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2017 On the Colorado Scene Commentaries are here 

2018 On the Colorado Scene Commentaries are here.

Additional commentaries on woodypaige.com are here


For 2019 On the Colorado Scene commentaries, scroll down                                                     




The latest, in order below:


Hockey's on a roll in Denver

On the Boys from Halifax

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

CSU WR Warren Jackson 

Pavel Francouz: It was a long time coming

Buffs are offficially mediocre

Avalanche opening night

Plan the parade, Mayor Hancock

Keep scrolling past those for the entire 2019 archive 

October 19, 2019

With Avs, Pioneers,

hockey's on a roll

in Denver  


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 that 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.



 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."



 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  


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 14, 2019

My final word on

on Altitude vs. Big 3 ...

at least for now  



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.


One more time: It is a business dispute between mega-corporations and essentially a company that's part of an empire controlled by a wing of the richest family in America. The companies are not BLOCKING anything. The contracts were up. They have not reached new agreements. It's primarily about how much Altitude will accept from the carriers, not how much Altitude will pay the carriers.        


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 



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 12, 2019

Long time coming:

Francouz gets win

in first NHL start 


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 5, 2019

After loss to Arizona,

let's face it: Buffs are

officially mediocre 


    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. 



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 


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


 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." 




Additional 2019 Archive:
Scroll down for ...

Coaches under fire: Vic Fangio and Mike Bobo

Altitude vs. DISH/DirecTV/Comcast 

Celine Dion, Columbine and Opening Night at the Pepsi Center  

Ag Day and Orange Out at CSU
Updated Collin Hill ... Damn
RIP, Coach Ralston
Go ahead, blame Bolles for climate change,too
It went to OT, but it was AFA dominance
A sea of red, but a crushing Cornhusklers loss
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
From CSU: Warren Jackson is next in line
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  

September 29, 2019

Vic Fangio, Mike Bobo:

A combined 1-8 and

appearing shell-shocked 



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



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.   



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.




 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 




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.  


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





September 21, 2019 


On Ag Day "Orange Out,"

Aggies -- er, Rams -- roll

up yards, but lose



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 ... 



... 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.





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.



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



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


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



 September 17, 2019

Horrible news for Hill, Rams 



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



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 Bowles' make-or-break season, with a reprise of my profile of him following the 2017 draft.)    



Additional 2019 Archive:
Scroll down for ...

Coaches under fire: Vic Fangio and Mike Bobo

Altitude vs. DISH/DirecTV/Comcast 

Celine Dion, Columbine and Opening Night at the Pepsi Center  

Ag Day and Orange Out at CSU
Updated Collin Hill ... Damn
RIP, Coach Ralston
Go ahead, blame Bolles for climate change,too
It went to OT, but it was AFA dominance
A sea of red, but a crushing Cornhusklers loss
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
From CSU: Warren Jackson is next in line
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  

September 14, 2019

That was no fluke:

Falcons dominated Buffs

most of the game 



CU coach Mel Tucker congratulates AFA running back Kadin Remsberg,

who rushed for 150 yards on 23 carries.



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 7, 2019

OK, we give ... renew

the rivalry when possible

and put it in Denver  



Folsom Field's west side  


And here's the east side  


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


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


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.     



August 30, 2019

CU's Mel Tucker

gets first win as head coach.

How come nobody's excited?



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.



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  




Read about anti-NFL activist Mike Boryla here. 





August 26, 2019


Bobo sets the stakes

high in Showdown's

last stand in Denver 



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 



 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 



 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.




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 




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 RickGeorge.jpg

                Mel Tucker                                                       Rick George  


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 and 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 6-0 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 


"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?




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


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?




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


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."



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  


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



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."



 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."



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



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.


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.)



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 Morrison in Normandy, signing the jacket of Best Defense Foundation program director

Ralph Peeters, who lives in The Netherlands. (Photo courtesy Ralph Peeters)


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."   



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."  



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.       



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.  


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."



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.'"


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."        



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.”


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."  



Leila Morrison and the other veterans on the Best Defense Foundation Trip at an

elementary school in Carentan. (Best Defense Foundation photo) 



At the Carentan elementary school, Leila Morrison talks to the children.

(Best Defense Foundation photo) 



In Paris, Leila Morrison is seventh from left among the veterans.

(Best Defense Foundation photo)    



Leila Morrison in early 2018, on the Honor

Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington DC (Photo courtesy Tami Stieger,

Honor Flight Northern Colorado)



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




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.  


Lombardi Trophies                                                       Pat Bowlen's desk


BowlenTwitter2.jpg BowlenCoat.jpg

Left: Jacket signed by Broncos Hall of Famers

Right: Bowlen's famous fur coat and a more modest outfit   



Left: Bowlen and Jim Nantz, Super Bowl post-game

Right: Bowlen's boots and binoculars

BowlenBall.jpg BowlenBush.jpg

Left: Super Bowl L game ball

Right: With President George H.W. Bush


On Bowlen's desk 







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 


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."  



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."     



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."



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.    




Tyson Jost and Cale Makar arrive at the east side of Sloan's Lake. 


Tyson Jost


Cale Makar 






June 25, 2019

Matthew Stienburg hoping

to follow the lead of his father,

former Nordique Trevor Stienburg  



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.



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 




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. 



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.



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.           



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



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. 



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!  



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. 



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.        



 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.)  



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.  



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 ...





 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.  



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:









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.



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.



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.




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



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.



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



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?





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.            


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: 


www.nonotoriety.com                                   Inside Columbine High School

 claire_davis.jpeg Emily.jpg


 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? 




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...



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 



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 ...



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!


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 -- no kncok in Barrie and Girard, but stylistically speaking -- the Avalanche was pressing its luck with have those two in the lineup. And you add Makar? That's three of the six. Patrick Roy, whose exit had as much to do with the organization's penchant for drafting "scooter" defensemen and its lack of developing physicaly defnsemen as anything else, would have been revulsed.


Barrie is listed at 5-10 and 190. He's at least stocky and thick.


Girard is listed (at least by the Avalanche) at 5-10 and 162. If he's 5-10, the Nuggets Isaiah Thomas is 6-2. (He isn't ... and he isn't.)


Makar is listed at 5-11 and 187, but Barrie actually seems "bigger."


The point, of course, is the possible peril at the defensive end of having three defensemen of that bent among your top six. Regardless of how skilled they are. That' even before you get into the age issue, since Makar and Girard are both 20. And even before you get into the doubling-down peril of playing two of them in the same pairing, rather than having a bigger defenseman -- Erik Johnson, Ian Cole or Nikita Zadorov -- with each or the three. So they have to at least do decent work in the defensive end, even if it isn't of the clear-the-front-of-the-net variety, and be so enabling, productive and generating offensively, the Avs come out ahead.


And Colorado sure did in the first game of the Makar-Girard pairing. They were poised, smart, patient and productive.


In short, it worked.


On Monday at Family Sports, I asked Bednar -- the former physical defenseman -- if he'd had to aadjust his thinking in dealing with having three undersized defensemen.


"Not much, to be honest with you," he said. "My goal as a coach is to get them out in situations to succeed and to help us on the offensive side of things. But I don't worry very much about those guys defensively because they're all elite players and playing at a level right now where defensively they're highly committed and they're making plays on the defensive side of the puck and they're defending will in the zone, so that's a plus, a luxury that we have with the shutdown guys, the big, heavy guys. Those guys are able to help us move pucks in and out of our zone, which is a benefit. They're defending really well, which is the other side of it. You're starting to see what these guys can do. They find room in the onnensive zone.


"If you look at that shift in the third period, I think it was Makar and Girard, they just controlled the puck up top, not thowing it away and maiking smart plays. They got a few plays to the net and they wre covering pucks and using their feet, and they're tough to check. So it's an element we're starting to develop as a team, and those guys are helping drive that."


A bit later, I asked Girard about dealing with both in the pair being you, offensive-minded and "undersized."


"I know what Cale and I are able to do," he said. "We jut need to play our game. We need to bring some offense and be stable defensively as well."


The sample size is small. Two games in the lineup together and one as a pairing. Makar joined the Avalanche for Game 3 of the Calgary series, and that was th first of the three games Girard missed. So Bednar didn't have to decide then whether he could afford to or live with having three undersized defensemen in the lineup, with Johnson, Zadorov and Cole. Another alternative now is to go with seven defensemen, mitigating that size disadvantage on defense and giving Bednar more options.


But the initial returns on Girard & Makar were promising.                               




April 28, 2019

Last time Nuggets, Avs

both made it to second

round was ... never 


Chauncey Billups, left, and Carmelo Anthony led the Nuggets into the 2009 Western Conference finals against the Lakers, where they lost in six games. Joe Sakic, right, played only 15 games that season, his last one in the NHL.
On Saturday night, as I watched the Nuggets take what seemed to be an insurmountable lead over the Spurs in Game 7 of the first round series, it hit me that I wasn't sure when the last time both the Nuggets and Avalanche had advanced to the second round. I couldn't think of another time off the top of my head, but I was pretty sure it must have happened before. Right?
I'm sure someone -- perhaps even many -- had pointed out the correct answer, so I don't claim to have discovered electricity here or invented the internet, but I hadn't heard it or had it sink in.
It didn't take long to figure out, checking out the season-by-season listings for both franchises.
When the game ended -- and the Nuggets had managed to hang on -- I tweeted this out:
"Playoff Fever. Just think, the last time the Nuggets and Avalanche both reached the seond round of the playoffs in the same season was ... never."   
Judging from the reaction, many had been thinking like me. It had to have happened sometime, right?
The details: Since the Avalanche arrived in Denver and won the Stanley Cup in 1996, at the end of their first season, the Nuggets before last night had made it as far as the second round only once. That was in 2009, when they beat New Orleans and Dallas and then lost to the Lakers in six games in the Western Conference finals. That season, the Avalanche was dreadful, finishing last in the Western Conference (eventually earning the right to draft Matt Duchene at No. 3 overall). Joe Sakic played only 15 games because of injury and retired in the offseason. In the Avalanche's prime years -- I'll define that as the pre-lockout seasons, 1995-96 through 2003-04 -- the Nuggets made the playoffs only in 2003-04, losing to Minnesota in the first round.
This was more noticed and more noted: The last time the Nuggets and Avalanche both made the playoffs was in 2010, when both lost in the first round -- the Nuggets to the Jazz and the Avalanche, despite heroic goaltending from Craig Anderson, to the Sharks. Since then, there were three springs -- 2015 through 2017 -- with no Avalanche or Nuggets playoff games at the Pepsi Center at all. The arena schedule was noticeably quiet, with the dates held and not used. Neil Diamond and Bette Mider were among the attractions squeezed in among the playoff games not played, and Kroenke Sports wasn't able to get Garth Brooks to come in for one of those 12-night stands on short notice.
Now, Kroenke Sports is on a relative roll, with the Rams making the Super Bowl, and the Nuggets and Avalanche both in the second round. Beyond that, the Rapids are -- oops -- 0-7-2 in Major League Soccer, slumping Arsenal is fifth in the English Premier League, and the Mammoth finished 6-12 in the National Lacrosse League's regular season.  
The point? I know this should be obvious, but sometimes it doesn't seem to be part of the dynamic: Enjoy it!
Denver and Boston  are the only two places where NHL and NBA occupants of the same arena still are alive. (In the Bay Area, it depends on whether you consider the Warriors and Sharks, who play 40 miles apart, to be in the same market.)
Thgere's absolutely nothing wrong with being bandwagon fans of either or both teams.
Bandwagons are All-American. They reward success. "Hamilton" is a bandwagon. "Game of Thrones" is a bandwagon. The Keto Diet is a bandwagon.  
Attendance for both the Avalanche and (especially) the Nuggets plummeted in the dark seasons. Actually, that said, I'm still surprised home attendance even reaches five figures for rotten teams with home games on television.
Hockey fans been to stop asking those in the stands or at the watch parties if they can name who the Wandering Latvian was, identify the best touch pass of Sakic's career and name the current Avalanche player who first played roller hockey on the streets of that renowned hockey hotbed, Long Beach, before switching to ice -- and consider them fraud fans if they can't do all three. (It is permissible, though, to make sure they have seen "Slap Shot.")  
This team has won back fans, won new fans, captured the imagination of the market and also stoked hopes for the future as a startlingly young team after the reconstruction project that actually began in the final stages of the horrific 2016-17 season.  
Trust me, I've covered the NHL as far back as when the Colorado Rockies were a hockey team, and I know how deep-rooted the passion is for hockey here, but I'm also convinced the Avalanche's most underemphasized achievement is the development of Colorado as a hockey hotbed -- and I mean for the development of hockey talent. See "Troy Terry," et al, plus the many fans in the stands who grew up playing the sport in Colorado. I also have covered both the NBA (Nuggets, Trail Blazers) and NHL (Rockies, Avalanche) as a beat writer/columnist, so I'm not a blinkered proponent or propagandist for one league. 
Look at what the Avalanche players did on their off night last week. They went to the Nuggets' playoff game against the Spurs, hunkering down in the front rows or in a box. The Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon has developed into one of the best three players in the NHL, yet he's also a hoops junkie who regretted not being able to play basketball on the side when he was playing junior hockey.
Basketball-first fans tend to be less proprietary and less resentful of latecomers jumping aboard, but there's some of that there, too.
I'm not being a cheerleader here, but I'm saying this is a rare phenomenon and there's absolutely nothing wrong with reveling in it -- even if you're still learning the rosters.                     

