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And... 

Bob Bell's Food for Thought:

Battling Childhood Hunger in Denver 

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Dining room open with limited seating. Pickup/to-go food can be ordered at 303-741-9245. Menu available through link above.  

             

                     And... 

 Big Bill's 9-11 Day of Giving For:

JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation

 

 

 

 
                                                                           (The views expressed here are not necessarily those of my sponsors.)
  

 

                                                                        2019 Archive    2017 Archive 

For 2020, scroll down              2018 Archive    Selected pre-2017 blogs
 
* = Column on WoodyPaige.com
Rest on this site 
 
 

October 23, 2020

With leagues in on

action, Capt. Renault

speech no longer works

 

WoodySportsBook.jpg.w300h136.jpgRenault.jpg

The following is a hypothetical look at the future.

To make clear: I think it’s the way it should be.

This is not tsk-tsk hand-wringing.

Sports leagues and teams, and even colleges, are entering into mutually beneficial promotional partnerships with sports books and wagering sites.

 

The action is part of the action. 

 

Keep reading here on woodypaige.com 

 

 

 

October 21, 2020

Scheduling thoughts

for Rams, Buffaloes

and Showdown  

There was no way the Colorado Buffaloes were going to agree to be a fill-in opponent for New Mexico Saturday, going to Fort Collins to face Colorado State at Canvas Stadium.

 

I don't know if they were asked or not, but let's be real.

 

By kickoff, the Buffs would have had five practices in pads.

 

They had zero spring practices. Zero. (CSU at least got in seven.)

 

Actually, to take the game at the last-second would have required a complete lack of respect on the part of CU for CSU as an opponent and also been unfair to the Buff players, who would have been shoved out there without even the limited preparation that will pass for normal in 2020.

 

But the way this is going, with defnite posssibilities of additionally scrubbed games down the line in the Mountain West, and in the Pac-12 on or after its scheduled Nov. 7 opening, it's not out of line to ponder possibilities.

 

A couple of weeks ago, I tossed out the idea of CU scrapping its scheduled final game -- a "crossover" against a Pac-12 Northern Division opponent -- on Dec. 19 and instead facing CSU that day to close out the (regular) season for both. In other words, restore the Rocky Mountain Showdown the week before Christmas. CSU's Dec. 12 matchup against Utah State now is the Rams' final scheduled game, so it originally would have been adding a game; but now it would be getting CSU back to eight games. A CU-CSU game on Dec. 19 still could work, if COVID-19 conditions allow. The Pac-12 would have to go along, whether scrapping or moving back the Buffs' "crossover" game.   

 

Now, if that's not deemed possible, it would be wise for CU and CSU to be at least talking about being ready to quickly arrange a matchup later. That would make sense if both teams end up with an open spot on their schedules through cancellations caused by issues on their opponents' ends, as was the case with New Mexico this week. The Buffs ride buses to Fort Collins.   

 

Unfortunately, it's not that far-fetched.               

 

 

October 21, 2020

Chiaverini back where

he wants to be --

as Buffaloes' OC 

CUChiaverinimug.jpg
 
After Karl Dorrell was  hired to replace Mel Tucker last February, the new Buffaloes' head coach faced piecing together a staff.

 
Several assistants went with Tucker to Michigan State, and staffs to a significant extent were set around the country.

 
So after assessing, for his coordinators, Dorrell chose to stick with holdover Tyson Summers -- who had passed through Colorado State under Mike Bobo and also served as head coach at Georgia Southern -- on the defensive side of the ball.
 
And on offense, he decided to trust a familiar face.
 

  

 

October 20, 2020  

CSUCancel.jpg

As Steve Addazio vaguely laid out the CSU Rams' manpower problems on Monday -- per my commentary below -- and the New Mexico Lobos continued to cope with positive COVID-19 tests and issues in the Albuquerque area, it was fairly obvious the Saturday season opener for both teams at Canvas Stadium was endangered.

 

Keep reading here

 

 

October 19, 2020

In first season under

Addazio, CSU Rams'

record will be ...  

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Steve Addazio during one of the Rams' seven spring practices. 

 

CSUAddazioZoom.jpg

Under these unfortunate and bizarre circumstances, virtually nothing -- from 8-0 to 0-8 -- would be shocking for CSU in Steve Addazio's first season with the Rams. OK, that's an exaggeration, especially on the undefeated end. But not much of one.   

 

Keep reading here

 

 

October 16, 2020

From worldwide celebrity 

to obscure Detroit Lions

cut ... in 4 years 

MorrisBannerPost.jpgMorrisCutLionsDenver1.jpg

21croppedz.jpg

The 80th anniversary of one of the more curious cuts in NFL history is coming up on November 5. It was curious because it drew surprisingly little reaction, especially given that Glenn Morris four years earlier was one of the most famous athletes in the world. Instead, he might as well have been a free agent from Minot State.

 

My theory: Leni Riefenstahl was toxic.   

 

Keep reading here

 

 

October 14, 2020

With CSU opener

in 10 days, Addazio peeks

from behind the curtain

 CSUAddazioSpring.jpg

Steve Addazio, left, during spring practice.

 

It is the most extraordinary of times, it is the worst of times. 

 

This doesn't make any list of prioritized concerns, regardless of how long. But both under and because of those circumstances, Steve Addazio's first year as Colorado State's head coach already has been, well, challenging.

 

With reports and accusations of racial insensitivity within the athletic department and football program -- to be fair, much of it allegedly happening before his arrival -- and also of coaches pressuring at least one player to practice with COVID-19 symptoms, the transition at CSU has been even more bumpy than those for other schools going through coaching changes.     

Keep reading here

 

 

 

October 12, 2020

Noyer might or might not

be CU's starting QB, but

he returned for final shot

CUNoyer2.jpg

Sam Noyer at Monday's CU practice in the indoor facility. (CU Athletics.)

 

After last season, Sam Noyer explored entering the transfer portal to perhaps end up in another program and immediately be eligible as a graduate student.

 

He thought Boulder was in the rear view mirror, even if it was a scenic look back as he reached the US 36 Overlook.

 

Keep reading here 

 

  

 

  

October 12, 2020

Goodell.jpg

After breakouts, schedule

tweaks, NFL needs

semi-bubble approach 

 

The NFL has made it through the first five weeks of the season without calamitous encounters with COVID-19.

Allowing fans back in the seats, following local and state mandates and guidelines, is a work in gradual progress.

That’s the good news. 

 

Keep reading on woodypaige.com

 

 

 

 

October 9, 2020

Karl Dorrell should get

virtual free pass in his

first year as Buffs HC

 CUDorrell.jpg

 

As Colorado finally opened football practice Friday, this remained obvious: First-year Buffaloes head coach Karl Dorrell is facing a formidable, unprecedented challenge.

 

Keep reading here. 

 

 

October 9, 2020

Can the Buffs' collegiate

semi-bubble work ...

in Boulder, Colorado?

CUPractice.jpg   

Over and over, in discussions of COVID-19's effect on sports, we've heard: "Obviously a bubble is impactical for college sports ..."

 

At least to an extent, CU is part of putting that to the test.

 

 Keep reading here

 

 

October 4, 2020

It Can't Happen Here?

It didn't. Not Then. 

But what about this? 

Lewis2.jpg

 

On Thursday (October 1), I posted a link to my brief sardonic commentary about the possible plotline for my next novel. It starts with an incumbent president seeking re-election and implying he might not accept the results and leave office if he loses.   


Despite the frequent lack of civility in the current landscape, overnight events then led me to conclude it was inappropriate at the time. 


I'm now reposting the link. It's fiction. The idea pays homage to Sinclair Lewis, though I'll go my own direction. When we figure out what that direction is.


If you care to, take a look here.

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER, LINKED HERE OR KEEP SCROLLING DOWN
(Back after a brief interlude.) 
September 9 -- "Trust us ..."
September 4 -- Avs let it get away
September 2 -- "Who Own the Avalanche?"



September 27, 2020

You'd think Nuggets,

Avalanche earned their 

way back on air, right?   

PepsiCenter2.jpg

The Pepsi Center's two major occupants won a combined three playoff series. 

 

 As Kroenke Sports and Entertainment mogul Stan Kroenke followed the progress of another team in his family empire -- the Los Angeles Rams -- against the Bills at Buffalo Sunday, the post-mortems about the Ann Walton Kroenke-owned Avalanche and Denver Nuggets continued.

 

One thing I know: They're too good to be off the air, so to speak, again next season.

 

Keep reading here

 

 

September 25, 2020

 

Pac-12's plan to play 

in fall, after all, is cautious

and sensible. But...

    

CUKick2.jpg 

CU was in the stretch of its 2019 home season when Evan Price made this game-winning, 37-yard field goal with no time left to give the Buffaloes a 16-13 win over Pac- 12 rival Stanford on Nov. 9. If all goes as (re-)planned, CU won't open its 2020 season until nearly a year later.

  

The Pac 12 decided it couldn't afford to be left out.

 

Keep reading here 

 

 

 

 

September 13, 2020

Colorado prep football 

seems destined to return,

but gamesmanship stinks  

Stras.jpg

 

Colorado High School Activities Association commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green got fed up Saturday.

 

She was bothered by the confusion about, or mischaracterization of, the organization's actions tied to the posssibility of prep football being played this fall, after all.  

 

Here's what's really going on.  

 

Keep reading here 

 

 

 


September 12, 2020

Big Bill's Day of Giving

becomes month-long

fundraiser for JBFCF

BigBills2019f.jpgBigBill2020Page1.jpg

Because of COVID-19-related restrictions, Big Bill Ficke -- a legend in the Colorado sports community -- had to tweak his iconic 9/11 Day of Giving at Big Bill’s NY Pizza in Centennial this year. The proceeds annually benefit the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation, which has donated $1.3 million for Colorado cancer organizations since 2009. But it still raised a stunning $60,000 this week, including online contributions, and Bill now is labeling September the "Month of Giving." Last year, the Day of Giving led to $145,000 in contributions to Colorado cancer-related organizations.    

 

Keep reading here 

 

 

September 9, 2020

Reliance on unidentified

sources means: "Trust us."

Problem with that is ...

 

Face it: The reliance on unidentified sources is diminishing the impact of The Atlantic storyI'm not criticizing it. I believe he said it and my disdain is on the record. I get the argument -- reprisals and much more -- that there was no other way to do it. But this isn't 1972. "Just trust us" doesn't work.      

 

Keep reading here

 

 

 

September 4, 2020

After letting Game 7

get away, Avs' future

remains promising 

MacKinnonGame7Dallas.jpg

 

Two thoughts struck me in the immediate aftermath of the Avalanche's 5-4 overtime loss to the Stars Friday afternoon in Edmonton.

 

First, as disappointing as it was for the Avalanche to have its season come to a sudden end, and for those emotionally invested in its fortunes, it was clear that this team wouldn't have been much of a Stanley Cup threat moving forward.


Second, though, the Avs should be kicking themselves for being done this soon. They let Game 7 -- and the series -- get away from them.  

 

Keep reading here     

 


September 3, 2020

It takes more than 

being down to 3rd goalie

to faze Jared Bednar 

BednarKellyCup22.jpg BednarMonstersCup.jpg

Left: As captain of the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays, Jared Bednar hoists the Kelly Cup, named after former Colorado Rockies coach Pat Kelly.

Right: As coach of the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters, Bednar hoists the Calder Cup.  

 

If the Avalanche manages to complete the unlikely comeback from a 3-1 deficit and knock off the Stars after having to rely on its third goalie, considerable credit should and will go to unflappable coach Jared Bednar.

 

(Well, not to sound like Hank Kimball on "Green Acres," but it's probably more accurate to say Bednar is flappable; and that he just flaps when flapping is called for, picking his spots -- and almost always behind the scenes.)

 

The man from Saskachewan paid his dues ... and then some. Sometimes it seems he played or coached everywhere except Hooterville before finally reacing the NHL four years ago.   

 

Keep reading here

 

 

 

September 2, 2020

In 2020 playoffs, Denver 

and Kroenke ownership

alone with two teams alive 

AnnWaltonKroenke.jpgKroenkeStan22.jpg

Left: Ann Walton Kroenke and Josh Kroenke. Right: Stan Kroenke

 

Among the ownerships with both NHL and NBA teams in their portfolios, only one still has a team alive in both leagues' playoffs.

 

And, at least officially, that owner is not Stan Kroenke.

 

Keep reading here 

  

 

AUGUST, LINKED HERE OR KEEP SCROLLING DOWN
August 15 -- Rather than bash out 1,000 words ...
August 8 -- Appearace on Sandy Clough podcast

August 22, 2020

MacKinnon has

become go-to star

for NBC to promote

MacKinnonWoody22.jpg 

 

Three years ago, Nathan MacKinnon was struggling and the Avalanche could have been justified to wonder if signing him to a seven-year, $44.1-million contract extension would go down as Sakic's Folly. Now McKinnon is pretty much implicitily being billed by NBC, including during the Mother Ship network national telecast Saturday night, as the must-see TV top player in the league. And that contract? What a bargain.

 

(By the way, the Avalanche's Game 1 loss only counted as one loss.)

 

Keep reading here

 

 

 

August 22, 2020

The Witch's Season's 

circuitous journey

started in high school

 WitchFinal.jpgWilley.jpgTableau.jpg

 

The Witch's Season, my first novel, has had a circuitous journey, even going back to when I started it in high school and a part of it appeared in Tableau, the Wheat Ridge High student literary magazine. And to when I went to a Boston comedy club to see "All My Children" star Walt Willey -- who played the most popular of Erica Kane's eight husbands -- do his standup.  

