December 25, 2018
boy, a ball, and
The little boy, Henri, lived
in northeastern France, along the Rhine River. As Christmas approached in 1939, Henri could see French troops stationed outside
his little village, then look across to Germany's side of the Rhine. German soldiers were camped out of sight, beyond the
raised railroad tracks, but a few brazenly wandered to the river bank.
Henri didn't understand the political complexities. He was
too naive to understand why human beings would harm one another. He was just old enough to suspect that he was living in a
time for nightmares, not fulfilled dreams.
So Henri, who had fantasized of having his own ball and supplying it for the children's game in
the meadow, didn't burden his mother with a request he sensed she couldn't grant. The children could kick around the village's
one remaining ancient, tattered round ball until it, too, fell apart.
Instead, Henri asked for his father -- and all fathers and
sons -- to come home alive before one more weapon was fired. When Henri's mother hugged him, he could feel her tears, but
he couldn't hear her asking herself: Is this any kind of a world in which to raise a child?
father was a French soldier, stationed farther north. Henri hadn't seen him since shortly before Adolf Hitler's forces invaded
Poland on Sept. 1, causing France and Great Britain to declare war on Germany.
So far on the Western Front, it was a war with few shots. In
France, it was being called the ``drole de guerre'' -- the odd war. In Germany, Hitler was denouncing the weather that kept
forcing him to push back the date of the Western offensive, once planned for November.
During Christmas week, Henri's mother sang carols to him and
and made him gifts by candlelight after he was in bed.
Awakening on Christmas, Henri saw the new football in the cottage.
smelled the intoxicating scent of new leather, then sensed a warming glow radiating from the ball. If he could have described
it, he would have said it was a sensation of heavenly peace.
His stunned mother stared at the ball and said: ``But who .
. . ?'' Henri embraced her, then ran, hollering, to the meadow. Dozens of children followed him. Their game began. Despite
cold weather, the children were warm and removed their tattered jackets. They squealed and dived and collided and helped each
forgot the score.
German soldiers watched from the river bank. French soldiers lined the meadow. Each side was within
range of the other. No one fired.
good cheer, the children ended their game. Henri signaled to one group of a dozen French soldiers. They walked onto the field.
Henri motioned to the Germans. A dozen Germans, unarmed and unharmed, rowed across the Rhine.
Henri divided the men into
two teams, each with six Germans and six Frenchmen. The soldiers' game was as exuberant as the children's.
they quit, the soldiers embraced and conversed with smiles, broken tongues and sign language. The Germans rowed back across
the French nor German players could shake the sensation.
On the German
side of the river, it spread with blitzkrieg swiftness through the ranks, across Germany, Austria and occupied Czechoslovakia
and Poland. Soon, Hitler's troops no longer wanted to invade or hate in the name of the fuhrer.
Two German Army generals,
Walther von Brauchitsch and Franz Halder, earlier had considered a coup d'etat because they feared Germany wasn't yet strong
enough to stage a Western offensive.
They concluded that the soldiers and the people would not turn
against Hitler. In early 1940, they changed their minds and motivation. They came to abhor war and the German role in unleashing
it on the world.
With ease, the military cabal overthrew the Nazi regime. Hitler committed suicide. Austria regained
its independence. German troops left Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Rhineland. Following elections in which the National Socialist
Party didn't receive a vote, the army handed the reins of Germany to a civilian government. The generals announced they were
wrong to go along with the Nazis as long as they did and submitted themselves for trial in a German court at Nuremberg. They
received relatively light sentences. Other defendants, Hitler's Nazi henchmen, were ordered to serve life sentences in Spandau
Prison. The persecution and even murder of Jewish citizens ended.
Henri's father came home alive.
forces of invasion and occupation around the world went home. The dreams for peace of other little boys and girls
started being fulfilled not just on the Western Front, but all over the world -- and all through the years.
``Peace on Earth''
became a perpetual reality, not a seasonal dream.
(The above originally appeared in The Oregonian.)
December 24, 2018
A Christmas (or anytime) tale
of two former on-field rivals
In November 1970, my father's Oregon Ducks faced the undefeated Air Force Falcons at Autzen Stadium.
It was notable for
several reasons, including that it was the coming-out party for Oregon's rail-thin sophomore quarterback, Dan Fouts, who led
the Ducks to a 46-35 victory.
Plus, at one point, Oregon's
star middle linebacker, Tom Graham, used his trademark move, trying to step on the back of the opposing snapper on a field
goal attempt and then block the kick.
Tom even was
capable of completely leaping over the center in a time when there was no such thing as a long-snapper specialist.
Invariably, the center was the snapper. Period.
And this case, the Falcons' center -- Orderia Mitchell
-- happened to be the best center in the country and a certain NFL prospect but for the requirement that military academy
players fulfill their post-graduate active duty obligation, as had Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach after winning the Heisman
The man most came to know as "O" got angry.
"Don't you ever
do that again," he snarled at Tom.
I'm bringing this up because the other night, we
attended an annual Christmas party at the home of our friends, Pam and "O' Mitchell, in Colorado Springs.
We've been friends for more than
20 years, brought together by mutual friends and the realization that "O' had played several times against the Ducks,
including in thst 1970 game in Eugene, which I to this day consider one of the most memorable and entertaining college games
I ever have seen. That game ended up the basis for one of the games in my novel, The Witch's Season, and I didn't
do a very good job of concealing that the Cascade Fishermen's star middle linebacker, Alex Tolliver, was Tom Graham; and that
the Air Force Falcons' star center coping with virulent student protests of the Air Force's role in the Vietnam War, Andre
Orderia, was Orderia Mitchell.
In 2001, Tom officiated at Jerry Frei's memorial service, and during the informal gathering
afterwards, we hooked with with "O" on a speaker phone in Colorado Springs between his scheduled surgeries. Fouts
was at the service in Denver and joined in the conversation. By then, "O" Mitchell was a renowned orthopedic surgeon,
having settled for going to medcal school instead of to the NFL.
died of brain cancer on May 30, 2017.
I was an honorary pallbearer at the service, representing my father and my family.
Here's the piece I did here on Tom and his death.
Mitchell retired this month. Hs had a great career, and it lasted longer than his stay in the NFL would have been. I
had written a July 1997 newspaper piece on "O." That's pasted below.
To two great men.
The Colonel is now Doctor
July 20, 1997
COLORADO SPRINGS — In January 1973, the Hula Bowl was the premier postseason college
all-star game. The experience was a week of beachcombing, of luaus, of tours, of laughing through non-pad practices, of nocturnal
excursions through Waikiki ... and a no-pressure game.
Just down the street from the all-stars' hotel, a military rest and
recreation facility was the respite for many soldiers taking a break from the war in Vietnam. President Richard Nixon's second
inauguration was days away, and his "Vietnamization" policy at least meant American involvement was lessening.
That Hula Bowl
group quickly came up with a nickname for Orderia Mitchell of the Air Force Academy, who had been a second-team
Associated Press All-America center that season.
"They called me "Colonel,"' Mitchell recalls. "Everybody was talking about
the contracts they were going to sign. They'd get to me, and they'd say, "Hey, Colonel, what are you signing for?'
The popular vice wing commander had neither a way nor a desire to avoid what then was the inflexible postgraduate
Many of Mitchell's football peers went on to pro careers. As a junior, he was on a Black Sports Magazine All-America
offensive team, for example, with Reggie McKenzie, Lionel Antoine, Greg Pruitt, Jerome Barkum and Ahmad Rashad.
have been blessed with the opportunity to do things most people only dream about," Mitchell says. "About the only
thing I didn't do was play pro football. But there were six centers drafted my year who started at some point for NFL teams,
and I know I could have played with, or better than, most of them. But I was happy to go to the next life."
* . * . *
The doctor is in; and, like
his partners in the Front Range Orthopaedic office in Colorado Springs, Dr. O. Mitchell, 47, is swamped. (Orderia has
become "O." on the Front Range roster of doctors; his friends have called him that for years.)
It is a Tuesday, the final day
Mitchell will see patients before he takes a trip to Las Vegas to, among other things, attend a high-school all-star basketball
tournament with his friend, Air Force basketball coach Reggie Minton. In a normal week, Mitchell is in the office Monday,
Tuesday and Thursday, and does scheduled surgeries Wednesday and Friday.
In exam room No. 7, Taylor Kelly is 4 years old, and he has come from
Limon with his mother. He has had trouble with his bone development, but that doesn't matter now as he turns to his friend,
the doctor, and says conspiratorially: "I got to tell you something!"
"What?" Dr. O. Mitchell asks.
"I saw the new Turbo Rangers!"
Taylor says, and a moment later strikes a muscleman's pose.
"Oh, man, don't hit me!" Mitchell says in mock horror.
assures Taylor that he is going to be a fine athlete someday, reassures his mother that Taylor is making progress and tells
them he will see them again in a year.
* . * . *
At Elkhart Central
High School in northern Indiana, Mitchell was an unlikely football center, at 155 pounds, and he also was a basketball center
and a third baseman. His father was a chemist; his mother worked for the local company that made band instruments.
When Mitchell first
was making his college choice, in 1969, many of his contemporaries were in contempt of establishment authority; Mitchell accepted
an Air Force Academy appointment.
"I wanted to fly and fight," Mitchell says. "Everybody wanted
to do that. The authority part of the academy wasn't any big deal to me because my father was an authoritarian, and I was
used to that."
* . *
Ruth Brooks and her husband are retired and about to embark
on one of their cross-country trips in a motor home. Brooks is making progress from ambulatory problems, and now is taking
she sits in her wheelchair, she has a question about what she is permitted to do while she is on her medication:
"Can I have
Mitchell smiles and says one is OK.
* . * . *
When he arrived at the academy, Mitchell wasn't
considered a football prospect. He played one basketball season as a teammate of current San Antonio Spurs general manager-coach
Gregg Popovich. But he also went out for football, and before long he was bigger, stronger and starting in the middle of the
almost all cadets, Mitchell went through some ambivalence. But he had his friends, including father figures. Capt. Reggie
Minton arrived on the academy staff when Mitchell was a freshman, and he also was close to athletic trainer Jim Conboy and
assistant basketball coach Hank Egan.
"Reggie took me under his wing," Mitchell says. "Him, Jim Conboy, Hank Egan;
their homes were my homes. I ate their food, I tore up their cars. It seemed like every day I was saying, "I'm going
home.' Reggie would sit me down. He was my strength at that time."
When Mitchell was a sophomore
in 1970, the anti-Vietnam War sentiments meant that the nationally ranked and Sugar Bowl-bound Falcons heard much taunting
— from the stands and on the street.
"People would ask," Mitchell recalls, ""Why are you doing those things? Why are
you killing babies?' I'd just look at them and say, "I'm not killing babies.' But it wasn't really that bad."
* . * . *
Ron Parlin, a jet-ski mechanic,
suffered a severely broken leg in - what else? - a jet-ski accident. Mitchell surgically implanted a rod in the tibia, and
the original half-cast has just come off so Mitchell can take a look and then put on a more sturdy cast.
"Look what you did to me!"
Parlin says, joking, on a table in the cast room, nodding down to the stitches and angry purple bruises.
Mitchell says the healing is coming along fine, then not-so-gently points out that smoking inhibits bone
regrowth and strengthening. He and Parlin talk seriously about what the patient can do on the leg, but they are ribbing each
other as well. Mitchell puts on a cast, then as he leaves, points to Parlin's cigarette box - stuffed in a sock - and delivers
* . * . *
When Mitchell, an academic All-American,
was approaching graduation, he was offered a choice between flight school and medical school - on the Air Force's tab.
He no longer wanted
to fly and fight.
While so many of his football friends from that Hula Bowl game and All-America teams were playing in the NFL, Mitchell
was attending the Tulane University medical school in New Orleans. After an internship in general surgery and family practice
in Dayton, Ohio, he decided to specialize in orthopedics, and the Air Force sent him back to Tulane for four more years of
"I was originally thinking about going into cardiovascular or neurosurgery," Mitchell says.
"Then I did rotations on it and I didn't like the personalities I ran into. They were aloof; they had that elite personality.
In orthopedics, you did things and people got better."
* . * . *
Pratyush Buddiga, 8, has severe internal femoral
torsion - meaning he is pigeon-toed and his bones haven't grown completely straight. Mitchell has prescribed orthotics for
his shoes, then - with Buddiga's brother, Akshay, 7 , and his mother, Rekha, watching intently - he shows Buddiga some exercises.
Finally, Mitchell lifts Akshay onto the examination table and has him go through the exercises with his brother, so they can
do them together.
If the orthotics don't help enough, Mitchell says, he eventually might perform surgery to "twist" the bones.
But that's not necessary yet.
* . * . *
After leaving Tulane the second time, Mitchell returned to the academy, where the former All-American
became the team doctor and the chief of the orthopedic department at the academy hospital.
In 1986, he left the Air Force and went into private practice,
remaining in Colorado Springs. "I had that support group," he says. "I had my friends. It's a beautiful area.
I had no reason to go anywhere else."
His practice quickly was built up, and he joined
Front Range Orthopaedic partners in 1992. "Being in solo practice was very hard because you have to be on call all the
time," he says. "This is a better way of doing it with less stress."
* . * .
Amanda Job, a high-school volleyball player, has had a broken wrist that has just come out
of the cast.
"Guess what?" Mitchell says after looking at the X-rays. "It's healed 95 percent and we're going to
leave you out of the cast."
"Guess I can't play volleyball for a while?" Amanda asks.
"No, because if you try to set, or dig," Mitchell
says, pantomiming the moves, "you'd let out an unbelievable scream."
He offers another rehabilitative exercise, though. "Washing
dishes is good."
a lot, doc.
* . * . *
Mitchell doesn't advertise his athletic past; just his athletic interest. In the hallways
of his end of the Front Range Orthopaedic offices, he has football action pictures on the wall and a framed and signed Michael
Jordan jersey, but no evidence from his own career. His own pictures and awards - All-America plaques, team pictures, the
shot of his induction into the Indiana Sports Hall of Fame - are in his office.
