

SloanJostMakarBoth1.jpg 

Tyson Jost and Cale Makar hauling mulch from the east-side parking lot to trees along Stuart Street at Sloan's Park. 

 

For three days, as the Avalanche development camp showcases the organization's recent draft choices and prospects in what usually is a select-and-watch process, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment staff has had young Avalanche standouts Cale Makar and Tyson Jost on a offseason promotional caravan -- dubbed the Summer Roadshow.

 

I'd call it a Magical Mystery Tour, escept Jost, 21, and Makar, 20, would have no idea what that meant. 

 

On Wednesday, they went to Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy, the site of the Avalanche's Stadium Series outdoor game against the Kings on Feb.15.

 

They also made in-studio appearances on three radio stations -- KKFN 104.3 The Fan; Altitude Sports Radio (92.5 FM); and KOA (850).

 

On Thursday, I caught up with them at Denver's Sloan's Lake, where they pitched in with KSE's Day of Service, with about 20 employees working on trees in the One Tree Planted project.

 

A total of about 375 KSE employees were in the field Thursday at 28 community projects.

 

Jost and Makar were assigned wheelbarrow duty, loading up mulch with rakes and taking it to the trees on the park's east side, where KSE employees spread it out.

 

It was a photo op for Altitude, obviously, but all hearts were in it -- including Makar and Jost's.

 

Finally, on Thursday night, they're expected to join the Rockies for batting practice before the game against the Dodgers. As of the morning Sloan's Lake appearance, it still was up in the air about whether they'd actually take some swings in the cage or simply be spectators.

 

If Makar gets a vote, he'll be in the cage.

 

"Oh, yeah," he said. "We'll be ready."  

 

SloanWoman11.jpg 

This is a far more common scene on a summer weekday at Sloan's Lake than two NHL players. As they pitched in, this woman went by -- with her dog and baby.    

 

The interesting thing to me about the Roadshow was that with more veteran stars otherwise occupied, Makar, who has yet to play a regular season game for the Avalanche after his spectacular sophomore season at UMass and then his signing before the third game of the first round series against Calgary; and Jost, who signed after his freshman season at North Dakota in 2017, credibly can be billed as young faces of the franchise for the purposes of this first caravan. 

 

"We just had such a spectacular season, and there's so much enthusiasm coming up about next season, we wanted to kind of give everyone something over the summer," said Becca Villanueva, KSE's director of marketing communications. "Yesterday, we went down to Air Force, and that was super-cool. For the guys, that was the first time they'd ever seen the stadium and the new locker room. The Academy couldn't have been better hosts. Just taking the guys down to Colorado Springs was good, because sometimes it's hard for (media) to get up here, from the Springs, Trinidad, Pueblo.

 

"We've thrown a lot at them over the last couple of days and they've had fun. Today, it's rakes and mulch, and yesterday it was footballs in a stadium. Today, we have baseball later. They couldn't have had a better attitude. They've been great to work with."     

 

SloanMakar5.jpg

Cale Makar

 

Makar said, "It's been fun, it's been good. That batting practice with the Rockies is going to be fun, too. I'm getting to spend a lot of time with Jost, so I can't complain about that. He's an easy-going guy, so it's been a lot of fun to be around him, to toss the football around with."  

 

Makar called the Air Force Academy setting "incredible. It's going to be unbelievable viewing for that game. I hope I get the opportunity to play in it, but, man, it's a pretty cool place, and will be especially when the rink is in."

 

SloanJost4.jpg 

Tyson Jost

 

Jost said he also was enjoying hmself.

 

"Seeing the stadium was really cool," he said. "We'r just bombing around, and hopefully creating some more enthusiasm for the Avs. Obviously, our goal is to win the Stanley Cup and we have a lot of the right pieces right now and I'm just happy to be a part of it."

 

Jost will be considered an even more integral element in the Avalanche lineup following he trade of veteran center Carl Soderberg to Arizona, and the picture also could change over the next few days, when the unrestricted free agent signing period opens.

 

Makar seems locked in as a top four defenseman, and a possible trade of Tyson Barrie could additionally alter the situation.

 

At least on Thursday morning, they put on gloves and loaded and unloaded mulch.

 

Nobody had told them to borrow a dog or a baby carriage for the morning.    

 

 

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Tyson Jost and Cale Makar arrive at the east side of Sloan's Lake. 

 SloanJost8.jpg

Tyson Jost

 SloanMakar9.jpg

Cale Makar 

 

 

 

 

 

June 25, 2019

Matthew Stienburg hoping

to follow the lead of his father,

former Nordique Trevor Stienburg  

 

Draftees.jpg

Avalanche 2019 draftees, left to right: D Bowen Byram, first round, No. 4 overall; C Alex Newhook, first round, No. 16 overall; C Matthew Stienburg, third round, No. 63 overall; RW Alex Beaucage, third round, No. 78 overall; RW Sasha Mutala, fifth round, No. 140 overall; C/RW Luka Burzan, sixth round, No. 171 overall; G Trent Miner, seventh round, No. 202 overall. D Drew Helleson, second round, 47th overall, was arriving in Denver Tuesday night.

 

Stienburg.jpg

When Joe Sakic was a teenaged rookie with the Quebec Nordiques in 1988-89, one of his teammates was 22-year-old center Trevor Stienburg.

 

Stienburg, as it turned out, wouldn't play in the NHL after that season, finishing up his career with five seasons in the American Hockey League.

 

So when the Avalanche claimed his Cornell-bound son, center Matthew Stienburg (right), in the third round of the NHL draft, at No. 63 overall, it was a bit of a "reach," all right -- a reach back in the past for Sakic, the Colorado executive vice president and general manager.

 

Matthew, coming off two seasons of prep school hockey at St. Andrew's College in Aurora, Ontario, joined six other members of the Avalanche's 2019 draft class for an introductory availability Tuesday at the Pepsi Center. The team's development camp starts on the ice Wednesday at Family Sports Center.

 

"I might not have expected to go that early in the draft," Stienburg told me Tuesday. "Playing in the prep school route, there were some question marks about the level I played at. There was a broad range of where people had me ranked. There were a few teams that had me up in that area, a few teams that had me lower. For me to go that high, I'm really excited.

 

"There's a few things that might have given me a chance to jump up with. This is a great organization kind of on the upswing, and it has a Maritime connection, where I'm from. So I think it's a good fit."

 

That was a reference to his hometown, Halifax, Nova Scotia -- also the hometown of Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby, who work out together there in the offseason and annually co-star in funny Tim Hortons commercials.  (Cole Harbour, often listed as Crosby's hometown, is part of the Halifax Regional Municipality.)

 

"With those guys, the high-end guys, you just tag along and follow," Stienburg said. "I've met Nathan a few times. I've been on the ice with him a couple of times and see him around the gym a lot. He's a good guy to look up to."     

 

Stienburg, now 18, had 71 goals in 113 games over two seasons at St. Andrew's, then finished up last season getting a taste of the United States Hockey League, with Sioux City.

 

"St. Andrew's was big for me," he said. "I kind of grew in the offensive side of the game the last two years. Coach (David) Manning did a really good job of that. Our practices are structured, a lot of small area games and stuff to develop that side of the game. That style of game we played really benefited me."

 

He is ticketed to join the ECAC program at Cornell as a freshman in 2019-20. It would be a surprise if he doesn't stay at least two seasons.

 

"Being a late bloomer, I want to take as much time as I can, or as much time as I need," he said. "The major reason to go this route might have been to give myself time. I don't want to put a timetable on anything and rush it at all."  

 

So how did he end up in prep school hockey, rather than Junior A or Major Junior? He said he had a bone infection in his shoulder and hip that required surgery and set him back.  

 

"Being an undersized guy, I was always open to the NCAA route," he said. "Then with the kind of injuries I had my Minor Midget year, quite honestly the Major Junior route wasn't an option at that time. So I knew I had to go back and play Midget again. And after that second year of Midget, I went through the process with a few schools and St. Andrew's felt like the best one for me."

 

And now it's on to Cornell ... with the Avs watching.  

 

 

 

 

June 23, 2019

Byram obviously was

right pick at No. 4, but

shouldn't be any rush 

 

bourquesakiccup.jpg

 

So why that picture at left on the top of a commentary about the Avalanche's 2019 draft and its possible impact?

 

I mentioned this on Twitter Saturday, but in case you weren't among those who saw it and perhaps responded, I'll bring it up again here.

 

That picture, one of the many taken of perhaps the most iconic sequence in Avalanche history, is from June 9, 2001.

 

Defenseman Bowen Byram, whose name was announced Friday night in Vancouver by the guy on the right in the photos above and below, was born four days later — on June 13, 2001. 

  

BowenJoe.jpg

Rob Knobenbauer of coloradoavalanche.com interviews Bryram in Vancouver, about an hour after his selection, here.

 

At one point, he discusses the twist that Sakic — raised in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby — made the choice in Vancouver, where Bryam plays major junior for the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.

 

"Obviously, he's a pretty famous dude," Byram said. 

 

This is a compliment: Sakic, always a Hall of Famer, always a Hart Trophy winner, always a captain raising the Stanley Cup overhead or passing it off, isn't an ex-player in a suit.

 

He's an executive.

 

No more have I felt that than on Friday night, when he drafted a player born after that 2001 Game 7 in Denver, which remains the single most momentous sporting event in area sports history. (Only AFC championship games can rival it.) 

 

For several years, we've been dealing with players being asked about such things as the rivaly with the Red Wings and having younger guys — most notably Mikko Rantanen at one point — smile and point out they were in diapers (if that) when the rivalry became venomous.   

 

After the Avs ended up with the fourth pick despite having the most favorable odds of landing the top choice in the lottery, this was as good as they could have come out — if the projections of Byram as the top defenseman in this draft are correct.

 

I'm not going to pretend to have done major scouting myself, nor will I spew material from Central Scouting as it's compiled from marathon hours of personally watching video in the basement.       

 

But this all sounds right.

 

Sometimes, the televised coverage of the draft for much of the two days seems to be trying to avoid conceding that, at most, only a handful of players drafted in the seven rounds will be in the NHL in the upcoming season.