 

Keep reading here 

 

 

 

August 16, 2020

Warren Jackson bidding

farewell to CSU ... and 

most seem to get it 

WarrenJacksonLeaving.jpg

It was no surprise Sunday when CSU wide receiver Warren Jackson announced he was leaving the Rams' program to focus on preparing for the 2021 NFL draft. He's going to be at the leading edge of college seniors-to-be who choose not to stick around to see if their programs' delayed seasons actually are played next spring. And who can blame them? Nobody.

Keep reading here

 

 

 

August 15, 2020

Here's my commentary 

on how the Avalanche 

lost Game 3 to Coyotes

Kuemper.jpg

Coyotes goalie Darcy Kuemper, then with the Wild.

 

Rather than bash out 1,000 words ...

 

One picture. 

 

 

 

 

August 14, 2020

 No need for *

for NBA, NHL's

2020 champions 

WoodtGreekFreak.jpg 

 

If these 2020 NBA and NHL championships come with asterisks in the historical listings, they simply should be reminders of the unprecedented conditions.

They should not be diminishments of the accomplishments.


Read it here on woodypaige.com 

 

 

 

 

August 12, 2020

In wake of Pac-12

decision, here comes

the backlash  

CUKarlatPodium.jpg 

Karl Dorrell, Rick George and Phil DiStefano when Dorell was hired. It will turn out that he doesn't coach a game in 2020.


The Pac-12 did the right thing, shutting down sports until 2021.

 

Keep reading here  

  

 

August 8, 2020

Talking Orange Crush,

Valley Highway, team

that changed Denver ...  

SandyPodcast.jpgTerrySandyMedium11.jpg

I appear with Sandy Clough (above, with me at a Barnes and Noble book signing) on the new edition of his Mile High Memories podcast. We talk about the 1977 Broncos and my book, '77: Denver, the Broncos and a Coming of Age.    

 

Listen here

 

Check out the book here 

 

 

 

August 5, 2020

Pushing back, squeezing 

in sports seasons as good

as CHSAA could hope for  

  

Strasburg66.jpg

 A seven-game high school football season in the spring?

 

Anybody have a better idea that could fly in the current pandemic?

 

I don't.

 

Keep reading here

 

 

 

August 4, 2020

Troubling accusations

for CSU football lead

to late statements  

JoeParker4.jpg

Late Tuesday night,  CSU issued statements from AD Joe Parker and coach Steve Addazio about troubling accusations in a Coloradoan story posted Tuesday afternoon and an investigation launched by CSU President Joyce McConnell. Given the extraordinary situation and the serious health stakes involved, any member of the CSU coaching staff confirmed to have interpreted tough, old-school football as rationalization for scoffing at COVID-19 protocols and symptoms should be in line for a sanction, suspension -- or even firing, if deemed sufficiently egregious.    

 

Keep reading here       

       

 

 

 August 2, 2020

How widespread is

the Pac-12 players'

nascent rebellion?  

CUKick2.jpg

This field goal as time expired gave Colorado a 16-13 win over Pac-12 rival Stanford last season.

 

The Players Tribune piece signed only by the "Players of the Pac-12" is impressive, extensive and idealistic, if marred by the lack of specific signatories pending endorsement on social media.

 

Keep reading here 

 

 

JULY, LINKED HERE OR KEEP SCROLLING DOWN

July 31, 2020

Pac-12 football plans  

come with a lot of

wishin' and hopin' 

 

Pac12Zoom.jpg

The principals on the Pac-12's Zoom call Friday. Top left, Stanford coach David Shaw; middle left, Pac-12 Network's Ashley Anderson; bottom left, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. Top right, Pac-12 Network's Yogi Roth; middle right, Arizona State AD Ray Anderson; bottom right, Oregon State associate AD (sports medicine) Doug Aukerman.      

 

When the Pac-12 announced its revised, 10-game, in-conference-only schedule Friday, the league's position seemed to involve, well, a lot of wishin' and hopin'.

 

Keep reading here 

 

 

 

 

July 30, 2020

CSU's football "pause" 

part of mixed messages

on national scene  

AddazioSpring.jpg.w560h615.jpgACC.jpg 

The messages on the college football front this week are glaringly mixed.


Even as the determined-to-play ACC issued a schedule matrix minus specific dates that looked like a board game, including  10 league games and guest member Notre Dame, the word out of Fort Collins was that the Rams would suspend on-campus team activities because of eight positive COVOD-19 tests within the program, among 140 tests, since players returned to campus in June.

 

Keep reading here

 

 

July 30, 2020

With no exhibitions,

it will be tougher 

to beat NFL odds 

WoodyThielen.jpg 

No NFL exhibition games.

 

That’s right, I called them exhibition games. 

 

Keep reading here on woodypaige.com

 

 

 

July 23

For Avs, an ultimate

test of camaraderie 

and chemistry 

 

GabeZoom.jpg 

Depending on how far the Avalanche advance, they will be isolated under the bubble in Edmonton for at least four weeks, and as long as 10 weeks. (Roughly speaking ...) 

 

Is one risk getting sick of each other?

 

Keep reading here 

 

 

 

July 20

CSU's Joe Parker says

50-percent max crowds on

table for the state   

Parker1.jpg

Joe Parker listening to then-CSU quarterback Nick Stevens' availability after a 2018 Rams win in Canvas Stadium.  

 

If this becomes the plan, will the stands be half full or half empty?

 

Keep reading here. 

 

 

 

July 19, 2020

Breaking my rule.

Once. With first person

to walk on the moon 

Challengeheadllne.jpg

ArmstrongSuitMoon.jpg ArmstrongTrimmed.jpg

This was 33 years ago, before most media credentials emphasized "no autographs" on the back.

 

It was unplanned.

 

And I'd do it again. 

 

Keep reading here. 

 

 

 

 

July 14, 2020

Will NHL players 

still get fighting mad

amid precautions?

WoodyFight.jpg

 

This is the appropriate time to move toward a permanent “banning” of fighting in the NHL. 

 

Keep reading here on WoodyPaige.com 

 

 

 

 

July 13, 2020

CU AD Rick George

regrets necessity to 

scrub CSU game 

RickGeorge1.jpg

 

Colorado athletic director Rick George said he regrets the scrubbing of the Sept. 5 Rocky Mountain Showdown.

 
 
 
 
 

 

July 13, 2020

On first day of Avs camp,

looking ahead to no-crowd

atmosphere at Edmonton  

BednarCamp1.jpg Makar.jpg

Jared Bednar and Cale Makar spoke with media folks

via Zoom after first day of camp Monday  

 

 

After the Avalanche's first training camp practice Monday at the Pepsi Center -- which took place with a limited number of media members watching from high above -- Jared Bednar and three players spoke with reporters via Zoom. I asked Cale Makar and Erik Johnson about the challenges of playing in front of zero fans in Edmonton, in a sport that perhaps more than any other draws energy at home and, yes, on the road, from its paying customers. 

 

Keep reading here ...

 

 

 

July 10, 2020

So much for the first

Rocky Mountain Showdown 

on CSU campus in 63 years 

OrangeOut.jpg

 CSU's "Orange Out" game against Toledo last season

 

About those friendly annual Rocky Mountain Showdown wagers between Colorado and Colorado State alumni ...

 

Wait 'til 2023. 

 

Keep reading here...

 

 

July 8, 2020

The 17th annual

protest of Otis Armstrong

Ring of Fame omission  

Otis3.jpg


Congratulations to Mike Shanahan on his Ring of Fame selection, announced Tuesday. It is well-deserved.

But there's still a glaring omission: Otis Armstrong.

 
Keep reading here.
 
 

July 6, 2020

Betting here is some

pro sports emergency

media protocols will stick

MacLocker1.jpgJokicHall.jpg 

Post-game interviews with players in the locker rooms -- as with Nathan MacKinnon here? Or even face-to-face chats in the hallway, as here with Nikola Jokic? They're going to be history.  

Much of the upcoming NHL and NBA coverage will be coming from writers across the gamut of media who might as well be reporting from their dens.

In fact, many probably will be reporting from their dens.

 

Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

 

 

JUNE, LINKED HERE OR KEEP SCROLLING DOWN 
 
 

June 27, 2020

No Civil War?

Call Oregon-Oregon State 

the Baker-Renfro Cup 

bakerrenfro.jpg

Portland's Jefferson High School Democrats in 1959: A future Heisman Trophy winner has just handed off to a future inductee in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And that isn't even close to the entire story for these multi-sport collegiate stars at Oregon State and Oregon.

 

Over the last couple of days, I've been asked what I thought of the announced joint decision from Oregon and Oregon State to cease calling their athletic rivalry matchups "The Civil War." 

 

Keep reading here  

 

 

 

June 25, 2020 
The day they stopped
playing "Dixie" at
Razorback games
 
 
Brown.jpgBrown2.jpg
Darrell Brown as an attorney and as he is honored for being the first black Razorback.  
 
One of the sublots in my book Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming was the battle in 1969 over the use of the song "Dixie" as the University of Arkansas' unofficial athletic anthem. 
 
I tracked down students and faculty members involved in the fall-long attempt to ban the distasteful song, including the law student who was shot in the leg on campus the night before the historic Texas-Arkansas 1969 "Big Shootout" in Fayetteville. 
 
 
 
 
  

June 23, 2020

During down time,

catching up with the

kids' book classics

ClutchFront.jpg.w180h267.jpgTomkinsvillefront.jpg.w300h477.jpg

I have been asked many times why a book called Fourth Down Showdown showed up in my Amazon.com author listings, with my name listed after you navigated to the book’s specific sales page. Eventually, not because I was disowning any association, but to make it more clear, I asked that Amazon specify that I was not one of the authors, but that I had written the afterword.

 

Yeah, I’m a Chip Hilton nut. 

 

Keep reading here

 

 

June 21, 2020

Father's Day: Pilot,

college and NFL

coach ... and Dad

P385.JPG

In the past week, broadcaster and former NFL wide receiver Ahmad Rashad appeared on Bomani Jones’ ESPN podcast, “The Right Time.”  

Ahmad was at the University of Oregon, on one of the nation’s most volatile campuses, during a different turbulent time. He was a slotback and running back for the Ducks for three seasons, from 1969-71.     

He told Jones: “We had a coach that was really interested in developing young men.” 

Keep reading here on WoodyPaige.com 

  

June 14, 2020

Rename Stapleton area

after Denver native

Lt. Col. John Mosley

MosleyFacebook1.jpg

MosleyFacebook2.jpgMosleyFacebook3.jpg

Today, it struck me that the perfect choice for a new name for the Stapleton area in Denver would be Mosley.

 

In honor of Lt. Col. John Mosley. 

 

Keep reading here  

 

 

 

June 11, 2020

Legal sports wagering

has arrived in many states,

but it's hard to tell

WoodySportsBook.jpg

Who stayed up through the night to watch the Kwoom Heroes face the Samsung Lions in the Korean Baseball Organization?

And how many checked in on the progress of the live-streamed Andrey Kirilenko vs. Aleksandr Volkov match in Moscow Liga Pro table tennis?

With sports shut down for nearly three months, there hasn’t been a lot to bet on these days.

Especially live on a Monday night.

Keep reading here on WoodyPaige.com  

 

 

 

June 9, 2020

The celebration was on

19 years ago tonight

at the Pepsi Center

leyba.jpg 

John Leyba's iconic shot of Ray Bourque raising the Stanley Cup ... finally. Joe Sakic's gesture remains the best handoff in the history of Colorado sports.

   

Here's what I wrote 19 years ago tonight as part of a team effort on deadline from the Pepsi Center:

 
Milan Hejduk Sr., a hockey player and longtime coach in what has become the Czech Republic, speaks only a few words of English. Words such as, "hello," "hockey" and "Stanley Cup!"

 

In the bedlam that was the Colorado Avalanche dressing room late Saturday night at the Pepsi Center, the elder Hejduk called over a native Czech journalist. He motioned at Joe Sakic, the son of Croatian immigrants to Canada, and asked that a message be passed along.

 

A few seconds later, the writer was telling Sakic: "Mr. Hejduk says you're the greatest player he has ever seen."

 

 
 
 

June 6, 2020

Why a major NHL award

is named after ex-DU

Pioneer Bill Masterton

Masterton.jpg MastertonTrophy.jpg

The Colorado chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association -- an organization I served for many years as a chapter chair and a vice president -- announced Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves is its nomination for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for "this" season. 

 

The award is supposed to go to the player who best exemplifies "perseverence, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."

 

Each PHWA chapter nominates one player for an organization-wide vote.

 

One Colorado player has won the award.

 

(Final Jeopardy theme.)

 

Give up?

 

Keep reading here

 

 

 

 

MAY, IN THIS ORDER BELOW
May 27 -- The NHL "plan" isn't a plan yet.
May 20 -- O'Brien, Jackson developing chemistry ... 1,100 miles apart
May 15 -- This time I really mean it: Write off NBA, NHL seasons
* May 6 -- What if the Blazers had drafted Michael Jordan
May 1 -- "Last Dance" from court level at '92 NBA Finals
 
 

May 28, 2020

Greatest minor-league

team since expansion:

1970 Spokane Indians 

IndiansGroup.jpg 

(milb.com)

 

 

It's hard to grasp that it was 50 years ago.

 

It seems like ...

 

OK, it seems like 50 years ago. 

 

But it's still hard to grasp.

 

Keep reading here 

 

 

May 27, 2020

What Bettman, NHL

put on table doesn't 

yet qualify as "a plan"

 

Respectfully, I disagree with the widespread portrayal of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s Tuesday announcement as a “plan.”