He attends as many Nuggets, Avalanche, Rockies and Broncos games in Denver as he can, and
he talks sports, especially with his younger patients. He can afford those tickets; private practice has made him affluent.
Mitchell never has married [NOTE: He and Pam married a few years
later], but his nephew - Dennis - lived with him and attended Air Academy High in Colorado Springs, where he
was a basketball standout. At home, Uncle O's standards were stringent. So stringent, in fact, that Dennis must have thought
he'd joined the Air Force. Done your homework? Done the dishes? You're not going anywhere until you've studied.
"It's the thing I tell all the kids who come into my office," he says.
"They play sports and they talk about how important sports are, and I tell them how important the academic background
is. People can be good, even great, at sports, and it's not enough. You need something to fall back on."
Heard that before, haven't we? And haven't all those
kids who pass through his office? But this man — who never even had a chance to try pro football — can say it
with unusual credibility.
December 19, 2018
The three young(ish) stars
on Denver's court, ice and field
I'll start with a quiz.
Who's the oldest?
Avalanche sixth-year pro Nathan
Nuggets fourth-year pro Nikola Jokic?
Or Broncos rookie Phillip Lindsay?
And the correct answer is...
Lindsay. He was born
in July 1994 and is 24.
Jokic, born in February 1995, is 23.
MacKinnon, born in September 1995, also is 23. Yes, the hockey player who in
2014 broke in as the NHL's rookie of the year, or the Calder Trophy winner, is the youngest of the three.
That's not meant to
be a manifesto about the merits of the young stars in the NBA, NHL and NFL.
I'm not hockey-centric
to the point of subscribing to the sport's most aggravating argument, that if you're not a hockey-first fan, you shouldn't
be allowed to be a hockey fan at all.
I'm from a football family and I've covered the NFL, NBA and NHL — and in different
ways, like them all.
Lindsay, whom I covered at CU (that's my picture when I spoke with him after the USC
game a year ago), is a terrifc, heartening story, especially in Colorado. I'm not going to insult you by saying why. You know
why. You've heard the reasons 17 kazillion times, to the point where they have become cliches.
Rather, it's an illustration of just how different the sports' pipelines are.
MacKinnon took time to develop after being the NHL's top overal pick in 2013, when
he still was 17 years old. Other No. 1 overall picks, usually those touted as "generational" talents, have been
immediately among the league's absolute elite. MacKinnon wasn't until his breakout 2017-18, when he finished second to New
Jersey's Taylor Hall in the Hart Trophy (MVP) voting. Accept that at face value, and he was his league's second-best player
last season. The truth was, he deserved to win it.
Now ... I know someone's going to try to make this a knock on
Jokic and Lindsay. It's not. Actually, I think it's pretty darned exciting and invigorating that Lindsay, Jokic and Lindsay
all are on the Colorado sports scene at the same time. They're all elite.
But MacKinnon came close to winning his league's MVP at age 23. As terrific as they are, is anyone pretending that
Lindsay or Jokic are among their league's top handful of players?
don't think so.
That's how far MacKinnon has come
in a year.
December 17, 2018
With raised expectations, mediocre
isn't good enough for Avalanche
Semyon Varlamov, all by his lonesome at the top of his crease
I now check in with the Avalanche
intermittently, and always at home. That's as opposed to being part of the coverage when Denver's newspaper sent a writer
on the road for Avalanche games.
I was on the NHL beat when it could mean sandwiches at Patrissy's, pizza at Gino's
East, wings at Gabriel's Gate, calamari steak at Original Joe's, a burger while standing in the parking lot at
Tommy's, even an orchestra seat at "Mamma Mia."
Well, that and hockey, of course, being around the Avalanche and immersing myself in
the day-to-day routine of practices, morning skates, games and the contact work that's a part of doing a major-league job
covering a major-league team on a beat-writer basis.
now that my contact is infrequent, checking in for snapshots, my perspective is different -- including this season. In one
sense, stepping back enables me to see a bigger picture. I'm not caring about lines at the morning skate. (Actually, I never
did, but at least had to pretend to.)
Two years removed from the worst bang-for-the-buck season in NHL history, when Colorado
amassed a dreadful 48 points while scraping the salary-cap ceiling in 2016-17, and one season removed from an unlikely rebound
to a playoff berth, the Avalanche has been mercurial so far this season.
And we're grousing -- yes, me,
too -- about that inconsistency, about the ups and downs, about what seem to be the too-frequent clinkers interspersed through
the road-dominated schedule so far.
I get it, but
then I look at the NHL standings for the first time in a few days, rather than checking them daily, and I see that the Avalanche
is ensconsed in the top five of the Western Conference and then consider that the NordiCanadian top line of Nathan MacKinnon
centering Mikko Rantanen and Gabe Landeskog remains the most electric in the league, and it strikes me that the standards
have been raised. Not quite back to what they were in the franchise's glory years, when anything but the Stanley Cup was a
disappointment, but at least getting back into that realm.
After their 4-1 loss at home to the Islanders Monday night, the Avs were 18-10-6, positioned to
meet the Predators again in the first round if the standings look this way at the end of the regular season. (Which they likely
won't., but...) Colorado has been 1-3-1 in its last five and 3-4-2 in its last nine. But I'll come back to this: When I took
a look at the schedule when it came out, my initial reaction was that if the Avalanche could be in a playoff position at Christmas,
that would be praiseworthy. Of the 37 pre-Christmas games, 16 are at home.
The biggest problems are that the Avalanche is only 7-4-3 at home, and it has gotten
substandard goaltending. Yes, Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer have had good nights, and folks have slobbered all over
themselves pointing it out, but major-league goaltenders are supposed to play that way consistently. Varlamov is 22nd and
Grubauer – who at least has benefited from great goal support — is 41st among qualifiers in goals-against average,
and Grubauer's save percentage (.897) is below the Astrom Line. They were supposed to be 1 and 1A. They've been more like
2A and 2B.
(By the way, can
we stop portraying every opposing goaltender as having been larcenous, even when giving up four goals to the Avalanche in,
say, a 6-4 Colorado loss? In the NHL, when the opposing goalie is good and makes some tough saves, it's called ... the NHL.
When the Colorado
coach is condescending, it's a sure sign that the goalie hasn't been good enough, as was the case when Varlamov allowed three
goals on 20 shots against the Islanders.
"He was OK," Jared Bednar said of Varlamov.
"Our whole team, I thought we were just OK. I thought they (the Islanders) were the hungrier team tonight."
no excuse for that.
"It changes daily for me," Bednar said of his perspective. "I'm not
concerned. I believe in our team and what we're capable of doing. I just feel like we're just not as sharp and as crisp as
we were earlieer. And that's why we win one, lose one, and that's where we're at right now. I think the urgency has to come
back in our game.
"Look, I didn't feel like our team was real urgent, right from the drop of the
puck. And I thought they were. They're a hungry team and they're playing well. They're one of the best defensive teams in
the Eastern Conference right now for goals-against, so it's hard to come by. I think at times we want it to be easier than
it's going to be."
It's never easy.
December 7, 2018
Stories in December issue of Mile High Sports Magazine,
Nathan MacKinnon (professional athlete of year)
Jared Bednar (professional coach of year)
Read them here in Digital issue
December 6, 2018
Mike Boryla makes his annual
appearance at MSU Denver class...
he's still swinging at windmills
While making his annual appearance at my Journalism 3130
class at Metropolitan State University of Denver Thursday,
Mike Boryla flashed back to his appearance a year ago
and told my students a story -- a story I hadn't known about.
A year ago -- at the sppearance chroinicled below, Mike and
I walked part of the way across campus together after class,
going our separate ways at the parking garage. Mike went into
the garage and I continued on to the Tivoli Center.
Mike said he decided to walk up
the flight of stairs to his car.
Bad decision. He said a couple
of students noticed he was
struggling and helped him the rest of
He said he related this story to his wife, Annie, when he
arrived at home in Castle Rocki, and then made the doctor
to start the process that would lead to him
getting knee replacements.
And he said he felt
In the past year, Mike has written a screenplay
fior a proposed fllm
about Jim Plunkett, whom he backed up at Stanford
over as the starter for two years. And he has continued
against the NFL.
I've pasted my On
the Colorado Scene column about
Mike's appearance a year ago
below, and it all still applies.
Mike Boryla: Ex-Eagles
Mike Boryla (Photo by Taylor Oxenfeld)
Former Regis High, Stanford and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback
Mike Boryla is on a crusade. To kill football.
Boryla, who lives in Castle Rock, visited my
Journalism 3130 class
at Metropolitan State University of Denver to tell my students
about that ... and a lot more.
Those of us in Boryla's e-mail chain receive frequent fiery missives about
the NFL, citing the scourge of CTE and the league's
maneuvering to downplay
impact -- yes, despite the $1 billion settlement designed to make money
available to affected former players. Boryla even has argued that the
could be declared
a terrorist organization, shutting it down and subjecting
its revenues to confiscation. He told my class he knew that wasn't going to
happen, but he takes that stance
to make a point.
Boryla talked about the toll he
has seen brain injuries take on former teammates,
including with the Eagles and also All-Star Games, as was the case with Mike
Webster, the former Steelers center who died
at age 50 after many years of
physical and psychological problems. And he also addressed what be believes
is the continued underplaying of studies demonstrating the seriousness
the denial of current players who often seem to believe it can't
or won't happen to them.
Boryla recently underwent a first wave of neurological testing as part
his discussions with the medical professionals involved set off
bells of recognition. When he was an accomplished tax attorney for nearly
20 years and was entering his
potentially prime years in the climb-the-ladder
profession, he began having cognitive problems and not feeling comfortable
with the fine-print legalistic rhetoric so ingrained
in the legal field. He moved
into mortgage banking from 2004-11, but even then, he began feeling more
creative and soon he dove enthusiastically into writing.
He believes the creative right side of his brain
was taking over. The
analytic side of his brain was giving up control.
Boryla suffered three significant concussions as a player, one at Regis
and two with the Eagles.
Now, at 66, Boryla considers himself a full-time
playwright and screenwriter,
best known for his one-man play, "The Disappearing Quarterback," peformed
30 times in two separate runs at Plays and Players
Theatre in Philadelphia
seven times in Denver at the Bug Theatre and the Denver Center for the
Performing Arts' Loft Theatre.
After a performance during the play's second run in Philadelphia,
got word backstage that
a man in the audience was asking if he
could meet with the play's star. Boryla agreed, and soon he was having a
heart-to-heart with the audience member.
The man explained
his name was Bill Musgrave, he had been raised in
Grand Junction, and like Boryla, he also had won the Gold Helmet
goes to Colorado high school football's top player-scholar.
Musgrave revealed he was the Eagles' quarterback
He also said he
had enjoyed the play, and the two men talked about --
among other things -- the Biblical references and the quarterback craft.
The two men haven't yet had a reunion since Musgrave
joined the Broncos'
but it could happen at some point.
The play Musgrave and many others have seen and enjoyed opens with
Boryla alone on the dark stage. After 35 seconds
of organ music, the
hears him calling a play in the Eagles' huddle in 1975. "All right,
men," he says, breathing hard, "third-and-7, we need this!
Black right zip ...
pass 37 ... 655 choice. 'Khunya,' watch for the red dog."
Forty-two years ago, that was Boryla's way of asking the Eagles' all-pro
tackle, Jerry Sisemore, to be vigilant on the play-action pass.
In the theater,
spotlight then shines on the face of Boryla. And the plays -- both
the football play portrayed and the stage play itself -- take off.
Boryla suffers a concussion on "Black right zip
Then Boryla's script flashes back
to earlier stages of his life, and of his
football career. The work is in the tradition of Hal Holbrook playing
Mark Twain or Julie Harris playing Emily Dickinson
plays. Except Mike Boryla plays Mike Boryla.
When Mike was born, his father, Vince, was playing for the New York
Knicks. Vince later spent time as GM of the Knicks,
Utah Stars and the
Nuggets, and the family moved to Denver and made it the
Boryla base when Mike was in the third grade. At Regis High, then
still in North Denver along with what then was
known as Regis College,
took Latin for four years and loved his coaches, Dick Giarrratano
in football and Guy Gibbs in football. Though he won the Gold Helmet
in 1968, four years after Bobby Anderson and
two years after Freddie
Steinmark, he was a more accomplished basketball player and went
to Stanford on a basketball scholarship.
them into letting me try out for football," he once told me.
"Once I had my second spring practice in football, the coaches came up
to me and said, 'You're not playing
basketball any more. You're a football
two years, he backed up Jim Plunkett, who became and has remained
a close friend, marveling at Plunkett's touching shyness despite his prominence
as a Heisman Trophy winner. Then
he started as a junior and senior and was
drafted in the fourth round by the Bengals in 1974 before his rights were traded
to the Eagles.
He started three
games as a rookie, mostly backing up Roman Gabriel,
and still planning on a short career before going to law school.
offseason, before he and his wife, Annie, were married, he lived in his
van in the Bay area.
After the second of his three seasons with the
Eagles, as an injury
following the dropping out of Fran Tarkenton and Roger
Staubach, Boryla came on late in the Pro Bowl to replace Jim Hart and
threw two touchdown passes to lead the NFC to
Boryla told my class that he hadn't even expected to play, but Eagles
tight end Charle Young went to NFC coach Chuck Knox and insisted
on it. Then, Boryla said, the
two TD passes came on the special plays
each QB got to install in the NFC playbook -- the "Boryla Special" and
the "Hart Special."
He was traded to Tampa Bay, sat out the entire 1977 season because of
then played in only one game in 1978 before quitting football for
good. He left a lot of money on the table, walking
away. He was banged
up and he just wasn't interested.
For years, he scrupulously avoided any media exposure. He cited a passage
in Genesis as an instruction to not look back.
But as "The Disappearing
Quarterback's" opening approached, he went along with the need for
publicity and did an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer's Frank
Fitzpatrick. I saw the story and
soon reached out to him to do a newspaper
story here, too. We've been friends since, meeting for coffee in shops that
have become his preferred writing venues. He
joked with my class that
is too quiet and that he doesn't mind writing kids tripping over him
and the voices rising as the caffeine takes effect.