 

It's as if they were told not to admit that, perhaps on the theory that the casual fan wing will lose interest if they don't buy into the fact that the draftees should be shopping for condos in the NHL markets after they're drafted.    

 

I actually find the NHL's project, draft and watch talent process more interesting than the NFL draft, which I have covered in New York and at team sites.

 

At the NFL draft, as you had the chicken scarpiriello at Carmine's on the night before, you knew that players in the football draft would be in the league in a few months.

 

In the NHL, we're mainly dealing with players who might go back to major junior, who might be headed from Junior A to NCAA hockey, or who might remain in Europe for a year or two.

 

Or maybe never even be signed, period. 

 

As noted in my May 28 commentary below -- where I argue that the NBA would be well-advised to mimic some aspects of the NHL draft -- hockey does a better job of conceding the realities tied to young players at he crossroads to the pro game.

 

But now, the Avalanche taking two teeenaged defensemen two years apart at the No. 4 overall slot, and it provides an example of how no one path works best.

 

Cale Makar starred for the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League -- a Junior A league that preserved his NCAA eligibility, which wouldn't have been he case if he head played major junior -- before the Avs claimed him at No. 4 in 2017. He was committed to play at UMass, and he followed through, playing two seasons for the Minutemen before joining the Avs during the playoff series against Calgary after the Frozen Four championship game in April. There was no way he could have gone from Junior A to the NHL, and all acknowledged that. His intergration into the Avalanche postseason lineup was stunningly seamless, but that coudn't have happened without his NCAA experience.

 

Cale20.jpg

Cala Makar 

 

Byram took the major junior route, for two full seapons with the Giants, before he was drafted. Major junior's pro-like schedule and rules mimic the NHL, so those are the major reasons Byrum is far more "ready" for the pro game than Makar would have been. But while the consensus is that Makar was terrific in his NHL bow last spring, but his two NCAA seasons after he was drafted -- major minutes, star's role as the Hobey Baker Award winner -- were crucial.

 

And Byram?

 

There was litttle choice with Makar. He was headed for UMass, and it did him good. Bryam can play nine games with the Avalanche next season before his three-year entry level contract would kick in. The transition for defenseman is more difficult for defensemen than forwards. That's a given. It doesn't meant it's impossible for a D-man to jump right in from the draft-- see Aaron Eckblad and Victor Hedman, among others in the past 10 years -- but it' a more daunting step.           

 

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Samuel Girard 

Byrum will be in town this week, for the Avalanche's introduction of its draft picks, plus development camp. Then he'll be back for training camp. Unless he is overwhelmingly impressive at camp and in exhibition games, and perhaps in the first nine regular-season games, the best move for all concerned would be for Byram to spend the bulk of one more season with the Giants. The Avalanche already will have Makar, who turns 21 on Oct. 30, and Sam Girard, 21, on the blue line. Rushing Byrum, and dropping him in the six-man rotation too soon, would be potentially conterproductive, regardless of whether Tyson Barrie remains with the organization or is traded.

 

The NHL draft process is about looking down the road.

 

For Joe Sakic, executive, there's no reason to redirect that focus.

 

 

 

June 8, 2019

Holy Cow! Lodo is

about to become

Wrigleyville West

 

RockiesPitch.jpg

Coors Field at the home opener. There were quite a

few Dodgers fans there that day, too. 

 

During the AT&T SportsNet's Rockies-Mets telecast from New York Friday night, the periodic plugs for tickets to the upcoming Coors Field series against the Cubs came with implorations to show up and drown out the Cubs fans.

 

Absolutely, the invasion of "opposing" team fans to arenas and stadiums is a sore spot in Colorado sports circles. Celtics and Lakers. Blackhawks and Red Wings. Cubs and Cardinals. Steelers and Raiders. I'm not going to limit it to those teams, but when they come to Denver, the crowd loyalties are the most noticeably divided.          

 

In the recently completed season, Nuggets coach Michael Malone's most popular line was his parting shot -- "Take that L on the way out" -- at Lakers fans at a game in Denver in late November. It was his most popular line because it struck a nerve with Colorado fans who have had it up to ... here.    

 

Mainly because of the sheer number of fans involved, though, the Cubs' appearances generate the most complaints.   

 

This has to be conceded: At least to some degree, the invasion of "opposing" fans happens everywhere. Including when Colorado teams are on the road. The crews in the trucks at Rockies, Avalanche and Nuggets road broadcasts usually spot and show fans displaying their Colorado team loyalties in "opposing" venues. The fans in Avalanche sweaters high-fiving after a Nathan MacKinnon goal in Vancouver. The fans in Nuggets sweatshirts on their feet after Jamal Murray drills a 3 in Minneapolis. The fans in Rockies jerseys cheering the Nolan Arenado home run in St. Louis.    

 

But they seem more isolated and rare than the huge gatherings of fans so often advertising their visiting team favoritism in Colorado.     

 

Sometimes, those fans of visiting teams are Colorado natives who want to be contrarian and latch on to teams from other markets. They might be unashamed frontrunners who during winning times retroactively became instant lifelong fans of, say, the Golden State Warriors.

 

Yet in the transplant-heavy state, the visiting team garb often advertises that the fans have moved here -- and retained their past loyalties. That's OK. Except when it seems part of a strategy to not just display it, but flaunt it. Rub our noses in it. And more.       

 

As I'll get to in a minute, sometimes Cubs fandom is the product of the '80s cable television world that gave them a quirky national constituency, often with a self-deprecating sense of humor -- even when the Cubs were rotten. That's a tiny asterisk. 

 

But that doesn't change the aggravating reality: That "opposing" fan syndrome is never more noticeable than when the Cubs come to town.

 

It's disingenuous for franchises to complain much about "opposing" fans, given they buy their tickets and fork over the debit cards at the concession stands, and are a significant part of the revenue base.       

 

The major question is: At what point do the fans of the "other" teams visiting Colorado--including the Cubs--deserve to get grief?

 

When they cross the line to obnoxiousness. 

 

When they act as if they believe anyone who actually has deep-rooted affection for Colorado teams just fell off the turnip truck. 

 

When they act as if Colorado history didn't begin until they did the area the favor of moving here.

 

This is what bugs me most of all: When they come off as fans who care more about "their" teams now, after they have moved to Colorado, than when they lived in the "other" markets.

 

It's a way to remind us: They're transplants.

 

They previously were casual fans of "their" teams; yet they turn into passionate loyalists here, or at least when those teams come to Denver. That's flaunting it. 

 

I don't claim to know what percentage of the visiting team fans fall under that. But I sense a lot of them do. 

 

It's a gauche, lowbrow, unrealistic view, and I should be both more pragmatic and understanding of the All-American phenomenon. Embracing one team of mercenary athletes over another team of mercenary athletes is not the measure of commitment to a community. I know that. I should know better.

 

It's still how I feel.

 

Also, many of those "visiting team" fans don't seem to grasp or care how galling it all can be to natives who are reminded at every turn that much of the Denver-area populace is made up of transplants.

 

We're a mobile society. I don't live in my native area, either, although I first came here as a high school junior. There's nothing "wrong" with moving somewhere, whether reluctantly for work reasons or eagerly to be close to, say, skiing or family. 

 

Affectionately reflecting on their native area? Fine. I do it, too.

 

But why do folks move someplace, then spend much of their time aggravating natives or long-time Colorado residents by bragging about the greatness of the place they left? If it's that important to them, why not move mountains, so to speak, to move back?      

 

Again, there's nothing wrong with having good-natured fans of the "opposing" team in the seats, and hearing the teasing go back and forth. To various extents, it's part of the dynamic at every NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB game. 

 

HarryMurray.jpg

Harry with a Cubs fan visiting the booth.  

 

 

OK, here's where I'll concede that many current Cubs fans were products of the cable television boom years, when the Cubs played all their home games during the day and they were broadcast on "superstation" WGN, with Harry Caray ("Holy Cow!") and Steve Stone ("Now let that be a lesson to you young ballplayers out there...") in the booth.     

 

As a (very) young scribe writing for the Portland Oregonian, I once talked on the field at Candlestick Park with Harry Caray for a column about that national constituency -- which included a lot of fans in Oregon.

 

"Really, I think it's because of day baseball," Caray told me. "That's why the country loves the Cubs. When they play at home, they're the only team playing in the daytime. So when the Cubs come to whatever's near Portand or wherever, fans will either ride a train or a plane or drive here, because they have a rooting interest."     

 

The Atlanta Braves, with Skip Caray's dry wit part of the attraction, also had a national fan pool, nurtured by superstation WTBS.

 

Yes, in the dark ages, national network games were rare. There was no MLB Network. ESPN's national game contract didn't kick in until 1990.

 

That was all before the Rockies began play as an expansion franchise in 1993. 

 

But it all comes back to this: Now, this week, brace for the Cubs fans. Three games. Monday through Wednesday. Lodo becomes Wrigleyville West.

 

If Gino's East and Al's Italian Beef can just put franchises in Lodo, all will be forgiven.

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

June 2, 2019

Honor Pat Kelly's spot

in Colorado hockey history:

Give back the trophy!  

 

EaglesKellyCup.jpg

Captain Matt Garbowsky and Pat Kelly after the Loveland-based Colorado Eagles won their second

consecutive ECHL championship -- and the Kelly Cup -- in 2018. Repeatedly overlooked as the

saga played out over the weekend was that Kelly was the coach of the NHL's Colorado Rockies. 

 

 BednarKellyCup.jpg

Jared Bednar, now the Avalanche coach, holding aloft the Kelly Cup as captain of the South Carolina Stingrays.

 

It's obvious there is more going on behind the scenes than has been publicly disclosed. Perhaps it's disagreement over the Colorado Eagles' departure terms from the ECHL in 2018.But this fight between the Eagles and the ECHL, their former ""AA"-level league, has gotten silly.

 

Without knowing more, it's not possible or even necessary to take sides.

 

But the bottom line is: Give the trophy back, Eagles.