It was not.

Bettman presented a broad outline, mostly confirming what already had come out.

The 2019-20 regular season is over.

Details will continue to be negotiated with the players association.

If and when the NHL returns to the ice, 24 teams will make the playoffs, two markets will be the Eastern and Western Conference “hub” cities for at least most of the postseason and there will be no fans in the seats.

The list of U.S. markets under consideration as NHL hubs is lengthy — seemingly everywhere except Mystery, Alaska and Charlestown — as the NHL continues to try and check all the boxes for each.

Bettman addressed that Tuesday on NBCSN’s “NHL Live: Return to Play” Tuesday.

“We didn’t want to be in a situation with things in the world moving so quickly, changing from day-to-day, we didn’t want to get locked in,” he said. “We don’t want to go to a place where there’s a lot of COVID-19, we don’t want to go to a place where we can’t get the testing we need and where there’d be extensive testing.”

He noted, “Currently we don’t think we could do this in the Canadian markets because there is a 14-day quarantine. We are talking to the Canadian government about it, but if we get done with training camps and we want to go to a Canadian city and in order to do that we’re going to quarantine for 14 days, that isn’t going to work….We’re probably three weeks or more away from having to make a decision, but I didn’t want to be in a situation where we locked into one place and something was going on there that might want to cause us to reconsider, so it’s great that we have all of these options.”

To his credit, Bettman all along has been careful in his public remarks, including when he previously acknowledged the league should avoid “jumping the line” for COVID-19 testing.

He still is making it clear the outline won’t be activated into reality unless conditions warrant.

This follows the disclosure that the NBA is talking with Disney (i.e., ESPN) about using Orlando as the headquarters in its restart, though considerable debate remains over the format — whether the regular season resumes and how the playoff field is determined and then how it plays out.

The decisions certainly aren’t theirs alone, but the leagues don’t want to come off as the first wave carelessly storming the beaches.

And good for them for that.    

The more prudent action would be to declare the remainder of 2019-20 regular seasons and playoffs to be scrubbed in both leagues.

Instead of scrambling to “save” this season, determine champions and award the Larry O’Brien Trophy and Stanley Cup, the two leagues should do all they can to gear up for 2020-21 — under whatever conditions are possible by fall.

In late 2004 and early 2005, I was calling NHLPA vice president Bob Boughner -- then an Avalanche defenseman and now the coach of the San Jose Sharks -- at his home in Windsor a couple of times a week, seeing if there was anything he could tell me about the status of the NHL lockout. In November 2004, I went to New York to interview Bettman in his office for ESPN.com and the Denver Post and knew he was using me to get more about the league's position out here. Eventually, of course, the league scrubbed the entire season, went without a 2005 Stanley Cup champion and returned the next season with the revenue-based hard salary cap system it desperately wanted and still is in place 15 years later. 

This is different. Far different. But way down the list, the NHL can go with not crowning a champion one year.       

This is playing out as MLB and college football sort their way through the mazes, too.

The NHL and NBA share common issues, many common markets and arenas, and even in some cases common franchise ownerships.

Bettman came to the NHL from the NBA front office 27 years ago, meaning many fervent hockey loyalists dismissing him as “a basketball guy” just about has run its course. (Just about … not entirely.)

Yet it’s been a bit surprising that the leagues haven’t worked together more on this.      

If NBA and NHL provisional plans for a return are scheduled, then have to be pushed back, and it also drastically affects next season’s timetables as well, it’s a counterproductive mess.

But I get why the leagues are giving this a shot.

An aside: Among the many “minor” things to work out for the TV studio-type settings is whether to pipe crowd noise into the arenas or into the TV feeds. After all, great TV series have had laugh tracks, even if those connected to the shows hated them (i.e., “M*A*S*H). Or should they emulate “The Office” and “Corner Gas” and go without.

Speaking frankly about the possibilities moving forward can be portrayed as negativism in trying times. That’s not what this is. I hope everything the NHL and NBA does works. Because that would mean the world around them is rebounding.

 

May 20, 2020

CSU's O'Brien, Jackson

trying to add chemistry...

1,100 miles apart

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Steve Addazio onfield with Patrick O'Brien (12) at a March 3 spring practice -- one of the seven the Rams got in before the shutdown.

 

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On Wednesday, CSU quarterback Patrick O'Brien was in the San Juan Capistrano area, between Los Angeles and San Diego.

 

"I went home for spring break," he said on a video conference call with members of the media. "I haven't been able to come back since then. . . I'm ready to come back and play football and see the guys." 

 

O'Brien's top wide receiver, Warren Jackson, is from the Mission Hills area, about 25 miles northwest of L.A.

 

So in theory, if Jackson were at home with his father, Ron, in the San Fernando Valley, he could have sought to manage to find a way to throw with O'Brien, even through California's stay-at-home order.

 

Problem is, Jackson is among the CSU players who remain in Fort Collins and are -- to whatever extent possible -- working out on their own together, and not on-campus.

 

When O'Brien and Jackson separately spoke on the video conference call, they were 1,100 miles apart.

 

O'Brien had just arrived home from a workout and was speaking from his car, sporting a moustache he grew since the shutdowns halted the Rams' spring practices in mid-March after seven on-field workouts.


Since then, the new Steve Addazio staff has been virtually coaching, with online meetings, as it attempts to put its stamp on the program in the wake of Mike Bobo's departure and Addazio's hiring after his firing at Boston College.

 

O'Brien mentioned Addazio's "unwavering confidence that we're going to come back and play. Having someone you know, that you can trust that he's giving you the information when it comes in, that's the focal point of the guy who's the leader of the whole team, to keep pushing us to keep working out and to keep getting better."

 

I spoke with O'Brien after one of those seven spring workouts, and that commentary can be accessed by scrolling down to March 4. He and I talked about how this season, he's going in as the unquestioned starter, as the guy, after taking over the No. 1 role at mid-season following Collin Hill's season-ending knee injury.

 

With that, comes a swagger and a mandate to lead, and that mostly has been put on hold, unless you can additionally establish leaderhip credentials on a phone or computer screen.

 

In fact, it seems likely O'Brien returns to Fort Collins soon, especially now that the NCAA Wednesday voted to allow football and basketball programs to resume "voluntary" on-campus organized team activities on June 1.

 

"It's tough," he said. "You'r not really seeing the guys as much. For me personally, I've just kept up in texting with people, keeping the spirits up and everything. We're not seeing each other face to face. Really the only two I actually have been seeing is the quarterbacks. We turn on our face cameras . . . Once we get back all together, I think we're going to take off right where we left off."

 

The Rams' quarterback meeting room added a face recently, when the record-setting Garrett Grayson -- now out of pro football after going to New Orleans as a third-round pick in 2015 -- "attended" remotely.

 

"He was really talking about the journey, how things weren't really going as great at CSU, and they really turned it around," O'Brien said. "They were quite a special team toward the end of his career. Just hearing the things that he did as a leader and just the way that he picked up his play was really inspirational. He talked about Drew Brees, since he was with him with the Saints, the amount of effort and work he puts into every single day to be that great quarterback that he is. He wasn't only talking about himself, but guys that inspired him and I thought it was awesome. I wanted to pick his brain, and I learned a lot from him."

 

So what has O'Brien been doing in his return to California? 

 

"I've been training three times a week now with a couple of my buddies that play at UofA (Arizona), and we have a trainer come in," he said. "We've been litfting pretty hard that way, and we try and stay in shape and I've been throwing as much as possible as well. I think I'm going to be in good shape when I come in. I think it's whatever you can do to stay healthy and not catch the virus and stuff, but also stay in shape is the mentality I have right now."                           

 

Of course, the COVID-19 picture is changing daily, incuding in sports, with the NBA and NHL tiptoeing toward trying to finish their 2019-20 seasons and playoffs using "hub" neutral sites, and with MLB perhaps moving forward with an abbreviated season under a temporary regional realignment -- all minus fans in the seats. College football is the most unsettled of all, including because if California schools don't include on-campus classroom instruction, it's even possible CSU Mountain West brethren from California don't play at all. And any college football this fall also is likely to be played in what amounts to television studio atmospheres. Another idea being kicked around is cutting back to league games or regional games only, which in Colorado would eliminate the CU-CSU Rocky Mountain Showdown to open the season in Canvas Stadium.  

 

"I don't see the California schools holding back other teams from playing, if they're able to," O'Brien said. "Whatever happens happens, I'll obviously be ready to go whenever we play."  

 

I asked him whether playing in empty stadiums would dilute the enouyment of his senior season.

    

"I think it would take away a lot," he said. "Fans really make college football what it is. The tradition. Not having them there would be terrible. I wouldn't enjoy it. I've njoyed playing football with everybody, but having the fans out there, having the songs. the tradition that comes along with it, it would really add somehting special for the players as well on game day. It definitely would be disappointing if we're not allowed to have them there."

 

O'Brien said that communication from CSU president Joyce McConnell to students left him with the impression that the school would have on-campus classroom instruction this fall term.

 

Most likely, they just wouldn't be able to sing "Sweet Caroline" from the Canvas Stadium seats.

 

Although he hasn't been throwing to Jackson or his other CSU receivers, O'Brien said his chemistry with them shouldn't be a problem. "We kind of already understand each other," he said. "I think in a couple of weeks of practice and everything, I don't know if that would be too big of an issue. We kind of all understand how we work with each other."

 

Specifically of Jackson, O'Brien said: "Just coming from the spring, building something off what we had during the season, he had over 1,000 yards receiving and I threw for almost 3,000 yards, I think me and him as a combo can really make a splash this season. We have some other playmakers as well, but me and him, we're kind of understand how each other works. He knows what I want him to do and he expects me to throw the ball to his spot, so I think it's a good connection."   

           

A little later, Jackson said, "Patrick's going to be back here soon and we'll have a lot of time to gain all that back. I'm confident that that once we get back, we'll be able to get back to what we've been able to do. . . We talk maybe four times a week regularly. It's not always about football. It's seing how he's doing, how's the family, how's the friends. Just make sure he's safe." 

 

If the CU-CSU game remains the season opener for both teams, it might come after the NCAA allows teams that didn't get in any spring practices to have extra preseason practices to catch up. Under new coach Karl Dorrell, CU didn't have spring ball at all. But at this point, with both programs making the transition to new head coaches, and with Dorrell hired in February after Mel Tucker's bailout, CSU has a bit of an advantage.

 

"We got seven in, but it's huge," O'Brien said. "We were able to run the scheme that we were putting in against each other wih pads on and actually tackling and all that type of stuff," O'Brien said. "Coming into fall, everyone kind of has a grasp of what the coaches are trying to do in scheme and what plays we're trying to run and all that kind of stuff. We definitely wanted those (additional) eight practices, but we worked with what we got and when we come back, we'll be ready to go."                 

 

And, hey, what about that quarantine moustache?

 

"It turned into a, 'Can I actually do it' type of thing," O'Brien said. "Then I realized quickly that I can't do it. Some things have been posted about it. A lof of fans seem to like it. They don't want me to shave it. We'll see once the seasons rolls around."

 

My profile commentary on Jackson is here, through scrolling down to October 14. By that stage last season, it was apparent he was going to add to CSU's run of top wide receivers in recent years, joining Rashard Higgins, Michael Gallup and Bisi Johnson. He finished with 77 catches for 1,119 yards and eight touchdowns. Now, his senior season is going to come under bizarre circumstances.

 

"I would say we're ready right now," Jackson said. "A lot of my teammates and I are out here right now, working out. We work out every day. If need be, if we had to do it tomorrow, I think we could do it. . . I'm supposed to be a leader, also take people with me along the way. We work out every day, we lift weights and run routes and do everything right, go over the playbook.

 

"As of right now, we're playing on September 5. We're doing everything to get our bodies right, get our minds right, do all the little things ... Just doing everything we can to be ready for September 5."    

 

May 15, 2020

This time I really

mean it: Write off

NHL, NBA seasons

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This time I really mean it.

 

Since professional sports went into the lockdown mode in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I've written two Woodypaige.com columns with soon-to-evolve positions about the remainder of the 2019-20 seasons.

 

On March 20, I suggested eliminating the rest of the regular season and, when possible before a pre-determined deadline, going to a last-ditch, 16-team single-elimination playoff tournaments scheduled with cooperation between the two leagues, which in many cases share arenas and in some have common ownerships. Those tournaments could take place over a 13-day span, with the culmination as the Larry O'Brien Trophy presented one night, the Stanley Cup the next. It  would be a combination of March Madness and Game 7s every night. The premise was that they wouldn't be green-lighted until -- or if -- games could be played under "normal" conditions ... in home buildings with fans.         

 

Gee, it seemed conceivable at the time that teams could be back and playing in their home arenas -- with fans -- by Labor day, give or take.    

 

I soon gave up on that.

 

Then, on April 8,  I opined that the NHL and NBA should give up on trying to finish the 2019-20 regular season and playoffs -- most likely minus fans and perhaps at neutral sites -- and instead begin pointing toward 2020-21. 

 

Six weeks later, I'm doubling down on that.

 

Write off 2019-20, period, and look ahead to the 2020-21 seasons -- whenever and however they can be played. Redirect the energies and planning toward that.     

 

Return-to-play committees are pondering all of this, and various reports have indicated the NHL is leaning toward giving up finishing the regular season and is looking to move straight into the playoffs. That most likely would be with a 24-team field with best-of-three play-in series to get to the conventional 16-team field, and perhaps using four playoff hubs.   