His projects are ambitious and varied, including "The Clone of
which combines material from three of his plays into a 40-page
screenplay treatment; plus the plays "Long Ago and Far Away" and Ministers
On the side, he's taking on football.
Here's a YouTube interview with Mike. Among other things, he calls
the NFL "psychotic."
A couple of my previous
Denver Post stories on Mike Boryla:
December 8, 2013: The Disappearing Gold Helmet winner
July 19, 2015: The Play's the Thing
November 28, 2018
Nathan MacKinnon's biggest accomplishment:
Building on, not resting on, his breakthrough
as he fuels Avalanche's NordiCanadian Line
Nathan MacKnnon aftef the game Wednesday night -- and after the pack discovered him.
While the post-game media pack initially flocked to and surrounded
defenseman Erik Johnson on the far side of the Avalanche dressing room
Wednesday night, I instead pounced on the opportunity to sit down
alone with, first, Mikko Rantanen, and then Nathan MacKinnon.
(I'm not going to try to
explain it, other to confess it
often involves letting team broadcasters
to lead the way and ask at least
the first wave of questions. That's
just the way the post-game
media approach has evolved -- from
maneuvering to get
into one-on-one or small-scrum conversations
with players, to
comfort in numbers.)
This was after the Avalanche's
6-3 win over the Penguins at the
Pepsi Center. The Avs have won
six straight, are 15-6-4 and haven't
lost in regulation since Nov.
9. And their top line, with MacKinnon
centering Rantanen and
Gabe Landeskog, is the top story in the NHL.
A Canadian between a Finn and a Swede, two wingers from
Nordic nations? I'm calling them the NordiCanadian Line. It's my
choice and I'm sticking to it.
Against the Penguins, MacKinnon had an empty-net goal and three assists;
Landeskog a goal and an assist; and Rantanen two assists. At the
end of the night, Rantanen (42 points) and MacKinnon (41) remained
1-2 in NHL scoring.
"It's not magic," MacKinnon said of the line. "We're even keel and we
come out and dominate. That's our mindset. We're not wondering
where one another is on the ice. It's second nature now, which I think
is real cool. Even when we came in last place (in 2016-17), Mikko
and I developed a good chemistry. Last year, when Gabe got put
on our line, we took off from there."
MacKinnon finished second to Taylor Hall in the Hart Trophy voting
last season. I had written dozens of columns and stories in his first
four seasons, addressing the issue of whether -- or even when -- the
first overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft would break through to
superstardom. He was flashy, he could be breathtaking, but even his
terrific games made you wonder: Why can't be do that every night? He
wasn't billed as a "generational" talent when he went at the top of the
draft in 2013 -- at least not to the extent that Connor McDavid and Auston
Matthews were in ensuing years -- but he needed to be better.
And the switch seemed to flip
last November. After his terrific 2017-18,
he has been even more
impressive so far this season. It's all praiseworthy,
now mostly so because he came back hungry, determined to prove
he hadn't just arrived at superstardom; he was going to stay there.
"You know what?" MacKinnon began. "You always have some doubts
if you can repeat it. That was uncharted territory for me last season, when
I put up almost 100 points. Coming from 50 the season before that to 100,
you don't really know if you can do it again. I feel comfortable now I can
do it again. Obviously, playing with Mikko and Gabe, we're continuing on
success from last year. I've had tons of help, but it obviously feels good
that I can repeat it and hopefully be a dominant player in this league for
a long time."
Because both the Avalanche (at Nashville) and Penguins (at Winnipeg)
had played on the road Wednesday night, MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby,
'who had a hat trick against the Avalanche in accounting for all three
Pittsburgh goals, hadn't been able to go to dinner the night before their
teams' meeting in Denver. The two buddies from Halifax -- offseason
training partners and co-stars of hilarious annual Tim Hortons
commercial campaigns in Canada -- will have to wait on that until
next week, when their teams meet again at the PPG Paints Arena.
"I said hi to
him after the game," MacKinnon said. "When we go to
next week, it will be fun to catch up with him. He's one of
closest buddies. We work out together every day in the summer,
it's more than a professional friendship. We're close and I took at
as a brother. In the back of my mind, or whatever, it's cool to see
him get a hat trick. He's such a legend and it was a real cool game to be
In assessing the Avalanche's start, MacKinnon played the us-against-the-
"It's a lot of fun," he said. "At the beginning of the season, we were
of written off again. Obviously, we're on a good winning streak
now. I think we're a really fast team. We're coming
together. To beat
Nashville and the Penguins back to back is cool.
It shows our growth
and our maturity. We gave up a three-goal lead
tonight and we didn't
assists against the Penguins left him with 32
for the season, also
a league-high and two more than Toronto's
Mitch Marner. The question
becomes: Is MacKinnon making
Rantanen or is Rantanen making MacKinnon.
And the answer
"We're just helping each other,"
MacKinnon said. "I don't think one
or the other i helping each
other more. He's such a special player.
'I think we're just making each
At that point, the mob arrived, I thanked MacKinnon and stepped
A little earlier, Rantanen told me (and these are not biiled as revlations): "It's a
lot of fun. The team is winning now and it feels good. It's th best feeling when
you win six in a row."
The Line, he said, "as been together a long time. We've
been together almost
the whole season last year and 25 games here,
so you get to know each other.
It's two good players there. We like
to talk before the games about what
we do and there's a natural
Whatever it is, it's working.
November 25, 2018
A Fun -- and Freezing -- afternoon
with small-town, small-school football
As Strasburg coach Jeff Giger addressed his team after the Indians' 13-7 loss to Limon
Class 1A state title game Saturday, a few -- OK maybe more than a few -- of the
couldn't hold back tears.
Let me check my splotchy notes and scoring summary,
a stenographer's notebook with a green Flair pen — not a
choice — as I alternately wandered up and down each sideline
Strasburg High's Winter Field Saturday afternoon.
It looks as if someone named "Gzuw%hdy$@Z" scored the tie-breaking
touchdown for the Limon Badgers in their 13-7 win over the Strasburg
Indians in the Class 1A state championship game that was a matchup
of schools in the small towns along Interstate 70 east of Denver.
In the fourth quarter,
a driving, wet snow turned horrible,
game-long windswept conditions
into something worse.
For the record, sophomore fullback Kory Tacha scored that
tie-breaking touchdown, two plays after Braden Sandersfeld
a spectacular leaping and then falling catch of a Cannan
pass for a 38-yard gain that got the Badgers to the 1.
It was Tacha's
second TD of the game, and it stood up as the
Badgers won their
18th football state championship.
Here's how windy it was, with the gale blowing north to south:
One of the key plays in the game was a 1-yard Strasburg punt,
giving Limon possession at the Indians' 22 early in the third
quarter, leading to Tacha's first score.
It wasn't even a bad punt. In mid-flight, the wind just
shifted it into reverse.
Limon won another state championship.
To many Coloradans, Limon is known for three things.
It's the town that serves as
directional reference at Colorado
and freeway intersections, even if Siri mispronounces
You've seen it mentioned on signs thousands of
times, even if you've never been there.
It's also the home of the wonderfully
Lincoln Theatre — which has "The
Grinch" and "A Star is
Born" coming up on its marquee
and its screens over the
next couple of weekends.
And its high school
long has been a Colorado lower-enrollment
football power, dating
back to when the Badgers won 10 state
titles in 38 seasons under
legendary coach Lloyd Gaskill, who
was inducted in the Colorado
Sports Hall of Fame in 1981 and
died in 1998.
I was at the game helping jump-start the Greeley Tribune's
new venture, The Playbook, tied to the Patriot League -- of
which Strasburg is a member in most sports. Only in football,
it instead is in the Class 1A Northern Conference.
The Indians, who
had fallen 36-6 to Limon in the regular
season, almost pulled off
the upset of the undefeated Badgers
Saturday. I enjoyed the rejuvenating
visit to small-town high
school football — all except for
Strasburg's Trystan Graf (34) heads left against Limon. Other Indians are Chad Sutherland (51),
Russell (5), Eddie Duron (57) and Owen Strain (75).
the short drive from the I-70 exit to Strasburg's Main
parked rig was strategically positioned with signs
cheering on the
visiting Badgers as they passed by in their
bus. Nobody in Strasburg
seemed to object.
At the high school, windows of trucks and cars parked outside
the gym and locker room were painted with the Strasburg players'
numbers and best wishes.
Near the entrance gate at Winter Field, if you bought an official program,
encompassing the state playoffs in all classes, you were pre-warned
handing over your $5 that the roster information
for Limon was wrong.
On the visiting side of the
stadium, many Limon boosters pulled up to the
and watched from the heated interiors or braved the elements as they
stood near them. Near them, the heavily costumed Badger mascot turned
out to have made the best clothing choice in the stadium.
At the concession hut on the Strasburg side, an event grill
was set up,
and for $3.50, you got a hot dog, chips and drink. Or
a burger for $3.
The weather was beautiful an hour before the 1 p.m. kickoff. The game
should have started then, or at 10. It was almost as if the coin flip flipped
a switch, and the winds began, soon whipping angrily from north to south
and making being on the field or in the stands an adventure, long before
the snow started.
Check out the flag. That's how hard the wind was blowing. And
it was unrelenting.
I gave the tiny Del Hemphill Press Box a shot, climbing up the metal
stairs beyond the top of the bleachers, and picked up a sheet with
information from both teams. The public address announcer,
Strasburg math teacher Kevin Hemphill, pulled out an extra
his clipboard for me and as he
ran down the starters on the public-address
on both sides of the ball for both teams — yes, most starters play
both ways — I noted their positions. In green.
There was a
story there, as I was reminded when former Longmont
sportswriter Steve Hemphill entered the press box wearing
a Strasburg jersey and told me that he now is the sports editor of the
Roanoke (Va.) Times.
Hemphill? It turned out that Steve and Kevin's father, Del Hemphill,
whom the press box and the adjacent middle school are named, was
district's superintendent and the P.A. "Voice"
at the Indians' games for
nearly 30 years
before his 2004 death. And now Kevin's son
nephew, A.J., was a sophomore wide receiver for Strasburg, part of
the team hoping to knock off their I-70
The Strasburg side of the field. Fans were bundled up, and so were the cheerleaders.
From there, I went down to the field, determined to be reminded of my
early days in the profession, when keeping my own play-by-play and
stats on the sideline — while seeing and overhearing the banter on the
benches and field — were part of the fun.
one point, I dropped my roster sheet and panicked as it flew away.
never did properly thank the man who stepped on it and handed it
At halftime in the car, I took a picture of the sheet
for backup, because
I wasn't sure how many copies existed and I
didn't want to climb back
up those stairs to see if there were
Amid the awful weather conditions, the Indians came close.
Limon fans celebrate the final seconds rolling off the clock
and another state championship.
When it was over, as Strasburg coach Jeff Giger gathered
around him and, perhaps noticing the tears and sobs
told the Indians he was proud of them.
He told them that coming up short couldn’t change that.
A few minutes later, after stepping
away from his team, he told me why.
“All year, we’ve had adversity and they bounced back,” Giger said.
had so many different injuries to different guys in different
they kept fighting and giving themselves a chance. That
was a good football
team we played. We had every opportunity. They
just made the play.”
The Indians scored
on their first possession of the game, going 45 yards
plays and finishing it off with sophomore running back Trystan
5-yard run. But that was it for Strasburg, and the heartbreaker
midway through the fourth quarter, when Limon had the 13-7 lead.
Strasburg sophomore quarterback Collin Russell scrambled on fourth-and-3
from the Badgers’ 21 and hit a wide-open receiver standing alone just over
the goal line.
The problem was, the receiver – this is high school, we’ll leave his
name out – dropped it.
And Limon held on.
“It sucks,” Russell told me as I hoped the wet recorder was working.
“I just feel bad for the seniors. I know the sophomores and juniors
will come back next year. And we’ll get one.”
and lineman Eddie Duron stopped to take hugs of
his family as he walked to the dressing room.
“We got to where we wanted to be,” he
said. “But we didn’t come up with
the big one.”
He conceded that the weather played a factor.
affected our passing game a lot,” he said. “We have a real excellent
quarterback and now I have to wish him luck in the future. We all worked
our butts off, beginning in the summer workout program in June, and
we’re really disappointed to come this far and not get the victory.”
Even if they're
not in the Patriot League in football, they represented
In this terrific shot by Jeff Tucker, Limon's Braden Sandersfelt makes the crucial catch that gets
Badgers to the Strasburg 1 and sets up the tie-breaking touchdown.
POSTSCRIPT: Then I went to the Steelers-Broncos game Sunday.
The press box was a little bigger.
November 13, 2018
Nuggets' rainbow skyline
logo back on the horizon
The Nuggets are wearing the new version
of their rainbow skyline logo
uniforms against the Houston
Rockets as I type.
As the unveiling approached, I was asked about them by several
who knew or discovered that I was covering the Nuggets -- as a
young beat writer who covered both NHL and NBA teams for
seven seasons while still in my 20s -- when they first wore the
It was a long time ago and I won't guarantee the accuracy,
but this is
how I remember
The Nuggets had a contest. They unveiled the new jerseys
at a news
conference and also
surprised us by bringing out a fellow named Kiki
Vandeweghe as the model in the jersey and saying he just had agreed
to a new contract. This was after weeks of checking with his agent,
Vandeweghe (his uncle),
about the progress of the negotiations.)
the winning jersey designer came and saw me at the Denver
Post. (Some of you might know ... I used to work there.) He brought
As I remember it, he was mildly upset that the team
hadn't followed his design EXACTLY and showed me his original
to have it on the record. I think the differences were
minor. I did an item on it for the notebook of odds and
Denver's teams we did on the scoreboard page. I don't remember
the exact time frame of the meeting,
whether it was before or during
the season. I don't remember the artist's name. Sorry. But it's in
the Post archives
I'm pretty certain he wouldn't like
these latest incarnations with
its lines rather than solid colors.
November 11, 2018
State of Colorado football
season officially is a fiasco
One Nov. 17 addition:
I admit it was harder to make the
argument to bring back Mike MacIntyre at CU
after he this week trashed the players he inherited, noting
the program was at low ebb and a laughingstock when he took
over and it took a while to get "my
guys" in to the program. He's right.