Enjoy it while it lasts. Welcome bandwagon and/or crossover fans to both.
POSTCRIPT, SUNDAY NIGHT: Now that the Avalanche beat the Sharks 4-3 at San Jose in Game 2, the series comes back to Denver tied 1-1 just as the Nuggers are on the verge of opening the second-round series against the Trail Blazers. So it's going to be four playoff games on four nights this week in Denver. That's a lot better than the ghost town that was the Pepsi Center during the playoffs in many recent years.
I just want to win a 50-50.    

 April 26, 2019


20 Years ago, at another

Avalanche-Sharks Game 1

in San Jose, we mourned  


Avalanche president and general manager Pierre Lacroix and his wife, Colombe, lived near Columbine High School. That really didn't matter, but it affected Pierre.

After the horrific events April 20 1999, he told the National Hockey League: Not here. Not now.   


The Avalanche had been preparing to play host to Games 1 and 2 of a first-round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks. Amid the shock, the NHL eventually mght have made that decision, but Lacroix's gesture early in the process to recommend moving the first two games of the series to San Jose was praiseworthy. To talk about the hockey circumstances almost seems distasteful, but the fact was, the Avalanche had shockingly lost in the first round in 1998 to Edmonton and was trying to reclaim a spot among the league's elite. 

The first two games of the series, on April 24 and April 26, were switched to San Jose. Games 3, 4, 5 and 7 were slotted for Denver. The Avalanche didn't give up home ice if the series went  7, but the reconfiguration to have the first two games in San Jose was significant.


Here's my  column from April 25, 1999:


SAN JOSE - The banner, stretched across several tables on the communal eating area above the Grillworks concession stand, is 50 feet long and 6 feet high. The math works out to 300 square feet. But what it represents is immeasurable: a national outpouring of grief and sympathy, of recognition that "it can't happen here" no longer applies. Anywhere.


By the end of the first intermission in the San Jose Arena on Saturday night, fans who walked up the stairs and picked up one of the blue Sharpie pens and hoped to add a personal message had to look hard for an open space on the banner.


It had begun with nothing more than the black lettering: "To the Community of Littleton, Colorado, Our Hearts and Prayers Are With You. The San Jose Sharks and Their Fans."


But by now, after one period of the delayed San Jose-Colorado playoff series, the banner was almost covered with blue. With mostly messages of sorrow and encouragement. With some expressions of anger. And, yes, with even a few - a very few - scribblings of morons.




*"Sometimes there aren't enough prayers. Terri Guest."


*(In a youthful hand.) "I am sorry that your children died. Meaghan, age 7."


*"We hope that our hockey team wins, but beyond that, where it really matters, our hearts go out to you. Tamara Mathews, Cupertino, Calif."


*"We can only just imagine. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all! Ruth Seehof."


*"I hope those (expletives) rot in hell for what they did. It's too bad they killed themselves because they deserve to be tortured for the pain they caused everybody. My prayers and best wishes go out to you, the people of Littleton. Respectfully, Scott William Cameron."


*"You no (sic) your (sic) the best. Go get Em Sharks."


The banner was in the arena where a Colorado team was playing, but it didn't have to be. It could have been in Cleveland. Or Klamath Falls, Ore.


The banner had been displayed at the Sharks' rally outside the arena before the game, then brought inside.


And as the time for the opening facoff approached, as fans filed into the arena and made their trips to the concession stands and the food courts, many of them spotted the small table and the Tupperware container on the concourse.


One by one, they walked over, slipped dollar bills and fives and 10s into the opening on the lid. The man in the blue cotton jeans shirt with the Sharks logo. The kid in the Jeff Friesen replica jersey. Even a young couple, both wearing Avalanche sweaters. And they kept coming.


The bin was for contributions to the Mile High United Way Healing Fund.


The Bay area is no different than anywhere else, even if the coincidence of a hockey matchup meant the Sharks were in Denver when the horror at Columbine High School unfolded.


The hockey series had been pushed back three days, because of the cooperation of the Avalanche and the the Sharks, plus the blessing of the NHL.


At Game 1, the Sharks' crowd, as usually is the case in the city south of San Francisco that often yearns for a separate identity, was rabid. When Theo Fleury's picture was flashed on the huge scoreboard during the announcement of the starting lineups, with the teams still in the dressing rooms, the fans booed lustily. The Avs' Fleury, a pain for the Sharks when he was with the Calgary Flames, remains disdained in San Jose. (The word "hated" just wouldn't sound right there. Not now.)


When the teams came on the ice, the Avs were booed.


But then the lights went down.


The starters lined up on the blue lines. The Avs had Columbine patches on their uniforms. The Sharks had little CHS decals on the back of their helmets. Referees Paul Devorksi and Paul Stewart, plus coaches Bob Hartley of the Avs and Darryl Sutter of the Sharks, all wore Columbine ribbons.


Public address announcer Joe Ike alluded to the Columbine tragedy. He told of the United Way contribution bins at various entrances and spots on the concourse, and of the banner. And then he asked for silence.


For 10 seconds, with the exception of a couple of inexplicable shrill whistles, the arena was silent.


Then after Dennis Leach sang the national anthem, we were back to the games.
Postscript: The Avalanche won both games in San Jose, 3-1 and then, when Milan Hejduk got the game-winner, 2-1 in overtime. Curiously, the Sharks won the next two in Denver, 4-2 and 7-3, but the Avs took a 6-2 Game 5 win before closing out the series with a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 6, again ending it with a Hejduk goal. They went on to beat the Red Wings in six games in the Western Conference semifinals before falling in seven games to the Dallas Stars in the conference finals.

April 23, 2019, 


 For Avalanche's Grubauer,

6 days off before facing

Sharks is a good thing ...

unless it's a bad thing


The Avalanche hasn't played since closing out Calgary in Game 5 last Friday. After practicing Monday and Tuesday, the Avs won't be on the ice again Wednesday, when coach Jared Bednar will meet the media and discuss the upcoming Western Conference semifinals matchup with San Jose. That pairing was locked in when the Sharks -- down 3-0 in the third period -- beat Vegas 5-4 in overtime in Game 7 Tuesday night. And Game 1 in that series will be Friday night in San Jose, meaning the Avs will have had six days off between games.


That's a lot of time off in hockey, especially during the relentless grind of the postseason. It can present challenges of maintaining momentum, especially for a hot goaltender -- which the Avalanche's Philipp Grubauer certainly is.


Through five Colorado games, his .939 save percentage is third in the NHL, behind the Islanders' Robin Lehner (.956) and the Stars' Ben Bishop (.945). His 1.90 goals-against average is tied with Bishop for second, behind Lehner (1.47). Mostly a career backup, a week or more between starts isn't unusual for Grubauer, of course, but this a case of trying to stay on a roll.


"It's good and bad," Grubauer told me of the idle time after practice Tuesday. "Obviously, if you have a couple of days off it gives you time to work on some stuff that you don't work on during the series because you don't have time. It can also hurt you because you're not in the rhythm anymore. But I think as a group it's good to get a couple of days off for sure. . .


"That series was hard. The guys blocked shots, got bumped up, so it gives guys opportunities to get back to 100 percent."


Is this the best he's played for a sustained stretch?


"Best I've seen the puck, maybe ever," he said. "I feel good out there, the guys are making it easy on me, so it makes the job a little easier."


That's goalie-speak, of course, the politics of the position. The Avalanche has played well in front of him, and kept the pressure on, averaging 41 shots against the Flames, allowing 33. But the goalie's challenge is to make the mouth-dropping, difference making saves, and that was the case in overtime of Game 2 when Grubauer was larcenous at one end before Nathan MacKinnon got the game-winner a few seconds later. That changed the complexion of the series.    



The goal is to maintain that swagger as a playoff goalie, keep the attitude of bring-it-on because you'll stop darned near anything. Accustomed to that backup role, this is new for Grubauer -- and at least so far an antidote to his inability to remain the Capitals' No. 1 playoff goalie a year ago, when Braden Holtby took over from Grubauer after a pair of losses to Columbus. This season, after a stretch in which Semyon Varlamov and Grubauer both were awful, and it looked as if suspect goaltending was going to keep the Avalanche out of the postseason,  Grubauer has awakened.


"I hadn't played in like 12 weeks for a bit, and then I played three in a row," Grubauer said. "That was a little hard, but once you get into it a little bit, you're playing in a row. You earn stuff with that group. I still was new to that group. You learn and you figure it out."





April 23, 2019

A visit to the

"Field of Dreams"

soon after release


PDXCourtside1.jpg.w180h135.jpg Dreams2.jpg

After our Field of Dreams visit, Paul Buker, left, and I, center, covered the Trail Blazers in a playoff run under Rick Adelman, right, whose son, David, now is a Nuggets assistant.



Early in the 1989 football season, Oregon played Iowa at Iowa City. At the time, Paul Buker was the Oregonian's beat writer covering the Ducks, I was the sports columnist.  On the day before the game, we embarked on a mission to visit the Iowa farm that was the setting for the popular movie released earlier that year, on April 21. And this column came from it. Thirty years after the film's release, I'm going to admit this was not one of the better columns or stories of my career. But here, unmodified other than rearranging some paragraph breaks, is the way it ran in the paper on the morning of the game. (By the way, the Ducks beat the Hawkeyes 44-6 that day, with quarterback Bill Musgrave throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns.)