 

On the way out the ECHL door, the Loveland-based franchise won the ECHL's Pat Kelly Cup for the second consecutive time in 2018, then -- as planned -- became the Avalanche's American Hockey League affiliate, effective in the 2018-19 season.

 

The Avalanche didn't buy the franchise, but took over the hockey operation as the Eagles remained under the ownership of respected developer Martin Lind.

 

Chris Stewart, who had been with the franchise as a coach and executive since it began play in the Central Hockey League in 2003, stayed as president and general manager, to oversee the business side on behalf of ownership. He no longer has to worry about player procurement, putting together a roster under a strict salary cap and with a few trickle-down players from an NHL organization coming into play. He was a master at that in both the CHL and ECHL.        

 

EaglesWin71-300x204.jpg

 In the 2018 Kelly Cup playoffs, the Eagles celebrate after beating Fort Wayne 3-2 in overtime in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Hats are flying on the ice to commemorate Avalanche farmhand Michael Joly’s hat trick.

 

Here's my Mile High Sports column during the 2018 playoffs, when I attended an Eagles-Fort Wayne game in the Kelly Cup's Western Conference finals. It runs down what was coming up, the Eagles' move to the AHL the next season.

 

And note that during my coversation with Stewart, he told me:  "Absolutely, we want to walk out of here with that Kelly Cup.”     

 

He didn't say -- and obviously didn't mean -- it would be for good.

 

The ECHL says the Eagles havn't returned the trophy and the league has had to make another one to present to the winner of the ECHL Finals, going on now between the Toledo Blades and Newfoundland Walleye.

 

The Eagles said they tried.

 

The ECHL says that ain't so.

 

Tongues are out fingers are pointing.

 

Over the weekend, the Eagles conceded they still had the trophy.

 

Here's Lind's statement, as posted on the Eagles' site. 

 

Can't we all get along?

 

And the Avalanche should nudge the Eagles into getting the trophy back to the league, for the good of hockey -- and in honor of Kelly.

 

As near as I can tell, none of the stories highlighting the fiasco yet have mentioned that Kelly was the coach of the NHL Colorado Rockies in 1977-78, taking them to their only playoff berth in their six seasons in Denver and for part of the next season. Thn general manager Ray Miron -- ironically, later the founder of the Central Hockey League and the namesake of the league's Ray Miron Presidents Cup -- let him go. (Kelly's successors were Aldo Guildoin on an interim basis for the rest of the season and then, yes, Don Cherry in 1979-80.)  

 

Pat.jpg

I was a young scribe at the Denver Post during all of that, and I enjoyed covering both Kelly (as Rockies coach, at left) and Cherry as I was getting my feet wet on what would turn out to be the first of my several stints covering the NHL.

 

Kelly had been a long-time minor-league player and coach and then had earned widespread praise as coach of the WHA's Birmingham Bulls, before the Rockies hired him. This was the year "Slap Shot" came out, and there was a bit of Reg Dunlop finally getting his chance in Kelly. (I never did tell Kelly that I was trying to capture the spirit of the thing, though.)

 

The Eagles have a long and praiseworthy history in Colorado, including being visionary and positioning the franchise to take advantage of the Northern Colorado area's explosion.

 

Before the Eagles hit the ice, I took a tour of the under-construction Budweiser Events Center with co-founder Ralph Backstrom, the former Montreal Canadiens (and Denver Spurs) center who also served as coach of the University of Denver Pioneers. And I visited and wrote about the Eagles many times duringthe successful runs in, first, the CHL, and then the ECHL. Lind, Backstrom and Stewart did an amazing job with NoCo's showcase franchise, appealing to Fort Collins, Greeley, Loveland and even Longmont -- and more.

      

Again, without being party to the internal wranging, I'm not saying who's at fault here.

 

But it's time for the trophy -- the real Pat Kelly Cup -- to go back to the ECHL.  

 

EaglesAvs4.jpg 

At the October 2017 news conference officially announcing the Eagles move to the AHL as the top Avalanche affiliate in the 2018-19 season. From left, Avalanche assistant GM Craig Billington, Eagles owner Martin Lind, Avalanche GM Joe Sakic, Eagl;es co-founder Ralph Backstrom and, partially obscured, Eagles president and GM Chris Stewart. A few months later, the Eagles finished out their ECHL run by winning the Pat Kelly Cup for the second consecutive season. 

 

May 29, 2019

Broncos knew it was worth

an extra $3 million to have a

happy Chris Harris Jr. 

 

There isn't a lot of mystery here.

 

The Broncos wanted a happy Chris Harris Jr. in 2019, and subject to the twists and turns of what can be the NFL soap opera, they seem to have ensured they'll have a happy Chris Harris Jr. for 2019.

 

The price tag: Roughly an extra $3 million.

 

That's small change in the big picture.

 

All along, despite some mild trade whispers, the Broncos were destined to have Harris on the field in 2019.

 

Did anyone not believe that?

 

Yes, he asked for a pre-draft trade if the Broncos weren't going to be willing to adjust his deal, which called for him to make $8.9 million this season. But nothing of substance happened before the draft and nothing happened after the draft, not until the Tuesday confirmations (after the brief "sources" gamesmanship) that Harris had agreed to an adjusted contract under which he will make $12.05 million this year, incluing reporting bonuses of $650,000 (OTAs) and $600,000 (training camp).

 

NFL players long ago became relatively invulnerable to criticism for asking for -- or demanding -- adjusted contracts. That's because on the other side of the table, teams do it all the time. Take a cut or you're history. And although contracts are front-loaded with guaranteed money, they're not fully guaranteed.      

 

The curious aspect was that virtually the only thing that changed is what Harris will make this season. He had one year left on his deal and he still has one year left on his deal. To a point, as many brought up, that seems curious. The Broncos didn't extend him and, yes, that raises suspicions that there is some sentiment within the organization that in the wake of his fractured fibula and with his 30th birthday coming up in three weeks, it's better to keep him on a one-year deal. Assess him after the 2019 season. The Broncos gave him a raise. That's about it on the surface.

 

But his "happiness" and front-office credibility in the locker room means something.

 

After the Broncos gave Kareem Jackson a three-year, $33-million deal, this was inevitable. The bill for the other side of the NFL's maneuvering came due.

 

In the league with the most simple and inflexible salary cap, the NHL, Nathan MacKinnon can be locked up thouh 2022-23 under a seven-year, $44.1 million contract -- at $6.3 million per season -- that isn't renegotiable. It also was "fair" at he time, since it involved mutual faith and came before his breakout to becoming one of the top players in the league. That's the benchmark for the Avalanche's "structure," and in four years, he'll get an even bigger deal. Coincidentally, the Nuggets' Nikola Jokic also is locked up through 2022-23, playing under an escalating five-year, $147-million deal. But those situations are different.

 

The Broncos made the right call on Harris. Even though they really didn't have to.          

 

         

 

May 28, 2019

 

NBA could follow

NHL lead: Draft at 18,

and when you're ready ...

 

MacKinnonMellman1.jpg

Skyline.jpg.w300h488.jpg

 

 Nathan MacKinnon, as a rookie at left,  was drafted at 17 and jumped from major junior to the NHL. NBA prospects have to wait at least another year to enter the draft pool and sign, as did the Nuggets' Jamal Murray, right. It's silly.  

 

 

Five Nuggets on the current extended roster played one season of college basketball -- just one -- and moved on to the NBA. The roll call: Malik Beasley (Florida State); Trey Lyles, Jamal Murray and Jarred Vanderbilt (all of Kentucky); and Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri). 

 

Two European Denver draft choices didn't play college ball at all, and Nikola Jokic joined the Nuggets when he was 20, and Juan Hernangomez when he was 21. 

 

Of the remaining players listed on the Nuggets' current roster, the college stays were two seasons for Will Barton (Memphis), Gary Harris (Michigan State) and Tyler Lydon (Syracuse); three for Paul Millsap (Lousiana Tech) and Isaiah Thomas (Washington); and four for Torrey Craig (South Carolina Upstate), Monte Morris (Iowa State) and Thomas Welsh (UCLA)    

 

So why am I bringing that up today?

 

RJ Hampton, a Dallas-area high school star and considered one of the top prospects in the country, Tuesday announced (on ESPN) that he's foregoing college basketball to sign with the New Zealand Breakers of the Australia-based National Basketball League -- which essentially means he'll do his one-and-done NBA prep year as an out-and-out pro rather than as a collegian.

 

There's no outrage, and there shouldn't be. The only problem is the half-(baked) nature of the NBA system, which could benefit from borrowing elements of the MLB draft and the NHL system. 

 

The NHL?

 

The Avalanche has two of its own NCAA one-and-dones -- Erik Johnson (Minnesota) and Tyson Jost (North Dakota). The difference is both played their freshman seasons after they were drafted, Johnson at No. 1 overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2006 and Jost by the Avalanche at No. 10 in 2016.

 

Colorado's other former collegians and their stays are two seasons for Colin Wilson (Boston University) and Cale Makar (UMass); three for J.T. Compher (Michigan), Matt Nieto (BU), and Ian Cole (Notre Dame); and four for Alexander Kerfoot (Harvard). All were drafted as part of the league's annual class based on birthdates, which works out to choices being 17 (occasionally, as with Nathan MacKinnon) or (mostly) 18.      

 

Comparisons aren't apples to apples, primarily because NCAA hockey is only one of the NHL's feeders, mostly along with major junior -- the three leagues under the Canadian Hockey League umbrella -- and Europe. But both MacKinnon and Gabe Landeskog stepped right into the NHL from major junior (and with major junior eligibility remaining), and nobody -- as far as I know -- found that objectionable. Landeskog came over from his native Sweden to play major junior, was named the Avalanche captain at age 19 and is the eloquent spokesman in his second language. They're part of the roughly two-thirds of the Avalanche roster that didn't attend college at all.   