But it's bush league to say it, even after the fact. The best coaches,
even if for solely pragmatic reasons,
embrace the players they
and get the most out of them. (See Jim McElwain...at CSU.)
Perhaps one of the
reasons for the Buffs' inability to win games
even when competitive in MacIntyre's
early seasons was the
within the program that their coach wasn't buying into the
I was pondering which dateline to put on this column about the
NFL and the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision college
season in Colorado.
Denver. Boulder. Fort Collins. Colorado Springs.
I came back to this:
In 2018, on the football
front, we are...
FIASCO, U.S.A. --
The 3-6 Broncos didn't lose Sunday, thanks to their bye. I don't
agree that Vance Joseph, shown above after the loss to the Texans at
home last week, invitably will be fired, because if Denver wins, say,
five of the final seven and/or seems to demonstrate that its inexperienced
head coach has made significant progress down the stretch, a case can
be made to bring him back.
I'm serious. It could happen.
Look, despite all the hand-wringing over Joseph's clock management
and decision-making against Houston, the fact is if one one the best kickers
in the NFL, Brandon McManus, had just done his job and drilled the
51-yarder in the final seconds, the Texans would have been walking
off despondently, the Broncos would have been celebrating a one-point
win and there would have been no discussion about whether John
Elway would fire Joseph the next morning. When McManus ran back
over to the sideline and unleashed a practice kick into the net before
coming back on to try to make the game-winner, it had the look of a
guy tightening up.
(Yes, I wondered that at the time.)
Short of a bold and even surprising
move in choosing an interim
head coach, firing Joseph at this point
would accomplish nothing.
Finish out the year, give him a chance
for the shocking turnaround,
take stock -- and then make the change,
if it still seems warranted.
say the same alternatives should be on the table if the Broncos
blown out on the "road" against the Chargers and are 3-7 heading
into the final six weeks. Keep Joseph or do something that cuts against
the grain of the concentional in that situation.
What qualifies as a
Go back to the Broncos' quarterback depth chart from the 1980s.
John Elway or Gary Kubiak.
Bear with me.
could put on a coaching hat and headset for the rest of the
and get a close-up, hands-on look at the roster he has created.
includes taking stock of whether Case Keenum ever
can be anything
more than a stopgap -- which is what he appears
to be now. He has
been, well, Case Keenum. Absolutely, Elway
does that sort of evaluation
and conclusion-drawing all the time
from the exexutive's office
and often walks with the ex-quarterback's
hurting gait onto the
practice field, but this would be different.
Make no mistake, the coordinators
-- Bill Musgrave and Joe Woods --
would "coach" the team.
Elway would be the coaching staff's overseeing
CEO (with sideline
involvement, it would be more direct than it is now),
time-management and basic (Punt? Field goal? Go for it?)
decisions, plus pitching in with opinions about the basic play-
The same outline could be in effect for Kubiak, who of course has
head-coaching experience and would be capable of more direct
we're all misreading the situation and Kubiak, he
has washed his
hands of coaching -- mainly for health reasons -- and
want to do this.
Neither would Elway, the son of a coach who early on realized what
a fickle business that was.
But if the decision
is to fire Joseph during the season, it's worth a try.
To whatever extent possible in the NFL under the CBA
contracts, have the players auditioning for the
BUFFALOES: I was fooled, too. Five weeks ago, I was at Folsom Field,
watching CU beat Arizona State to get to 5-0, and listening to Mike
MacIntyre, plus Leviska Shenault and his teammates after the game.
This was a nice story, a CU program rebounding from a desultory
2017, which notably closed with a horrific showing at Utah that left
the Buffs looking as if they had zero interest in achieving bowl
The start was illusionary.
Nebraska is awful in its first year under
Scott Frost, UCLA is awful
in its first year under Chip Kelly, Arizona
State is only mediocre in
its first year under Herm Edwards (sense
a trend here?), New Hampshire
was the paycheck breather and CSU is ... well, I'll get to CSU in a minute.
Shenault was an electric difference-maker until his turf-toe injury, but his
absence until the Wahington State loss Saturday, and the Buffs'
injuries, doesn't completely explain the collapse. This is a team with
a schedule that looked tougher, based on programs' traditions,
it was. This is a 5-5 football team.
The record is what the Buffs are.
weird thing is that even the subsequent road losses at USC
wouldn't rule the Buffs out of contention in the
Pac 12 South.
The leader, Utah, has three conference losses.
So what of MacIntyre in his sixth season?
him back. And when I say that, I'm not going along with the reason
often cited for the retention of coaches in this era. You've heard it,
it will come up again when I get to Mike Bobo's situation at CSU.
can't afford to fire him.
The position isn't rdiculous. MacIntyre would be due just a shade under
$10 million if he's fired after this season. That's not all that eyebrow-
raising -- well, maybe it is, but you know what I mean -- in this era,
'which is why I long ago felt "sympathy" for fired head coaches
regardless of how absurd boosters' expectations are. That's nice work
if you can get it.
CU can't start over again.
that simple. MacIntyre is recruting with facilities that at least stack
with the rest of the Pac 12 -- outside of Oregon -- and required some
of the original financial requirements to get them built.
inherited a program at low ebb. Give him one more year.
I despise giving boosters the right to fire coaches, but the fact is,
someone truly wants MacIntyre out, the out-of-whack financial
of the coaching profession mean that if the money can be
or ticketed to oust him, that changes things. But I'm saying
reasoning, involving the good of the program and not
sympathy for Mike MacIntyre, should lead to his return.
When I spoke with Bobo in his office during pre-season
for a Mile High Sports Magazine profile, he remarked after
the formal interview that he was having numbness issues in his
in the wake of his offseason knee replacement. It turned out,
course, that he was away from the program for a spell and
affected through the season. He's still struggling, as
by watching him on the sideline during the 49-10
thumping at Reno
That affected CSU this season.
It's part of the explanation for the 3-7 season, but not sufficient
Here's why the Rams' struggles
are even more problematic than CU's:
All momentum toward becoming
a perennial Mountain West power,
and a bona fide candidate to step
up to a Power Five league, is gone.
We probably overrate the current state of programs in assessing
chances of programs moving up, but it's still an issue. CSU was
taken seriously as the
Big 12 considered, and deciding against, getting
back to 12 teams. That probably wouldn't be the case now, and the
chief spokesman for the cause -- Tony Frank -- is stepping down as
presidnt to concentrate on his chancellor duties for the CSU system.
But even the more modest goal, and one that is eminently reasonable,
of joining Boise State as the Nountain West's most recognizable and
nationally respected program, is in danger of becoming a longshot.
the investment in the stadium and facilities, and even CSU's
reputation as a vibrant, first-class public university, this
an impossible-to-justify setback. Bobo himself is refreshing, often
like an unhappy booster in both setting expectations and
to setbacks, but when you have those buyouts ... and Bobo's
be $8 million if he's fired after this season.
Jim McElwain and his staff did a tremendous job in
building up to,
and coaching through, that 2014 season. But to be
fair, he at times took
an approach that sacrificed longer-term for
the present, and Bobo has
had to deal with that. But he also has
been victimized by what now
has to be considered a suspect strategy
of recruiting the Southeastern
Conference territory hard. There have been major successes there,
most notably Michael Gallup (and that was via the JC route),
on balance the conclusion has to be
that accepting second-tier talent
SEC country won't lead to Mountain West dominance.
saying focusing on Colorado prep talent is the way to go is
wrong approach, too. It has to be a mix.
The same goes for Bobo's buyout and future. He should have a chance
to dig out. Until 2017, he was recruiting off a model and plans and later
a construction site. Absolutely, that should have kicked in sooner, and
it hasn't. But I'm pretty sure that if there isn't a turnaround, nobody's
going to have to chase out Bobo.
FALCONS: This isn't going to change. In today's era, Troy Calhoun
former AFA quarterback, cadet and assistant coach -- is the right
in the right place. The Falcons are 4-6 and they beat Navy and
Army. Air Force generals are restless, but nobody else
October 26, 2018
Matt Duchene's return to Denver
with Senators a bit misty
In the good, ol' days ... Matt Duchene as an Avalanche
tributes go, it was understated. But the first-period mention on the
Center scoreboards with a welcome back still got to Ottawa
center — and that still seems a bit funny to say — Matt Duchene
"My favorite part, for me, was the tribute and the reception from
the fans," Duchene said in the visiting dressing room after the Avalanche's
6-3 win over the Senators. "I teared up, for sure."
I asked him how misty he got
... and why he got misty.
"Because I think it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life,"
he said of his late 2016 trade request. "It was never something I
wanted to do. It was something I felt I had to. Sometimes that's life
and that's the business. Just the signs in warmup and the people that
were being so kind. You touch the puck, you're going to get booed,
that's normal. Avs fans are competitive and you kind of expect that.
"But I'm very
grateful to the Avalanche organization for how they
all night and the fans also. They mean a lot to me and
About 30 seconds after the tribute, Duchene — who came into the game with
only one goal for the season — scored the first of his two goals of the night.
"I think I saw
tears in my eyes and [Cody Ceci] just hit my stick," Duchene
"I had so mch emotion going until midway through the second, I could
hardly breathe out there. The altitude definitely doesn't help, either."
His second goal, at
10:32 of the second, gave the Senators a 3-2 lead before
Matt Duchene and his wife, Ashley, at a Nuggets game shortly
he was traded a year ago.
Duchene's friends and
family — including his pregnant wife, Ashley, who is
the Denver area — watched it unfold from the private box Matt bought
for the night.
Duchene still owns a home in the area, and that's not likely to change in the
"I'll never cut ties here," he said. "Denver will aways be a home for
and I could definitely see myself coming back here one
day, whether it's
to play or to retire here. It's definitely in
the realm of possibility, absolutely.
I grew up here. I feel like
I grew up more here than I ever did before. I'm
to the people of Denver and to the organization."
This was such a story. One you could make up, but it would seem corny.
The kid from Haliburton, Ontario, who grew up idolizing the Avalanche's
glory years teams and especially the stars, including Joe Sakic. He had a
framed and signed Sakic jersey hanging in his basement.
and during Colorado's development camp attended Sakic's retirement news
conference. He didn't get to play with Sakic, but eventually under him
when Sakic moved to the top of the hockey front office hierarchy in 2013.
And his coach was another of his heroes, Patrick Roy.
Matt Duchene and Jared Bednar
So what went wrong?
Among other things involving dressing room and organizational
politics, Duchene didn't like playing wing and preferred
center, a problem given the emergance of Nathan MacKinnon. As
tempting as it is to think of MacKinnon on the wing and Duchene
centering the top line ... the issue is whether that would have slowed
or even halted MacKinnon's development, and the question is whether
the other wing is Gabe Landeskog or Mikko Rantanen. Or even whether
it could have been anywere close to as effective and electrifying as the
Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen is now. Or whether Duchene could have
accepted long-term centering the second line, for a team with scoring depth,
or playing on MacKinnon's wing long-term. What's forgotten is something
MacKinnon himself repeatedly pointed out when he went on a tear after
the trade and he was asked if Duchene's departure had been a part of that.
He and Duchene by that time weren't on the same line, anyway, and the
top line had been seeing the opposing top defensive parirings. So
nothing had changed there.
Also, with Duchene's "bridge" contract and then a long-term deal
that set the bencharks and a so-called Duchene ceiling for a team that
touted its "structure," Duchene had been a good soldier there.
So the Avalanche first
was open to listening to offers for Duchene before
he made the request
himself, ultimately leading to the bizarre 15-second
he made to the media after reporting to training a year ago,
then the Nov. 5 three-way trade that sent him to the Senators and
the Avalanche so much, Herschel Walker could have called
a talk show and claim he no longer was the standard for a single
bringing a haul in return.
A year ago,
after the trade was announced during the Avalanche's
game against the Islanders in Brooklyn, Duchene mused as he walked
and the media followed, that there was a story to be told here and maybe
some day it would come out.
I asked him about that.
"I don't remember saying that," he said, matter-of-factly. "But what's
in the past is in the past. I've moved on. I don't think I've ever
been happier playing the game and happier with my personal
life, obviously. I've got a a little guy on the way and I'm
happy. That's what I was searching for, and that's what I found.
We'll see what my future holds. I've really enjoyed playing here in
you know what he meant.
Stories in October Mile High Sports Magazine*:
*With an Avalanche on-the-glass season-ticket holder on the cover.
- Joe Sakic feature
- A look at Eagles' move to AHL: Could it screw up a good thing?
Stories in September Mile High Sports Magazine:
- Catching up with Joel Klatt
- The life
and times of Mike Bobo
Mile High Sports, July 2
Staying the course banks on improvement
Mile High Sports, June 30
Cam Morrison, Avs' No. pick in 2016, on remaining at Notre Dame for junior season
Mile High Sports, June 14
How dare you go to Coors Field for fun!
Mile High Sports, June 12
Shouldn't football be the last resort for good athletes?
Mile High Sports, June 7
Like sands in the hourglass, so are the days of the Avalanche offseason
Mile High Sports, June 5
The Big Stiff gets his due
Mile High Sports, May 31
Bring back baseball to CU, CSU
Mile High Sports, May 24
It's impossible to make too much of the Golden Knights
Mile High Sports, May 22
Colorado Eagles moving up
Mile High Sports, May 8
Jim Montgomery leaving was a matter of when, not if
Mile High Sports, May 3
You don't have to be a horse racing fan to love the Kentucky Derby
Mile High Sports, April 25
Don't let Nuggets off the hook
Mile High Sports, April 22
Great Season? Yes, if...
Mile High Sports, April 14
Nashville hitting all the right notes
Mile High Sports, April 7
Avs make the playoffs! Avs make the playoffs!
Mile High Sports, April 3
How's this for half-full?
March 19, 2018
Mike Bobo was set on a QB,
but his name is Collin Hill ...
he's injured again
FORT COLLINS -- In his opening remarks at his Monday
conference Monday, Colorado State coach Mike Bobo ran down
injuries heading into spring ball and alluded to what
last week: That presumptive starting quarterback Collin
Hill for the
second time in his stay in Fort Collins suffered a
torn ACL last week
and underwent surgery last Wednesday.