 

The NBA is more interested in resuming play where it left off before getting to the playoffs.

 

It's all minus fans. And with painstaking and drastic testing mechanisms in place for everyone involved, starting with the players. 


The problem is, nailing down what is reality and the outlook for the near future both are moving targets. The situation changes daily. Viewpoints about "reopening" unfortunately are often formed with kneejerk politically-based conclusions as the basis. Whether this is a good or bad thing it up to you, but there is no single national strategy. The differences in approach -- and in the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak from state to state -- complicate the picture for those pondering the way-down-the-list in priority issue of how to get back to the games.

   

A spike in COVID-19 cases in the coming months seems inevitable, as part of the price for trying to get to a new normal.

 

MLB is dealing with all of this as it negotiates with its players over the terms of a possible early July start to the 2020 season under a temporary realignment -- again with no fans in the stadiums.

 

The NFL has its schedule on the table as the foundation, and will slide postponed games -- if any -- to the end of the season.

 

College football is throwing ideas against the wall in trying to save seasons, but not having students on campus -- as already is the plan in some places -- all but rules out universal participation in 2020. And, again, it's almost impossible to envision a scenario in which fans would be in the stadiums. Just for the sake of argument, even if that no-fan approach isn't mandated, would you return to crowded arenas in the rest of this calendar year minus a vaccine?

 

You first. 

     

Think of how quickly -- and drastically -- the pandemic crisis has evolved over the past two months.                

 

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's stance -- by implication, calling for patience rather than rushing into a plan that likely would have to be altered, anyway -- isn't illogical. He's discussed pushing next season back, if necessary. But that's part of it. The price of trying to salvage what still can be labeled "this" season could be fouling up 2020-21 as well. As soon as the NBA and NHL roll out their plans, they probably would have to be changed. At least the NFL has a contingency approach built in. Neutral or hub sites and empty arenas wouldn't prevent changing on the fly from being likely for both the NBA and NHL.     

 

To adapt a line from hockey immortal Dave "Tiger" Williams: Declare the 2019-20 seasons done like dinner. 

 

 

 

May 6, 2020

Alternative narrative:

What if Blazers had

drafted Michael Jordan?

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              Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

 

May 1, 2020

In light of "Last Dance,"

view from court level

at ‘92 NBA finals

 

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"The Last Dance," the 10-part series on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls' run to six NBA championships in the 1990s, is drawing immense interest.

 

I've been thinking back to when I was sports columnist at The Oregonian, covering the 1992 NBA Finals.

 

Jordan and the Bulls broke through for title No. 1 in 1991, knocking off the defending champion Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals and then the Lakers in the championship series.

 

So in 1992, the Finals matched the Trail Blazers and Bulls, and it was an intrguing series for a handful of reasons.

 

Keep reading here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APRIL, IN THIS ORDER BELOW
April 25 -- NoCo health care execs' chilling letter to Weld commissioners  
* April 24 -- How many of the four first-round QBs will be busts?  
* April 22 -- Arizona as an MLB laboratory
April 20 -- Guns and Columbine
April 16 -- Jared Bednar on the waiting game
April 13 -- Pioneers bid farewell to Ian Mitchell
April 9 -- Rams-Ducks: Worst uniform bowl ever 
* April 8 -- Time to declare NBA, NHL seasons over
April 2 -- CU AD Rick George on name, image, likeness
April 1 -- Checking in, virtually, with CSU coach Steve Addazio 
  

April 25, 2020, 7:15 p.m.

NoCo health care execs tell

Weld County commissioners:

Opening "too soon" would be dire    

Moran1.jpgKarsten.jpgSchock.jpg

 

Left: Mitzi Moran, CEO, Sunrise Community Health (Screen shot: KUSA/Channel 9)

Center: Margo Karsten, President, Western Region, Banner Health (Michael Brian)

Right: Marilyn Schock, President, UC Health Greeley Hospital (Michael Brian) 

 

 

When I worked in Greeley, I spoke with and wrote about several area health care executives -- including the three pictured above.

 

Here's my dual profile of Margo Karsten, whose company oversees North Colorado Medical Center near downtown Greeley, and Marilyn Schockwhose firm has the new competing UCHealth hospital that opened last year in West Greeley.

 

Here's what I wrote about Moran and the remarkable Sunrise Community Health during the infamous Bomb Cyclone Storm in early 2019.  And here's Channel 9's excellent look at the situation Friday, including an on-camera interview with Moran about the challenges Sunrise faces during the pandemic. With its anchor Monfort Family Clinic in Evans, Sunrise and its 11 facilities are the primary health care outlet for the area's disadvantaged. 

 

On Saturday, Karsten, Schock and Moran were among the six who signed and sent a letter to the five Weld County commissioners, expressing their concerns and fears about the commissioners' "Safer at Work" plan that would allow businesses to re-open if they follow specified social-distancing guidelines

 

Keep reading here

 

 

 

 

April 25, 2020

Four first-round QBs:

How many will be busts?

Why so hit and miss?

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 Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

April 22, 2020

Arizona should be

MLB laboratory, if

that's the way they go 

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Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

 

 

 

April 20, 2020

Guns and Columbine:

Laws tightened,

but not soon enough 

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Here's the Facebook post about today's Columbine Day of Service, 21 years to the day after two student murderers killed 13 at the high school.

 

I was honored to help former principal Frank DeAngelis, who remained on the job at Columbine until his 2014 retirement, with his 2019 book, They Call Me "Mr. De": The Story of Columbine's Heart, Resilience, and Recovery.

 

I also was privileged to aid Patrick Ireland, Columbine's "Boy in the Window," with his memoirs. (Excerpt on ESPN.com.)

 

The experiences and research convinced me that perhaps the most underplayed aspect of the killings was the ease with with the two student murderers obtained the four guns they took into the school that day.

 

They had:

 

-- A 9mm carbine.

 

-- A 12-gauge pump shotgun.

 

-- A double-barreled shotgun.

 

-- A TEC-DC 9 semi-automatic handgun.

 

The killers, not yet 18, watched as a female friend, who had just turned 18, purchased the first three guns for them at a well-known Adams County gun show from unlicensed private dealers. She showed ID and paid cash. She later said she wasn't asked to fill anything out and might have gotten cold feet if she had been. That was it.

 

The killers sawed off both shotguns.

 

They bought the TEC-9 for $500 from a seller introduced to them by a friend. That transaction was illegal and both involved in the sale served prison time.         

 

OK, now tell me that the killers would have found a way to acquire guns for their killing spree. Some way. Somehow. But it was disgustingly easy. And, to a point, it still is.           

 

Yes, laws have tightened since. Because of State Legislature foot-dragging, major reforms first came through the ballot initiative process, with Amendment 22 pushed by Tom Mauser, whose son, Daniel, was among the Columbine murder victims. That required background checks for buyers at gun shows. Then the state mandated that all sales at gun shows go thorugh licensed dealers. And after the Aurora theater shootings, state law required that even unlicensed dealers run background checks on all buyers, even outside of gun shows. 

 

Yet last year, an 18-year-old Florida woman with a Columbine obsession, Sol Pais, traveled to Denver and purchased a double-pump shotgun at a gun outlet two miles from Columbine. She passed both state and federal background checks, but she had done research and knew she wouldn't have been able to purchase a shotgun in Florida, where the minimum age for "long guns" was 21. She knew she could in Colorado. After Columbine and other schools went into lockdown one day and were closed the next, Pais' body was discovered after she committed suicide near the foot of Mount Evans.  

 

I'm not here to get into a deeper argument about gun rights and gun control. I know all those lines. On both sides. 

 

I also won't run through the list of other school shootings, here and elsewhere.

 

But today, I'll say: Remember the Columbine 13. And all the others.      

    

April 16, 2020

Jared Bednar on the

Avalanche waiting out

COVID-19 pandemic 

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The Avalanche would be finishing up a first-round playoff series about now ... if the world hadn't changed.

 

The team made coach Jared Bednar available on a conference call Thursday. He had remained in the Denver area with his wife, Susan, and daughter, Savega. The alternative in the immediate aftermath of the NHL shutdown on March 13 would have been for the Bednars to return to the family's long-time "permanent" home in Charlestown, S.C., where Bednar played and coached for the ECHL's Carolina Stingrays. But they're in Colorado, awaiting word on, among other things, whether Governor Jared Polis' stay-at-home order will end on April 26 or be extended.

 

With the resumption of the 2019-20 NHL season unlikely, but with alternatives -- including delay, neutral sites and games minus spectators -- nonethleless being tossed around, this is all a moving target. And the additional backdrop for the Avalanche is that three of its players have tested positive for COVID-19 and either are recovering or have recovered, yet there hasn't been team-wide testing.

 

"We have not been tested," Bednar said. "There's been a haldful of our players that have been tested."

 

That's astounding.

 

Yes, testing has been difficult to line up and implement, and it might be "unfair" to appear to prioritize athletes, but ... 

 

A little later in the call, I asked Bednar if he had input, and if he was uneasy about not testing the entire roster.

 

"No, I'm not actually," Bednar said. "Our guys have been given the information that if they're not feeling well, then they relay that information to our medical staff. Then in turn, they'll get tested and away we go. Same as the rest of the country and the world ... Our medical staff has been in touch with our players. Guys that have issues are getting tested. If they're not, everyone's following the guidelines the same as the rest of the country. That's self-isolation and social distancing. They're doing their part to try and stay in shape and stay healthy, so we're prepared and ready to go when our season resumes."

 

The Avalanche was 42-20-8 at the time of the shutdown, with 12 games to play, and was two points behind St. Louis, the Western Conference leader. In the NHL's messed-up playoff pairing system, Colorado -- as the second place team in the Central Division -- would have faced third-place Dallas in the first round of the playoffs if everything remained the same.


The situation changes every minute, and you don't need an attempted update from me. I will say this: Look around. Listen to the assessments from those who know what they're talking about. (Yes, figuring out who they are -- and aren't -- can be tricky.) But I feel even stronger today about what I wrote last week for woodypaige.com. Rather than laying out contingencies and alternatives, just do this: Declare the 2019-20 seasons over and move to hoping for and preparing for 2020-21.

 

I get the revenue issues involved, most notably with the NBA's television contracts, but there is no way it will be feasible or responsible to resume play before the fall, not just for health and public safety reasons, but also given so much else involved. Resuming "routine" under the new normal will be incremental, and as California Gov. Gavin Newsom pointed out, large crowds likely will only be allowed after herd immunity and a vaccine.


But those who want to get the NBA and NHL back in play will continue to consider the empty-arena alternatives.


With the sharp-edged emotional aspect of the game fed by the crowd in mind, I asked Bednar what playing in quiet and mostly deserted arenas might be like.

 

"That would be different," he said. "I think one of the things that makes the game so great is the passion of our fan base thorughout the league. It's unprecedented. I've thought about it. It would be hard to describe what it would be like until you went rhrough it or you had to go through it. All I can say is it would be different. You'd have to take it upon yourself as players and coaches to make sure that you brought the emotion because fans provide that a lot, in different buildings. We love playing at home in the Pepsi Center in front of our fans. It's why the guys do it. When you go on the road, you see the other team's energy as well. Going into some of those hostile environments and being able to come out with victories is what made it so special.

 

"Having people watch it on TV, you can still draw from some of that passion. It's about playing the game. So we'll just deal with those circumstances when we get to it. I try not to spculate on it too much, how it's going to be played, or what's going to be happening. When the league gets the data and they give us that information, again we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

           

 

 

April 13, 2020

Time marches on:

DU captain Ian Mitchell

signs with Blackhawks

MitchellMug.jpg

DU Monday announced that defenseman and captain Ian Mitchell, whose junior season ended prematurely last month, has signed a three-year entry level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

 

It was no surpise because the reality of the collective agreement puts NHL teams under pressure to sign draft choices after their junior seasons. As part of the draft-and-watch system, if drafted prospects stay for their senior seasons, they can become unrestricted free agents and sample the market in the summer (specifically, August 15) after the conclusion of their four-season collegiate careers.

 

That's how the Avalanche lost the rights to DU's Will Butcher, who signed with New Jersey, and signed Harvard's Alexander Kerfoot after the 2016-17 season. 

 

Mitchell, from Calahoo, Alberta, was a second-round pick in 2017. 

 

After the Pioneers lost to UMass and Cale Makar in the Frozen Foour semifinals a year ago, Mitchell quickly annoounced he would return for his junior season, but this was inevitable. The alternatives most likely were staying with DU or spending at least a transition season with the Rockford IceDogs of the American Hockey League.       

 

"I kind of always knew in my heart that I needed to come back another year," Mitchell told me after the Pioneers beat Boston College in October. "I wanted to come back. . . I'm thrilled to be back. Being the captain is a hige responsibility and a huge honor. I'm a guy that the other guys on the team look up to and I don't take that lightly."

 

The Blackhawks were willing to wait and follow his development for one more season, but the dynamic changed once it was over. The Pioneers, who would have hosted a regional at the Budweiser Event Center in Loveland, would have been a bona fide threat to win the national championship. But before the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoff series against Nebraska-Omaha, the sports world shut down and Mitchell's junior season -- and, inevitably -- and his DU career were over. 

   

IanMitchell11.jpg

I asked him about his relationship with the Blackhawks. 

  

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

 

In theory, if the NHL decides it's possible to return to the ice and finish the 2019-20 season, Mitchell could join the Blackhawk then. But the Pioneers' season definitely is done. Some of the actual details of his entry-level deal with the Blackhawks will be finalized after the NHL lays out its plans.