 

The NHL's largely draft-and-watch system works. When they're ready, or deemed ready, whether in NCAA hockey, major junior or Europe, they sign. Major junior's stipends (with a few exceptions) make its players ineligible for NCAA hockey, so those who prefer at least sampling college and the NCAA game stick to Junior A leagues. Jost, for example, had been playing in the British Canadian Hockey League, Makar in the Alberta Junior Hockey League when they were drafted. They would not have been ready to immediately jump to the NHL. No, not even Makar, who was so impressive after joining the Avalanche during the playoffs -- immediately after playing in the NCAA Frozen Four championship game.      

 

If it involves college hockey, it can be a bit of a joke in this sense: The NCAA players who already have been drafted almost always already have "advisers" who -- amazingly -- also happen to be accredited player agents. NHL teams watch and monitor their progress, and representatives -- such as the Avalanche's Brett Clark -- attend games and touch base in hallways ouside the locker rooms. But the option is there to sign at any time during the college career, and players who stay all four seasons, as did Kerfoot, who was a New Jersey draft choice, can become unrestricted free agents the summer after their senior years.          

 

MLB drafts players out of high school, but if they don't sign then and instead head off to the college game, they can't sign until after they go back in the pool in three years. (That's oversimplification, but good enough...) Also, the extensive minor league system also makes direct comparisons difficult. Many who sign coming out of high school are destined to be stuck in the minors and then regret the choice to bypass college and NCAA baseball, if they had that option, whether with a scholarship or otherwise.

 

The Avalanche has what amounts to one full farm club (the AHL Colorado Eagles) and an ECHL affiliation for a few trickle-down players on the Utah Grizzlies.       

 

The draft-and-watch system would work in NCAA basketball. NCAA hockey lives with it. In a perfect world, I'd do this for both basketball and hockey, merging the systems: The draft pool initially is 18 year olds. Draft rights last three years, then they're free agents. Drafts are five rounds. Nobody has to "declare" for the draft. If they're taken, they're taken. If they're not, they go back in the pool the next year. If they haven't been drafted, they can sign any time after their initial draft eligibility. The issue of possibly adjusted rookie contracts, then timetables for restricted free agency and then unrestricted free agency, as well as the evolving relationship with the developmental league, would have to be addressed.   

 

There should be an above-board way to enable NBA and NHL teams to make open payments, perhaps through agents, perhaps not, to their draft choices playing college hockey or basketball. The problem, of course, is how much. Again, perhaps this is being too idealistic, but maybe it could lessen the advantage for programs willing to look the other way or even directly participate as money is funneled to prospects and their "representatives" as they make their college choices and then during their stays.

 

But good for Hampton.

 

He's working the system.

 

The current system.

 

 

 

May 25, 2019 

Rockies co-owner

Dick Monfort named after

his uncle. Here's why.  

 

MonfortMemorial1.jpg

Colorado Freedom Memorial

 

At Greeley's sprawling Linn Grove Cemetery a year ago, after a visit to the main office to get a map and directions from Jackie at the reception desk, I pulled up to Block 14, Lot 50 and got out of the car.

 

There it was.

 

Among the graves of other Monfort family members, the white marble, U.S. military-style headstone announced:

 

RICHARD

LEE

MONFORT

COLORADO

2D LIEUTENANT

401AAF BOMB GROUP

WORLD WAR II

JANUARY 11, 1923

JANUARY 29, 1944

 

A single bouquet of flowers already was at the foot of the headstone.

 

*   *   *

 

Richard Lee "Dick" Monfort was the son of Greeley cattle feedlot innovator Warren Monfort and Edith Monfort. Dick's sister, Margery, was two years older. His brother, Kenneth ("Kenny"), was nearly six years younger.

 

After graduating from Greeley High in 1939, Dick was a junior at Colorado State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, or what now is Colorado State University, when he entered the Army Air Forces in 1942.

 

While in training, he married Viola Swanson of Greeley.

 

MonfortHeadShot.jpg

In late 1943, Monfort was deployed to Deenethorpe, England, with the 8th Air Force's 401st Bomb Group, 615th Squadron, joining the fight against Germany. He was the navigator on Capt. Lee Van Syckle's B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber crew.

 

A massive 800-bomber daylight raid over Frankfurt was the 10-man crew's third mission. It also was the first U.S. bombing foray to the central German city following many earlier British raids.

 

The date was JANUARY 29, 1944.

 

Denver radio personality Rick Crandall tirelessly champions veterans causes. His efforts led to the opening of the Colorado Freedom Memorial in May 2013 in Aurora. Before its dedication, Crandall alerted me Richard L. Monfort's name was on the memorial, among those of nearly 6,000 Coloradans killed or missing in action while serving their country.

 

Crandall also obtained and forwarded to me the "Missing Air Crew Report," opened after the mission and supplemented over the next 18 months. It was declassified in 1973, and as is the case with most reports of that era based on interviews with survivors, it is remarkable in its narrative detail, especially given the staggering number of similar reports that had to be done.

 

That day, Monfort was in the nose of the B-17 with bombardier Stanley Groski. Van Syckle's plane dropped its bombs and turned away. Soon, a group of German pilots in Messerschmitt fighters attacked the B-17 and others in the lower box of the American wing. The Germans' planes were equipped with machine guns and cannons firing 20mm rockets.

 

Rockets struck Van Syckle's Flying Fortress in the wing tanks, which caught fire, and the tail. Tail gunner Charles Duke yelled, "I'm hit!" And then, "I'm done for!"

 

In the nose, Groski, having completed his role as bombardier, was firing the chin turret gun when the plane was hit. The impact knocked him back into Monfort.

 

The bailout order came amid the chaos. Groski later said he believed Monfort was hit before they jumped. Also, as Groski and Monfort left the front of the plane, the German pilots in the Messerschmitts still were firing on the B-17.

 

After other crew members jumped from their areas of the bomber, ball turret gunner Donald Lamb was horrified to see radio operator Joseph Glonek speed past him on the way down.

 

The lines of Glonek's chute were deployed, but the canopy was unopened.

 

Duke, the tail gunner who had cried out, likely still was in the plane when it exploded during its free fall.

 

On the ground, seven of Van Syckle's crew members - or all except Monfort, Glonek and Duke - were captured alive. The Germans took co-pilot Mitchell Woods to a village and told him two dead members of the B-17 crew had landed there. He was shown their escape kits and watches and a navigator's map. Woods concluded the dead Americans were Monfort and Glonek. The Germans refused to let him see the bodies.

 

The co-pilot also was told the chute of one American, which he assumed was Glonek, hadn't opened enough to save him, even if he was alive when he reached the ground; and the chute of the other American, presumably Monfort, was unopened.

 

The next day, Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military newspaper, reported 15 bombers - or fewer than 2 percent of the 800 on the mission - were lost. The story noted: "Preliminary reports of the Frankfurt raid gave no indication last night of the opposition encountered or the damage done, but some returning crews said they were 'puzzled' by the lack of German resistance on the way in. Neither fighter nor flak opposition was heavy, they said, until the Forts had made their bombing run and were headed for the coast - a further indication of the success of the recent concerted assault on Nazi fighter factories and airfields."

 

Regardless of how many lost planes there were, Monfort was in one of them. And he didn't survive. Two weeks later, he was reported to be among those Missing in Action. Then his death was confirmed. Other crew members became prisoners of war.

 

Dick had just turned 21. Kenny was 15. Walt Barnhart later wrote in his 2008 book, "Kenny's Shoes," that Kenny was fine with Dick being ticketed to head the family business and was hoping to become a journalist. In 1948, Kenny and his Colorado A&M fraternity buddy, future Colorado Governor Roy Romer, visited Dick's grave in the military cemetery at Nancy, France, near the German border. The remains were brought back to  Greeley.

 

Kenny had four children, including sons Dick and Charlie, plus daughters Kay and Kyle. When he served two terms in the Colorado Legislature in the tumultuous 1960s, Kenny - who had been so affected by his brother's death - was known as an anti-war Democrat. In 1980, he switched parties. He died in February 2001.

 

Kenny's son Dick needs no introduction in Colorado, and it goes beyond Dick's long-time linkage to the Monfort family business, including after its 1987 sale, until his retirement from ConAgra in 1995. He's involved in other business pursuits and is active in charity and civic ventures, currently serving as chairman of UNC's board of trustees.

 

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Dick and Karen Monfort singing "Go Bless America" 

at the Rockies' home opener against the Dodgers

 

Outside of Greeley, he and Charlie are best known as the primary owners of the Colorado Rockies. Dick is the team's co-owner, managing general partner, chairman and chief executive officer. Charlie is listed as an owner/general partner.

 

Dick was born in 1954. His birth name is Richard Lee Monfort.

 

 Dick told me that when he was "7 or 8," Kenny sat down with Dick and Kyle, two years older, and told the kids about their uncle. Dick came away honored to have been named Richard Lee Monfort, and that feeling lingers.

 

"He told us how (my uncle) died in the war and how my dad really looked to him," Dick told me. "And how my uncle was going to be the one who was going to run the business and my dad was going to do something else. He said that he and his sister (Margery) had both agreed they'd call their first male child Richard."

 

Margery's son, or Dick's cousin, was Richard "Ricky" Wilson. He died of leukemia at age 19.

 

"On a day like (Memorial Day), I feel for anybody that died in any type of war that we've had," Dick said. "God bless them for doing all they did so we could have our freedom."

 

*   *   *

 

ColoradoMemorial.jpgAt the Colorado Freedom Memorial, the glass panels on the sweeping memorial in Aurora variously angle forward or backward.

 

I came to Panel 15 near the center of the memorial.

 

This was on the second column, sixth row of names, against a backdrop of puffy clouds visible through the glass.

 

"RICHARD L MONFORT"

 

One name among the many.

 

Here, he represents all those we salute on another Memorial Day weekend.

 

*   *   * 

 

Some of my other stories about World War II, including a few we honor on Memorial Day.

 

 

 

  

May 21, 2019

 

All Otis Armstrong did

was win NFL rushing title.

That alone is Ring-worthy

 

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It happened again. Otis Armstrong was snubbed.