September 16, 1989

By Terry Frei of the Oregonian staff


DYERSVILLE, Iowa -- Here's my windup and my pitch.
Ball one, a little outside.
Shoeless Joe -- the heavy hitter, not some lightweight actor -- steps out of the box.
As he taps his spikes with his bat, ridding the sole of a tiny clump of red clay and cinders, he peers out to me on the mound.
With his eyes and slightly upturned corners of his mouth, he is asking:

``Is that all you got, tourist?''


I talk back under my breath.


Look, Joe, I say. This is your field, but this is my dream. I signed the guestbook on the bench by the backstop. I bought a souvenir T-shirt at the trailer. I picked an ear of corn from one of the left field stalks that are swaying in the wind over my right shoulder. So get back in there, Shoeless. Follow the script and strike out.


Which he did.


Those things can happen on a ``Field of Dreams.''


Novelist W.P. Kinsella created it. The producers built it. As promised, Kevin Costner and Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones and a cast of Hollywood hundreds came, filmed and called it a wrap. And now, five months after the movie ``Field of Dreams'' won over more than baseball fans, farmer Don Lansing allows the curious -- including me and Paul Buker, my colleague and left-handed catcher -- to visit the diamond cut out of an Iowa cornfield.


On Friday morning, we made the pilgrimage from Cedar Rapids to Dyersville, in the northeast corner of Iowa. We parked the rental car in front of City Hall, just down the street from the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier; across from the Plaza Theater; and a little down from the office that holds the law office of Jenk, Jenk, Goen, McClean and Goodman, plus the Jenk Insurance Agency. (The Jenks are big in this little town.)


Mary Goerdt, one of the nice women in the city clerk's office, had a stack of hand-sketched, photocopied maps beside her typewriter. It's two miles east of town, she said. Even sportswriters could find it, she assured us.


At the turn for Lansing Road, the huge blue sign looked as if it could have been supplied by the Highway Department. FIELD OF DREAMS, it announced, then pointed to the right.


We drove past Al and Rita Ameskamp's farm. Then we spotted the field on the left.


The setting is Lansing's farm. As one travels down the driveway of gravel and dust, a two-story white farmhouse looms ahead on what passes for a hill in Iowa. The barns, appropriately red, are to the right of the house; the diamond is to the left. A hand-lettered sign directs visitors to park next to the trailer that was Don's home when Hollywood borrowed his house. Ruth Lansing, Don's cousin, is on duty at the trailer, standing in front of a hanging selection of T-shirts and sweatshirts.


Indeed, there have been changes on the set.


The line between the Lansing and Ameskamp properties runs just behind the infield. Where Shoeless Joe's spirited friends once chased down flies to left field, corn grows tall once more. Left field is Ameskamp's territory and corn is his cash crop. With a sign of his own, Ameskamp invites visitors to pick an ear or two, but a locked and slotted mailbox is primed for donations.


On Lansing's property, right field remains open space. In fact, the grass runs all the way to the horizon. The corn that was the right field fence on celluloid has been plowed under. The government, you see, pays Lansing not to grow corn. However, the government would not pay his electric bill. The lights are gone.


The infield grass is a little ragged, no longer pristine. The filmmakers manicured it; Lansing merely takes care of it.


The infield dirt is the red cinder of old tracks.


Yet the diamond, for reasons that maybe only Hollywood could explain, still sparkles.


Lansing, who was not home Friday, leaves a tennis ball and a plastic bat near home plate for the adventuresome. When the truly ambitious (like us) bring their own baseball and gloves, Ruth Lansing loans out a genuine wooden bat and advice. ``A lot of folks lost their balls in the corn,'' Ruth said. She watches grown men and women act out their fantasies, hitting and throwing and catching on the diamond.


Others just watch and meditate. On Friday, Randall Bush, a Chicago sales manager, was sitting in the seven-row grandstand with Susan Lowry, a teacher. ``This is closer than Hollywood . . . and nicer, too,'' Bush said.


In the most recent guestbook, there can be over a hundred names written in one day. They are followed by such hometowns as Lincoln, Mass., Whitefish Bay, Wis., and, of course, Portland.


Shoeless Joe has a lot of company.


And he doesn't always strike out. 



Without being able to recall the space constraints I was operating under -- this was before being able to go longer in an onine version -- I acknowlege I didn't do a very good job of giving the feel of being there and didn't attempt to recreate scenes from the film.


I'm not among those who grouse about the movie as overrated, because I believe the film toned down the worst melodramatic excesses of the novel. If you only saw the film and didn't read the book, you might be scoffing about how the book could be any more melodramatic than Phil Alden Robinson's screenplay adaptation. But the book was considerably "worse," and I should have brought that into play in the column.


Absolutely, there were spots in the movie when I winced, and James Earl Jones' famous speech about the beauty of baseball was one of them. (Just a bit too much ...) But that didn't ruin it for me, and I still consider it one of the rare examples when the movie was better than the book source material. My favorite baseball movie remains "Bang the Drum Slowly," with Michael Moriarty, Robert DeNiro and Vincent Guardenia, and I'm convinced that one reason it was so good was the Mark Harris, who wrote the novel, also had a hand in the screenplay.




April 20, 2019

A man who showed

you can go back to your

high school ... and make

a difference 


Former Wheat Ridge star quarterback Dylan Orms has just uncovered

'the Farmers' baseball field's new name Saturday. He and his brother,

Parker Orms, were second-generation Farmers. Their mother, Kathy,

went to school with Chuck Griffith and the rest of us.



With Chuck's family in the bleachers temporarily set up on the field

before the game, Chuck and Barb Griffith's on, Tyler, whose appearance

and mannerisms are remarkably like Chuck's in young adulthood, speaks during the

ceremony. Barb is in the blue shirt at center. Those are recent vintage Farmer baseball

players behind them, those who from 2003-16 benefited from Chuck's support of the

program under coach Adam Miller.


On Saturday, ex-Wheat Ridge Farmers spanning generations gathered at Everitt Middle School for the dedication of the WRHS baseball park as Chuck Griffith Jr. Field in advance of the Farmers' game against D'Evelyn. (This was a few hours before a different sort of ceremony involving another Jefferson County high school, Columbine, and I can say with certainty that the audiences overlapped.)   


Chuck's widow, Barb, and many other members of his family were at the dedication, and his son, Tyler, and nephew, Cameron Brown (a former Farmers athlete, too) spoke on their behalf.


I've written many times about being the kid who moved in during the middle of my junior year, when my father moved from Oregon to the Broncos, after we talked and decided that if I was going to leave South Eugene High, a terrific school, I should do it right away so I could play baseball at my new school as a junior and not be completely "The New Kid" as a senior. (That's the title of my young adult novel in progress.) I was lucky. I went from one great school to another and made a lot of new friends. And one of them was football captain and student leader Chuck Griffith, who ran track in the spring and eventually became my college roommate for two years at the University of Colorado.


Chuck died three years ago, It was a shock to the entire Wheat Ridge community, and below the following pictures is a blog I wrote at the time, when I was at The Denver Post.


I've adapted and touched it up here, but I hope it gives those of you who didn't know Chuck a feeling of what a great man he was; and gives those of you who knew him a lot of remindful smiles.



Adam Miller, who became close to Chuck, addresses the

crowd. (You're right, I should have gotten on the other

side of the screen.) 



 (Below is adapted from March 2016)


The Wheat Ridge High community, past and present, took a punch to the solar plexus — no, more accurately, to the heart — last week.


Chuck Griffith, 61, passed away.

As CEO of several major companies, he was a successful businessman. He was wonderful family man who treasured his wife and four children and wasn’t embarrassed to display emotion when talking about them. He was a terrific friend, and a benefactor and mentor for Wheat Ridge High, its kids and its programs after he reconnected with his alma mater, starting in 2003.

He also was “Anonymous.”

By that, I mean that whenever someone had stepped up and done something for Wheat Ridge kids, whether by making financial contributions to programs and school causes, or by acting as a mentor, and that benefactor officially was “Anonymous,” that almost always was Chuck.

Wheat Ridge’s demographics have changed since our days there. That was one of the attractions for Chuck, who loved helping kids.

We all can learn from that.

On Sunday, I was among the large gathering at the memorial ceremony at the school.

Chuck was my Wheat Ridge classmate and fellow athlete, and then my roommate for our sophomore and junior years at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Actually, we were never high school teammates because I moved to Wheat Ridge from Oregon in the middle of our junior year, played baseball for the Farmers and then suffered a knee injury in American Legion baseball that summer. I didn’t play football as a senior because of my second ACL surgery.

Chuck and Reid Gamberg were the football captains our senior year.

Chuck and I didn’t grow up together, as was the case with Chuck and many of our Farmer classmates, and our friendship began later than his with many of the others in the Wheat Ridge auditorium Sunday.

But I was proud to call him my friend. My buddy. My roomie. Our third roommate from our second year of sharing a collegiate apartment, Chuck Bobershmidt, traveled up from New Mexico for the memorial, and it was great to see him.

As roommates at CU, Chuck and I both were Oscar.

We weren’t inseparable, but that was part of the friendship.

Chuck dived into business studies and the business school and made friends there and on campus, eventually meeting his future wife, Barb Harvey. I was working part-time at the Rocky Mountain News on the side and had my own circle. But we were friends, capable of such whimsy as setting up a strict schedule to study for finals — and a short time into the studying, deciding we’d bolt and head to the greyhound races at Cloverleaf Kennel Club in Loveland to lighten things up. It was a rare moment of complete irresponsibility for Chuck, and I took the blame, along with the 3-4-6 quiniela box.

He made up for the break and I’m pretty sure he still aced his finals.

I gave them the college try.

When some early matches in the Denver stop of the Virginia Slims tennis tour event were played in Boulder and I went to them for the News, Chuck came along with me and marveled about what a great job I’d have after our graduation if I stuck with this. I “interviewed” Chris Evert outside Balch Fieldhouse. Chuck was with me and as I finished official work he quickly with no ulterior motives was in a conversation about the tennis tour with Evert — who was our age — as if they had known each other for years. After several minutes of this and no promise of a letup, I had to gently remind Chuck that the News was a morning paper and we needed to head back to the apartment so I could call in my material as notes.

After college, we stayed friends as he worked elsewhere, including in Cleveland and New York, before he returned to the Denver area. He always had many closer friends than me, but that didn’t diminish it, and we re-tightened the ties in the past few years.

Chuck had a touch, an aura, a sincerity that could cause those he had just met to open up and then five minutes later feel as if he was an old friend. That could be as a student, a businessman, or in later life a mentor to Wheat Ridge kids.

Chuck was determined, energetic, accomplished and successful without having any trace of ego or selfishness, and that’s really hard to do.

When Chuck, Reid Gamberg, Keith Lening and I attended Wheat Ridge baseball games last season, I was struck by how respectful the Farmers players were toward Chuck. To them, he was “Mr. Griffith,” and they went out of their way to thank him. When baseball coach Adam Miller eloquently spoke at the memorial, it was appropriate, including if he was considered a representative of all the coaches in recent years at the school. Chuck had done so much for them, in so many ways, and I admit I was a bit embarrassed to realize I was the former baseball player and that Chuck, a track runner, had adopted the program as I stayed detached.