 

"We want to congratulate Ian on his signing with Chicago," Pioneers coach David Carle said in the Pioneers' new release. "We thank him for his three years of service to out university and hockey program. He always did the right thing, but he put others before himself and he was a model citizen for all to follow. We wish him the best of luck on the next chapter of his career."  

 

Mitchell had 10 goals and 22 assists for the Pioneers in the shortened season. He finished his DU career with 18 goals and 71 assists in 116 games. 

  

Now, the next time he plays in Denver, there likely will be thousands in the Pepsi Center rooting for him -- and the Blackhawks.   

 

That's the way the system works.  

 

Here's the Blackhawks' announcement, with links and video.

 

 

April 9, 2020

Freedom Bowl flashback:

Rams-Ducks in green and 

yellow/gold overload

 

 

Lance.jpg   

This one's just for fun, and it came up when CSU stalwart fan Lance Krisl posted the above on Twitter.

 

The bottom right picture jumped out at me because it was from the 1990 Freedom Bowl in Anaheim.

 

I was at the game for The Oregonian, and that night was struck by the garishnesss of the color scheme. It wasn't that either set was bad on its own. Together, they were a mess.

 

The Rams, with gold jerseys and green pants. 

 

The Ducks in their usual home uniforms, with green jerseys and yellow pants.

 

It was before the Ducks, thanks to their ties to Phil Knight and Nike, pioneered the expanding of uniform collections. Nationally televised, this was the final game in the standout careers of Ducks quarterback Bill Musgrave and Rams running back Tony Alford.

 

Musgrave, a four-year starter from Grand Junction whose first game for the Ducks was a win over Colorado in 1987. So if Oregon, which came in 8-3 and finished third in the Pacific 8, won the Freedom Bowl, Musgrave would have started and finished his career with wins over teams from his home state. He was the Gold Helmet winner in his senior season at Grand Junction High, but the Colorado schools didn't knock down the family door trying to recruit him, and he redshirted in 1986 before taking over the starting job following Chris Miller's departure for the NFL.    

 

This was CSU's first bowl game since 1948 and they were in their second season under Earl Bruce. The Rams came into the bowl with an 8-4 record, and at 6-1 finished second to BYU in the Western Athletic Conference.

 

alford2.jpg

Alford had a one-yard scoring run in the second quarter. (That's him, No. 24, being congratulated by his teammates after the TD at left.) He finished with 42 yards on 14 carries. Fullback Todd Yert had a 52-yard TD run and ended up with 94 yards on 12 carries.     

 

The Rams won 32-31 after the Ducks came up short on an attempted two-point conversion with 1:01 left to hold on.

 

It was CSU's first bowl win.

 

Ever.

 

Just for fun, here's what I wrote that night:

 

 

 

ANAHEIM -- A normally smart Oregon team came down with a severe case of Saturday night brain lock.

 

As in:

 

*Fumbles.

 

*Penalties.

 

*A crucial backfield collision in the end zone that led to a safety. Strangely enough, it involved the Ducks' only two players from the state of Colorado, Bill Musgrave and Ngalu Kelemeni, and the two points proved to be the difference in Colorado State's 32-31 victory in the Freedom Bowl.

 

*A snap to the punter that looked like the bouncing ball above the lyrics to ``Mighty Oregon.''

 

*And finally, a pass route that left the Ducks inches short of overcoming their own comedy of errors and writing a dramatic finish to Musgrave's career.

 

Although Musgrave threw for 392 yards, the Ducks otherwise played like it was one of those days. They looked like a bunch of guys who locked their keys in their cars and then, after a visit from the locksmith, left home with the irons still on and the garage doors still up.

 

It happens.

 

But the fact is that the Ducks were beaten by a considerably less talented, but gritty and overachieving Colorado State team. In last year's Independence Bowl the Ducks sneaked past Tulsa, a nonentity. This year, they couldn't pull it off.

 

Yes, the Ducks came within inches.

 

In fact, Oregon wide receiver Michael McClellan broke the magical plane of the end zone on the two-point conversion attempt that would have put the Ducks ahead with 1:01 left. Problem was, he broke the plane with his feet -- and not the ball -- after catching the pass from Musgrave.

 

It was hauntingly reminiscent of that Oregon loss at Arizona back in September, the one that ultimately might have prevented the Ducks from remaining higher in the polls and kept them out of a higher-profile bowl.

 

The Ducks again came so close to a comeback victory Musgrave could have held up his thumb and index finger and said: ``Missed it by this much.''

 

The Ducks drove 80 yards with the clock winding down, and with CSU leading by seven. They were part of an exciting game that probably drew channel-changing viewers around the country who tired of watching Texas A&M eat up Brigham Young like a pack of piranha in the Sea World Holiday Bowl. They earned credit for not taking the virtually automatic tie and going for the two-point conversion. I say that, of course, knowing Oregon coach Rich Brooks would have been skewered as a wimp from coast-to-coast if he had accepted a 32-32 standoff.

 

But all in all, as a team, the Ducks did not play a prime-time game.

 

CSU, the team that a few years ago was the bathmat of the Western Athletic Conference, did just that in the end of Earle Bruce's second season at the head of the program. The Rams walked away with an upset and with heightened admiration for Musgrave, the quarterback who left Colorado after high school.

 

``I have to give that guy all the credit,'' said CSU nose tackle Eric Schaller. ``They couldn't run the football at all, but Musgrave still got them in position to win the game. He's really something.''

 

But when McClellan came up short, Musgrave didn't go out a bowl-game winner. McClellan didn't argue the call, and his assessment could have fit more than the Ducks' final play.

 

``It was my fault,'' said McClellan, who otherwise had a superlative game with a 44-yard touchdown reception and nine catches overall. ``We had run that two or three times before and they probably knew what was going on. But it was still open. It was my fault. I didn't execute it well and I take the blame. I thought my feet were in, but I knew the ball didn't cross the plane.''

 

As he was speaking on the field shortly after the end of the game, McClellan was so hoarse, and the CSU celebration was so enthusiastic, he was hard to hear. But he got his message across.

 

``They played hard,'' he said of CSU. ``They played well. They've got a good coach and they were well-coached. I still think we're the better team, but they outplayed us today.''

 

Oregon center Scot Boatright, the native Californian who played his final game for the Ducks, had to tell a pursuing security guard that his on-field visitor was his wife. And then he put it on the line.

 

``Any time you make three turnovers when you're making nice drives down the field,'' said Boatright, ``you lose your momentum and put your defense in the hole.

 

``We had a great season. We accomplished some great things. This was kind of like our championship game, and we didn't have it tonight. That makes it disappointing. This maybe makes some things we accomplished this season seem not as important.''

 

By only inches.

 

 *   *   *

 

PS, 30 years later: I should have noted the uniform mess. The game was on prime time on a Saturday night, and it was much-noticed. I was writing for the Oregon audience, but I should have mentioned it was CSU's first bowl win.

 

Thanks to friend Kevin Coleman for pointing out this YouTube video with game highlights

 

And now? In Lance's poll, I vote for the uniforms in the bottom left photo. Yes, they're similar to Oregon's "old" uniforms. 

 

The video reminded me that Musgrave, who had a terrific four-year career, didn't have a rocket arm. What he had was smarts, moxy and accuracy. After moving on, Musgrave spent part of his NFL career as a John Elway backup for two years, then was Denver's offensive coordinator in 2017-18. He's now the offensive coordinator under Justin Wilcox at California. And Tony Alford, of course, is the assistant head coach/running backs at Ohio State after his other coaching stops included Notre Dame.

CSUFreedom10.jpg 

 CSUFreedom11.jpg

 

Here are the summary and stats from that night:

 

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

Final

Coach

Colorado State

7

7

5

13

32

Earle Bruce

Oregon

7

10

0

14

31

Rich Brooks

 

SCORING
CS.......Mike Gimenez 1 run (Mike Brown kick), 8:36, 1st
UO.......Anthony Jones 16 pass from Bill Musgrave (Gregg McCallum kick), 2:37, 1st
UO.......McCallum 23 FG, 11:56, 2nd
CS.......Tony Alford 1 run (Brown kick), 8:01, 2nd
UO.......Sean Burwell 3 pass from Musgrave (McCallum kick), :23, 2nd
CS.......Safety, Bud Bowie recovered fumble in end zone, 7:24, 3rd
CS.......Brown 35 FG, 2:23, 3rd
UO.......Michael McClellan 44 pass from Musgrave (Burwell pass from Musgrave), 14:24, 4th
CS.......Greg Primus 49 pass from Gimenez (Brown kick), 12:21, 4th
CS.......Todd Yert 52 run (kick blocked), 4:59, 4th
UO.......Burwell 1 run (pass failed), 1:01, 4th


Individual Leaders

Rushing
Burwell (UO) 12-20
Yert (CS) 12-94, Copeland (CS) 8-44, Alford (CS) 14-42

Passing
Musgrave (UO) 47-29-0-392
Gimenez (CS) 10-5-1-73, Verdugo (CS) 5-3-0-35

Receiving
McClellan (UO) 9-148, Burwell (UO) 7-54, Reitzug (UO)
5-97, Harris (UO) 2-37, Jones (UO) 2-35, Kelemeni (UO) 2-11.
Primus (CS) 2-63, Yert (CS) 2-18, Lidner (CS) 2-17.

 

Team Statistics

Oregon

Colorado St.

First Downs

21

16

Rushes / Yards

26-7

49-196

Passes

29-47-0

8-15-1

Passing Yards

392

108

Total Offense

399

304

Punting

3-38.3

6-34.7

Fumbles / Lost

5-3

2-0

Penalties

7-60

5-47

 

 

Alford.jpg
Tony Alford during his CSU career against Wyoming 


 

April 8, 2020

Final buzzer should

sound for NHL, NBA's

2019-20 seasons

NateCover.jpg DTJokic3.jpg

It's unfortunate, but also reality: Nathan MacKinnon and Nikola Jokic (with David Thompson) should have played their last games of the 2019-20 seasons.                        

 

Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

 

 

April 2, 2020

Amid so much on hold,

CU's George says NIL

report on track  

CUTadKarl.jpg

Rick George, center, with basketball coach Tad Boyle and new football coach Karl Dorrell 

 

Colorado athletic director Rick George offered updates in a conference call with media members Wednesday, and near the end I asked him about the progress of formalizing the revolutionary procedures for NCAA athletes being able to able to be paid for the use of their names, images and likenesses, beginning in 2023.

 

Geoge has been a major player on the 18-member committee studying the issue and preparing recommendations for the NCAA.

 

In the past couple of weeks, there have been both speculation and reports that tackling that issue, like so much else, was on hold.

 

George said that wasn't so.

 

"We haven't slowed down," George said. "We think it's important that we continue to move forward because we do think this is important work. Our timeframe hasn't changed. We've been meeting a lot, a couple of meeetings today as a matter of fact, virtually. We'll continue to keep moving this forward and make our final report to the (NCAA) board of governors at the end of this month."

 

The reason for getting this nailed down is obvious. Regardless of when teams return to practice fields and to games, the calendar pages will come off and recruiting will involve that revolutionary backdrop, with athletes pontentially considering that economic component in making their decisions. Yes, it's three years down the road now, but recruits signing in early 2021 would be redshirt sophomores or true juniors when NIL money-making opportunities can begin. Plus, of course, staffs already are making contacts with possibilities for recruiting classes of 2022 and, in rare cases, even beyond. (Even on Wednesday, 2022 prospect Jaden Mangham tweeted that he had been "re-offered" CU staff holdover Darian Hagan.    

 

While it's tempting to say only the elite will be in a position to benefit, it will be amazing how many prospects -- showered with attention, rated with stars, pampered -- will assume they'll be among that elite. So much of this seems to involve fairness and realism, but the biggest downside is the posible disgusting excesses in recruiting.

 

In other words, can a coach mention that the program has a booster car dealer who will guarantee the top prospect gets $100,000 over the course of his stay for signing autographs at the dealership? Even if it's only hinted at ("We have a car dealer booster who loves great players ..."), it's in play. Does that get out into a written agreement (doubtful) or is it a handshake, verbal agreement only?

 

You're laughing?

 

You don't think that could happen? (Have you not paid attention to college basketball?)

 

Or that if it did, there's nothing wrong with it?   

 

College football is plagued by a lack of parity -- the usual suspects are in the Top 25 every year -- and unfettered NIL practices would widen the gap.     

 

The NCAA did what it had to do in the wake of pressure from state legislatures and other lawmakers, but it must get the parameters out there as soon as possible.  

 

I'm on record:

 

-- If you wany to say that athletes deserve to be "paid," that's fine, but at least admit that a free college education -- through an athletic scholarship, plus cost of attendance stipends -- is a significant starting point. It's actually more than that, especially in the democratic realm of the third-string guard and distance runner in a non-revenue sport getting scholarships (full or partial), too.   

 

-- The ignorance and naivete displayed by many in portraying NIL as unprecedented and revolutionary borders on the comical. There was a time when virtually anything went in NCAA recruiting, and the package deals included cush summer "jobs" -- say, at Continental Airlines -- and sale of players' complimentary tickets. (In an amazing coincidence, the better players got more money for their tickets.) Those loopholes, among many others, were closed, and the those who deride the thickness of the NCAA rulebook don't seem to get how and why that came about. The most oft-cited football example -- SMU receiving the death penalty in 1987 and shutting down for two seasons -- was extraordinary mainly for its degree of of brazenness.    

 

That report will be monumentally important in setting the "new" standards.  

 

 

April 1, 2020

Coaching from Cape Cod

is the (virtual) reality for

Addazio -- for time being

CSUAddazioOBrien.jpg

Steve Addazio, left, on the practice field with Patrick O'Brien (12) and the Rams on March 3. 