 

The word came Monday that cornerback Champ Bailey, who played 10 seasons for Denver, will be the lone inductee in the Broncos' Ring of Fame in the upcoming 2019 season. It comes after there were no inductees at all in 2018 and only one -- the highly deserving Red Miller -- in 2017. The Broncos' curiously high standards at this point aren't the issue because even under stringent standards, Armstrong belongs on the Ring.    

 

Over the past decade, the Broncos have corrected injustices, getting around to inducting players who were long overdue to be included in the Ring. They hadn't been for reasons that at least seemed to involve internal politics.

 

I don't claim to be the only one arguing that the exclusions of Rick Upchurch, Simon Fletcher and Armstrong were impossible to justify, but I pretty much was relentless in saying they should be among the next choices.

 

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Yes, I profiled Upchurch and Armstrong in '77: Denver, the Broncos and a Coming of Age and also in the newspaper, but this is more about common sense than my familiarity with the players' intriguing backgrounds. And I enjoyed getting to know Fletcher better when I profiled him at the time he owned and ran a barbeque restaurant in Greeley, walking distance from the Broncos' Smiling Moose hangout during their training camp years at UNC.

 

Upchurch finally joined the Ring in 2014.

 

Fletcher, the Broncos' all-time sack leader until Von Miller surpassed him last season, finally joined the Ring in 2016.

 

Now, the earliest Armstrong will join them is 2020.

 

I don't get it.

 

Armstrong led the NFL in rushing in 1974, his second season in the league. It was far from his only accomplishment, but that alone should be good enough to be chosen for the Ring.  

 

Otis was raised on Chicago's South side, in the Lawndale area. His stepfather, Oliver McCall, was a Baptist minister. A kid named Darryl Stingley lived down the street. They repeatedly raced down the street, vying to be the fastest kid on the block. The picked out a crack on the sidewalk as their starting line, and Darryl always won. Until one day, Otis pulled off the upset.

 

"How'd you do that?" Darryl asked.

 

Otis smiled, pulled up his pant leg and pointed down. "New shoes," he said.

 

He had talked his motheer into buying him a pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

 

Darryl and Otis remained friends ... for life. Through Darryl's battle after Jack Tatum's hit in 1978 left him paralyzed. And until Darryl's 2007 death.

  

That was after they both went to Purdue and Otis gained 3,315 yards in three seasons and as a senior won the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football as the league’s most valuable player in 1972. (Otis was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.)

 

Armstrong was the Broncos’ first round draft choice in 1973, befuddling many because future Hall of Famer Floyd Little was entrenched at running back. But the Armstrong pick proved to be another savvy decision made by GM-coach John Ralston during the franchise’s buildup to respectability. The Broncos also had "experts" scratching their heads when, under Ralston, they waved off ridiculously exaggerated concerns about Randy Gradishar's knee, taking the word of Woody Hayes that he wasn't damaged goods, and claimed him in the first round.

 

Otis opened the 1974 season at fullback. He didn't really belong there, but with the Broncos using the traditional two-running back approach, it was a way of getting Little and Armstrong on the field at the same time.

 

“Halfway through the season, I was the leading fullback in the league in rushing — and in headaches,” Armstrong told me in interviews for the book.

 

Then Little was injured and Armstrong moved to tailback and Jon “Make Those Miracles Happen” Keyworth stepped in at fullback.

 

Armstrong finished the 14-game season with an NFL-high 1,407 yards on an economical 263 carries, for a 5.3 average per rush.

 

Armstrong and Little were on the roster together for only three seasons, and only one season after Little’s injury-plagued 1974. Armstrong's numbers might have been even more impressive if he had been the featured tailback for more of his career.

 

He went on to an eight-year career with the Broncos before he was just too banged up and pain-ridden to keep playing.  

 

He finished with 4,453 rushing yards and 123 receptions for 1,302 yards.

Armstrong received injury and contract settlements from the Broncos and went through a long fight to obtain NFL disability benefits because of neck, spine and back issues from 1987 until he turned 55 in 2005 and was eligible for the NFL pension.

 

“It’s the life of a running back,” he told me. “I don’t know a running back who doesn’t feel that way in the morning. Floyd and I have talked about it. But if we had it to do over again, we’d go right back out there.”

 

In 1984, he pleaded guilty to one count of illegally obtaining the powerful painkiller Percodan — a charge he insisted was unjust, but decided not to fight — but that was wiped off his record after a year.

 

His malpractice suit against team doctors, alleging he was misdiagnosed, was dismissed, also in 1984.

 

I've said this before, I'll say it now and I'll say it again.

 

It's time for everybody to put all of that behind them ... and to put Otis on the Ring.

  

 

May 14, 2019

 

Who's closer? Avs or Nuggets?

Answer requires nuance,

not oversimplification

 

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Joe Sakic at Tuesday's post-mortem news conference. 

 

Roughly the second after the Nuggets lost Game 7 to the Trail Blazers Sunday, the comparisons between Stan Kroenke's NBA and NHL teams began.

 

It was a fun run for Coloradans, watching both the Avalanche and Nuggets reaching Game 7s in the second rounds and having it play out on what amounted to a take-turns, every-night exposure in both the local and international spotlight. (Hyberbole? Check out those rosters and the fan bases, from Finland, to Serbia, to Russia, to Germany, to Sweden, to Switzerland, to Spain ...)

 

Then came the post-mortems.  

 

As I've discussed all along -- including in archived commentaries below -- the major complicatation is that it requires conceding that the differences in the two leagues make comparisons asterisk-laden.

 

Those reaching for that simple desk-pounding simple answer are either contriving or ignorant ... or both. A lot of the answers seemed to be based on saying one team is better than the other, therefore, that's the team closest to winning a title.

 

Those aren't the same questions.     

 

So here are my answers:

 

The Nuggets had the better season and the Nuggets right now are "better."

 

The No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, the breakout of Nikola Jokic as one of the best players in the NBA and the best passing big man since Bill Walton, the emergence of Jamal Murray as a difference-maker, and even the presence of Michael Porter Jr. in street clothes on the bench as this franchise's Cale Makar (oops, prematurely sneaked in a hockey reference), all of that ... it was a blast to watch.

 

Part of the fun was realizing that the little things that could drive you crazy -- Jokic's persecution complex with the officials, Murray's immaturity, the bench's inconsistency -- underscored how this team could get even better. And soon.

 

It might help if whining about the officiating is discouraged or banned at every level of the Kroenke/Altitude infrastructure, because it's infectious when it plays out on the floor, and goes beyond the expected lobbying, it's both aggravating and counterproductive.

 

But ...

 

The Avalache is FAR closer to winning a championship.

 

That's not because Joe Sakic is more brilliant than Tim Connelly or that Jared Bednar is a better coach than Michael Malone.   

 

It's the way the leagues work, and it's where the NHL has it all over the NBA.

 

And, again, before anyone writes that off as the delusional propaganda from a "hockey writer," I never have been a "hockey writer." I'm a writer who enjoys writing about hockey, dating back to being a beat writer fresh out of college and covering another incarnation of the Colorado Rockies. 

 

And I've covered the NBA as a beat writer and columnist in both Denver and Portland.     

 

The ups and downs since Sakic took over as GM in 2013 are monumental, with two turnaround seasons. The first season in the reunion of the band -- with Patrick Roy behind the bench and Sakic stepping up to take over leadership of the hockey operation -- was a 112-point success that to this day is underappreciated because of the first-round playoff collapse against Minnesota. Roy was, and is, a terrific coach. He hasn't returned to the NHL because of his (deserved) strong-willed reputation, and his summer 2016 exit goes back to his disagreement with the franchise's fascination with undersized, "scooter" defensemen -- and the Avalanche's passing on a chance to land his former major junior star at Quebec, Alexander Radulov.

 

That was Roy thinking as a former goaltender, and while having the undersized and offensive-minded Makar, Samuel Girard and Tyson Barrie as half of the six-man corps on the blueline -- was eye-poppingly succesful in the playoffs after Makar's arrival, the issue is whether that can work over an 82-game regular season.

 

But here's the bottom line in the comparison: The Avalanche beat Calgary, the No. 1 Western Conference seed, in the first round. In five games. Nathan MacKinnon, in his sixth season but younger than either Jokic or Phillip Lindsay, showed that he now is one of the top three players in the NHL. That win over Calgary was surprising, but not a shock. Then the Avalanche took the Sharks, the West's No. 2 team in terms of regular-season points, to seven games.

 

The Nuggets went just as far.

 

But here's the major difference: The Nuggets had zero chance -- zero -- of knocking off Golden State and then going on to beat Toronto or Milwaukee in the NBA Finals.

 

If the Avalanche had managed to get a goal in those frantic final seconds at San Jose, then won it in overtime, Colorado had a bona fide chance to win the Stanley Cup.

 

The Avs could have beaten St. Louis, the No. 5 Western Conference team in terms of points,  in the conference finals.

 

The Avs could have beaten either Boston or Carolina, No. 2 and No. 7 in the East, respectively, in the Stanley Cup Finals

 

That's just the way it is. The best team wins in the NBA. Getting through four rounds confirms a champion's legitimacy, even if you knew it was coming.

 

The most deserving team, regardless of where it comes from in the standings, wins in the NHL. The physical and mental grind on the way to 16 wins is the acid test, far more so than the other Big Four leagues. Goaltending is the "x" factor, no question, and it would be in the NBA, too -- if goaltending hadn't been banned in the 1940s.

 

The Avalanche has the fourth and 16th picks in the upcoming draft. In a process that beyond the first three picks is usually draft and watch (see Makar, Kale; Rantanen, Mikko; and Jost, Tyson), that's not immediate fix territory. Yet the total haul will be five picks in the first three rounds. That will be part of an organizational pipeline that adds to the encouragement.

 

The Nuggets were -- and are -- better.

 

The Avalanche has a far better chance of winning a championship in the next three years. I'm not even saying the Avs will improve exponentially in that period. They are closer.  

 

That is not contradictory.

 

"You've just got to keep building and getting better," Sakic said at the wrapup news conference Tuesday. "As great as the end of the year was, we still didn't accomplish the end goal. We have to find a way to get better and that starts here in the offseason. . . We've just got to go to work and get ready for the draft and free agency and look at different options to get better."