In the summer of 2014, three Farmer alums from our era — Chuck; Dave Logan, who was a year ahead of us, was my baseball batterymate, has remained close to Chuck and also was at the Sunday memorial; and I — spoke to the Farmers’ athletes in that same auditorium at the start of the school year.

Our charge was to speak about leadership, and Chuck and Dave, well, knocked it out of the park. To this day, I remember something Chuck said vividly. He noted it had become fashionable to consider “multi-tasking” admirable. Hogwash, he said. Whatever you are doing at the moment, it is the only thing you are doing, and do it right.

There are lot of laughable, wince-inducing, business how-to and self-help books out there that make reasonable people feel as if they should check for their wallets every 15 minutes as they read. Chuck, who would look you in the eye and tell you exactly what he thought and also be telling the truth, could have written a terrific book that made those seem silly.

We didn’t agree on everything, not all the time, and there was even a recent crisis because of an issue linking Wheat Ridge, one of my books, and a recent movie. But we talked it through, we realized our views weren’t mutually exclusive, and Chuck offered his support.

I’m a contrarian, I ruffle feathers, and Chuck might have been the only man on the planet who could listen, look me in the eye and tell me I was, well, full of it … and rather than have me react angrily, make me think that, oh, oh, if Chuck says that, maybe I am full of it.

That’s what Chuck could do.

In 2013, for our 40th high school reunion, each classmate received a copy of my book Third Down and a War to Go. Officially, of course, it was from “Anonymous,” but that didn’t fool anyone. No, it wasn’t me. Chuck felt that book, which started with my self-discovery about my father’s World War II pilot service late in his life, touched a common chord among our generation. So he bought a copy for all Farmers attending the reunion from the publisher. Anonymously … at least officially.

It’s wrong to say Chuck was “unassuming.” He was assertive and energetic, but was no enigma. But his success didn’t change him.

Chuck was the president/CEO of Ingersoll-Dresser Pump Co.

He was the senior managing director and global head of portfolio management at Arcapita, Inc., an international private equity firm. Companies at one time controlled by Arcapita included Yakima Products, TST Automotive, Ampad, PODS, Profine, J Jill, Loehmann’s, Church’s Chicken, Caribou Coffee, Varel International, Falcon Gas Storage, Tender Loving Care, Smart Document Solutions, Meridian Healthcare and FORBA.

Earlier, he also was a partner and co-head of portfolio operations at Bahrain-based Investcorp International.

He was president of the engineered materials division of Johns Manville.

He was an executive vice president at Electronic Data Systems, president/CEO of Ingersoll Dresser Corp., and an executive at Allied-Signal Corp.

There was more, but that gives you an idea. I also know if Chuck had been alive in May 2017, he would have been both angry and supportive, even to the point of making a difference about something that happened to me.     

Still, he came back to his high school. Quietly. Without fanfare. Without bluster. Without wanting to call attention to himself. He made a difference. He helped young people. It was his alma mater, but I can imagine Chuck doing this in another city if that’s where he had been decades after his graduation from Wheat Ridge.

So, no, this is not “a Wheat Ridge story.” Regardless of which high school you attended, it’s food for thought.


April 20, 2019





April 20, 2019

(If necessary)?

Not even close:

Flames is done like dinner


I was making plans for a Flames-Avalanche Sunday Game 6.


Yeah, like you weren't?


 The most amazing thing isn't that both NHL No. 8 seeds advanced past the first round, beating the No. 1 seeds. 


It's that the No. 8 seeds -- the Avalanche and Blue Jackets -- went a combined 8-1 against the Flames and Lightning, respectively.


I discussed the NHL's anything-can-happen playoff phenomenon below, comparing and contrasting it to the NBA reality, and I don't pretend that it was anything revelatory.  Going in, all knew that the Avalanche at least had a chance against the Flames, most notably if Philipp Grubauer took advantage of the opportunity to erase the disappointment of being supplanted in the Capitals' net after the first two games against the Blue Jackets a year ago. (The word "disappointment" needs to be qualified, since Washington went on to win the Stanley Cup.) Yet Grubauer was terrific in enabling the Avalanche to pull off the upset of the ultimately stick-squeezing Flames.    


And the 5-1 rout of the Flames Friday night at Calgary was an exclamation  point, a finishing flourish. Rather than needing a Game 6, the Avs already have moved on after winning a playoff series for the first time since 2008. I found that hard to believe, too, but it's true. This proud franchise hadn't won a playoff series since knocking off the Wild in the first round 11 years ago.


What now?


This season already has passed the test as an improvement. Earlier, I maintained that just making the playoffs for the second season in a row wasn't going to be enough, that orange slices after a presentable showing in the first round -- which is how it played out last season -- wasn't going to be enough. The 1 vs. 8 matchup added up to a daunting challenge, but the Avalanche was up to it. Nathan MacKinnon is cementing his deserved reputation as a relative late bloomer as he has become on of the top handful of players in the league. And even Jared Bednar's decision to break up the top line and move Mikko Rantanen down to the second line has led to bolstered secondary scoring, and even trickle-down balance.


Can they win another series and make it to the Western Conference Finals?


If they keep playing like this, of course they can.


And now that the Nuggets have reclaimed the home-court advantage in the series against San Antonio with a Saturday road win over the Spurs, this is an exciting time in Denver sports. 



April 17, 2019

Regardless of result,

Bednar back on

solid footing 



By the time Jared Bednar arrived at the interview room podium after the Avalanche's 3-2 overtime win over the No. 1-seeded Flames gave No. 8 Colorado a 3-1 series lead Wednesday, midnight was approaching. 


Yes, as unlikely as this seemed early in the third period, when the Avalanche trailed the Flames 2-0; as farfetched as it seemed a week ago; and as impossible as it seemed a little over two months ago, the Avalanche is one win away from winning a series for the first time since 2008 and advancing to the Western Conference semifinals. J.T. Compher and Mikko Rantanen got the third-period goals that forced overtime, and Rantanen scored at 10:23 of O.T. to end it.


"It's going to be hard," Bednar said of getting that fourth win in the series. "It's the hardest one. Everyone knows the last one, the one you're trying to get to close out a series, is the hardest one. That's a proud team over there, Calgary, it's a really good team, they have a lot of character, they're well-coached, I mean, it's tough. Now we have to go into Calgary and find a way to win another hockey game."


And to think that in early February, this team was reeling.  


I scrolled down to find this, but it didn't take long. On Feb 7, when the Avalanche had lost five in a row and won only five of its previous 24 games, I felt compelled to comment about Joe Sakic's apparent refusal to cave in to NHL conventionality, scapegoat his coach, fire him during the season and summon all the cliches about how it was just time for a change.  


 That would have been so easy to do, and Bednar's rollercoaster experience as a first-time NHL head coach -- and his first experience in the NHL, period -- would have come to an end. He would have been only a few months removed from being a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, but that status adds little immunity. And even after I wrote that column, the Avalanche losing streak reached eight before the turnaround.


Of course, Sakic had a similar opportunity after the Avalanche's horrific 48-point season in 2016-17, the worst bang-for-the-buck season in the NHL's cap era ... and perhaps ever. But the circumstances of Bednar's first season bordered on the bizarre, with Patrick Roy's late resignation and an ill-constructed roster (and payroll) in advance of major reconstruction, and Sakic conceded all that. Not to mention it would have required he had made a mistake in going with a coach who never had spent a day in the NHL as either a player or assistant coach.         


But it wouldn't have raised too many eyebrows if Sakic made a move in February. He stuck with Bednar, though, and the Avalanche went 16-7-3 down the stretch, secured a second straight playoff berth and now have the 3-1 lead on the Flames, meaning there's a significant chance of the two No. 1 seeds -- Tampa Bay was swept by No. 8 Columbus in the East -- will lose in the first round. 


Jared Bednar with the AHL's Calder Cup in 2016. The Lake

Erie Monsters went an incredible 15-2 in the playoffs.  


Bednar is continuing to demonstrate he belongs in this league and that one of the most inexplicable decisions in his past was Doug Armstrong's firing of Bednar as the coach of the Blues' AHL affiliate at Peoria in 2012.  


Since then, Bednar has held aloft the Calder Cup at Lake Erie (Cleveland) in 2016, when he was working for the Blue Jackets' organization, and moved up to the Avalanche. 


The man from Saskatchewan, who climbed through the ranks of the ECHL and AHL as both a player and coach, is a genuine inspiration for dues-payers.  


After the morning skate Wednesday, I asked Bednar about his evolution over the past three years.


"One thing is just learning to be patient and when to push," he said. "You come into the league as a young guy and it's your first opportunity, and you've had some success other places. I had an idea of how I wanted to coach and what my beliefs are, but it's getting the buy-in from your leadership group and opening those lines of communication.  


"It took some time here in my first year and we had change in personnel in my second, and really getting to know our leaders and some of the guys that are impact players for us now for a couple of years. I try to be patient, fair, and as honest as I can with them. But there's still times when I think I have to push their buttons to try to get more out of them and I think I've learned that along the way."



With the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays. Jared Bednar

got to celebrate winning the Kelly Cup both as a player

and as a coach.  



Gabe Landeskog, although only 26, has been the Avalanche captain for seven seasons.


"I think as far as 'Bedsy' goes, he's obviously grown into that role," Landeskog said after the skate. "He had a tough season obviously his first season, and we all did, but I think he's evolved, he's grown as a coach. He's figured things out as he goes along, whether that's with communication with us as players, or what we as players need, or for systems or coaching on the bench or whatever it is, it just seems like he's that much more comfortable in that role and being an NHL coach.


"I think every single guy in this room will say the same thing about 'Bedsy.' He's a great coach and a good communicator and he's a really smart hockey man."


At the next stall after the skate, Nathan MacKinnon also spoke about Bednar. Keep in mind that before MacKinnon's breakthrough to becoming one of the top players in the league, he and Bednar had some tense moments, as when the rookie coach reacted to a rolling of the eyes on the bench from MacKinnon by briefly -- but rather noticeably -- benching him.


"'Bedsy's' been great," MacKinnon said. "He's always even keel. He's never up and down, which is awesome."


Rantanen called Bednar "a great coach. He's really honest with players. He's still pretty positive, trying to bring everything positive. He gives us confidence, too. If you make mistakes, he's not going to rip you about that. If you do it repeatedly, maybe then, but hopefully guys in the NHL are going to learn from that. He's a great coach and I really like him."


Now he's closing on on his first playoff series win as an NHL head coach. And his team is reveling in the three straight wins in this series, including the wild comeback one Wednesday night.


"What's the point of giving up in the playoffs?" MacKinnon asked me after the game. "We knew we could score two and we were dominating the whole play. . . We just felt like we could come back against a really good team. We felt like they were a little winded at altitude and managed to come back. It's awesome, especially when you have the momentum and you're feeling it, and the crowd is so awesome, it's so fun to be part of it." 


Compher's goal got the Avalanche going.


"There's no quit in this group," Compher told me. "We showed that in Game 2 and throughout the season. We believe that once we get going, there's no stopping us. But that's a huge one, to keep the momentum going in this locker room. We knew (Mike Smith) was good tonight, we had to continue to get rebounds and shots at the net, and if it took a greasy one..."  