"He's doing good,"
Bobo said hours before the Rams' opened spring
ball with an evening
practice. "He will not be at practice today but
the meetings starting tomorrow."
When the floor was open for questions, I asked: Will Hill be able to play
"I think that's too early to answer, Terry," Bobo said. "That's obviously
the goal anytime a guy gets an injury, is to rehab him as fast as possible
where he's in good health and can play. If there is a silver lining, it
happened now, not a month from now or in fall camp. It happened
right now, so that puts us at about five and a half months, I think,
before the first game, with the first game being in Week Zero
(against Hawaii on August 25).
"It's not out of the question, but it's definitely
a long rehab. I know his
mindset's right. But you can only
go as fast as your knee will let you
That's two ACL
surgeries on the same knee in a year in a half for
a redshirt sophomore in 2018.
He isn't playing.
OK, maybe that's too strong.
It would be a major surprise if he does, and Bobo knows it. That means
he's operating on the assumption he has to find a capable starter from
among redshirt junior J.C. Robles, redshirt freshman Justice McCoy
and walk-on redshirt freshman Judd Erickson.
Or bring in a graduate transfer.
Monday's opening workout of spring drills: Mike Bobo, J.C. Robles (10),
Justice McCoy (2), Judd Erickson (12), new walk-on Salvetti D'Ascoli (13).
"It was going to be a big spring for that position, anyway,"
said of spring ball. "Collin hadn't played since
his first year in game
form. He obviously practiced some, but
he was a little bit rusty and
now it's going to be a big development
for those two guys behind him.
making sure they get a ton or reps
... The spotlight will be on them and
we'll see how they handle
a little bit of pressure."
But then Bobo acknowledged the 2018 starter might not even be on
recruiting, as I said I believe after our first signing day,
did not sign a quarterback in this class, that we would
actively recruit a
quarterback in this offseason, and we're still doing
Neither Dormady nor anyone else would be promised the starting
job, of course. And it's probably unfair to hold the Bauta failure against
anyone else, but another shot for a washout SEC quarterback
isn't the way to go. The best hope is that Robles, at least
established in and familiar with the program, steps up. Or
that McCoy is a star waiting to happen to happen. The other
here is that there is no guarantee that Hill can ever
recover from a second ACL surgery this young
and remain resilient
even if he makes if back on the field.
As a true freshman, Hill had beaten out holdover starter Stevens
and Bauta in 2016 before his knee injury against Utah State at
midseason, on October 8. He redshirted last season as Stevens
had a stong senior year. Then last week, Hill suffered the torn ACL
the same knee playing basketball.
"I was just heartbroken for that kid,
how hard he's worked," Bobo
said. "He's really had a great
offseason in our fourth quarter program.
He's stepped up as
far as being a vocal leader on and off the field. . .
say, 'Hey, he shouldn't have played basketball, live in a bubble,'
I don't have that policy. Guys can get hurt walking down the street.
"It's unfortunate. He has a long rehab ahead
of him, but I know
if anyone can come back from it, it's Collin
Bobo conceded that the Rams' offense might have to be tweeked --
not overhauled, but tweeked -- depending on who emerges as the
"We'll have to do things around that quarterback, of what he can
do and what he can handle," Bobo said. "There are a lot of offenses
we've run here, there are a lot of offenses I've ran at (Georgia). We have
to figure out what we can do as an offense, and we were going to have
to do that anyway. We lost three offensive linemen, we lost some guys
at the outside receiver. We were going to have to figure out who we
were and spring practice will be part of that."
Bobo said that Robles
"has got to be a more accurate passer to play in this
He's got to be better fundamentally with his feet. And he's got to
confident. Part of that is as coaches getting him more opportunities
not necessarily how he plays, but how he projects his voice, how he
to the teammates, how he leads."
Justice McCoy is from New Orleans, and Bobo said he is a better
pure passer -- and less of a multiple threat -- than he was portrayed
to be in recruiting. "I would say J.C.'s probably more of a dual threat
than Justice McCoy," Bobo said. He said McCoy "has put on about 20
pounds since he got here last fall," Bobo said. "I like the way he looks
physically right now. It's going out and putting it together, processing
information for Justice, taking it from the meeting room to the drills,
to the team situations, to the scrimmages, how fast can he process it.
And then Judd, he has gotten a lot of reps in individual and hasn't
had a lot of team situations, and that's usually the case with a kid
that gets redshirted his freshman year. Judd and Justice are pretty
much the same, how do they process. And then it's going to be
taking care of the football."
CSU's new coordinators also met with the media Monday. At left, offensive
line coach-offensive coordinator Dave Johnson; at
right, defensive coordinator
John Jancek. Bobo will remain his own de facto offensive coordinator. Johnson
replaces Will Friend, who left to join the Tennessee staff. Jancek replaces Marty
English, the Colorado
native who initially announced his retirement,
was named to the staff at his alma mater, Northern Colorado.
Mile High Sports, March 18
March 11, 2018
Meanwhile, in Greeley, a legend
in women's hoops has UNC
With all the considerable respect due Becky Hammon -- the most
accomplished basketball player in Colorado State University history
who deserves an interview and full consideration for the men's
program head-coaching position at her alma mater -- there already
is a women's game legend coaching in this state.
Kamie Ethridge, now 53, was a two-time All-American
and won the Wade Trophy as the nation's top collegiate
As a 5-foot-5 senior point guard, she led the Longhorns
undefeated season and an NCAA championship.
She has an Olympic
She was inducted in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
She is one of the true trailblazers in the women's
now, in her four season as the head coach at Northern Colorado,
has been instrumental in transforming the Bears into a nationally
UNC won the Big Sky Conference regular season
title, then on
Saturday routed Idaho 91-69 in the championship game
of the league tournament at Reno.
It all means
that on Monday at 5 p.m.,
Ethridge and the Bears (26-6) will
gather at Cables Pub and Grill,
1923 59th Avenue in Greeley, to watch the NCAA Women's Basketball
Tournament Selection Show and find out where they're headed for
their first game.
and the Bears are one of the most underplayed sports stories
in the state, and that was true before they earned their way into the
NCAA tournament -- a tournament the Pac-12 Colorado Buffaloes
and Mountain West Rams will be watching from the outside. CSU
UNC 55-44 in Greeley in December, but the Bears' non-conference
include those over Louisiana State, DePaul, Denver, San Francisco,
Missouri-Kansas City and Liberty.
Ethridge came to Greeley in April 2014. She had been the
associate coach at Kansas State, working for Deb Patterson,
who now is the UNC program's director of basketball operations.
Ethridge has hoops in her DNA. Her father, John, was a star at Texas
Christian and her mother, Mitzi, was a high school standout in Dimmitt,
Texas. The couple settled in Lubbock. The youngest Ethridge girls,
Kriss and Kamie, went to play at Texas for renowned coach
As the Longhorns' wizard point guard, Kamie controlled games while
rarely shooting. "Team-wise, it was the most fulfilling
experience of my
career, winning that national
championship on an undefeated team with
people you've grown up with," Kamie told me.
Donna Lopiano, later
the president of Sports Management Resources
in Connecticut, was the women's AD at Texas.
had a list of all the Texas athletes I would want to be on my
side if I ever got into a fight," Lopiano told me. "Kamie and (star swimmer)
Jill Sterkel were right at the top. They were the definition
of the will to
ran the team, and how Kamie went, the team went."
the Longhorns from 1976-2007.
"I like to tell a story, but I make sure Kamie isn't
there when I tell it,"
told me. "She was not very tall, not particularly quick, not
a great shooter, but she won the Wade Trophy her senior year -- and
won it averaging five points a game. There was something
about her. We all look
to those players who make everyone else
better, and that is the perfect description of Kamie. She demanded
that her teammates play at a high level."
Team USA's point guard for the 1985 World University
Games, for the 1986 world championships in Moscow, for the 1986
Goodwill Games and for the outset of the 1987 Pan American Games.
Each of those American teams won a gold medal. But she suffered
an anterior cruciate ligament injury at the Pan Am Games and was
less than 100 percent for the 1988 Olympics, where she
"Kay Yow had been our world championships coach and she was picked
again to be the Olympic coach," Ethridge said. "I was part of that group
that had built that, and Kay Yow was very loyal. ... I
tell people all the
you can think of anything you want to do as an athlete, standing
on top of the podium with the national anthem going and a gold medal
hanging around your neck, that is the ultimate."
Deciding that a European pro career -- all that was available at the time;
the WNBA didn't begin play until 1997 -- wasn't for her after playing
one year in Italy, she spent two seasons as an assistant at Northern
Illinois and five at Vanderbilt.
When Patterson, also a Vanderbilt assistant, got the head coaching job
at Kansas State in 1996, Ethridge went with her. "I just got to do so
much, it felt like it was my program too as much as anything," Ethridge
Despite a largely successful tenure at KSU, Patterson,
been under fire for
a variety of reasons, including
many perceived to be mandatory attendance at chapel before
games, was fired after an 11-19 season in 2013-14. The Wildcats
went to the NCAA Tournament nine times in her 18 seasons.
"I understand it's a business and understand an AD thinking that if he
wants to make a change, he probably has to do it then
because the team
is set to be
really good this next year," Ethridge told
me after she
moved to UNC. "But
it's a stab in your heart."
After UNC's Jaime White was hired
at Fresno State, Bears AD Darren
Dunn called Ethridge and
interviewed her in Denver. Twenty-eight
finishing her college career, she was a college head coach.
she first graduated, I thought, no, I don't think she can be a
coach," Conradt told me. "The reason had nothing to do with her
the game or how she could relate to players. I thought
she would be intolerant of people who weren't at her level,
going to drive her crazy. But when I saw what a tremendous teacher
she became, yes, I thought it was past time for her to have her own
program and put her own stamp on a program. I'm so excited
her to finally have that
Lopiano, who after leaving Texas in 1992 was the CEO of
Women's Sports Foundation
for 15 years, said of Ethridge
becoming a head coach: "I've been bugging her for
the past two decades --
your own boss!' Every time I'd see her, I'd ask when she was going
to do that."
She did it at UNC, and she and the Bears are thriving. UNC
83-43 under Ethridge. This season, her two guards named Savannah --
Savannah Scott, from Campbell, California; and
Savannah Smith, from Fort Collins
-- combine to average 35
points a game. And the Bears will go into
the NCAA tournament
riding a 13-game winning streak.
Read about the Bears' Big Sky tournament title here
Mile High Sports, March 10
Uh, Nathan ... bad idea
March 9, 2018
Paul Millsap is back
and adapting to young
cast around him
Veteran forward Paul Millsap played his sixth game
for the Nuggets
Friday night since returning after missing
44 in a row with a wrist
His return wasn't completely
The team Millsap rejoined on the floor was different than the one he
played with in the first 16 games of the season.
Nikola Jokic, 23, while still agonizingly inconsistent,
has looked on many
nights like a star waiting to happen.
still only 20, and Gary Harris, 23, are breaking out.
Emmanuel Mudiay, 20, was written off as a washout as popular
choice at the seventh overall choice in the 2015 draft and sent to the
So now the mandate for the returned Millsap isn't so much to lead as it
is to facilitate the progress of the remaining young core. And also for
that young core to take advantage of Millsap's leadership aura and his
game -- without excessively deferring to him, either.
That doesn't mean
that the veteran forward is free of the obligation to
the best player on the floor some nights. That's not too
to expect for $90 million spread over three seasons. But for the
to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013,
more important, come out of this season with restoked and
hopes for the near future, Millsap must be both that
piece and star -- depending on the night.
On Friday against the Lakers, Millsap had 21 points and 6
rebounds as the Nuggets won 125-116 and by the end of the night were
percentage points behind the Clippers and tied with the Jazz in the
battle for the No. 8 playoff spot in the Western Conference. Murray
had 22 and Jokic 21, and one of Jokic's seeing-eye passes set up
Millsap for a key three-point play down the stretch.
That's the formula that can land the Nuggets
in the postseason.
"No matter who else is on the floor, Nikola has to play his game," said
Nuggets coach Michael Malone. "And understand that he is our guy,
he's our go-to guy, we're going to play through him. Paul is a hell of a
player and once he gets his rhythm back, now we can even become
that more dangerous in our frontcourt with those two guys playing at
a high level. But their rhythm tonight was great, and they played off
each other very well."
I asked Malone how Millsap was molding to this roster of
evolving expectations and roles -- and vice versa -- since
"The great thing about Paul Millsap, and here's a player, a veteran player,
who has 87 playoff games, four All-Stars (games) and he just wants to fit
in," Malone said. "He's not asking for touches, he's not saying give me the
damn ball. He's just out there trying to find ways to fit in and help this
team win. He knew when he came back this team was playing at a high
level. Not many vets would do that, who have accomplished as much as
Paul Millsap has. He's just going out there and molding, to your point,
just playing with our guys and helping Jamal and Gary and Will
Barton, and Nikola, all young players in their own right who play
withthe veteran to learn and make his points whenever he can.
I think Paul's done a good job with his play, but also with his
mindset and his professionalism."
Millsap now is averaging 14.8 points and
"I'm trying to help these guys along the way as much as possible,"
Millsap said. "Prepare them for what's next. They're also helping
me, I get out there and have fun and run and gun with them."
it was his and Jokic's best game together since his return.
"For sure," he said. "We're starting to get a feel for each other. He's
got to be him. Don't worry about me. I'm going to fit in. We run
through him. He's the engine that goes. We're feeding off him and
playing off him and that's when we're at our best."
They're figuring it out.
Mile High Sports, March 6
14 years ago, Steve Moore played his final game for Avalanche
Mile High Sports, March 4
With month to go, Avalanche controls own destiny
March 3, 2018
Question: Would Eustachy's
methods have been OK
if Rams won more games?
CSU's Larry Eustachy during the Rams'
Dec. 2 win over the Buffs in Moby Arena.
Answer to the headline: Of course they would.
This is college basketball, the pastime
in which "legendary" coaches field
fawning national commentators -- many of them ex-coaches
-- who have a pretty good idea what it usually takes to build
maintain perennially winning programs. The rest of us don blinkers,
taking note of when the March Madness contest entry has to be in or of
the Final Four credential application deadline.