 

Connelly could have said the same thing.

 

Or maybe he did.

 

 

        

 

 

 

May 10, 2019

Killers want(ed) fame.

To what extent should

we give it to them?


 

FrankCover3.jpg

 

 

In his recent book, "They Call Me 'Mr. De': The Story of Columbine's Heart, Resilience and Recovery," former Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis wrestled with using the killers' names.

 

 

Incredibly, he had remained on the job at Columbine for 15 years after the tragic events of April 20, 1999, and waited several years after that to finally tell his story in a book. 

 

 

Frank repeatedly mentioned and honored the 13 murder victims -- but used the names of the killers as sparingly as possible while addressing the issues he knew he had to discuss in a forthright memoir.

 

 

The book stands as what the subtitle promises.  

 

Frank wrote: 

 

"It saddens me that while the killers’ names are mentioned often, those of the murder victims are not, which is why I keep thinking I might cut this chapter before you have a chance to read it. If it remains, know that I included it with great reluctance. Much—too much—has been written about the killers. They desired attention, even in death. They succeeded in attaining it. In fact, years later, many in the media still are preoccupied with the killers and their warped motives."

 

 

Later, Frank describes seeing the infamous "Basement Tapes," the killers' manifesto, along with the families of the dead and wounded, at the Jefferson County Sheriff's office in late 1999.

 

"What we saw sickened us all ... Unfortunately, after limited viewings, the tapes were ordered sealed and then destroyed," he wrote. "I understand the fear that, if they were public record, they would be tools for imitators and copycats. But I wish psychologists and other professionals could have viewed the tapes. As disturbing as they were, the recordings contained lessons about the killers that could potentially prevent future attacks by others. The killers kept their evil, along with the arsenal of weapons and materials for bombs, well hidden. They were intentional about maintaining their front, but they seemed prideful about their planning, noting on the tapes that it was too bad nobody would see the tapes until it was too late."

 

Their rants on Basement Tapes made it clear: They wanted fame. We gave it to them, both in 1999 and beyond. I use the generic "we," because it was across the board, and it was in the fledgling days of internet coverage from new web sites of varying credibility (including some that did terrific work) and also entrenched journalistic outlets feeling their way with 24/7 coverage. That 24/7  coverage occasionally came with low standards for vetting and a tendency to throw anything against the newsroom or basement wall to see what stuck.

 

But in the 20 years since, the evolution has been noticeable. The comparison between the coverage of Columbine and of the Aurora Theater shootings provided the most graphic contrast. The theater killer went on trial. The Columbine killers committed suicide in the library. So there was that difference as the backdrop, but it also seemed apparent that we were getting the message. Enough with the fixation on the killers. Media told the stories of the theater shooting victims and mentions of the killer — at least compared to Columbine — were relatively minimal. It's a tightrope, obviously. Denial is counterproductive. There are lessons to be learned, and the differences in the protocol in force now for school intrusions with how law enforcement was allowed to respond on April 20, 1999 are stunning. 

 

Also in his book, Frank describes his reaction when he appeared at a taping of an Ophrah Winfrey Show as the 10-year benchmark approached and was horrified to realize that, despite what he had been told by those arranging the show, the focus to an alarming extent was on the killers, not the victims. He registered his objection, Winfrey called him and soon spiked the show before it was shown.    

 

The issues came up again as April 20, 2019 approached.

 

This came from KDVR/FOX31 anchor Jeremy Hubbard: "We're approaching the 20th anniversary a little differently. We won't be showing any images from April 20, 1999, we won't be playing any 911 recordings and we won't be using the names or pictures of the shooters. Instead, we're focusing on the stories of hope that have emerged from the heartbreak."

 

Here's the full online story.

 

My viewing, listening and reading of the 20th commemoration coverage was more anecdotal than exhaustive, but my impression was that the KDVR approach was not unique. At least in Colorado. KUSA/9News, which has had the most coverage of the Columbine recovery over the years, including in DeAngelis' final stretch as principal before his 2014 retirement, essentially -- without fanfare -- passed on mentioning the killers in connection with the 20-year commemoration.            

  

 
Kendrick3.jpg
 
Kendrick Castillo, hero 
 
 
Then came the shootings at the STEM School Highlands Ranch, raising agonizingly familiar issues — plus some new ones — as hero Kendrick Castillo was saluted and mourned.

 

In Colorado Springs, FOX21 news director Joe Cole announced on social media and on the station web site: "After some deliberation, we here at FOX21 News are taking a stance against showing pictures of the alleged shooters from Tuesday's shooting at the STEM school in Highlands Ranch. We will mention their names Wednesday in our broadcasts and online as part of our journalistic duty, but going forward, we will simply refer to them as the accused shooters. We will not show their pictures at any time either online or in our broadcast. Instead, our focus will be on the victims of this horrible crime."   

 

Other stations, both television and radio, are following similar approaches, also differentiating between the accused 18-year-old shooter and the juvenile. It's all tricky because the argument could be made that stations don't need to announce what they're doing -- just do it and let intelligent consumers draw their own inferences. But I also get that it can be interpreted and trumpeted as taking a stand, too. And that's a stand that has been championed by the "No-Notoriety" movement led by Tom and Caren Teves, whose son, Alex, was murdered in the Aurora Theater shootings.

 

Here's the extensive website explanation of the No-Notoriety cause, in a Q&A format, from Tom and Caren Teves. They're also at @nonotoriety on Twitter. 

 

 

We're making progress. Sadly, we've had too much practice at it.

 

 

 

 

Remembering the victims: 

 

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www.nonotoriety.com                                   Inside Columbine High School
 
 
 

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 Claire Davis, Arapahoe High               Emily Keyes, Platte Canyon High

                                                    The "I Luv U Guys" Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 8, 2019

Avalanche writes

a bittersweet ending 

to the season 

 

In the previous column -- below this one -- I outlined the reasons the Avalanche had a bona fide shot at beating San Jose Wednesday night in Game 7 and advancing. I don't pretend that there was anything revelatory or earth-shaking in there. I know a lot of folks shared the same sentiments and many others advanced the same points.

 

That scenario came just short of playing out.

 

For me, without running through all the details of the Avs' 3-2 loss -- the details you know -- it comes down to this: That was a dramatic finish. Nobody -- and I mean nobody -- is saying they didn't show up or where overwhelmed by a Game 7 on the road against one of the top teams in the league. They're earning almost as much praise as if they had won and moved on, extending the almost magical Nuggets-Avalanche combination postseason homestand at the Pepsi Center.      

 

Ah, the ""call," the waving off of the Colin Wilson goal that seemed to have tied the game 2-2 in the second period.

 

A couple of things were involved there. Without breaking down and blowing up the video/visual evidence and getting involved in arguments involving millimeters, microseconds, Gabe Landeskog's skate, the blue line and the bench door, and the choice between the Calamari steak sandwich or Calamari dinner at Original Joe's nearby, the problem I have with the decision is that it's another case of the use of video review and the rationalization of "getting it right" takes us beyond common sense and intuitive feel. The "correct" is not necessarily the right one, whether in the Kentucky Derby (where both the technology and the equipment used were far beyond the basic angles of, say, 25 years ago) or in Game 7 in San Jose.

 

That's the negative of replay.

 

I feel a bit the same way about the end of the Virginia-Clemson Final Four semifinal: The foul call wasn't reviewable, maybe it was "right," but nobody on the planet can justify it.

             

Of course, as this plays out, the NHL's 180-degree phenomenon is on full display. By that, I mean that in such things as discussions of calls, cheap shots and the lack of accountability, it always depends on which side of the equation you're on. When "their" guy delivers a cheap shot against "your" guy, it's a second-degree felony and worthy of suspension, but when "your" guy does the same thing to "their" guy, it's hard-nosed hockey and what, do you want to have them wear skirts?

 

OK, I'm exaggerating, but in many years of covering the sport, that's been one of hte takeaways for me. The phenomenon is similar in other sports -- especially football -- but more pronounced in hockey. That's a nice way of saying if the scenario had played out with roles flipped, Sharks fans and team broadcasters would be screaming that the goal should have been allowed and Avalanche fans and team broadcasters would be saying to stop whining, tough luck. The most mature reaction to all of this was from Landeskog, who said, regardless, he should have been conscious of getting off the ice quicker. He didn't whine, moan, yell, complain. That's deserving of respect. So is the general Avalanche post-game reaction, which didn't get into that silly persecution complex so prevalent in sports today.        

 

The other issue is the folly of always assuming that if something had happened differently, what actually happened after would have remained the same. That's a pet peeve of baseball broadcaster Jon Miller, and I'm aboard that bandwagon. A baseball example: With a game tied 2-2, a hitter for the New York Mammoths gets thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double. The next hitter doubles deep to the gap, and someone says: If the previous hitter hadn't tried to stretch that into a double, the Mammoths would have the lead. No. We don't know that. Among other variables, the pitcher would have been delivering from the stretch, not winding up. And from there, the circumstances would have been different.

 

If Wilson's goal had counted, we don't know what would have happened. Down a goal, the Avs played gutty and, yes, desperate hockey in the third, and deserve the widespread praise they're getting. The post-mortems are even more "positive" about the Avs, their recovery down the stretch to make the postseason, their playoff showing and their future than I outlined the other day. It's all deserved.

 

The most agonizing point for the Avalanche is this: They knocked off the conference's No. 1 seed. They not only hung in against the conference's No. 2 team (in points) in the regular season, they came close to winning the series. And if ...

 

The Avs might have -- or maybe even probably would have -- beaten the Blues.    

  

 

May 6, 2019

You know what they

say about Game 7s ...

No, what do they say?  

 

 

Anything can happen. Anything. 

 

That's the scenario the Avalanche set up Monday night, rolling with the punches and ultimately getting a Gabe Landeskog goal at 2:32 of overtime to beat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 and extend the Western Conference semifinal series to a Game 7 Wednesday night at San Jose.