 

New Colorado State coach Steve Addazio was able to see the Rams on the field for seven practices before what was planned to be a 12-day break in spring practice for the university's spring vacation. I checked in with him and quarterback Patrick O'Brien on the field after the second practice. The columns were posted on March 3 and March 4 and are achived below. 

 

A week later, the world changed, and on Wednesday, Addazio was at his second home at Cape Cod when CSU made him available to the meddia on a video conference.

 

With so much shut down and stay-at-home orders in place virtually everywhere, the football meeting rooms are computer screens. Like their contemporaries around the country, the Addazio staff is conducting business and metings with each other and with the players that way.

 

Regardless of where they are as the national social distancing guidelines are in place, at least through April. 

 

The strength and conditioning coaches send suggested workouts to players, but the staff has no way of knowing how zealously they're followed or whether the most exercise a player gets is taking the dog for a walk. 

 

Addazio was in the process of of finishing up the logistics of his family's move from the Boston area to Fort Collins during the spring break, and he says he won't return now until he's comfortable getting on -- or is able to get on -- a flight.   

 

addazioscreen.jpg

"If I could do any more, I'd start walking right now," he said. "It's going to be the same thing, on the computer on the laptop, have virtual meetings. It's not like we could be meeting as a staff or something like that somewhere. We can't do that. . . One thing I like with these meetings is they're so easy. When we commence our individual meetings, say at 2:30 or whatever time it is, I can just pop into those meetings and be a participant and watch what's being said or I can engage."

 

So what happens from here? A best-case scenario is that, amid everything else and way down the list of priority, teams are able to reconvene and practice in time for the season to commence on schedule. For the Rams, the opener would be the September 5 Rocky Mountain Showdown against Colorado at Canvas Stadium.

 

Secondarily, the NCAA would have to decide how to handle the disparity in the number of spring practices programs got before the shutdowns. CSU had seven. That's seven more than CU, and the Buffs have the additional disadvantage of needing to hire former CU assistant Karl Dorrell in February following Mel Tucker's exit. So if the rivalry is played for the first time in CSU's on-campus stadium, both Dorrell and Addazio will be making their debuts as their programs' head coaches.

 

"We were fortunate enough to get seven practices in," Addazio said. "Those other eight practices were critical. I think when you're trying to build, it's particularly difficult for programs that are starting with new coaching staffs because you don't have everything in place yet. We'll deal with what we have to deal with. It's hard to build a tough program. You're not building that in that virtual meeting, I'll promise you that. I told our kids, we're in a race to September 5. That's coming like a freight train. 

 

"The cards are dealt and we'll see who can be the best with this hand is what the $60 million question is. It doesn't really matter what could have been. No one is really going to care. It's not going to matter. It's about let's maximize every single day, every single way."

 

It all could turn out to be moot if the 2020 season is canceled. That possibility is very real and scary mostly because of the toll the coronavirus pandemic would have taken, and because of continuing fears. It also could be because of the need to err on the side of caution as we try to settle in with the new normal.        

 

"Of course, that thought goes through your head," Addazio said." I'm talking to a lot of my buddies, head coaches, assistant coaches, college, NFL. In my mind, I'm going to remain positive and very optimistic, but I have no crystal ball. . . In my heart of hearts, I know that our leadership in our country will do everything to make our players, our people, our families, as safe as they can possibly be. And within there the hope would be we have to get our lives going back.

 

"Hopefully all the efforts that we're doing right now, 30 days social distancing, washing your hands, don't touch your face, all those things we're all doing. So if we can flatten this thing out so at some point, whenever they deem it safe, we can start to resume some sense of normalcy. . . I'm sure there will be some adjustment. Best case scenario, it will have to remain flexible. But again, what do I know? I'm like you guys. I have been in front of this computer screen since early this morning and I said to myself what am I doing, this is crazy, but it's where we are."

 

It does seem likely that coaching staffs, for unfortunate reasons, will be learning that virtual meetings, whether just among staff or with the players, can be productive alternatives in "normal" times.

          

 

MARCH, IN THIS ORDER BELOW
March 31 -- The Nuggets' No. 1 and No. 2
March 30 -- Shoutout to the arts and "Stars in the House."
March 26 -- On the first day of statewide Stay-at-Home    
*March 25 -- Smoke 'em inside
*March 20 -- Last-resort proposal to crown NHL, NBA champions
March 10 -- Congrats to Dave Logan, Alex English ... 
*March 9 -- The first NCAA tournament  
*March 6 -- NHL is right to ponder EBUG changes
March 5 -- In these standings, Denver ranks ... 
March 4 -- Patrick O'Brien is No. 1, now on coach No. 4
March 3 -- Steve Addazio is a Stalwart type of guy
March 1 -- Altitude vs. Carriers goes on ... and on 
 
 

March 31, 2020

Nuggets best ever?

Here's No. 1 and No. 2. 

The rest, you can debate 

DavidLeap.jpgAlexJump.jpg

 Left: See why they called David Thompson "Skywalker"? Right: Alex English, the Pink Panther

 

With time on our hands, nowhere to go and no sporting events to watch on TV or attend, we've fallen back on online debates or "what's your favorite?"discussions for diversion. I've participated in some of it on social media. 


You know how it goes.

 

Movies: "Casablanca," "Gone With the Wind," "The Godfather" or "Back to School"?      

 

Bands: The Who, Rush, Rolling Stones, Journey, Beatles or The Left Banke? 

 

Novels: Catch-22, Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby or The Witch's Season?


Plus, of course, a lot of kibitzing about sports. Best games, best players, best teams.

    

Along the way, this came up: The best Nugget -- or Nuggets -- of all time?


The correct answers are:

 

1, David Thompson.

 

2, Alex English.

 

And go from there, selecting from among the many other terrific players who have passed through Denver. That list now includes Nikola Jokic, who last year became the Nuggets' first NBA first-team all-league choice in 41 years. Or since ... David Thompson was a first team choice in 1976-77 and 1977-78.

 

I realize many advance Carmelo Anthony, a great scorer who stopped the ball, too often freezing out his teammates as he brushed off suggestions that with a few tweaks, he could become a great all-around player. He was instrumental in the transformation of the Nuggets from downtrodden lottery team to playoff team, but he could have been so much better, both in the team and individual senses. If you liked the NBA limited movement half-court game, with one guy with the ball and four often standing still, frequently with their hands on their knees, Anthony's game was for you.

 

So you're not going to get me aboard that bandwagon. Not until we're well down the list and better all-around players than him -- Thompson, English and several others -- are off the board.  

 

A crucial distinction: There's a difference between: a) "favorite" players, since it comes with the underlying assumption that the choices come from the selector's own fan experience, and, b) "best" players, since that implies that selectors of all ages care enough to try to acquire knowledge about previous eras of the games. To wave off any references to other eras as "get off my lawn" is the ultimate intellectual laziness. In this case, too, we're not talking about guys who tried to put the ball into a peach basket.

      

The other aspect many don't grasp is that Thompson played a leading role in getting Denver into the NBA in the first place. When he signed with the ABA Nuggets in 1975, it added to the league's credibility -- the Nets already  had Julius Erving -- and not only hastened the merger, but led to the Nuggets immediately being among the top handful of teams in the NBA. And they were a success at the box office, too.  

 

In that final season of the ABA, when Thompson was a rookie in 1975-76, the fun part was that in a league that shrunk from nine to seven teams during the season, the New York Nets, with Erving, seemed to come in every two weeks. I was attending CU at the time, and we'd go to the ticketing service window in the University Memorial Center on weekday game days and get $4 tickets to the games against the Nets or Kentucky.

 

Thompson alone was worth the price of admission.       

 

And, man, did he put on a show.

 

 "The travel was difficult, but the style of play was great," Thompson told me a few years ago, when the Nuggets brought in a handful of their former players on an Opening Night. "The only thing I didn't like was that we had to go up against Dr. J like 13 times. But other than that, it was pretty good. And then I'm proud to be one of the key figures in the Nuggets making the transition from the ABA to the NBA and coming in and right away winning division titles. That's something they can never take away. We had a good group of guys, too, and that made it fun."

 

The Skywalker was listed at 6-foot-4, but wasn't that tall and outjumped men six inches taller. For a stretch he was the most electric player in the NBA, with only Erving in the same conversation. For six of his seven seaons in Denver, he averaged at least 21.5 points and topped out at 27.2 in 1977-78. He was more than a scorer, not because he was a terrific passer, rebounder or defender  (he wasn't), but because at the top of his game, he was involved with and energized his teammates.   

    

Contrary to what some seemed to assume, my tenure as a Nuggets beat writer never overlapped with Thompson's on-court career in Denver. In his glory years, I was covering the Colorado Rockies of the NHL, but paid attention to the Nuggets -- and watched, often with mouth dropping, as Thompson worked his magic. Sadly, though, his game deteriorated because of personal demons and injuries. By the 1981-82 season, his relationship with Doug Moe -- since repaired -- was strained (and that's putting it nicely). Moe even had Thompson coming off the bench, with non-shooting T.R. Dunn starting at shooting guard, for much of D.T.'s final season in Denver.

 

Because of the convivial atmosphere in McNichols Sports Arena in those days, with media wandering through both offices, I didn't feel as if I was starting from scratch when I was switched to the Nuggets beat after the Rockies' move to New Jersey. I knew a lot of folks in the Nuggets' organization. Moe already was calling me "Dip----," as he did with everyone he liked (or, in some cases didn't like). I was looking forward to meeting, talking to and writing about Thompson.

 

Unfortunately, among the first stories I had to do about Thompson involved his drug issues, even about how about how the Nuggets front office even had him shadowed, presumably in an attempt to see if evidence could be gathered that would enable Denver to void his "extravagant" five-year, $4 million contract. Then I covered his trade to Seattle, first for Wally Walker and then, after the deal was voided on a contractual technicality, for Bill Hanzlik. (What happened to that guy?)                

 

After two undistinguished seasons with Seattle, and a horrific knee injury suffered at Studio 54 in New York, his career was for all intents and purposes over. He tried to come back with Indiana in 1985, but didn't

play a regular-season game.

 

At the Pepsi Center, I asked Thompson if he ever looked back and wondered what might have been if he stayed healthy and stayed with the Nuggets. At the time of his trade, they were committed to even additionally accentuate the Moe passing game, with its emphasis on moving without the ball, quick passes and having everyone involved in the offense -- eventually leading to open shots and lanes. A healthy Thompson would have continued to thrive.  

 

DavidCeltics.jpg

Under the upbeat circumstances on a night the Nuggets were honoring a cadre of former franchise standouts, I didn't ask more directly about the drug issues, which Thompson has publicly acknowledged since, long after he turned his life around.

 

"We had a good run," Thompson said. "We could have had some good teams and maybe won a championship. But I enjoyed my seven years

here and I really hated to have to go when I left and went to Seattle, but I knew it probably was the best thing for me when I left."

 

What might have been ...

 

That's pretty much the universal reaction to Thompson's career. I share it.  

 

David1.jpg

On the night the notable former Nuggets were honored, I asked Dan Issel, his former teammate, about what Thompson could have been.

 

"When we were sitting there on the court, I was sitting next to Dikembe (Mutombo)," Issel told me. "They were showing David's highlights. Dikembe said, 'Man, I can't believe he could jump like that.' And I told Dikembe, I said, 'If David hadn't had his demons, he would be as good as anybody who ever played this game.' I really believe that. He was phenomenal. He had it all. A 44-inch vertical jump, he could shoot the outside shot. I mean, he still was a great player. He's in the Naismith Hall of Fame. He would be talked about in the same sentence as Doc and Magic and Larry and Michael."

 

As it was, Thompson was both one of the most influential athletes in Denver history and, to date, the greatest Nugget of all time.

 

English was with the Nuggets for 11 seasons, including three as a Thompson teammate. Thompson's departure nudged English a bit more to the Nuggets' forefront, and that was the silver lining.  

 

On the night the Nuggets honored him alone a year ago, he told me, "I have fond memories of being here in Denver and playing for Doug Moe and playing for the teammates I had. I had a wonderful time."

 

I joked with him about having fond memories of the irascible Moe, whose verbal prodding made English a better player. 

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

AlexDriving.jpg

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

 

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

 

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

 

alex4.jpg

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

 

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

  

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

 

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

   

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


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

   

Alex is No. 2. Both in the rafters and on the list of greatest Nuggets.

 

Now about The Left Banke ... 




March 30, 2020

Shoutout to arts community

as Castle Rock's Beth Malone

appears on "Stars in the House"

Malone1.jpgMalone3.jpg  

The coronavirus crisis obviously hits the arts community hard, too, with everything shut down.

 

Broadway star Beth Malone is from Castle Rock and is another product of renowned UNC theater program. Sunday, she was on the twice-daily streamed interview/mini-concert show, "Stars in the House," with others in a virtual cast reunion from Broadway's 2015-16 "Fun Home." 

 

Watch it here. 

 

In "Fun Home," Malone played Alison Bechdel and earned a Tony nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. 


During the streamed show Sunday, she told how she was about to leave the acting business altogether and go into teaching when he landed the role of Bechdel in a series of serendipitous circumstances. 

 

The “Stars in the House” show, masterminded by Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley, is a fund-raiser for the Actors Fund, which benefits those struggling in arts communities -- not just actors -- from coast to coast. The money raised so far, even with optimistic projections, is a drop in the bucket for what's needed, so it's more about rallying and symbolic support. But it's interesting.