April 15, 2019 (Part II)

Long way from over,

but two No. 8 seeds, 

including Avs, lead series 



Nathan MacKinnon is among those congratulating Cale

Makar on his first-period goal Monday.


Nathan MacKinnon, whose opinion carries considerable weight in such matters, was impressed with Cale Makar. As was everybody else. 


"I asked him before the game, 'How do you feel? Nervous or ...?'" MacKinnon said at his stall after the Avalanche unleashed 56 shots on Flames goalie Mike Smith and beat the Flames 6-2 Monday night at the Pepsi Center. "He just said, 'Good, you?' It's my 500th game. It's just pretty cool. He's not even thinking about being a rookie."


MacKinnon had two goals and Makar one as the Avalanche took a 3-0 first period lead, then went on to the win that put Colorado up 2-1 in the first-round series. MacKinnon's drop pass was the setup assist on Makar's goal.    

Suddenly, the Avalanche, which was on the verge of falling behind 2-0 in the series before tying up Game 2 late and winning it on McKinnon's overtime goal in Calgary Saturday night, is in good shape.       


And along the way, Makar scored style points with his new teammates.


"It was actually a bad drop by me," MacKinnon said. "It was a good handle. I thought he was more in the middle ... You can tell his skill. He didn't just get it and shoot it or try to panic and get it back to me. He stopped it on his backhand, dropped his shoulder, and I think he probably looked around to see if anyone was back door and then snapped it 5-hole. I hear him, too, he's calling for it, his first game ever. He's yelling, '3, 3. 3,' at me. That's great. You want a player to be aggressive and assertive. I was really impressed by that.... I remember when I first came in, I was shy snd I didn't want to yell for the puck."


So what does this all mean?


In this series, an 8 seed is at least throwing a scare into a 1 seed. And maybe more than that. It seems familiar, too.  


I've covered both the NBA and NHL playoffs many times, through the Finals.


This isn't going to be a revelation, and perhaps also contradictory, but the strength of the Stanley Cup playoffs -- other than the fact that the trophy itself is the best one in pro sports -- is that anything can happen. Much of that, but not all, involves the leveling effect of goaltending, good and bad.  


The strength of the NBA playoffs is that anything can't happen. You just know it can't. It's so pronounced that as great of a breakthrough season the Nuggets have had in winning the Northwest Division and going into the postseason as the Western Conference's No. 2 seed, the chances of them winning the NBA title, or mainly getting past Golden State once the Warriors step on the accelerator in the postseason, are negligible. And again, they're the number TWO seed. I realize I just got through saying one of the charms of the NHL is No. 7 seeds beating No. 2 seeds are common, but this is more about the clearly elite teams making it through to the Finals...and winning.  


The Nuggets, who will try to pull even in Game 2 of the first-round series against San Antonio Tuesday night at the Pepsi Center, are the better of Stan Kroenke's teams in April 2019.


The No. 8 seed Avalanche has a much better chance of winning a championship. That was true going into the postseason; it's even more clear now. 


You accept each league's postseason for what it is and salute the resilience of any team that wins four series. In the NBA it means that the best team won, and there is a certain justice to that.


In the NHL, it means that the most deserving one did. 


So like this could ever happen in the NBA?


After the Avalanche's romp Monday night in Game 3 of the first-round series, the No. 1 seeds in both conferences were in trouble, in danger of losing to the No. 8 seeds, or the second wild-card teams on each side of the draw.  


The East's No. 8 seed, the Columbus Blue Jackets, are even more in control, leading 3-0 over a Tampa Bay Lightning team that had 21 more points in the regular season than anyone else.


The Flames can reclaim home ice with a win Wednesday; the Lightning needs a miracle. 



April 15, 2019 (Part I)

Cale Makar will jump

right into Avs' lineup 





It's a little bit, well, eerie.   


 Two days after finishing his collegiate career in a UMass loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the Frozen Four championship game in Buffalo, and one day after signing a three-year entry level contract with Colorado, 20-year-old defenseman Cale Makar is set to make his NHL debut with the Avalanche Monday night in Game 3 of the first-round playoff series against his hometown team -- the Calgary Flames.   


That's why the sizable Calgary media contingent was among those jockeying for position around Makar's stall after the Avalanche morning skate.


"It's a weird feeling playing against the team you grew up loving," Makar said. "My allegiance is with another team now, so we'll see how it goes." 


As arrivals to the pack brought the subject back to him growing up a Flames fan, he noted, "Obviously, watching them in the '04 Cup run, it's a different feeling."   


When he stepped through the bench and onto the ice for the morning skate, his teammates already out there cheereed.


It was both a welcome and a teasing.


Hey, kid ...   


 "It's a weird moment," said Makar, who signed following his sophomore season with the Minutemen. "I don't think it's really sunk in for me yet. But no, this is a great group of guys, I can tell meeting everybody right off the bat."


He said his parents, long-time Flames fans, had converted, "but I've definitely got a lot of messages from friends who are going the other way."  


Nobody asked for my vote, but I would have thought it more wise to let Makar literally get his feet on the ground in Denver for a few days, watch Monday's game, practice with the Avalanche Tuesday and play in Game 4 Wednesday. Yes,the upper body injury that knocked Samuel Girard out of the lineup for Game 3 changed the dynamic. Yet I still would have held Makar out until Game 4.  



Instead, the Hobey Baker Award winner -- who previously had attended Avalanche development camps after going to Colorado at the No. 4 overall pick in the 2017 draft -- is jumping right in. At several points Monday morning, he phrased it as "if" he played, but it was obvious, even before Avalanche coach Jared Bednar later confirmed it, that Makar was going to play. 


"Not too much nervousness, I don't think," he said. "I'm just going to go out there and play and try and do my thing and we'll see."


Makar, who worked with the second power-play unit at the skate, added, "I just need to go out there and do what they need me to do. I'll provide offense if I have to and hopefully be steady on the defensive end as well. . . I don't think it's too much pressure. You're going to feel a bunch of different emotions, but you have to be be prepared for that. You kind of live your life to get to this moment. It'll be fun. This team's capable of doing a lot. They're a fast team and I'm excited to get going with them, hopefully tonight."   


Makar called the last few days "pretty crazy. I was supposed to fly out of Buffalo (Sunday), and got rerouted to Toronto. It's been a long travel day, but I'm rested up." He joked that Sunday night he "had a really nice bed, the sheets were nice." He said that he had watched as many Avalanche games as he could during his stay at UMass, "if I wasn't doing homework at night. I like the way they play, I think they're very fast, and I think they can fit in really well."


In the media room a few minutes later, Bednar said Makar would replace Girard, listed as day to day, in the lineup.   

He said Makar initially would be paired with Patrick Nemeth, "but we'll move him around a little but to try and get him in positions to succeed."  


I asked Bednar whether playing Makar immediately was automatic. 


"No, I thought through it, for sure," Bednar said. "I mean, it's a big time of the year, a big decision, young guy coming right out of college. But what makes the decision easier is the type of player he is and the type of person he is and the type of year he had in college. So he's a guy that we want to try and get in the lineup here and see if he can help us, and tonight's a perfect opportunity to do that."


 POSTSCRIPT: Sure enough ...Understandably, after Makar was so impressive Monday night, I took some teasing for having opined that I would have held Makar out until Wednesday, but I'll stand by my reasoning and won't indulge in revisionism here. Because you know what they say, right? 


... and some are rained out. 

April 13, 2019

A donated heart,

a "do-over" and a kicker


Read it here 




 April 7, 2019




 Feature on Denver North High School baseball

team honoring the late Irv Brown.



April 5, 2019

Rockies' Home Opener:

Buy me some peanuts

and Cracker Jack


Read it here 





April 4, 2019

Making playoffs praiseworthy,

but Avalanche needs to

take another step 



Avalanche players salute the crowd after the 3-2 overtime win over Winnipeg. 


It's this simple, and it's what I asked Avalanche coach Jared Bednar about after his team beat Winnipeg 3-2 in overtime Thursday night and clinched a playoff spot.


(Actually, the Avs clinched a playoff spot when regulation ended and they were assured of a point, but you know what I mean.)


When the Avalanche was struggling and seemingly destined to iss the postseason, it was getting rotten goaltending most of the time. It was demoralizing and draining, leaving the Avs playing with a dread that a mistake always would end up in the back of the net and that the goalie wouldn't do his job -- which is saving their bacon on many nights and flat-out stealing games on others.   


It needed one of the goalies -- Semyon Varlamov or Philipp Grubauer -- to step up.


And one finally did.

Grubauer was staunch and stingy down the stretch, infusing confidence in the Avalanches game and leaving himself going into the olayoffs as one of the hottst goaltenders in a league in which anything can happen in the playoffs if your goalie gets hot, stands on his noggin, gets into the heads of the opponents and keeps the puck out of the net.


"It's a huge part of it, no question," Bednar said. "Most of the time and especially this time of year, you need exceptional goaltending. Average goaltending just isn't good enough. We've been getting that. Our goaltenders have beeen giving us a chance to win every night and we're spreading around our scoring. We fought through adversity if you look at the injuries we had.

 "You go back three weeks, a month ago when Landy got hurt, when Mikko got hurt and see where we are in the standings, it would have been easy for our team to give up. But I love the character and push and determination and the will to win from our group. That's what I'm most proud of right now. To kick down the front door and get to the playoffs and finish the way we fionished is an exceptional job by our leaders, by all the guys stepping up and our secondary scoring and special teams have been better, golatending has been outstanding." 


That's spreading around the credit, of course, and I get that. It's not "wrong." But without Grubauer awakening, little of that would have mattered. 


 So now, for the second season in a row, Grubauer goes into the postseason as a No. 1 goalie. A year ago, his team -- the Capitals -- ended up winning the Stanley Cup, but it was after Grubauer wilted in the first two games of the opening round series against Columbus and Braden Holtby took over.          


"It's been quite the ride here," Grubauer said after the game Wednesday night. "Games we lost and games we won. It's pretty amazing that we actually made it. It could have gone the other way, too, but we have a good group here. . . It's been fun and now the real fun starts."   

I asked him about being in the same situation as a year ago, and what he learned from that experience he can take into this playoff run.

"Last year was tough," he said. "I don't think in Wahington we played our best hockey in the first two games and it cost us. We have to find a way to play 60 minutes against our next opponent and be ready from the get-go. . . . It's a new year. I played a couple more games that last year and I think that's going to help me and played a couple of good teams the last couple of games and, yeah, I'm looking forward to it."   


The NHL playoffs are the most relentless and physically and mentally testing postseason in sports, and one of the beauties of it is that anything can happen -- largely because of that influence of goaltending. A No. 8 seed can advance or even win the Stanley Cup, as the Los Angeles Kings did with Jonathan Quick in net in 2012. That's something that can't happen in the NBA. It just can't.  


"Everybody's looking forward to that," Grubauer said. "Anything is possible. In the playoffs, everything is brand new."    


So for the second straight season, the Avalanche is a No. 8 seed. A year ago, it was an unexpected and even amazing accompishment, considering Colorado went from the worst bang-for-the-buck NHL season (48 points while scraping the salary cap ceiling) ever, to 95 points. The Avalanche gave the Predators a competitive six-game series and it was disappointing, but not thunderously so. This year, one of the possible impediments is that sense of satisfaction for that in-season recovery and turnaround. The first-round matchup against the Flames, who hadve 107 points of this typing, is formidable. But for this team to be truly worthy of praise for progress this season, yee, it needs to knock off the Flames.   