 

"It's going to be a lot of fun," said J.T. Compher, the Chicago-area native and former Michigan Wolverine who had two of the Avalanche's goals in regulation in Game 6. "It's a great opportunity for us to go to the Western Conference finals. We've been counted out many times this year. This says a lot. We're very resilient and we're going to be ready to go."

 

The surprising thing about Monday wasn't that the Avalanche won, but that the Avalanche won on a night when the top line was on the ice for all three of the Sharks' goals and was pointless until Landeskog ended it in overtime.

 

I clumsily worded a question to Compher, nothing that he and linemate Tyson Jost, who scored the first Colorado goal, had pitched in on a night when the first line hadn't been productive -- at least not until overtime.   

 

"You say they didn't do anything," Compher said, "but those guys still are playing 25 minutes a night, they'e playing hard, they're creating scoring chances, and they just weren't able to get one in tonight. Luckily, we were able to pick up the slack a little bit."

 

So it's on to Game 7.

 

"It's a huge step for our team, it's a great opportunity for us," Landeskog said. "Sixty minutes away from the Western Conference final. Who would have thought before the season, who would have thought before the series, or whatever. For us, we keep believing.The last thing they to do is wanted to play another one at home in San Jose. We accomplished that, we won this one, now we have to regroup. It was nice to get this one tonight and hopefully build off of it. . . That Compher line stepped up and had a good game when we needed them. People keep talking about depth and how important that is in the playoffs and they sure showed it."           

 

Here's why the Avs have a shot in Game 7:

 

They've proven to themselves they can win in San Jose, breaking through with a 4-3 win in Game 2.

 

This will be the second consecutive Game 7 for the Sharks after their comeback against Vegas in the first round, and that's added to the toll taken in pro sports' most relentless and testing postseason. The Avalanche, in contrast, had six days off after its five-game win over Calgary.

 

And the longer a Game 7 is scoreless or close, the more pressure there is on the Sharks, who finished second in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference in the regular season.

 

Remember Avalanche Game 7s at home against Minnesota in 2003 -- Patrick Roy's final game -- and 2014? Andrew Brunette and Nino Niederreiter ended them in overtime and the Wild advanced. Both times the Avs played nervous and tight -- and lost.  

 

"No doubt, it's a big one," Landeskog said. "It's also a 60-minute hockey game that needs to be won. Yeah, you have to give it the credit, it deserves to be a Game 7, but you don't want to blow it out of proportion and all of a sudden, it becomes a big monster, a big mountain that you have to climb. For us, I like where our team is at. This was a big victory for us. Hopefully, this momentum can carry into Wednesday night. It'll be a fun one."         

 

Of course, it's entirely possible the Sharks score early and often Wednesday night, diluting the tension, and then romp, but going in, the Avalanche is under little pressure.

 

If the Avs lose Game 7 on the road, it will not be followed by scorching post-mortems, since they were a longshot to even make the postseason in February before awakening, largely thanks to Philipp Grubauer finally providing top-flight goaltending.

 

Plus, the Avs are only two years removed from the worst NHL season in nearly 20 years and the worst on the bang-for-the buck basis of all time, considering they were scraping the salary cap ceiling while finishing with only 48 points.

 

Yes, they dipped from 95 to 90 points this season, but again sneaked into the playoffs in the No. 8 spot in the West, and has progressed from an orange slices six-game loss to Nashville a year ago in the first round to the win over Calgary. Now, regardless, this will go down as at least a gutty, resilient effort against the Sharks as part of the exciting and overlapping Nuggets and Avalanche appearances in the second round.

 

For much of this season, it seemed as if the rebuilding project had hit a speed bump. Now, though, only the curmudgeonly won't agree that with Nathan MacKinnon is developing into a "generational" No. 1 overall pick, after all. Around him, and not just on the top line with him, there is considerable promise.

 

Yes, Joe Sakic knew what he was doing, and not just with the haul in the Matt Duchene trade, but with so much else, including the 2015 trade that sent Ryan O'Reilly to Buffalo for Compher's rights, Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko; plus the drafting of Tyson Jost at No. 10 overall and Cale Makar at No. 4.  

 

And this season will last at least one more game.

 

A Game 7. 

 

 

  

May 5, 2019

I'm not a steward.

I don't play one on TV.

But my vote was no DQ. 

 

 

I've covered horse racing over the years, mostly finding and profiling the characters in and around the sport, including some Runyonesque guys telling me they had a horse right here, his name is Paul Revere. 

 

The sport long has had problems, including sadly widespread cavalier treatment of horses and increased competition from other former of sports gambling.

 

It is no sure thing to survive, whether at Aurora's Arapahoe Park or anywhere else.

 

That survival likely depends on being able to increasingly turn existing tracks into "racinos," offering casino-style wagering and perhaps being able to be a site for states' legalized sports wagering as the effects of the Supreme ruling take hold.

 

Arapahoe Park's 2019 live racing meeting, basically a loss-leader tradeoff with the state for being allowed to offer satellite wagering on tracks around the country, runs from May 25 to August 11.  

 

I'm rooting for horse racing, from along the rail.

 

Saturday didn't help. Amid the big hats, mint juleps and celebrity sightings at Churchill Downs, and as a national television audience -- with many paying attention to horse racing for the first and perhaps only time this year -- watched, the Kentucky Derby was a fiasco.

 

It didn't need to be.

 

During the tortuous wait for the Churchill Downs stewards' ruling Saturday afternoon, trainer Bill Mott made the point that has been repeatedly cited in justifying the decision to disqualify Maximum Security, despite the fact that the favored 3-year-old colt led wire to wire and seemingly remained undefeated.   

 

Mott had a horse in the hunt, of course -- 65-1 longshot Country House -- and his jockey, Flavien Prat, was one of two riders to file objections after the race.

 

Noting Maximum Security's move outside on the final turn, Mott said: "There definitely was a foul in the race. There were a couple of jocks that almost went down in there. If it was a maiden claimer on a week day, the winner would come down. It's not supposed to matter that it was the Kentucky Derby."          

 

There's only one problem with that. By taking 23 minutes to make the decision, the stewards affirmed this was no maiden claimer on Tuesday. It was the Kentucky Derby. That mattered.

 

Then chief steward Barbara Borden appeared at a news conference, explaining the decision -- although she didn't take questions. That doesn't happen for a maiden claimer, either. She said that the other jockey to object was Jon Court, on Long Range Toddy, and that Maximum Security's move outside had affected War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Country House. She also said the decision was unanimous among the three stewards. 

 

I'm not going to claim to have seen all the angles eventually available to the stewards. I'm also going to oversimplify this.

 

From what I saw, there wasn't enough to justify taking down Maximum Security's number.

 

I keep hearing every football broadcast analyst feeling the need to remind us each time a play is under video review: "Remember, there must be irrefutable evidence for this to be overturned ..."  (YES, WE KNOW. YOU AND YOUR ILK HAVE TOLD US THAT A GAZLILLION TIMES!)

 

That's what's puzzling and it's a compliment to the stewards. I thought they had their "out" -- Derby or no Derby. The "out" was: It wasn't that bad. In my opinion, it wasn't bad enough. The stewards didn't take that out. Again, that can be spun into a huge compliment to the stewards, an argument that they easily could have justified leaving the results intact and they likely wouldn't have been vilified. The NBC broadcast crew, folks who know and love the sport and its standards, seemed to be staking out that position. There was something there. But not enough. 

 

The money at stake was staggering. That's directly to the participants in the race for owners, trainers and jockeys, affecting everything from the allocation of the purse money to even such things as stud fees -- and those who had wagered on the race. I can just imagine what the wait was like at major tracks taking off-site wagering on the Derby or at Nevada sports books.

 

 

Yes, that re-emphasizes the need for scrupulous honesty, including from the stewards. Whether they'll eventually admit it or not, I'm betting that the reason for the wait was about more than trying to view every possible angle. It also involved mulling over not just the magnitude, but the effects, of the decision. What I'm trying to do is concede that they were thinking of their mandate and even oaths to be scrupulously fair, in races big and small. I respect that.

 

But I'll keep coming back to this: While I don't claim to be anything but a casual fan of the sport, and no expert, I didn't see enough to warrant the decision to disqualify Maximum Security. If it was egregious, yes, it had to be done. It wasn't and it didn't need to be. And I unapologetically admit it was the Kentucky Derby. Virtually every move made once the objection was  noted was an outgrowth of that reality.     

 

That's my vote.

 

To get a second, I checked in with Jonathan Horowitz, the long-time track announcer, race caller and communications director at Arapahoe Park. He has left that track and is about to begin traveling to broadcast Arabian horse racing at, yes, Churchill Downs and Delaware Park, and also announce at and complete in Colorado event horse shows. He knows the sport inside out.

 

His vote cancels mine.

 

Yes, Horowitz said, Maximum Security should have been DQ'd.

 

He went on to say: "Plus, you also have to consider that only recently has the technology been available to conduct such a thorough review with multiple HD replay angles. It fits the pattern of other sports relying more heavily on replay to 'get the call right.' As far as the interference, the question is, 'Did the interference by one horse cost the horse he interfered with a chance at a better placing?' If so, the horse that did the interfering is disqualified and placed behind the horse he interfered with. In this case, when Maximum Security drifted out, he caused War of Will to cross legs with him and caused bumping with the horses outside him. It’s the right call, although it’s tough to make in that setting."

 

If you're reading this, you now have the third tie-breaking vote.  

 

What say you? 

 

(terry@terryfrei.com) 

 

Horse racing tales:

 

Willard Burbach

Shawn Davis  

Temple Rushton

Stetson Rushton 

Tracy Hebert 

 

 

 

 

May 2, 2019

The biggest compliment

you can give Grubauer:

If he plays like that...

 

BednarGame4.jpg

Jared Bednar after the Avalanche's 3-0 win in Game 4 

 

Philipp Grubauer was spent. Putting away his equipment added to his exhaustion. Then he sat down and put his head in his hands, gathering himself ... and the energy to talk.

 

Finally -- and nobody was complaining about the wait -- came the signal. He was ready. Fire away. The questions are a lot easier to face than the shots.