Short of the FBI getting involved,
winning answers everything. Vacate a
title later? Who cares?
Whine about it, of course, say it isn't fair to "the
but that championship celebration isn't erased from the memory bank.
On Friday in Fort Collins, CSU
athletic director Joe Parker met with invited
members of the
media to discuss the process that led to the ouster of CSU
Larry Eustachy -- via the $750,000 settlement on the $3.12 million
remaining on his contract. Eustachy was placed on leave on February 3, and
a few weeks later, he was effectively history, despite the small print that
ties him to the athletic department through June.
Parker made it clear that the
examination of the program's "climate" didn't
-- or restart -- until this calendar year. It (and Eustachy's apparent
conduct) "saved" CSU $2.37 million.
It doesn't take a sleuth to infer that the university at least could make
credible case that Eustachy had violated the zero-tolerance
was operating under since president Tony
Frank in 2014 rejected then-AD
Jack Graham's recommendation
to fire the Rams' coach. And that because
of that, this was
a negotiated compromise heavily weighted in CSU's
Reading between the
lines, or even taking the honorable Parker at his word,
this was all sudden. Suddenly, after the Rams' season headed into the
The tricky part there is that reacting to adversity is one of the tests of a
coach. By saying that this came up once the Rams seemed destined for a
disappointing year, I'm not arguing Eustachy was maltreated or he
shouldn't have been held to the zero-tolerance standards he knew were
What I'm saying is, if the Rams got off to a 6-1
start in the Mountain West,
this wouldn't have happened. I'm not
going to go over the same ground I
did in the February 21 commentary
below after attending the Rams' loss
to Boise State at
home, an embarrassing combination of a horrible crowd
a checked-out effort from the Rams with young interim coach Jase
Herl in charge. Reading that would provide more context for what I'm
adding here after additional developments. The major point I would
re-emphasize here is that my I've expressed my respect for Frank and
his accomplishments about a gazillion times in covering and opining
about them over the years. My outlook hasn't changed, and I've been
impressed with Parker since his arrival as Graham's replacement.
In the end, it truly
was about not winning enough games. It's impossible
believe that Eustachy's practice attitude, treatment of players and staff,
or in-game demeanor were that much different in January than in November.
more ways than one, the painful upset loss to Air Force at home
was a major impetus, beginning the season's competitive death spiral and
helping cause Parker to conclude it was time to aggressively check into
what else was out there, curiously in a program with closed, but always
video recorded, practices as part of the watchdog process. The loss dropped
the Rams below .500 in the Mountain West for good, at 3-4, and to 10-10
overall. Until then, a first-division league finish seemed
possible and the
Rams seemed at least capable of playing
entertaining basketball at home.
The Coloradoan reported that Eustachy's obscene tirade at a player during
that game drew the ire of fans behind the bench, among
others, and that it was
audible in the streamed (outside-the-region)
version of the AT&T SportsNet
Rocky Mountain broadcast.
That was January 17.
It took six weeks
for that to come out?
I was there that night. The press rows at Moby now are on the concourse
level, at the corners, so it's not as if we were sitting next to the bench, but
the truth is, so much of this could have -- and arguably should have --
come out sooner and we in the media were, if not asleep, at least lacking
vigilance. Former Collegian sports editor Justin Michael broke the story
Granted, the circumstances
of the results of the 2014 investigation into
not being leaked and disclosed until 2017 were complicated
many reasons, but that material was there for three years.
But after Frank stuck with Eustachy, zero-tolerance was
the official standard.
Eustachy didn't live up to it -- in part, or even mainly, because winning
would have trumped all.
February 25, 2018
Up and down Buffaloes
are up on Senior Day
Dominique Collier in the post-game
Then it was George King's turn
BOULDER -- If you've got this Colorado Buffaloes team figured out ... let me know.
When CU completed a Pac-12 sweep of UCLA Sunday at the Coors
Events Center, beating the Bruins 80-76 four days after a devastating loss to USC at home, it enabled the Buffs to write an
upbeat ending for the regular-season home careers of seniors Dominique Collier, George King, Josh Repine and the injured Tory
With a road game remaining at
Utah in advance of the league tournament, CU now is 16-13 overall and 8-9 in the Pac-12. There still is an impression of underachievement,
because the good nights -- most notably the home wins over Arizona, Arizona State and Stanford and now the pair of wins over
UCLA -- have been tantalizing indications of what this team could (or should) be.
The Buffs shouldn't be in position to need to storm through and win the Pac-12 tournament to get an NCAA
berth, but that's the reality. (I threw in "regular-season" in the above in case the CU ends up with a home game
in the NIT or anything else.)
the two CU seniors who play appreciable minutes had big games Sunday. Collier got his first start of the Pac-12 season and
had 19 points, his most productive home game in his four-season career, and King pitched in with 16.
It was an emotional afternoon for both, but perhaps more so for Colllier, the former Denver East High star who was
a highly-sought recruit but has had a mercurial run with the Buffs.
I suppose you could
say "disappointing," because he didn't become what was projected for him, but he has hung in there, accepted the
downgrading of his role after the arrival this season of freshman McKenzie Wright IV, and ultimately will exit the program
with head held high. His successful recruitment was considered an important coup for Tad Boyle's program as it attempted to
strengthen the relationship with Colorado's high school coaching fraternity, and the way it played out shouldn't change that
part of the dynamic. Collier's final prep game came at the Coors Events Center in 2014, when he had 18 points as the Angels
beat Fossil Ridge to claim the 5A state title.
"It was really emotional," Collier said of the
final home game. "Coming in this morning for pregame, and through warmups, I didn't think I'd get really emotional. But
when my family stood around me and I walked out there, I got real emotional. That's when it really hit me that it's the last
time playing in his building. I just wanted to come out here and play well and come out with a victory."
about 30 miles to get to CU.
King came a little farther. Raised in Fayetteville, N.C.,
he attended high school in San Antonio. His mother, Tresse, is an Air Force master sergeant.
"I got extremely emotional," King said. "It was an emotional game, especially in
the beginning. But when tipoff started, that was all behind me. Leaving Coors in your last game with a loss when you're a
senior would have been really tough to swallow."
his news conference with a salute to the seniors and then eventually noted that they "played like seniors."
"Today's a special day," Boyle said, "not only because we beat
UCLA, a good team, but we had four really special seniors we wanted to send out on the right note, on a high note. And we
did that. Our players played with great passion and pride, toughness and energy, and I know they did it for those four guys.
. . You couldn't ask for more solid students, athletes, representatives of our program and university."
Barring shocking developments from here -- hey, 10 more wins in a row and the Buffs will be the
national champions -- the season will go down as a disappointment. But one of the high points will be being able to send the
seniors out as winners at home.
Senior Day: Dominique Collier (15) watches his 3-pointer go in with 7:23
remaining, giving CU a 62-56 lead over UCLA. Next, George King (24) knocks
down another 3-pointer, putting the Buffs up 71-57 with 4:49 left.
| || || |
| || |
Mile High Sports, February 24
If Avalanche stands pat ...
February 21, 2018
has become a nightmare
By late in the game, as CSU interim coach Jase Herl (light blue
sport jacket) continued to
work the sideline, the band had the end-zone student section to itself.
FORT COLLINS -- What a mess.
And it keeps getting worse.
To think that 12 weeks ago, CSU
knocked off CU in a raucous
atmosphere in Moby Arena. While
nobody pretended that the
Buffs were Final Four-bound or anything
close, it still seemed to
herald that the Larry Eustachy-coached
Rams at the very least
could recover from a rough start to
the season and be competitive
in the Mountain West. Boy,
was that ever wrong.
Wrong wrong, wrong.
The Rams had lost five in a row when Eustachy was placed on
administrative leave on February 3. The slide now is nine losses
in the past 10 games, with Eustachy lieutenant Steve Barnes taking
over for two games before being placed on leave, too, for being too
much like Eustachy; and then with Jase Herl -- who is greener than
the Rams' road uniforms -- coaching the last three.
The third was the biggest embarrassment
of all, the dreadful 87-54
loss to Boise State Wednesday night
that came in front of an
announced Moby Arena crowd of 2,850
that was down to an
intimate gathering by the closing seconds.
BSU led by 21 (50-29) at
halftime and by 42 (77-35) with a little over seven
before BSU coach Leon Rice sent in two student managers,
student trainer, and two of standout Broncos guard Justinian
Jessup's buddies from down the road at Longmont High for
the remainder of the game.
(OK, I made that up. But Rice might as well have.)
The Rams aren't this
This is a demoralized, downtrodden bunch that, with confidence
destroyed, has been able to beat only conference doormat San Jose
State in the past five weeks.
They boycotted a practice; at times, it looks as if that carried
over into games.
The emotionally devastated Rams have fallen apart
as fast and
completely as five mismatched guys who missed
and wound up on the same team during the noon
hour at the
In a revolving-door Eustachy program in
which showing up
and staying for four or five seasons was
a rarity -- and that's being
charitable -- unity and cohesion
are fragile, if ever attained at all.
The instability of the modern college
game is infamous and
seemingly universal, most often rooted
in disatisfaction over
playing time, but it often has
seemed that tolerance of playing
for Eustachy at CSU came
with an expiration date.
If you're reading this, you know the history. The 2014 evaluation
and investigation of Eustachy's methods led to athletic director
Jack Graham's recommendation to fire the coach he hired before
president Tony Frank overruled him. Frank went to bat for
Eustachy; and one of the realities at CSU is that it is best not
to cross the popular president and chancellor, especially after he
has gone to bat for you. Eustachy stayed, with zero-tolerance
standards and strictly defined parameters. He again was
supposed to have cleaned up his act, learned lessons, mellowed
out. Then there was the leaking of that report last year, albeit
with extensive acompanying reporting, leading to the questions:
Why did it take so long to become public in a college town of few
secrets ... and why then?
And then Graham's successor, Joe Parker, was looking into
the cultureof the program, with extensive and numerous interviews,
before Eustachy was placed on leave. It didn't help Eustachy's cause
that he apparently told the players Frank had given him a vote of
confidence. Not so. That didn't go over well with Frank, either.
The Rams were 10-14
overall and 3-8 in the Mountain West
at the time of Eustachy's
It is not out of line to at least wonder if this latest assessment of
Eustachy's methods would have been undertaken if the Rams
got out of the gate well in the Mountain West. Abominable,
unacceptable methods should be abominable and unacceptable
regardless of the record. Guess what? College basketball coaches
frequently yell, offer pointed criticism, and occasionally use
words -- especially behind closed gym doors -- that would
be bleeped on a broadcast network. Eustachy, with other issues
also coming into play over the years, was a known commodity.
If this is more a
means of getting rid of a coach for not winning
and finding a way to avoid buying out his
contract and saving $3
million, that's shameful. Regardless of how
unsympathetic of a
figure is, that's not right. The aversion to
his methods shouldn't
be in direct proportion to the numbers of
games his team loses.
threw that out there because it has to be asked. It has to be the
said, I respect both Frank and Parker too much to be
something that CSU needs to be conscious of as it
proceeds in what undoubtedly
will be Eustachy's firing. The
stunning progress CSU has made
in recent years, all across
the campus and on the nationwide image front,
can't be undone.
I wasn't even talking about sports there. And
when you throw
in the ambitious on-campus stadium project,
it adds to the
momentum. This is just a basketball program and a
which should -- but realistically doesn't --
by all the more important issues and projects
Avenue to Shields Street.
In that sense, simply announcing, either now or after the season,
that it was time to make a change -- for a combination of reasons --
and ponying up the $3 million would have been a better way to go.
You're playing with the big boys in a college sports landscape
that included a big-money Florida payoff to CSU to free up football
coach Jim McElwain, enabling him to make the ill-fated move to
Gainesville, and sometimes you should just take the dose of horrible
tasting medicine and move on.
As it stands now, the drama is dragging down the program.
Junior guard J.D.
Paige, from Aurora and Rangeview High,
called the Wednesday
night embarrassment "by far" CSU's
of the season. "We just didn't bring it tonight,"
added. "There's no excuse for that."
He went on to say the turmoil wasn't an issue. "I don't
(any) of that," he said. "I'm simply
telling you we didn't bring it
tonight. I didn't know what
it was. As a while team, we ddn't
bring enough energy."
The Rams close out
the regular season at Nevada Sunday and
at home against New
"We just have to show more heart," Paige said. "That's what it
comes down to. That's all it is. It's heart. We didn't show (any)
heart, no competitiveness tonight. And it's just baffling."
The Rams haven't just
They've been beaten down.
"I think we just keep talking with them, keep trying to find ways
to motivate them individually that will benefit the team," said Herl.
"Talk about playing for Colorado State, playing for the name on the
jersey. Either that, or play for the name on the beck of the jersey."
You do that, though,
you're going solo.
Part of the Wednesday night "crowd," announced as 2,850.
Mile High Sports, February 21
If NHL stays away next time, too, USA should go all college
February 17, 2018
DU goalie Tanner Jaillet
has kicked it up a notch
Tanner Jaillet in the Pioneers' net against CC Friday night. DU defenseman
Adam Plant (28) and CC winger Branden Makara (18) are in front of him.
Tanner Jaillet already has raised his arms in his crease at the final
joined in an NCAA championship celebration. Now,
as he winds down his four-season
career with the Denver Pioneers,
are in the same stingy range as a year ago.
the eye test result is that he has taken his game to another level as
the Pioneers begin the regular-season stretch run and prepare to
shoot for a second straight national title.
Jaillet stopped 21 of 22 shots Friday night against Colorado College,
allowing only Nick Halloran's power play goal at 19:31 of the first
period. That wasn't enough. Colorado College claimed a 1-0 win
at Magness Arena in the fourth and final matchup in the Gold Pan
rivalry this season when the Tigers' Alex Leclerc made 40 saves
and shut out the Pioneers.
That came the night after the Pioneers clinched
the Gold Pan
with a 5-1 win over the Tigers in Colorado Springs,
their unbeaten streak to eight games.