"To me, this is a prove-it season," Bednar said. "Last year, noone expected us to get in. There was no pressure on us. We had a bunch of young kids come in and energize our group, our young core took over the leadership role and things started to roll for us. We had a certain stick-to-itiveness or resolve to our group that was fun and we just kept winning and found a way to get in. We won the right games down the stretch and got in. This year, it was a very similar feeling. I think the presssure got to us a little bit at times. We stumbled around in the middle of the season. But to finish the way we finished and we were much better down the stretch this season and learned some things from last year about what it takes to win. That shows a lot of growth to me.   


"Hopefully, we can carry that into the playoffs. Our mindset's not going to just me we got in, great, let's go have some fun in the playoffs. We're gonig into it with a purpose. I think that's the feeling our group will have. If we keep playing the way we're playing right now, we can be a dangerous hockey team." 





April 3, 2019

A Great Night at 

Sports Hall of Fame


Dave Logan and Daniel Graham both were star high school players in the Denver area, All-Americans at

CU, and NFL standouts who finished their careers with the Bronos. As of Wednesday night, they're

also both in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. (Photo by Kristin Rucker, Colorado Sports Hall of Fame.)  


I'm a long-time member of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame's selection committee, and I again attended the 2019 banquet Wednesday night at the Hilton Denver City Center. (Yes, for those who shared my initial confusion, it's the former Marriott City Center with a new name.)


The most rewarding experience I've had was acting as the presenter for Lt. Col. John Mosley in 2009, and I'm proud to say that came after I wrote about him in a Denver newspaper and interviewed him for Fox Sports Rocky Mountain, nominated him for the Hall of Fame and unashamedly campaigned for him in the selection committee meeting.


That was when each inductee had an individual presenter. Now masters of ceremonies Susie Wargin and Dave Logan take turns acting as presenters, introducing the inductees and cuing up the video tribute. It's streamlined, efficient and keeps things moving, through athletes of the year presentations and then the introductions and acceptance speeches from the inductees. The marathon nights of years ago are history.


All six of the 2019 inductees are Colorado natives. They were swimmer Missy Franklin; former Thomas Jefferson High, University of Colorado and Patriots and Broncos tight end Daniel Graham; long-time Colorado School of Mines football coach and athletic director Marv Kay; former Steamboat Springs High and Colorado College star athlete Tom Southall, who competed despite being born without a right hand; Todd Lodwick, a six-time Olympian in the Nordic Combined; and Colorado high school wrestling icon Bob Smith. Plus, the professional athlete of the year was Denver South and CU product Phillip Lindsay, who had a remarkable rookie season with the Broncos. (I haven't heard anyone mention this, but I believe he was an undrafted free agent.) Serious arguments could be made for the Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon, who was second in Hart Trophy voting, or for Rockies Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, but honoring Lindsay ultimately seemed appropriate when it so obviously meant so much to him to be honored in his hometown.   


I was honored and touched to be present for Daniel Graham's induction, given his family's long connection with my family. His father, Tom, was the captain of my father's final team at Oregon, and they moved to the Broncos together for 1972 -- my father as offensive line coach and Tom as a linebacker. They both would go to other NFL teams, but my dad ended up back with the Broncos as a long-time coach, scout and administrator, and Tom and Marilyn kept the same Denver home during Tom's travels and put down anchors in Denver afer his retirement, and twins Daniel and Josh starred at Thomas Jefferson and Daniel moved on to his great career at CU.


When Tom died in 2017, I was an honorary pallbearer. Here's my tribute to him. The discerning might be able to spot the significance of the timeline.


The Grahams are a Hall of Fame family. Daniel's acceptance speech was touching, and he paid tribute to Tom and the rest of his family before leading the crowd (at least those willing) in the CU fight song.  


The small-world aspect of that photo above for me is that when my family and Tom Graham came to Denver and I enrolled in the middle of my junior year at Wheat Ridge, my Farmers baseball batterymate was the guy on the left. My (lame) banquet joke is that I never have properly thanked Dave for helping me set a state high school single season that still stands. 


For most passed balls.    


March 30, 2019

Embedding with

the All-American 

high school musical  


Read it here 







March 23, 2019

After line breakup, injuries,

MacKinnon soldiers on


It wasn't that long ago that we were trying to come up with a clever nickname for the Avalanche line — Nathan MacKinnon centering Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen — that seemed destined to stick together for the ages. The Production Line and the French Connection already were taken and my suggestion, the NordiCanadian Line (one from Canada, two from Nordic nations ... get it?), didn't catch on.


Now with Landeskog out since since he was injured at Dallas on March 7 and Rantanen due to miss his third game, also with an upper body injury, at Chicago Sunday night, that leaves MacKinnon the only one active among the three. In an attempt to shake things up and to try to get more balanced scoring from multiple lines, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar separated them, anyway, in early February and has put them back together intermittently since. But at least until Rantanen is back, and it could be as soon as next Wednesday at home against Vegas, MacKinnon likely will continue centering J.T. Compher and Alexander Kerfoot for the time being.


And the Avalanche's unlikely resurgence, back into contention for a playoff spot, will continue.    


I admit it, too: To paraphrase Dave "Tiger" Williams, which never gets old, I thought them Avs were done like dinner when they lost consecutive home games to Carolina and Anaheim, but they have won four in a row — including Saturday afternoon's 4-2 victory over Chicago Saturday in the Pepsi Center — to get back in the hunt. They were holding down the second Western Conference wild card spot, leading Minnesota and Arizona by one point, going into Saturday night's games.              


MacKinnon didn't have a point in the win over the Blackhawks Saturday, and he hasn't hit the scoresheet in the past three games, but the Avalanche got by. I sat down with him after the game for a one-on-one discussion at his stall.   


At least now he knows that I'm not there seeking to write another piece about whether he ever could live up to the expectations he faced as a No. 1 overall NHL draft choice, and whether he ever would progress into the "generational" No. 1 pick conversations with Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and perhaps Auston Matthews. (I admit I overdid that angle when I was around the Avalanche more often in the early years of McKinnon's career.) Crosby, McDavid and MacKinnon recently were tabbed as the top three forwards in the league in the NHL Players Association's poll.  McDavid was a runaway winner, at 63.6 percent, with the Nova Scotia pals — Crosby and MacKinnon — next at 17.2 and 4.1 percent, respectively. That's not a huge vote for MacKinnon, but players could only vote for one, and cracking the top three is a major acccomplishment. This is MacKinnon's sixth season, yet he's still only 23.  


 "You have chemistry with some guys there now out of the lineup," MacKinnon said. "It's definitely an adustment, but we have a lot of good players in this room and we've had a decent record since Gabe's gone down and we've gotten help from everybody, so it's been positive. The thing is, we'll get those guys back, or at least Mikko for sure. I don't even know what's wrong with him..." — his nose didn't seem to be growing — "...but we'll get him back and we'll get Gabe back for the playoffs, and that's the goal, to make the playoffs and get the team back together. And you never know what can happen. That's our mindset."'


MacKinnon at one point was upset when cooler heads prevailed as he was playing major junior and he wasn't allowed to play high school basketball on a spot basis in the Halifax area, and he remains a major hoops fan. So he's genuinely excited about the Nuggets' success this season and the possibility of having both Denver teams in the playoffs for the first time since 2010 — when both lost in the first round, the Avalanche to San Jose and the Nuggets to Utah.  


"It'd be great to have us both make it," he said. 


But one of the reasons I brought that up was because the Nuggets and Avalanche had similar seasons a year ago — with playoff berths on the line in what amounted to play-in games in the final regular season games. The Nuggets lost at Minnesota, the Avalanche beat St. Louis at home, and it set the benchmarks for this season. The Avalanche, its rebuild seemingly ahead of schedule after a dreadful 48-point disaster in 2016-17, was expected to make additional improvement this season, while the Nuggets to a point were let off the hook after falling short, with making the playoffs a reasonable goal. Instead, it's the Nuggets who are surprising this season.        


"We made it by one point last year," MacKinnon said. "So it's not like we were a Cup favorite this season. We won the last game of the season to make the playoffs. But, yes, our goal is to win the Stanley Cup, not just make the playoffs. Just making the playoffs doesn't rally matter."  


With seven games remaining, MacKinnon has 37 goals and 54 assists. He was tied for ninth in goals going into Saturday night's games and his 91 points placed him seventh in the league. He stands a bona fide chance of bettering his numbers of last season (39 goals, 58 assists and 97 points), when he finished second in the Hart Trophy voting ... and should have won. So this much is obvious: Last season was no fluke.


"I just want to be the player this for the next 10, 15 years," he said, then laughed. "OK, maybe not 15, but 10 for sure. I work hard at it. I take it more serious than I have when I was 18, 19, 20. That's when you're coming in and you learn, when you're young, I feel confident that I continue this." He said cracking the top three forwards in the NHLPA poll "is humbling. There are so manay very talented players in the league, it could have gone to a lot of different guys. Obviusly, I'm happy they voted (for) me, but it's just a poll." 

But the point is, the votes he gets now are for accomplishment, for cracking the very elite ... and not for underachievement.    





March 21, 2019

CU in the NIT? 81 years ago,

they were in the first one


Tad Boyle watching from the sideline in the Buffs' final regular-season game against USC


When I researched March 1939: Before the Madness,  I came across three things about the University of Colorado program in that era that I hadn't known. And I was reminded of them as the 2018-19 Buffs accepted a bid to the NIT and beat Dayton in the first round, and it turned out that they'll play host to another NIT game against Norfolk State on Monday night. That's because Norfolk State knocked off Alabama in the first round.   


One, the Buffaloes appeared in the very first National Invitation Tournament in 1938. It's a bit confusing because at the time, the NIT wasn't even officially called that. The Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association, with an eye on following the success of regular-season doubleheaders staged in Madson Square Garden, organized and staged the 1938 and 1939 tournaments and also flaunted the conflict of interest, hyping them to the point where you'd think Roanoke College -- one of the six teams in the 1939 tournament -- was the equal of the top teams in the nation.


Two, the reason the Buffaloes were considered a marquee drawing card and coveted as a member of the 1938 field was that their star was one of the highest-profile college athletes in the nation at the time. 


Byron "Whizzer" White.


Yes, the future U.S. Supreme Court justice, the renowned football hallfback, also played basketball for the Buffs.


I didn't know that.


Here's the story of that first NIT, from the pages of my book:


* .  *   *





Meanwhile in New York, the first national invitation tournament was played on March 9, 14, and 16, 1938, so it sandwiched the PCC title series. It definitely was an outgrowth of the regular-season doubleheaders and involved the type of conflict of interest for writers that wouldn’t have been tolerated later. Although Ned Irish’s fingerprints were on the tournament, too, the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association, made up of New York scribes, founded, sponsored, and promoted it—and promoted it to the point where they sometimes came off as carnival barkers imploring passersby to enter the tent. The writers’ group was founded in 1934, and Irving T. Marsh and Everett B. Morris, both from the Herald Tribune, were its ringleaders. Morris also was the paper’s boating writer.