 

Opening the scrum (that's official journalism talk), I asked him if he was extraordinarily spent after this one -- his 32-save shutout in the Avalanche's 3-0, series-evening win over the Sharks Thursday night in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals at the Pepsi Center.

 

Grubauer preferred to talk about the team, at least initially.

 

"It's a huge game, a huge win," the Avalanche goalie said. "I think we did the right things today. After my performance last game wasn't too great ... we had to bounce back, but I think we did good things today."

 

This was his first shutout of the postseason. After his terrific play down the stretch was so crucial in getting the Avalanche in the playoffs in the first place, he had made eye-popping key saves during the five-game win over Calgary and been merely mortal through the first three games against the Sharks. The Game 3 loss Tuesday was a stinker, and he wasn't the problem. But that needed to be erased, and he was much better, too. 

    

"All we needed was the win," he said. "The longer we can keep the zero up there, the better it is, the better chance we had to win ... We learned from last game. That was horrible. We were really good on the forecheck today, didn't give them any time to get the puck into their zone, and the PK was really good today. Compared to the other games, they didn't have as many high-quality scoring chances as they had in the last couple of games. That means we are doing a great job in the middle of the ice, and keeping them to the outside."

 

So now the series returns to San Jose for Game 5 Saturday, and this also means there definitely will be a Game 6 Monday in Denver. The four-game, four-night  NBA/NHL playoff run this week ended up with the Nuggets and Avalanche splitting against the Trail Blazers and Sharks, respectively.

 

"We would have dug ourselves a huge hole if we had lost that game," Grubauer said. "It was a huge win." 

 

Grubauer's best?

 

"I don't know, he's played some good ones," saud Avalanche coach Jared Bednar. "He's had some really good ones. He was good tonight, though. There were a couple of breakdowns there. We went brain dead at the end of the second period. We had a defenseman lose a stick, he's going to the bench to change, we have an O-zone blue line turnover and everyne seems like we're joining he rush and we give up a breakaway in right at the end of the second and hee makes a huge save. He made some big saves at key times for us. It was big performance for him, no question."  

 

That it was.

 

Virtually regardless of what happens from here, the young Avalanche will have put up a fight in this series -- even if they lose -- after advancing to the second round for the first time in 10 years. More important, the late-season rush to get back in the postseason for the second straight year now even more seems even more confirmed as a sign that while this isn't yet a flashback to the glory years of the franchise from 1996-2004, it's at least a harbinger of another run as at least a perennial playoff team. And, in the short term, if Grubauer plays like this most of the time amid a solid team effort -- one of the charms of the playoffs, too, is that occasional bad games can be flushed if a goalie has the ability to hit reset (see Roy, Patrick) and immediately revert to stingy -- virtually anything can happen.     

 

"I'm excited to watch our team come to the rink and compete," Bednar said. "Some nights, we're better than others, but I like what our guys' commitment. They're here to play and compete and win."

  

 

 

May 1, 2019

"Z" skating the line

between physical 

and irresponsible 

 

 Zadorov.jpg 

Nikita Zadorov after Wednesday's practice

 

 Nikita Zadorov's sly humor, and in his second language, long has cracked me up.

 

 

After Wednesday's Avalanche practice, the afternoon after San Jose's 4-2 win in Game 3 gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals, I had just asked Zadorov if the Avalanche going with three undersized, offensive-minded defensemen in its top six heightened the pressure on the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Russian to play a physical game. After all, he had 11 hits and two blocked shots in Game 3 and continued to aggravate the Sharks. He addressed it as if the question mainly was about the tandem of Cale Makar and Samuel Grard, not bringing his usual even-strength partner, Tyson Barrie, into it.  

 

 

"Yes and no," he said after practice . "What's physical mean? ... Like aggressive, hitting? That's my game. It doesn't matter how many D is small, or big D, we're going to have, it's my style. It's my game. But when they're on the ice and I'm on the bench, I can't do anything. It's their job to defend, right? I can't be physical. I'm just watching that and when it's my shift, I go out there and do whatevr it takes to win the hockey game."

 

Through eight games in the playoffs, Zadorov is averaging 19:32 of ice time, doesn't have a point, has a team-high 20 penalty minutes and is a minus 2. 

 

He has gotten into some yapping with Sharks center Micheal Haley, who challenged him at least twice in Game 3. He dismisses that. "He's playing five minutes a night," Zadorov said. "I'm playing 20. What's the point for me to challenge him? . . . I know him. I've skated with him in the summer, he's a nice dude. He's playing hard. There's no friends on the ice, obviously. I'm having fun with it. When I piss all their team off, it's my job.. . I told him, 'You're playing five minutes a night, I'm playing 20, 'it's not a fair trade.'"

 

I asked him if he was still was looking for or if he had found that line between being physical and going too far, including taking ill-advised penalties.

 

"Yeah, I think I'm doing a good job of that," he said. "I had a few penalties, and I think it's just the referees, theye think I'm too big." He said it was easy to focus on him, pointing to Game 1 in the series, when he drew a penalty for hitting Timo Meier from behind. "I don't think it should be a penalty because he reversed and hit me right before that. I'm  just way bigger, I have 60 pounds on him and I crushed him to ut him in the boards. They're going to call it once in a while. I think (the) coaches are OK with that. I focus on moving my feet, being in position and playing clean. I'm not a dirty player. I don't look to kill guys in the head or something. I just finish my checks and sometimes it happens because I'm bigger than they are."   

 

 

 

 

April 30, 2019

Avs lose. The sky is falling.

Ah, the fluctuations of

playoff hockey ...

 

Pregame.jpg 

It hit me Tuesday night. Every member of the press covering an NFL game seemingly is required by law to take a picture of the pretty much empty stadium when they arrive and then Tweet it out for atmosphere, table-setting purposes -- and, of course, to prove how early they showed up. How come nobody does that in hockey? So here you go: The pom poms await their wavers.  

 

Nathan MacKinnon was perturbed, but trying not to overreact after the Avalanche's 4-2 loss to the Sharks Tuesday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals.

 

He knows how it works in the postseason. The Avalanche has a chance to even the series Thursday at home, but what this did is put Colorado into the position of having to win one more game in San Jose -- while reasserting home ice at the Pepsi Center.    

 

"It's 2-1, it's a full series, it's not over and we're still confident we can beat these guys," MacKinnon said. "In the playoffs, you're going to lose games. It's unfortunate."

 

MacKinnon's goal at 15:51 of the second period closed the Avalanche to 2-1, and then Matt Nieto tied it up at 11:45 of the third.  

 

The crowd was back in it at that point -- pom poms and all -- but Logan Couture's second goal broke the tie only 65 seconds later and his empty netter completed the hat trick with 30 seconds left.  

 

"We had good energy after that," MacKinnon, who now has a point in seven straight playoff games, said of his goal. "We battled hard and tied it up on that good goal by 'Nietsy,' and we just threw it away after that."

 

Across the room, Cale Makar talked about his continuing introduction to the NHL after his eighth playoff game since signing the day following the Frozen Four championship game.

 

"I don't think we're in a bad spot at all," he said. "We didn't get the result tonight, but at the end of the day, we're still feeling up and we're definitely going to come on strong."

 

With the Avalanche putting so much faith in the 20-year-olds, Makar and Sam Girard, and continuing to rely on Tyson Barrie's offensive creativity from the back line, it comes back to also needing strong play from the other three, more physical defensemen -- Erik Johnson, Ian Cole and Nikita Zadorov. They didn't get it in Game 3. Johnson still is the Avalanche's top defenseman, challenged to be out against opposing top lines, and he struggled in Game 3.    

Makar, meanwhile, has jumped into the NHL in the most testing postseason in pro sports.

 

"It's physical when you don't expect it," he said. "But I think playing playoff hockey in college prepared me more for this. Thge deeper it goes, the more physical it gets. . . The mental side of hockey is such a bit part of the game now. Everybody wants to do their part and turn it up, but it's being able to turn the switch and turn it back on."

 

That's where Jared Bednar was hot and bothered -- about the Avalanache's mental game. Well, that and the effort, something that never should be an issue in the postseason.

 

"To me, we didn't consistently work for the puck," he said. "We didn't talk to the puck, In turn our execution was poor. We made some bonehead decisions with the puck, too, at times."

 

 Philipp Grubauer had 27 saves while allowing the three goals. He still was giving the Avalanche solid goaltending by the eyeball test, and his goals-against average in the postseason is 2.43 and his save percentage .921. Playoff goaltending is more about aura than numbers, but he's down to sixth among No. 1 goaltenders in both categories in the postseason. Those magic, uncanny saves, those that leave you shaking your head and saying he saved the Avalanche's bacon, have to keep coming, too. That can make up for a lot, including teammates' bone-headed decisions with the puck. He has to be more than good. He has to be amazing.      

 

 

 

 

April 29, 2019

Girard & Makar tandem?

Man, what a bad ...

What a great idea!

 Girard.jpg

Samuel Girard does an interview with reporter Francois Gagnon of Canada's French-language RDS at Family Sports Center Monday.

 

When I heard that Avalanche coach Jared Bednar let it be known he was pairing Samuel Girard with Cale Makar for Sunday's Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals at San Jose, my immediate reaction was: Is he nuts?

 

It would be Girard's second game back in the lineup after missing the final three games of the first-round series against Calgary with an injury, but that had little to do with it. To me, the point was that amid the giddiness over the Avalanche's signing of Makar after UMass' Frozen Four championship game loss to Minnesota-Duluth was that too little attention was being paid to this reality: If the Avalanche -- and there was no reason to think this wouldn't happen -- committed to having Tyson Barrie, Girard and Makar in the lineup, Colorado would have three "undersized", highly skilled, offensive-minded, puck-moving defensmen in its top six.

 

That's not a "bad" thing, but it's risky. Their extraordinary offensive talent, which includes getting the puck up ice, would be an incredible strength, facilitating the production of -- among others -- the Nathan MacKinnon-centered top line.

 

But it wasn't out of line to wonder if