 

After being made aware of the show, I'm going to go back and sample more from the archived episodes. Monday night's episode is expected to be a "Taxi" cast reunion. 

 

Here's the "Stars in the House" site, listing past and upcoming shows, also with an opportunity to contribute.

 

The streamed episodes -- with as many as six "windows" showing the scattered hosts and guests -- look to be mostly endearingly free-form, informal and unpretentious. However, the "Fun Home" reunion show also included an appearance by CBS chief medical correspondent Jon LaPook to talk about the coronavirus crisis.

 

One tip: From what I can tell, "Stars in the House" assumes deep, rather than casual viewer knowledge about shows and perfomers involved, and that mkes sense given the elective nature of watching live or choosing archived episodes. But, as I did, you also can be prepared to do reminder self-education with online research before, after or even while watching.

 

Other "Fun Home" cast members on the reunion show with Malone included Judy Kuhn, whom I saw as Florence in "Chess" just before it closed its short run in 1988, and Michael Cerveris, whom I saw as the title character in "Tommy." (Going to New York on the job often and getting frequent guest hotel points while following teams have their advantages. Helen and I have gone to New York often on our own, too.)

 

The New York production of Chess, with its ABBA-written dramatic score (it was no "Mamma Mia"), had a mess of a plot with great music and cast. The reviews are comical to read again: The critics sounded like parents screaming at their children to turn down the music. There have been many attempts to retool, present a coherent plot and get it right, most notably in the 2008 London concert version with Josh Groban, Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal. The show still has a cult following ... including me. 

 

That "Chess" cast included David Carroll, who died too young of AIDS complications a few years later, after he also played one of Jim Bouton's teammates in the sitcom version of "Ball Four."

 

"Chess," which wasn't close to all high-decibel rock, was too noisy? The Who's "Tommy" opened only two years later. It was fun to hear Cerveris tell a couple of "Tommy" stories during the "Stars in the House" show Sunday.

 

Sorry, I got off track there. But that's what theater can do -- bring on free association. And I'll continue that as I finish this up. 

 

Late in "Stars in the House" Sunday, Malone -- in front of her fireplace and holding her newly acquired dog, Molly Brown -- performed a number from "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." That revival was shuttered prematurely in New York after passing through the Denver Center Theatre Company and St. Louis Muny.

 

Malone played -- you guessed it -- Molly Brown.

 

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For fun, here's the column I wrote on another UNC-trained Broadway star, Andy Kelso, who went to Eaglecrest High. He and his wife, Sheila, live in New Jersey. For a time, Kelso co-starred in his (off-and-on) long-running lead role in "Kinky Boots" with my fellow Wheat Ridge Farmer, Annaleigh Ashford.  

 

 

I'm also thinking of other theater performers with Colorado connections, including Lyndie Moe, granddaughter of former Nuggets coach Doug Moe; Joshua Bess (Columbine High) and Zach Kononov (Cherry Creek). At least Moe and Bess now live in New York, the U.S. coronavirus pandemic epicenter. 

 

Lyndie2.jpg

For two years, Moe (right) was Maureen in the 20th anniversary tour of "Rent," which did everything from one-night stands in smaller markets (e.g., Greeley and Cheyenne), to longer runs in major markets (e.g., Denver) both nationally and internationally.

 

Bess did a stint as Roger in that tour, and he was in Denver with Kononov performing in the "SpongeBob Musical" tour when everything shut down. Theater work is a precarious profession for all but a few the first place, but now... 

 

Also, of course, the arts community is nationwide in scope. Theater companies, including the Denver Center for the Performing Arts Theatre Company, are being affected coast to coast, as are orchestras, dance companies ... and more.

 

To when the curtains rise again. . . including in those other wings of the arts, such as ballet -- where my sister, Susan, is a former Colorado Ballet principal and now is ballet mistress with the formidable Tulsa Ballet, which also performs around the nation and internationally. (I'll never forget the Oregonian's arts writer, Barry Johnson, telling me the ballet mistress is a "feared personage.") My family has both athletic and musical genes and Susan is the one who got both. I have three left feet and can't carry a tune. 

 

Past Broadway and London shows are available via DVDs or streaming. Other arts are following, including the Tulsa Ballet, which  also is offering a live streaming of a recorded show, "Tchaikovsky: The Man Behind the Music."  

 

And "Stars in the House" can provide additional diversion ... for a good cause.

 

 

March 26, 2020
 
As ordered, I'm
home as governor's
mandate takes effect 
 
The Public Safety Alert reminder blared on my phone this morning at 7, an hour after Colorado Governor Jared Polis' state-wide, stay-at-home order went into effect.

We're in lockdown in Colorado -- and in many other states -- because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Here, it came on what would have been the Rockies' Opening Day at San Diego.  

As you can see, I haven't written anything specifically for this On the Colorado Scene page since March 10. The links shown since both involve columns for woodypaige.com -- on a last-resort proposal to crown NBA and NHL champions in 2020, only if it becomes possible while erring on the side of caution; and on Jim Bouton and Ball Four.

I also have been providing daily links to my day-by-day serialization of the corresponding days 81 years ago in excerpts of my book March 1939: Before the Madness

I was reeling, too, when the waves of developments kept coming, when everything seemingly changed by the minute, when in sports, basketball conference tournaments and then the NCAA tournament were canceled, when the NBA and NHL shut down ... and so much more, I'm not going to try and list it. Also here, after a bizarre Thursday when a Post Malone concert played the Pepsi Center and the touring "SpongeBob Musical" show went on at the Buell Theater, large gatherings became verboten. That tour now is shut down. The ripple effect is such that I could keep going ... to Pepsi Center workers, whether they're employed by Kroenke Sports, Argus Event Staffing or the Legends concessionaire; to others in the arts...and well beyond.   
  
So much of what I read from those attempting to pontificate about the effect on sports had a stunningly short shelf life.     

The absence of sports leaves a void, of course. Yet I can do without the widespread "this sure puts sports in perspective" offerings, though, and this is why: It's so far beyond that, the statement is mindless. Plus, I believe -- or at least hope -- that most sports fans, regardless of how passionate, always have understood what sports are. Diversion. Bonding on so many levels. Fun.

I might be in the minority, but the NFL's plowing on in its offseason with free agency seems more tone deaf every day. Hearing that (fill in player's name) got his market value while millions are out of work or face an uncertain future on so many levels, borders on the distasteful.   

Mostly, let's hope that sports can return -- because that would signal the coronavirus situation is under control. 

In the meantime, we'll be watching replays of notable games from the past and perhaps including sports-themed books among our reading, whether with book in hand and pages manually turned or via e-books. I'll unashamedly plug my own books here, espcially my two novels and Third Down and a War to Go, but anyone in the business understands that royalties at this point are a drop in the bucket and this is more about pride.

The movies "Breaking Away," "Slap Shot," "Bull Durham" and "Bang the Drum Slowly" should get renewed attention and repeated viewings.

The national debate? My background spells this out, but fair disclosure, just in case: Not that it matters, I'm a pragmatic liberal with roots in college towns and tumultuous times, and my views still reflect that. (So does the plot and narrative of The Witch's Season.)
 
But can't we just stop sniping at each other?

Can't we tone down the high-decibel preaching to our own choirs or avoid adding to the back and forth of positions so predictable -- depending on known perspective -- that they sometimes sound like The Onion?

Can't we blend red and blue and become purple? (I can hear the chorus, from both ends of the spectrum, of "Yes, but ...")

I understand that many will consider me naive, that it avoids the issue of who is credible and who is not, and of the capability of leadership; and sidesteps the argument that we have a responsibility to speak up -- from either end of the spectrum. Here's my desk-pounding stance: We're all in this together. Let's allow those who know what the hell they're talking about to plot our course -- and everyone else get out of the way.     

But I don't need to or want to try to add anything beyond that to that polarized debate.  Plenty of others are doing that.          


March 25, 2020

"Smoke 'em inside":

salute to Jim Bouton,

landmark Ball Four

 

 WoodyBouton.jpg

 Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

 

March 20, 2020

Last-resort proposal

to crown NHL, NBA

champs for 2019-20

Bourque WoodyLeBron.jpg

One night, Stanley Cup ...                                    Next night, Larry O'Brien Trophy  

Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

 

March 10, 2020
 
Congrats to Logan, English,
Holliday on High School
Hall of Fame choices
   
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  The 1972 Wheat Ridge Farmers. 
 
DavidLoganCC.jpg 
Dave Logan on the Cherry Creek sideline. (Jack Eberhard/JacksActionShots.com)

 
It wasn't unexpected. But the announcement came Monday that Cherrry Creek football coach Dave Logan -- who does some other things, too -- will be among seven inducted as athletes in National Federation of State High School Associations National High School Hall of Fame on July 1.

That will come at the induction dinner held in conjunction with the NFHS summer meeting in Denver. (Read the story here.) 
 
There were several other notable aspects to the announcement, including that Logan's coaching career -- he has won eight state championships at Arvada West, Chatfield, Mullen and now Cherry Creek -- officially isn't entering into it. Neither is his post-NFL playing career work as a broadcaster, including as the Broncos' long-time radio voice. He's being honored for his three-sport career at Wheat Ridge High School, and I was able to watch part of it from roughly 60 feet, 6 inches away. 
   
I also was intrigued to note the other inductees will include Alex English, whom I covered when on the Nuggets beat; quarterback Tim Couch, the one-time No. 1 pick in the NFL draft; and former Colorado Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday, who still has not touched home plate. They're being honored, of course, for their high school careers in South Carolina, Kentucky and Oklahoma, respectively, and more details are in that linked story.

TimCouchCover.jpg
I visited Couch in Lexington as the 1999 draft approached, then traveled to his tiny hometown of Hyden to see where he grew up and document what a phenomenon he had been as a football and basketball star -- including as Kentucky's "Mr. Basketball" -- at Leslie County High School.

The result was my cover profile ("Why Tim Couch is a natural") for The Sporting News. Now, he's known mainly as one of many touted quarterback prospects who were NFL busts, but as late as 2003, ESPN.com ranked Couch as its No. 6 all-time all-around high school athlete. (The list was a little strange. Despite Couch's selection, it greatly underplayed multiple-sport athletes and ranked runner Jim Ryun No. 1. One more six degrees: During his brief residency in track-crazy Eugene, Ryun lived up the street from us at the foot of Spencer Butte.)   
 

I didn't write much about Holliday during his time with the Rockies, and mostly remember him being part of a 1999 Baseball Monday epic (aside: Baseball Monday was the newspaper's best section until it was axed) that resulted from my visit to the Asheville Tourists and writing about the minor-league life in Thomas Wolfe's hometown. Holliday, also a quarterback and Oklahoma's Gatorade Player of the Year in both football and baseball, was a year removed from -- surprisingly to some -- signing with the Rockies instead of attending Oklahoma State, where his father was the baseball coach. It was funny because Holliday, then 19 and struggling at the Class A level, shared an apartment with four other Tourists, with air mattresses among the furniture.  
             
I included "A Man for All Seasons" chapter on Logan in the "Colorado Characters" section of one of my books, and here's the letter I wrote to the National High School Hall of Fame to back the Colorado High School Activities Association's nomination of Logan as a possible selection. (He had no idea that I was contributing it.)    

I wrote it assuming his credentials as both an athlete and as a coach would come into play.
 
Here it is:  
  
 
October 20, 2019

Mr. Bruce Howard, director
National High School Hall of Fame
NFHS
PO Box 690
Indianapolis IN 46206

Dear Mr. Howard,

It is my pleasure to endorse Dave Logan for induction into the National High School Hall of Fame. He has made major impact on so many levels, first as perhaps the best all-around high school athlete in Colorado history. He starred in football, basketball and baseball with the Wheat Ridge Farmers. I was his teammate. Beyond that, it comes back to him utilizing his athletic and post-NFL professional success to make continuing contributions to the Colorado high school sports community. 
 
After Dave left Wheat Ridge, he was an All-American wide receiver at the University of Colorado and played nine seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Browns. That’s secondary here. Since retiring from the NFL, he has been – all at once – a peerless high school coach, plus a high-profile broadcaster as a talk-show host and the radio voice of the Denver Broncos. The point is, Dave doesn’t “need” high school coaching. It needs him. He has so much else to do. Yet it would leave a void, both for himself and his charges, if he walked away. His high school teams have won so many football state championships, I’ve lost count and will trust others here to recite that record. But it’s not about titles; it’s about his impact on the young men he has coached. I know what he has meant to them. Combine that with his own high school athletic career, and I believe he would be a fitting choice for the Hall of Fame. 

Yes, we go back a long way. My family moved from Eugene, Oregon, to the Denver area in the middle of my junior year, in early 1972. Dave was a year ahead of me at Wheat Ridge, and it was a memorable experience for me to be the other half of the Farmers’ Logan & Frei battery that spring. I caught his no-hitter against our biggest rival, the Lakewood Tigers. I watched him hit the longest home run I’ve ever seen in high school baseball sail across another diamond and over another fence against the Jefferson Saints. I marveled at how competitive he was and how he insisted the rest of us should be, too. And this was his “third” sport! Also, I often note I am grateful to the hard-throwing right-hander for helping me set a state single-season record – for most passed balls.
 
Dave was done with high school football and basketball by the time I arrived, but I know he was All-State in both sports and, as noted, arguably remains the best all-around high school athlete in Colorado history. And this is the state that boasts former football/basketball star Byron “Whizzer” White and 1936 Olympic decathlon champion Glenn Morris as former multi-sport Colorado high school athletes.
 