The plan was to follow Ned Irish’s doubleheader formula in putting together tournament fields, mixing New York–area teams with intriguing squads from other parts of the country. One of the goals was to confirm New York’s primacy in the college basketball world, and the tournament did that, but there was some confusion because nobody seemed to know what to call it. Most often, it was “the national invitation tournament,” with the informality of lowercase letters, but it also was labeled the Metropolitan Basketball Writers’ tournament, the New York writers’ invitation tournament, and several other combinations. Capital letters and/or the NIT acronym didn’t come into play right away.


The participants in that six-team 1938 inaugural invitation tournament were Colorado, Oklahoma A&M, and Bradley Tech, joining eastern entrants Temple, New York University, and LIU. As those with the farthest to travel, Colorado and Oklahoma A&M had byes, and the writers probably were second-guessing the bracketing that matched two New York teams, NYU and LIU, in the March 9 quarterfinals, which guaranteed the early elimination of one local draw. In a shocker, NYU knocked off Clair Bee’s Blackbirds 39-37. The Blackbirds finished the season with a 23-5 record, disappointing given the expectations and a soft schedule, with the other losses coming to Marshall, Minnesota, Stanford, and La Salle. In the other quarterfinal, Temple beat Bradley Tech 43-40.



Colorado had won the Rocky Mountain region’s Big 7 league, but the Buffaloes were sought because they had the biggest star in the tournament—an event its home-state Denver Post, by the way, called “the first national Invitation Intercollegiate tournament.” That star was a scholarly fellow from Wellington, Colorado. Byron “Whizzer” White was an All-American halfback for the Buffaloes and a solid starter for Colorado in basketball. The New York scribes couldn’t get enough of him, just as they had enjoyed building up Luisetti when he came through with Stanford during the regular season. The Colorado hero was the toast of Manhattan from the time he arrived with the Buffaloes’ traveling party. He had eight points in the March 14 semifinals as the Buffaloes edged NYU 48-47 on Don Hendricks’s late basket.


In the other semifinal, the Oklahoma Aggies, coached by 33-year-old Henry “Hank” Iba, lost a 56-55 heartbreaker to Temple. The New York scribes puffed out their chests as they typed, knowing the nip-and-tuck semifinals had been exciting, and hoped for a reprise in the March 16 championship game.


Instead, they and the fans got a stinker. Temple routed Colorado 60-36 to win the tournament title, and Whizzer White bowed out of his college basketball career with a 10-point night.   


Minutes after the championship game, he again was being asked which he would choose—the outlandish $15,000 contract from franchise owner Art Rooney to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates (yes, Pirates, pre-dating Steelers) or a Rhodes scholarship to study in Oxford.


“There are about 500 people trying to make up my mind,” he said in the Madison Square Garden dressing room. One way to tell that White already was an extraordinary celebrity was that at least one scribe actually talked to him after the game instead of following the usual procedure of typing eyewitness accounts of the game and not seeking comment from anyone involved.


Temple, the tournament champions, finished the 1937–38 season with a 23-2 record. Many in the east advanced the Philadelphia squad as the nation’s best, and it wasn’t unreasonable. Their head-to-head victory over Stanford, the west’s top team, bolstered the claim. There were scattered references to the Owls as “national champions,” but for the most part, the national attitude—at least among those who noticed in other areas of the country—seemed to be that the Owls had won a new tournament for New York teams and invited guests, no more suited to select the best team in the land than, say, a holiday tournament. It was a tournament for select (and selected) teams, but not a national championship, and Stanford wasn’t there.


After beating the Webfoots for the 1937–38 PCC title, the Indians didn’t go anywhere, except perhaps to their homes during spring break. They already had made two cross-country trips to New York and beyond in the previous sixteen months. That was enough.


Considered an experimental venture that first year, the invitation tournament was pronounced a success. The catch, though, was that organizers couldn’t count on having a Whizzer White–type drawing card every year from among the teams brought in from outside the New York area or the East Coast.


Stanford coach John Bunn was one of many in his profession who began to wonder if there might be a way to both combat the national invitation tournament and determine a national champion, perhaps as soon as the upcoming 1938–39 season.


* .  * .  * 

OK, that's No. 1 and No. 2.


No. 3 is that when the National Association of Basketball Coaches indeed put together the first NCAA tournament for 1939, setting up four-team regionals in San Francisco and Philadelphia,with one representative from each of eight districts, and then a championship game in Evanston held in conjunction with the NABC convention, the Buffaloes were one of a handful of teams turning down invitations. My opinion is that by the end of the season, the eventual champion -- Oregon -- was the best team in the nation, and the Ducks routed all three of their opponents, Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio State. But we'll never know how the Buffaloes would have done.

Here's how that came about, again from March 1939: Before the Madness.  



* .  * .  *


The Colorado Buffaloes had gotten over their loss to St. John’s in Madison Square Garden. They easily won their league with a 12-2 league record, beating out (in order) Utah State, Utah, Wyoming, Denver, Brigham Young, and Colorado A&M. The Buffaloes were the obvious NCAA tournament choice in the Rocky Mountain district that included the states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, and New Mexico.


CU officials announced that they would conduct a vote among the players and take the result under advisement. With the Buffa- loes’ season over and no league playoffs, Colorado’s players knew they would have two weeks to rest up for the regional—or, to put it another way, their season would be extended at least two weeks if they accepted the bid. These were mostly the same fellows who the previous year had traveled by train cross-country to play in the first national invitation tournament, and then made another trip to New York in December. Would they be up for more travel, first to San Francisco, then possibly to Chicago? For a new tournament?

The Buffaloes’ decision was announced Tuesday.



No, thanks.



Colorado’s athletic committee said that it had consulted with Coach Frosty Cox and the players, and the decision was based on the fact that the Buffaloes were banged up, tired, and even sick. CU’s star center, Jack Harvey, was hospitalized three times during the season and missed the final three games because of illness, and two other starters had spent time in the hospital, also. Without naming the national invitation tournament, the committee said CU wouldn’t consider taking part in any other tournament, either. The Buffaloes were going to stay home.

The next day, the head of the NCAA Tournament’s Rocky Mountain district selection committee, Wyoming coach Dutch Witte, said his group had recommended to Harold Olsen that Big 7 runner-up Utah State—coached by the respected Dick Romney, a former multiple-sport star himself and a member of a prominent Utah family— get the NCAA bid.



Harold Olsen went along with that, and Utah State’s athletic council quickly accepted the invitation.   



* .  * .  *


If the Buffs win two more games, beating Norfolk State and then the Xavier-Texas winner, they'll make the NIT's Final Four in Madison Square Garden.  





March 10, 2019

Catching up with Tad Boyle:

About then and now


Read it here 




March 7, 2019

Trying -- and failing -- to

make a case for keeping Keenum


Read it here





February 27, 2019

Two young Israelis

in Colorado ...

playing hockey 



Read it here 




February 13, 2019

On the Broncos'

acquisition of Flacco


Read it here 






February 2019

Two columns

on the late, great

Irv Brown 



On Irv's death

On Irv and Pat



February 7, 2019


Sakic support of Bednar

seems genuine -- and it's

the right thing to do 




The Avalanche is reeling. 


After a 4-3 overtime loss at Washington Thursday, the Avs had lost five in a row and were 5-15-4 in their last 24. Yes, only five wins in their past 24, or since they were 17-7-5 after a December 6 win at Florida.


Especially in hockey, I've always felt that it's unseemly to be among the first to broach the issue of whether a coaching change is imminent, and/or needed. That's because it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm not saying a single writer or media member bringing it up makes a change inevitable, but once the speculation starts, it can gather momentum.


This is a league in which general managers -- some of them former coaches -- have championed the scapegoating phenomenon, deflecting the blame for on-ice problems from the front office to the bench. And it goes beyond that. If players "tune out" coaches, it's often because they've gotten the impression they can or are expected to -- and can get away with it.


So Joe Sakic's decisive statement that he's not considering firing Jared Bednar is a bit refreshing. It's also fairly convincing because Sakic already has shown he will defy NHL convention, as evidenced when he stuck with Bednar after the horrendous 48-point 2016-17 season, the worst bang-for-the-buck season in NHL history. It would have been embarrassing to fire Bednar after only one season, but it also wouldn't have been all that surprising. Sakic was convinced that Patrick Roy's August resignation put Bednar in a difficult position, but he still could have taken the easy way out and made another change.           


This is not an unconditional, blind endorsement of Bednar's work. The coach must be accountable, too, and if Sakic concludes after the season that something must be done, fair enough. But now? It would be panic, it would be making Bednar accountable for having awful goaltending and a roster with other deficiencies being exposed. Bad goaltending is deflating and demoralizing, and it affects everything. But this also is a team still without enough scoring depth beyond the top line -- when it's together -- and with two smallish defensmenen among its top six. Yes, Tyson Barrie and Samuel Girard are adept puck-handlers and offensive threats, but it's playing with fire in the defensive zone. (Plus, Girard hasn't been as productive offensively as he needs to be.)          


It's this simple. It really is. If either goalie, Semyon Varlamov or Philipp Grubauer, gets his act together, the other issues suddenly will seem less significant and debilitating.  The question is how soon, or even if, that will happen. The most amazing thing of all is that the Avalanche hasn't fallen completely out of playoff contention. The Avs can get back in the hunt -- that's a tribute to Irv Brown -- with one good run. 


A coaching change now, or in the foreseeable future, isn't the answer.   

January 26, 2019

Is it time to try the

confectionary store

clerk in the Avs' net? 




At the arrival of the All-Star break and then its bye period, the Avalanche had gone 5-13-3 in its previous 21 games.


The biggest shock of all is that Colorado still is hanging on to what would be the second wild card playoff spot in the Western Conference by its fingernails. Seven teams, including the Avalanche, are within three points of one another in the race for the two spots. Yes, the Avs, thought to be on the rise after last year's 95-point season, seems to have been reduced to shooting for a wildcard spot again.     


I'll concede this:  The Avalanche is not perfectly constructed.


The Avs need more secondary scoring, beyong the NordiCanadian Line of Nathan MacKinnon centering Gabe Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen. 


They every once in a while falls victim to the perills of having two undersized, if speedy and crafty, defensmen among the top six. Neither Tyson Barrie nor Sam Girard are capable of physically intimidating work in front of the Colorado net. Or anywhere else. And as a group, the Avs' "D" has been no better than mediocre.  


But let's be real. 


The major problem here is the goaltending.   

The lack of faith in the men is in the net is debilitating for any team, and one of the reasons is that it becomes a rationalization. . . or a self-fulfilling prophecy. Teammates become tight, overly concerned that a single mistake too often can lead to a puck in the back of the (wrong) net. And on the rare nights when the goaltending is major-league and larcenous -- in other words, on the nights when the Colorado goalie has done his job -- the post-game narrative is a condescending overreaction, as if Semyon Varlamov or Philipp Grubauer has reprised Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek in their primes and the game video should be sent to the Hall of Fame in Toronto.


With 32 games remaining, of course, it's possible that one or the other could snap out of this and give the Avalanche competent work in the net. But for now, this is just flat-ut unacceptable: Varlamov has a goals-against average of 2.82, only 25th among NHL qualifiers, and a save percentage of .908. In his contract year, while attempting to prove that he can stay healthy, the issue of whether he again can do elite work moving forward in the net has reappeared. Grubauer's goals-against of 3.38 is awful, 46th among the 50 qualifiers, and his save percentage of .891 is below what I tend to call the Astrom Line for a reason.