DU was without Troy
Terry, off in PyeongChang and playing for
the USA in the Winter
Olympics, but that hadn't slowed down the
The third-ranked Pioneers
fell to 17-7-6 for the season and 11-5-4-3
in the National
Collegiate Hockey Conference, where they're in
second place and trailing
first-place St. Cloud State by five points.
So it was a lost opportunity to
get within three points of first place.
"For the last month or so, we've been playing some good hockey,
we've been getter each weekend," Jaillet said. "This is a good
learning lesson for when we're playing elimination games. All it
takes is a hot goalie, me looking at a wrong angle, guys miss
a rebound. One thing can end your season. We'll learn from this
and move forward."
At the end of the night, Jaillet's 1.88 goals-against average
his save percentage of .928 both were seventh-best in
"I've been OK," Jaillet said. "At the beginning of the year, it was
a little tough. I've been better as of late."
The bearded and unflappable --
they seem to go together -- seems
so calm at times, you wouldn't
be shocked to see him with eyes
closed for a brief catnap
when the puck is in the other end.
DU coach Jim Montgomery said Jaillet has been "exceptional," then
added: "He's been great. We're pressing tonight, and they get a
couple of breakaways and 2-on-1s and he just makes the saves
and gives us an opportunity. . . He's just been incredible."
Jaillet, from Red Deer, Alberta
-- the mid-point stop on the drive
from Edmonton to Calgary
-- already is 24. Although that might
dampen some of the enthusiasm,
as an undrafted free agent
he likely will have mutiple offers
from NHL organizations after
the season. The NHL's salary cap allows
for minimum flexibility,
so it won't be even anything approaching a
bidding war, but he
likely will be able to assess were he might
fit in with various
worry about that once this year is over," he said. "I live in the
present and just take it a day at a time. Obviously, it's coming to
an end here, but that's part of life and you move forward."
The Pioneers' onslaught in the final seconds was unsuccessful,
goaltender Alex Leclerc finished with the 40-save shutout,
the celebration below.
Mile High Sports, February 14
Kerfoot continues to show (Ivy League) worth
Brazilian Lucas Siewert
coming into his own
BOULDER -- When Lucas Siewert arrived in Southern California
from his native Brazil to enroll as a freshman at Cathedral
School, virtually across the Harbor Freeway from Dodger
his basketball ambitions were limited.
"I came to the
United States, focusing on high school," he said
the Coors Events Center. "I didn't really know what
was when I moved here, and that just kind of
happened with the
flow of me doing good in high school."
Tad Boyle and his staff noticed him as he quickly emerged as a
star for the Phantoms and ultimately averaged 23 points as a senior
for a team that reached the CIF-Southern Section Division 3A
"I actually ended up committed to Arizona State, but the (Herb
Sendek) staff got fired and I decommitted," Siewert said. "They
(the Boyle staff) recruited me again and they were my first option."
That's how the 6-foot-10
sophomore from Joinville, Santa Catarina
in Brazil came to
Sunday, in a 64-56 win over Stanford, he came off the bench to
the Buffs with 17 points, hitting 4 of 6 three-pointers, and
7 rebounds. His three-pointer with 3:00 left -- pictured
-- gave the Buff breathing room, opening up a 59-52 lead.
From there, they went on to the win that made them 7-6 in the
Pac-12 and 15-10 overall, preserving the hope that winning out
in the regular season and picking up a couple of victories in the
conference tournament might be good enough to sneak the Buffs
in to the NCAA tournament. Otherwise, of course, CU would
have to duplicate the unlikely run of the 2012 team to the Pac-12
tourney title to make the NCAA field.
The strange thing now is that only the league leader,
has fewer than five conference losses, and
the Buffs are part of an
eight-team pack with five (UCLA,
USC, Washington, Oregon) or six
(Arizona State, Utah, Colorado
and Stanford) defeats. So it's not as
outlandish as it might seem
at first glance to say the Buffs have a
legitimate chance to finish
third or fourth in the regular season.
The resurgence against the Cardinal came after the Buffs were
dreadful, passive and unenergetic in a 68-64 win over California
Wednesday and Boyle spent the three off days letting his team
know how unhappy he was about that.
"Coach challenged me on the glass after the Cal game, so I tried to
meet his challenge," Siewert said. "Then the shots were just falling
Siewert's previous career high was 14 points, and
-- curiously -- that
came against Stanford in Boulder last
season. He was 4-for-5 on
three-pointers in that game, meaning
he has been 8-for-11 against
the Cardinal behind the arc in
the Coors Events Center in two
"I know last year, I had
my career high against them too," he
said. "I thought
about that, so that kind of gave me some confidence
In 23 games this season
-- he missed two games in November
because of injury -- he
is averaging 17 minutes, 2.6 rebounds
and 5.3 points. He spent
much of Sunday setting picks for McKinley
Wright IV and the other Buffs'
guards on the perimeter, but also
went to the boards and popped out
to receive a pass and take the
And four of them,
including the crucial one down the stretch,
"I'm trying to
make this, how do you say, not a rare thing, but
to be a standard
thing," he said. "That's the player I'm trying
In past games, I've been doing really good and that's what
trying to become every game."
Boyle noted, "Obviously he shot the ball well from three today.
He really gives defenses problems because in screens are you
going to guard McKinley or Dom (Collier) or one of those guys
coming downhill or are you going to guard him on the pick and pop.
But I'm more proud of Lucas' seven rebounds than I am the 17 points.
Obviously I like him shooting the ball the way he is and he gives us a
shot in the arm offensively, but when he defends and he rebounds
like he did tonight, he really helps this team."
Wright had an off shooting afternoon,
going 4-for-15 from the floor,
and finished with 10 points, and
fellow guard George King was
the other Buff in double figures
with 11. Forward Tyler Bey,
limited to 18 minutes because
of foul trouble, added 10 points
and 6 rebounds.
So now it's off to
Washington State and Washington for the Buffs.
Left, Lucas Siewert setting a screen for McKinley Wright IV. Right,
Siewert and Tyler Bey (1) at the offensive board.
Tyler Bey follows through on the shot that went in, putting CU up 52-49 with 5:36 left.
Mile High Sports, February 9
Bowman Brothers Reunion in Eagles' final ECHL season
February 8, 2018
My Mile High Magazine
stories on Coloradans heading
to 2018 Games at PyeongChang
The final count, barring injuries or other adustments, of
Colorado-connected athletes on the Team USA rosters for
the Winter Olympics was 31.
I did stories on six of them for the February edition of
Mile High Sports Magazine, now out and available.
Here the online versions
of those stories, each with links
to the digital edition of
Interview: Troy Terry, hockey
Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine skiing
Lindsey Vonn, Alpine skiing
Chris Corning, snowboarding
Bryan Fletcher, Nordic Combined
Nicole Hensley, hockey
February 8, 2018
With McKinley Wright
leading, can Buffs get act
together for stretch run?
McKinley Wright IV
BOULDER -- What a great idea. Give Colorado a Wednesday
conference home game against California and for the benefit of
ESPNU and schedule it for 9 p.m. Yes, do that for a network
offshoot that doesn't even consider it important enough to have
its announcers on site, but instead has them calling the game
off monitors two time zones away.
The announced crowd of 6,385 for the Buffaloes' 68-64 win over
the Golden Bears mainly indicated there were a lot of unused
tickets, and also that Tad Boyle's program isn't enough of an
automatic draw to overcome the ridiculous slotting and fill the
Coors Events Center under any circumstances.
Boyle even went out of his way
to open his near-midnight news
conference by thanking the
fans who did show up -- and
apologizing to them for the Buffaloes'
play as they got back
to 6-6 in Pac 12 play.
in my time here, and I can't remember another time
in my coaching
career when I've been this disappointed after
a win in terms of
our performance and the way we approached
this game," he said. "Especially
after we really did a great job
against Utah in terms of our effort,
our energy, our toughness.
Tonight, we turned the ball over 19 times
and we give them 18
offensive rebounds. Thank god we won. And
we won for one
reason -- and that's No. 25 for the Buffs. Thank god
had him. . . I'm disgusted with our performance."
That's McKinley Wright
IV, the freshman guard from North
He didn't have a great night shooting,
going only 3-for-7
from the floor, but finished with 17 points,
5 assists and
6 rebounds while taking control and hitting clutch
down the stretch as the Pac 12's 11th-place team
hung with the
Buffs. Wright has been the bright spot in a
mediocre and up-and-down
season for the Buffs, and now the
charge will be to lead a
closing rush through the final six
conference games and the
Pac 12 tournament.
Now 14-10 overall, the Buffs' only shot at making the NCAA
tournament likely would be winning the league tournament --
or maybe winning out until the title game. Otherwise, the
So how has Wright, the former Minnesota Mr. Basketball listed
at a charitable 6-0, carried this team?
"Toughness, heart, will, grit," Boyle said. "It's
all the intangibles
that make McKinley Wright who he is. There
are point guards
who are better shooters. There are point
guards who are better
passers. I'm not sure there's any point guards
who are better
rebounders. But the intangibles that he brings to
the game and the
team, you just can't put a value on them.
"And I said this
before the season. I said, 'McKinley Wright
will will this team
-- will them -- to four or five victories this year.
just saw one tonight. He willed us to a victory tonight ...
we didn't have him, we'd be leaving here with a loss and Cal
be feeling real good about themselves."
The game was tied 28-28 at halftime, and the Buffs were playing
as if it was past their bedtime.
"I just called the guys together and told them
us younger guys
are playing for the seniors," Wright
said. "We're trying to do our
best to get them to the
tournament. We know is we had lost
this game, there'd have
been a slim chance for that. This was
a huge game for us."
Expectedly and understandably,
Wright is clinging to high-
ambition hopes that likely are
out of reach.
"We have a very good chance toreach our goal, to play in the
tournament and win the Pac-12 championship," he said. "Postseason
is our goal. I'm trying to get the guys like George (King), Dom
(Collier), Josh Repine and Tory (Miller-Stewart), our four
seniors, to play in the tournament. They didn't make it last year."
The Buffs next play
Stanford Sunday afternoon at home.
Trust me, Boyle was genuinely perturbed, but he also clearly
had started lobbying for a better effort against the Cardinal.
"If we play Sunday like we played
tonight, we have no chance,
zero chance," Boyle said.
"If we play the way we played against
Utah in terms of
our energy, effort and toughness, we give
ourselves a chance. Our players
have to understand that."
February 7, 2018
From a quiet second
NLI Signing Day at CU
BOULDER -- A college football
coach -- head coach or assistant --
in your living room, offering your son a lucrative full
scholarship plus stipends to a major university.
To have that happen, you will have had to embrace
participation in the sport, most likely from youth
on up, and he's
at least a pretty good high school player
who enjoys it.
No, you're not likely to be sweating the potential negative
effects of the sport.
Or, in 2018, are you?
I couldn't resist asking Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre
Wednesday if, on the recruiting trail, he's getting more questions
from parents about whether the sport is safe ... enough.
The question is premature in the sense
that the real effect on the
talent pool might be coming in
a few years. That will be when it's
more frequent for talented
athletes, with input or mandates from
adults in their lives, to reach
their final years of high school without
ever playing tackle football in
the first place. That happens now,
of course, but it's usually
about early specialization; in the future
it also and even
mainly could be about an aversion for football
as a participatory
Yes, that's coming in the wake of all the attention paid on the
physical toll the game can take, especially in the realm of concussions
It will be difficult to document the effects of doubts about the
game, and to identify the athletes who in another time would
be football recruits, but only the most blinkered of the sport's
proponents will deny it all has become a factor.
But I asked, anyway, knowing
that MacIntyre is the highest-paid
man on campus, a former
player himself at Vanderbilt and Georgia
Tech. He also is
the son of a college football coach, the father of a
CU wide receiver,
and a man committed to the sport in a coaching
career that has
taken him through the ranks, including NFL stints
with the Cowboys and
Is he hearing those questions?
"A little bit," MacIntyre said at the news conference called to discuss
the Buffs' additions to its recruiting class on the second national
letter of intent day. "Of course, it's all over the media. The things
that I would say, it's safer than it has ever been, as you all know
the stats and different things. There's more concussions and that
type of things in women's soccer. There's all the other things.
"I always tell
them when they ask me that, and I'm being serious,
we can all sit
in front of the television and play X-Box. Now we're
going to be
obese, we're going to die of heart disease, there's all
things you have going on. I believe in the game
at the same time, I only ask, 'Does your son
ride a bicylcle?'
And they go, 'Yeah.' I say, 'He's a lot more in
trouble riding that
bicycle than he is playing football.' It's
a proven fact. 'Does
he ride skateboards?' 'Oh, yeah he skateboards
all the time
near my house.'
"I go by a place all the time near my house there's kids
the time, flipping and doing (tricks). That's a
lot more dangerous than
football. It's statistically proven and it
all weighs out. I think
that's just a thing at the forefront right now,
and yes, we've
gotten a lot better at the game, we've helped change
The helmets have gotten better and how we teach tackling,
that type of stuff. I still think it's a phenomenal sport, but I do
get asked about it some.
"Those are some things where they go, 'Yeah, that's right. He does
ride the bicycle, he does skateboard. 'Yeah, we've taken him to the
hospital for those things.' I think there's a lot of issues out there that
attack football, but I still think it's a phenomenal game."
He's right: Other
sports, including hockey, lacrosse and soccer,
issues, too. Absolutely, heightened awareness
and concussion protocol
-- quantum leaps from the "you-got-your-
-- come into play in producing the scary data.
Yet it's also
not ridiculous to wonder if at some time in the not-too-
future insurance and liability issues could kill the game
the scholastic level.
MacIntyre was talking after the Buffs added two players to their
recruiting class Wednesday -- linebacker Alex Tchangam of De Anza
College in California, and running back Travon MacMillian, a graduate
transfer from Virginia Tech who has signed a financial aid agreement.
That leaves a class of 23, including 20 who signed in the new early
NLI period in December and offensive lineman Kanan Ray,
who signed a financial aid agreement in January after originally
planning to attend UCLA.
The entire proceedings Wednesday seemed a bit strange, more
of a P.S. than an annoucement, given the imbalance in the two
groups and the rush to sign in the first year of the early period.
But that was fine
with MacIntyre, who argues that the early
signing date should
be even earlier. A lot earlier.
"You weren't sitting on pins and needles that a kid was going
to go somewhere else," he said. "I was just as busy or busier
this January as I've ever been because I was kind of going out
to high schools all over the country, to watch 2019 guys play
basketball, work out in the weight room, all of that, so it gives
us an advantage. . . In the past, I wouldn't be able to do that.
I would be going to all the houses and all the homes, going to
the certain schools where we had commitments.
"December was really hectic
because after the Utah game to
December, I went in 21 homes,
visiting with parents and making
sure those young men signed
on December 20. So that was hectic.
But I liked the early signing
date. I'm still a proponent. I'm going
to keep pushing it. Some people
are still going to get mad at me.
Now that we're having official visits
in April, May and June,
if they take a few visits and they
decide, 'Hey this is where I want
to go to school,' let's have
a signing date in July, over the dead period.
They sign and then you
have another signing date in February.
"Do just like basketball does. They have a signing date in
November, then they have a signing date in April. Why don't we
do the same thing? That's what I keep proposing to do. I think
eventually that's going to happen."
I can't go along with going that far,
and for this reason: The
numbers are so different, the situations
comparable. Plus, I'm convinced the remorse
be far greater in football than basketball. Even
now, the new
signing date at least still is late enough to
allow new coaching
staffs hired in time to attempt to hold on to "commits"
others in a system in which there isn't a commitment before
an NLI signing.
With "commit," "de-commit,"
"re-commit" and anything-else-
of the lexicon, I'm surprised there hasn't been more
talk of those who
signed in December having second thoughts.
If anything close to half
the prospects sign on or briefly after a July
signing date, so
much could happen in the next six months --
whether the departure of an assistant coach
who was the pointman,
a head coach of an entire staff.
Yes, you sign with the school, not the coach ... but that's the
ideal, often not the reality. The only way a signing date that early
could work -- and be fair -- would be for it to come with an
official window, say in early January, to renounce the NLI.
It should be that way for all, not just for those headed for
programs that just changed coaches. That makes the early
signing more of a flimsy "commitment" than a contract, but if
that's not deemed feasible, then don't make the early date any
earlier than it is now.
Actually, the new system -- with the signing dates in December
and February -- seems to be working.
Mile High Sports, January 21
All Aboard the Avalanche Bandwagon!
January 18, 2018
Dom Collier living with
coming off Buffs' bench
BOULDER -- Dominique Collier hasn't started in any of Colorado's
seven Pac 12 Conference games, but he played Thursday night as
he considers it more of a relief than a miscarriage of justice.
The senior guard from
Denver East High had 13 points -- all but
one in the first
half -- in the Buffs' 82-73 win over Washington State
at the Coors Events
Center Thursday night.
He started the first seven games of the season, and only one,
against South Dakota State on December 15, since.
That's not the way the much-touted recruit
from the Rudy
Carey-coached powerhouse program at East was
supposed to go
out as a CU senior. He's playing his home games
in the arena
where the Angels won the 5A state championship
game in 2014,
and his college career has been comparatively lackluster
measured against expectations. In four seasons, while
fighting through foot and ankle injuries, he has started 66 of 108
games and averaged 6.3 points.
Yet with Collier coming off the bench, the young
Buffs are winning,
going 3-0 at home in the Pac 12 heading into
a crucial matchup with
Washington Saturday afternoon. And
while Collier's minutes and
numbers coming off the bench have
been up-and-down -- he had
only three points as the Buffs split
in Los Angeles last weekend --
it seems to be working. The
weekend before that, he had 25 points
in the big wins over
Arizona State and Arizona at home, going
5-for-8 from 3-point
And he's OK with it.
Freshman guard McKinley Wright IV, who had 17 points against
WSU, has been a season-long starter and was the Pac 12 player of
the week two weeks ago after the Buffs beat Arizona and Arizona
State at home. And he has earned Collier's respect.
"He's been great the whole year," Collier
said. "He's our leader,
our point guard out there, he
makes our team run. As you guys
saw, when(WSU) went on that run,
he just put his head down
and was getting to the rack and
doing whatever he had to do
get that lead back to where it was.
Yeah, he's been really good
for us this year. He's just a beast."
Collier stayed hot
at home, making two of his three 3-point
the Cougars and got all 12 of his first-half points
in a 12-minute span
as the Buffs took control.
"The guys just told me to come in and be aggressive," he said.
"That's why I really took an emphasis on just being ready when ...
whoever is driving, have my feet ready and be ready to shoot
the ball. And then when I have the opportunity to drive, just
attack. It's just being ready when they call my name."
CU is 12-7 overall
and 4-3 in the Pac 12. If the Buffs can continue
to hold serve
at home in the conference and steal a few more wins,
berth isn't an outlandish goal. And this with a team that
two seniors -- Collier and George King -- playing significant
"I love these
guys," Collier said. "I love the fight of these guys and I
go to war with every last single one of them. I go against them
in practice, so I know firsthand how these guys work,
day in and
He took note of the Buffs' response after a WSU second-half
rally got the Cougars within five, at 63-58, with 8:15 left.
"This team just has a lot of fight," Collier
said. "I really noticed
that when they came in, when
we first started practicing. They
just have a lot of fight.
We overcame a lot this year with blown
CU coach Tad Boyle
likes what he has seen of Collier coming
off the bench.
"Dom was terrific
in the first half," Boyle said. "It's awesome. Dom
a starter, he really is. The whole key with Dom is he's quit
on himself and balling. You can see in his body
language. Even if
he misses a shot now, it's not head down and
pressing. It's just
play. I'm really proud of Dominique Collier,
an important part of our team and I consider him
even though he's not introduced with the starting five.
a senior, he's played a lot of minutes and he's a critical,
part of this team coming off the bench.
"There's a thought out there that you don't ever start your five
best players. You ant to bring strength in off the bench. Certainly,
recently we've been bringing strength in off the bench with
January 17, 2018
Falcons' Ryan Swan, from Overland,
determined to stick with it at AFA
FORT COLLINS -- This seemed almost eerily like Air Force's
football win over Colorado State in the fall.
It came in Fort Collins, the Falcons celebrated
raucously, and it
was thunderously disappointing for the Rams.
This time, in basketball,
the Falcons pulled off the 76-71 shocker
at Moby Arena, coach Dave Pilipovic got a
drenching in the
visiting locker room, and the experience perhaps
the most satisfying for AFA sophomore forward Ryan Swan,
Aurora and Overland High, where he was among the
for phenom De'Ron Davis on a 5A state
Swan had 12 points
and 6 rebounds as the Falcons came away
with only their second
Mountain West Conference win, sending
the intimate gathering of
3,216 out of the arena grumbling. This
Larry Eustachy-coached CSU
team continues to be an enigma
after knocking off CU at home
in the non-conference schedule
and now falling to 10-10 overall
and 3-4 in league play.
"It means the world to me," Swan said in the hallway outside
the locker room. "I'm just glad for the team that we got a win
because we've been working hard. I guess I don't know how
I feel. Being a kid they (CSU) didn't recruit, it's a nice little,
sweet victory for me when we get to beat them."
Jamee Swan as a CU Buffalo
Earlier in the season, the Falcons
fell 81-69 at Colorado, where
Swan's older sister, Jamee,
was a standout forward for the Buffaloes
for four seasons,
from 2012-13 through 2015-16.
"I still want to get Colorado one time before I graduate," Ryan
said with a smile. "Just one time, that's all I need."
Swan attended the
Air Force Prep School for a year as an
intermediate step after
"It was definitely tough," he said. "I felt like I was ready right
away and felt like I could make an impact. But the prep school
year was probably the best thing for me because it made me
stronger. I lost some fat. I got stronger, it just let me develop and
make the next four years count."
Then he played sparingly as a freshman
last season as he dealt
with academic issues. "I just
let too many things get to me," he
said. "My mom
kind of took me and slapped me around a little
bit." (He was smiling
when he said that.) "So I definitely felt that
me. Over this past summer, I got my school right,
got my body
right and now we're here."
He came off the bench this season until a single start at California-
Riverside on Dec. 8, and now has started the last five games for the
Falcons. In that stretch, he has averaged 15.0 points and 6.2
"Ryan's just been getting better and better," Pilipovich said. "I was
going to choke him when he missed that (late) layup there,
but I hugged him afterwards. He's just getting
better and better. He's
Swan said the Falcons "are
meshing together as a team. I feel
like of all the teams,
this is probably the closest team because of all
we go through,
the academy life. Coming from Overland, where
we won, winning
is in my blood. That's all I want to do. Playing
now is cool, but
we're winning now and that's all I care about."
That life, of course, isn't for everyone, and Swan and his classmates
still have the option of leaving the academy after his sophomore
season. Basketball players have done that when it seems they
might have other D-I options or higher aspirations, such as
playing in Europe, but Swan is adamant that he's going to stick
"Everyone's going to have those days where they're like, 'Is this
really me?'" he said. "The end goal is what you have to look
forward to. It sucks some days, but I don't know, I'm a 20-year-old
kid getting a free education, getting paid. It's all good. I'm getting
a free education, probably one of the best educations I can get,
plus I have a guaranteed job. Plus, it makes my mom so happy.
That's the greatest part. . . I'm going to stay for sure. I mean, I don't
have any NBA people calling me right now, so I'm not going to put
all my eggs in that basket."
His mother, Diane, who played at Arvada West and
in high school, now is a special education teacher
"She's a saint, let me tell you," Ryan
said. "I cannot do her job,
Ryan was born in Tucson
and raised in nearby Marana, before he
and his mother moved
back to Colorado in 2013, when Jamee
was about to begin her
sophomore year at CU. "Her freshman year,
we were flying up
to Colorado like once a month, and we were
like, 'We night as well move
up,'" Ryan said. "Growing up in
Arizona was really different.
The part I was in was really slow,
I was going to Marana,
in the middle of nowhere. I felt like a
deer in the headlights
when I stepped into Overland.
I was shell-shocked at first."
It helped that De'Ron
Davis, now at Indiana, noticed that. "He
was the first person
that befriended me at Overand," Swan said.
"I miss playing
with that guy. I talked with him recently to make
was doing well."
So is Swan.
January 16, 2018
On Nikola Jokic: Why can't he do
that every night? (The sequel)
That image of the Nikola Jokic is from the same digital board in the
Pepsi Center arena level hallway that displays pictures of five
Avalanche players on hockey nights.
Yes, one of the Avs shown is Nathan MacKinnon.
The Serbian basketball
center and the Canadian hockey center both
Their situations have
more differences than similarities, of course,
but what strikes
me is that for several years, I've been writing about
talent -- yet his mercurial play.
One night, whether with the Avalanche or for Canada or Team North
America in international play, he would tantalize, flashily producing
goals and making plays, leading to the reflexive question: Why can't he
do that every night? Then the next game, he would revert to
than substance. And at the end of the season,
his numbers would add
up to underachievement, as when he had
16 goals in the Avalanche's
horrific 2016-17 season.
Now, one of the major reasons for the Avalanche's stunning
improvement is that since November 1, MacKinnon -- the NHL's
No. 1 overall draft choice in 2013 now in his fifth season --has
done it, loosely speaking, every night. He has been the NHL's
best player in the stretch. Will it last?
That's open to debate and
subject to realism, but my point
here is that I've found myself
wondering the same thing
about Jokic, who on some nights has
been dominant, stunningly
impressive as an all-around, skilled
center with an uncanny
passing ability for a big man.
Why can't he do that every night?
That question is raised, for both Jokic and MacKinnon,
concession that it's a standard, a lofty goal that
never will be
attained. Not in basketball and not in
hockey. But it is the expectation
of greatness, and now the
issue is when it more ruthlessly will be a
challenge thrown at
Jokic, and when he won't be babied because,
among other things, he's
only a second-round draft choice and
already a "find"
in this league.
Jokic had one of those eye-popping nights Tuesday, when he had
29 points, 18 rebounds and 7 assists in the Nuggets' 105-102 win
over Dallas. One of his assists was a blind behind-the-back setup
pass to Wilson Chandler. The Nuggets relinquished most of a
23-point lead before hanging on.
Why can't he do that every night?
"Nikola's a good
player," said Denver coach Michael Malone.
not going to be great every night. I know
that from him, but I think we have to get off
his back a little bit
and give him a break. At San Antonio, he was
tonight, I thought we featured him early, played
him extensively. We knew that their starting five, with
and our starting five, that we could look to go
at him a little
bit and make Dirk have to defend and make him
ends of the floor. Our guys kept finding him all night
so Nikola took it upon himself just to be aggressive,
be very confident and efficient."
At that point, I asked Malone about those expectations he had just
mentioned, whether there would be a point we could expect Jokic
to meet those standards night in, night out.
"It's a process," Malone said.
"This is his third year in the NBA and
he was a second-round
pick. Now all of a sudden people want him
to be Superman.
Very, very few players in NBA history come in,
first, second or
third year and put a franchise on their back. But
what you love
about Nikola, he doesn't shy from it. It's not easy
times for him. But right now we're just focusing on one game
a time, forgetting about all the other stuff."
One step in Jokic's maturation would be getting away from his
aggravating and seemingly incessant whining about the officiating,
which distracts him.
A little later, I mentioned to
Jokic that his coach had just talked
about avoiding placing
unrealistic expectations on Jokic at this
point of his career and
then asked him what expectations he was
putting on himself
win as much games as possible," he said. "I just want to win
Today was kind of my night, whatever, I had to score
a lot and I
was aggressive, not just scoring, but as a rebounder.
So just to
win as much as possible."
Jokic has shown the flashes. In 37 games this season, he is averaging
16.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
As was the case with Nathan MacKinnon until the
switch went on,
it's a compliment to Jokic to expect more,
to make the standard
Mile High Sports, January 14
Jonathan Bernier on holding down the Avalanche crease
Mile High Sports, January 12
Nathan MacKinnon on celebrity
Mile High Sports, January 7
Milan Hejduk and Glory Days
Mile High Sports, January 1
Carl Soderberg: From albatross to asset