Flashing back to the 1979-80 season -- yes, nearly 40 years ago -- the outspoken and snappily-attired Don Cherry passed through to coach the lowly Colorado Rockies for one season.



Cherry hated his goaltenders. The goaltending indeed was bad, but in retrospect, I probably concurred too easily with Cherry’s position that Hardy Astrom, who was acquired from the New York Rangers and making decent money, was the worst NHL goalie of all time. That team had a lot of problems beyond its own crease.


A handful of others in the league who played twenty or more games that season had worse goals-against averages than his 3.75, and there were even a couple who played more than half their teams’ games—Hartford’s John Garrett and Los Angeles’s Mario Lessard. Regardless, Cherry held his nose long enough to use Astrom in 49 games, while also trying Bill McKenzie, Michel Plasse, and Bill Oleschuk in the net.


It came to a head in February, when the Rockies had to settle for a 4–4 tie at Hartford when Plasse had only 17 saves.


Cherry had let loose many times, but he got into high gear that night. “Our goaltending was horse—-,” he said, standing a few feet from the trailer where I had done a between-periods interview with a fledgling Connecticut-based cable operation called ESPN. “Let’s face it. Come on. Let’s be honest. We’re not going to go anywhere until we get a goalie. I’ve tried everyone except the guy who works in the confectionary store.”  


Jared Bednar's code word for substandard goaltending is "OK." As in, "He was OK." He hasn't tried to insult anyone by letting the goalies off the hook, but he hadn't let loose, a la Cherry, either.

It's that simple. If the Avalanche doesn't big-time goaltending, from someone, down the stretch, this season will be both regression and a huge disappointment, wasting the magical work of the top line. 




January 20, 2019

Can Kroenke

Sports Empire

Stay on a Roll? 


After the Avalanche routed the Los Angeles Kings Saturday, workers put the finishing tuuches on installing the floor for what turned out to be the Nuggets' romp over the Cleveland Cavaliers.


The Los Angeles Rams are going to the Super Bowl. And they're just part of the Stan Kroenke sports empire that also includes the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids, Colorado Mammoth, and Arsenal FC.


Could this just be the start? 


An audacious thought, I know, but the Kroenke portfolio mostly was struggling mightily on the field, court, ice and pitch not all that long ago and this already represents a turnaround.




The Sean McVay-coached Rams obviously have a bona fide chance of giving Kroenke an opportunity to accept the Vince Lombardi Trophy -- which is no Stanley Cup -- after Super Bowl LII in Atlanta in two weeks.  


Can that be just the start of a big year for the Kroenke empire?


The question, of course, is what would qualify.   


I'd say on this side of the pond, it would be the Nuggets and the Avalanche both at least reaching their Western Conference finals, the Rapids returning to respectabiity in Major League soccer after a dreadful 2018, and indoor lacrosse's Mammoth recovering from a slow start to make the National Lacrosse League playoffs.   


And on the other side of the Atlantic, it would mean Arsenal -- currently embroiled in controversy and mediocrity at best on the pitch in the English Premier League -- at least do well enough to convince the rabid and critical soccer fandom that the Kroenke ownership isn't incompetent at the real football. Kroenke has been involved in ownership since 2007 and has been sole owner since last August.  


The Nuggets, with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray leading the way, are a half-game behind the Warriors in the Western Conference going into Monday's games are are the top candidates to make a deep playoff run. The problems are that last Tuesday's Warriors rout of the Nuggets in Denver was remindful that Golden State is meandering through the regular season and capable of flipping the switch at any time -- and on any night. A title? If -- and that's a big if  -- the Nuggets get past the Warriors to reach the NBA Finals, they've had problems with Milwaukee, the most likely finalist from the East.


The Avalanche has been maddening, mercurial and underachieving and the biggest favor anyone can do for them is to stop making excuses. They aren't playing Hall of Fame goalies every night, their puck luck isn't always bad, and any team with three linemates headed to the All-Star Game should be held to a higher standard now that residing on the playoff bubble.


But we all know the way this league works. In some ways, I'm convinced the Avalanche has a better chance of making its league finals than does the Nuggets. I'm not saying it will happen. I'm saying it could. That's because there's no Warriors here and if Semyon Varlamov stands on his head from the second he arrives at the rink to the time he leaves, the whole dynamic changes. Plus, this now is a talented -- talented, not deep -- enough team to pull it off in a wide-open league. 

Beyond the Nuggets and Avs, the Mammoth needs a bunch of sock tricks, the Rapids need to stop collecting ties, and the Rams need to continue to have the guys in stripes let 'em play. 



January 14, 2019

Here's why Colorado 

nurse was with Supreme

Court in Rotunda 


Read it here




January 13, 2019


Alex English was both

smooth and breathtaking



 Alex English at the Nuggets' game against Portland Sunday night. 



On Sunday night, the Nuggets commemorated "Skyline" night by wearing their retro jerseys -- which look like someone put the original skyline jerseys in the washing machine with way too much bleach -- against Portland and honored former smooth-as-silk forward Alex English.


I went to say hi and be a part of English's pre-game media availability.


The previous time we visited was at the Nuggets' home opener last season, against Sacramento in October 2017. The Nuggets honored a handful of former players that night, including English, David Thompson, Dan Issel, Byron Beck and Dikembe Mutombo.

This time, the spotlight was on English ... alone.


Although his number (2) was retired in 1992, when the Nuggets still played in McNichols Sports Arena, and it now hangs in the Pepsi Center, English for many years felt a disconnect with the Nuggets after his trade to Dallas and then during his working career as an assistant coach and scout. He wasn't shunned; it was more apathy. Now, in part thanks to vice president of basketball operations Lisa Johnson, a treasure trove of institutional knowledge, the Nuggets have done a better job of re-embracing their past.         


"I feel much better," English said. "If you look at most teams that are successful, they're successful because they have a history that is part of their success. You look at the Lakers, you always see Kareem and Magic and Kobe talk about that being their team. And the Celtics as well. So I think history is vey important. I can compliment them on reaching out to all of their former players and bringing them back and making them feel like they are a part of what they have been, what they've built." 


He said of his reacton when he returns: "Of course, it's a different arena. But it's always great to come back, especially now that they're doing so well, and to see the fans come out to support them ... I have fond memories of being here in Denver and playing for Doug Moe and playing for the teammates I had. I had a wonderful time."


I joked with him about having fond memories of the irascible Moe, whose verbal prodding made English a better player -- and whose passing-game, relentless-movement offense made English a star.

"To you guys, he was probably like a big mean, ol' bad boy," English said. "But he was a big baby. You get him off the court, get him out of the environment, he's just a big baby."   


After the hockey Rockies moved to New Jersey in 1982, I was switched to the Nuggets beat.


Alex was aready there.


Because of the convivial atmosphere in McNichols Sports Arena in those days, with media wandering through both offices, I didn't feel as if I was starting from scratch, and I knew a lot of folks in the Nuggets' organization. Moe already was calling me "Dip----," as he did with everyone he liked (or, in some cases didn't like).


One of my first assignments on the beat was to cover the then-troubled Thompson's trade to Seattle, and all the dramatic subplots surrounding it. (He never got to wear the skyline jersey.)


Thompson's departure nudged English a bit more to the Nuggets' forefront, and that was the silver lining.


English was the sneakiest, sleekest, smoothest big-time scorer in NBA history, always moving in the passing game. He was not made for SportsCenter highlights; what he did was maneuver, glide, float ... and score. His nickname -- "Pink Panther" -- was apt.


At the end of the night, if you weren't tracking it, you'd go: "He had how many points?" And they all counted.


He was a great player who didn't get enough credit because of his low-key personality and a game that took paying attention to, to truly appreciate. The Nuggets were his third stop, after Milwaukee and Indiana, and we hadn't seen this coming.


Among the English highlights the Nuggets show of English when they honor him is one that believe sums him up. It was a gliding shot over and past a challenging Maurice Lucas, then with Phoenix. It was nothing flashy, but he simply got the shot with one of the most physical players in the league with his arms up and within, oh, 18 centimeters.


That's how Alex scored. averaging 25.9 points in 11 seasons with the Nuggets. He scored in traffic or without flashiness leaned almost imperceptively just far enough to get the shot off -- and in.


I asked him how his game would fit in today's league.


"Well, you know I'm not a three-point shooter," he said. "I still would be a mid-range game player. There's some room for mid-range. I worked with DeMar DeRozen in Toronto. He's a mid-range player that I love to see play. That's missing in the game today. But it's exciting to see guys come down and if they know how to shoot threes, to make threes. It's exciting to see that. Different style, though. For a minute there everybody was talking about defense and trying to play like the Pistons. And as we evolved and as the Golden State Warriors started playing like the Denver Nuggets of old, everybody said, 'That's how we need to be playing.' Everybody's kind of migrated back to the old ways with the addition of the threes." 


He was asked what he thought when seeing James Harden launch 15 three-pointers in a game.


"It drives me crazy," he said. "Even though I scored a lot of points, and I shot the ball a lot, I was a team player. I liked getting my teammates involved and letting them be a part of the game as well."


But that was the beauty of the passing game, with its constant moving -- of both bodies and ball. By definition and design, everyone was involved, regardless of who scored. Including guard T.R. Dunn, who rarely kept the ball for more than four-tenths of a second.

"I wish I was still coaching," English said. "It's an unstoppable offense. Even if you wanted threes, you still could get threes. But nobody has adapted, or tried to adapt Doug Moe's offense. It was so successful, as you know ... And contrary to what people say about us playing defense, if you look at the teams that forced the most turnovers, blocked the most shots, we were always there. We had three, or four, actually, of the toughest defenders that have played the game in T.R. Dunn, Bill Hanzlik, Elston Turner, and Wayne Cooper's got to be there for shot blocking."   


English has been watching this Nuggets team with great interest from afar.


"They've got a good vibe going," he said. "They're winning. It helps when the fans come out and support you. And they've got a good coach. Mike Malone's a very good coach. He's done a very good job of bringing them together ... I personally feel they'll be in the Western Conference Finals, if they continue to play like this. They're such a balanced team. Even though (Nikola) Jokic and (Jamal) Murray get a lot of credit, when I watch them I see a lot of different pieces that contribute. I'm glad to see Will Barton back. I feel like he's a major part of their success and once he gets back and gets acclimated to playing, he's going to be a big contributor. And you all haven't had Isaiah Thomas yet. I coached Isaiah Thomas in Sacramento. I think he's going to be a bg plus for this team because he can score. Tough little guy."


Sandy Clough of "The Fan" asked him about Jokic, who a little later would have 40 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists against the Blazers. 


"He sees the floor so well, he scores, he shoots threes," English said. "The only other player in the league right now that I feel is comparable to him is DeMarcus Cousins, who I coached in Sacramento. He's got a lot of the same skills and maybe Anthony Davis."  


Now, about those skyline jerseys. I've told this story before, but it's appropriate. The Nuggets unveiled the original version at a news conference after holding a fan contest to design them. At the news conference, they said they had brought in a special model, and then Kiki Vandeweghe came out in the new jersey. And we were told that after lengthy negotiations, he had just agreed to a new, long-term contract. They had managed to keep that quiet, and it was a big deal.


Shortly thereafter, the winning designer visited me at the newspaper office.

He was mad that the Nuggets hadn't exactly followed his design.   




January 2, 2019

From Flying "The Hump"

to founding turf farm,

Johnson led epic life




Read it here