As we played American Legion ball that summer, the Cincinnati Reds drafted Dave, officially as a shortstop. I later covered major-league baseball. I have no doubt that if he had devoted himself to baseball, he would have been a big-league pitcher or outfielder. In addition to football, he also was a basketball standout at CU. The Kansas City Kings claimed him in the NBA draft and the Browns took him in the NFL draft. He joined Dave Winfield and Mickey McCarty as the only athletes drafted in all three major sports.
  
After that, I followed and at times covered Dave’s collegiate and NFL careers. Since his retirement, I’ve written about him as a high school coach. My father was a coach, at the high school, college and NFL levels. I have seen first-hand the impact high school coaches can make, winning and titles aside. So rather than emphasize trophies, I’ll close with this: Dave Logan is a winner, period, and a Hall of Fame man.
 
Sincerely,
Terry Frei 
 
 
They'll all be honored in Denver this summer. 
 
 
 
 

March 9, 2020

How first NCAA

tourney came about ...

and how it went  

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Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

 

 

March 6, 2020

NHL is wise and right

to ponder changes 

in EBUG protocol 

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Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

 

 

March 5, 2020

In these standings,

Nuggets and Avalanche 

combine to rank ...  

LittleSisters.jpg

Little Sisters of the Poor home in North Denver. No, not the Highlands or LoHi or RiNo.  

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At left, Anaheim's Rickard Rakell is about to unleash the game-winning shot. At right, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar delivers the post-mortem.  

 

As I walked out of the Pepsi Center Wednesday night, it struck me -- as I know it did many others -- that over the course of 23 hours, the two Kroenke-owned teams had lost to two of the worst teams in their leagues, the NBA Nuggets by an astounding 16 points to the dreadful and depleted Golden State Warriors, and the Avalanche to the now-lowly Anaheim Ducks 4-3 in overtime. That snapped the Avalanche's win streak at seven, and Colorado is 14-3-2 in its last 19.   

 

The overreactions to the ebbs and flows, the ups and downs, of the NBA and NHL seasons is startling. Always has been, always will be. Among fans, media and organizations themselves. 

 

Absolutely, the Nuggets' inconsistency especially is madddening. They are 20-8 against losing teams and have a 21-12 record against winning teams. It's as if on the nights they're playing attention and up for playing litmus test or "statement" games in a league that cares so much about validation and "respect," they're all in. But that's part of the maturation process for a young team, and after years of covering both the NHL and NBA as a beat writer and columnist, I've never quite understood the hand-wringing when a team displays that tendency to not be all there against bad teams some nights -- as long as it's balanced out or even obscured by the great efforts against the better teams.

 

I'm not excusing the lack of professionalism, effort and hunger on those bad nights. But two things: 1, Over the course of 82-game seasons, that's going to happen. The trick is to minimize the dreadful nights, plus not let the bad teams hang in. There's a mercilessness required in all of that, and bad teams will check out when you give them the chance to. 2, Given a choice, what would you rather have, a team that displays that when it's "on," it can beat the elite of the league; or a team that only beats the dregs of the league, building a respectable record that arguably is illusionary?

 

You're not playing the Little Sisters of the Poor, or the Warriors or Ducks, in the playoffs. 

 

MacKinnonWoody1.jpgHere's another thing, though, I believe we tend to take for granted: When the Nuggets and Avalanche both are home and/or perhaps available on television, we're getting to see two of the world's elite players represent this market on alternate nights -- Nikola Jokic for the Nuggets and Nathan MacKinnon for the Avalanche. Their maturation has been fun to watch. While MacKinnon is in his seventh season, he still is only 24. Jokic turned 25 two weks ago. Even in the loss to the Ducks Wednesday night, MacKinnon had an evey-popping power play goal -- watch it here -- and, even more impressively, a spin-o-rama move that made Ducks standout center Ryan Getzlaf look silly. It didn't lead to a goal because Ryan Miller made the save, but that was the play most talked about over the post-game beer, on the ride home or even after the TV broadcast or feed was over.


Include the Rockies' Nolan Arenado -- for however much longer he sticks around -- in the mix, and that's a trio of elite working here.     

 

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Also, going into the Nuggets' game at Charlotte Thursday night, Denver's NBA team is 41-20, leading the Northwest Division and third in the Western Conference. The Avalanche, which opens a three-game trip at Vancouver Friday night, is 40-18-8, second in both the Central Division and Western Conference. So I did some checking and came up with the fact that the Kroenke-owned teams have the second-best combined record among the 14 markets with both NHL and NBA franchises. 

 

Rather than going along with the NHL's misleading standings system -- which enables coaches of 36-36-10 teams to claim they played ".500 hockey" -- I made regulation, overtime or shootout losses all losses. So for my purposes here, the Avalanche is 40-26. That also transforms the standings into apples and apples. 

 

Grouping the franchises by market, I paired the San Jose Sharks and Golden State Warriors as reprsenting the Bay area; included the Ducks among the Los Angeles area teams; and considered the New Jersey Devils, a 20-minute train ride from Manhattan, as part of the New York market (as we do with the NFL Jets and Giants). 

 

Denver is in second place, behind only Boston, where the Celtics are 42-19 and the Bruins are (in my system) 42-25. The teams also are separately owned -- the Bruins by Jeremy Jacobs; the Celtics by a partnership of Wycliffe Grousbeck, H. Irving Grousbeck, Stephen Pagliuca, and The Abbey Group, represented by Robert Epstein.    


So at least in markets with both NHL and NBA teams with common ownership, the Kroenkes are No. 1. I'm not being ironic. That's praiseworthy.   

 

(Through games of March 4)  

   

1, BOSTON                                  84-44     .656     --

Bruins 42-25

Celtics 42-19

 

2, DENVER                                   81-46     .638    2 1/2

Avalanche 40-26

Nuggets 41-20

 

3, TORONTO                               78-50     .609     6

Maple Leafs 35-32

Raptors 43-18

 

4, PHILADELPHIA                       76-52    .594     8

Flyers 39-27

76ers 37-25

 

5, DALLAS                                   75-54      .581   9 1/2

Stars 37-29

Mavericks  38-25

 

6, MIAMI                                       73-55     .570     11

a - Panthers 33-33

Heat 40-22  

 

7, LOS ANGELES                      141-113    .556    13

Kings 25-41

b - Ducks 27-40

Lakers 47-13

Clippers 42-19

 

8, WASHINGTON                        62-65    .488     21 1/2

Capitals 40-26

Wizards 22-29

 

9, NEW YORK                            146-178   .451     27

Islanders 39-30

Rangers 35-31

c - Devils 26-40

d - Nets 27-34

Knicks 19-43

 

10, PHOENIX                                 57-73     .438       28

e - Coyotes 33-35

Suns 24-38                     

 

11, MINNEAPOLIS-ST PAUL         52-75    .409       31 1/2

f - Wild 33-33

g - Timberwolves 19-42

 

12, CHICAGO                                 51-77    .398         33

Blackhawks 30-36

Bulls 21-41

 

13, SF BAY AREA                          43-85    .336        41

h - Sharks 29-37                      

j - Warriors 14-48

 

14, DETROIT                                   35-96    .267      52 1/2

Red Wings 15-53

Pistons 20-43

 

a – Sunrise, Florida

b – Anaheim

c – Newark, N.J.

d – Brooklyn and Uniondale, N.Y.

e – Glendale, Arizona

f – St. Paul

g – Minneapolis

h – San Jose

j – San Francisco

 

In single NHL or NBA team markets: 

 

 

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning, Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Carolina Hurricanes, St. Louis Blues, Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, Vegas Golden Knights, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks.

 

 

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings, Charlotte Hornets, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Pelicans, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs.  

 

 

March 4, 2020

CSU's Patrick O'Brien 

is on Coach No. 4 ... and

remains No. 1 at CSU

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Steve Addazio, left, with Patrick O'Brien (12) at Tuesday's spring practice.  

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FORT COLLINS -- During the academic Christmas break and after the early December 18 National Letter of Intent signing date, new CSU coach Steve Addazio had a mission.

 

 He and his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Joey Lynch, traveled to San Juan Capistrano to meet with the Rams' holdover starting quarterback, Patrick O'Brien (at left), and O'Brien's family.

 

It was clear that O'Brien -- who had started out at Nebraska before transferring to CSU -- wasn't going anywhere else for his redshirt senior season, but this likely was mutual reassurance.

  

And it was even a mandate, since especially a new staff can use extraordinary quarterback leadership during a transition.

 

"That was a big step forward, for them to fly out from Colorado, to sit down with my family and really talk to us and see how everything was going to go," O'Brien told me after the Rams' second spring workout Tuesday on the practice fields adjacent to Canvas Stadium. "I feel like that was a big moment. I feel 100 percent in, like I'm a second coach out there, a coach on the field for everyone else. I'm trying to hone in on that role and really take advantage of it and bring these guys long and try to get everyone better."

 

After Collin Hill suffered a season-ending knee injury against Arkansas and underwent ACL surgery for the third time during his stay at CSU, O'Brien stepped in and started the final nine games of 2019. He ended 209-for-338 for 2,803 yards, with 13 touchdown passes and seven interceptions last season. After Mike Bobo's departure from CSU and then his move to South Carolina as offensive coordinaor, Hill announced his intention to follow Bobo to the Gamecocks' program in Hill's native state. Now, the quarterbacks listed on the CSU spring roster are O'Brien, junior Justice McCoy and freshman Aaron Syverson.      

   

After making appearances in four games under coach Mike Riley at Nebraska as a redshirt freshman in 2017, O'Brien went through 2018 spring ball under Riley's successor, Scott Frost. When it appeared to be a bad stylistic fit, O'Brien moved on to CSU. The Bobo staff had recruited him when he was at San Juan Hills High School, so it made sense. But he already had used a redshirt year and also had to sit out 2018 as a transfer. And now he is part of the transition to the new staff after Addazio's December 11 hire.       

 

"It's been good," O'Brien said. "This is my fourth head coach. I'm used to change, honestly. I've been through a lot of systems. Either way, I've been through a lot of different philosophies and how coaches want to take things. I think it's been solid. (Addazio) has come in and he's really set a tone for guys, how to come out and practice, and I think there's really going to be good intensity every day. Guys are coming out to work so it's been good so far."

 

O'Brien has nothing negative to say about Bobo, who served as his own de factor offensive coordinator.

 

"He was the one that brought me in here and he really taught me a lot about how to play quarterback," O'Brien said. "He's a great offensive mind. I wish him the best. He's in a great spot now at South Carolina and I think  he's going to do great things. I always wish him the best. Change happens and that's part of the business."

 

I asked O'Brien if he felt as if he was "The Man" under this staff. (Not a brilliant question, I know, but ...)

 

"I believe I'm the man," he said. "If I'm not thinking that than there's something wrong with it. I've stepped into that leadership role and guys know I've stepped into that leadership role. I'm putting myself in that. This is my team and we're going to go as far as I let us go. I just have to keep getting better every day."

 

He said the Rams' offense under the new staff "is not super extremely different. It's more the terminology, the words for certain plays are different. But it's the same kind of concepts and that type of stuff. It's been good, but I think there are a lot of good RPO plays. And we're no huddle. Last year we were straight huddle every single play and we're getting used to that. It allows for us to do more things offensively nd just get on the ball quicker. So there's some different things, but it's been good."

 

He also noted that under Bobo, "it was different because the head coach was a quarterback himself. Our head coach here is an offensive line coach, so it's a little bit of a different dynamic. But we have an offensive coordinator (Lynch) who played quarterback in college and he's intense as well. You know it's different. You get a feel for how they're going to coach you and everything. There's some differences but I've enjoyed it so far."

 

O'Brien will turn 23 in July.   

 

"The college experience definitely hasn't gone how I thought it would go, but it's been a maturing process and I think I'm a way more mature kid than when I stepped in to college," he said. "I have a great moment in front of me and I'm going to take advantage of it. I think I'm going to take an even bigger step forward from last year. I thought I got better every single game and I think I'm going to come into this season a pretty good quarterback, ready to play."

 

The Rams' first spring ball under Addazio will run through the April 9 spring game. They'll have 15 on-field workouts to adapt.        

 

 "I think this is a big step, for guys to get comfortable with what we're trying to do offensively and defensively," O'Brien said. "Then once we get into fall camp, we lock in and are ready to play." 

       

March 3, 2020

Addazio settling in

as spring practice

gets going at CSU

 

AddazioSpring.jpg 

FORT COLLINS -- In my first visit to a Colorado State football practice during Steve Addazio's tenure Tuesday, a lot of things struck me, but none more so than this:

 

Addazio, hired in December to succeed Mike Bobo, looks like an offensive line coach, has the barking demeanor of an offensive line coach, and exhorts up close like an offensive line coach.

 

And those are compliments.

 

That's how Addazio got his start in coaching. That's what we was in marquee programs as he climbed. He wasn't going to put that all behind him when he became a head coach at Temple for two seasons, then at Boston College for seven, and now at CSU.

 

I'm on record: There is no single "right" approach to being a head coach, varying from the imperial CEO standing with arms folded as his coordinators and other assistants coach, to diving in.

 

Epecially in pro football, I actually lean toward the CEO who hires elite assistants and lets them coach as he deals with the media, inspires, signs off on game plans and makes in-game strategic decisions.  

 

In the college game, I'm still convinced that Bobo undercut himself in his role as his own de facto offensive coordinator, distracting from his head-coaching role and CEO duties. 

 

But Addazio unapologetically is all over the place and clearly still has an affinity for the big guys up front on offense.

 

"I'm involved in everything," he told me Tuesday. "I'm coaching special teams. I'm coaching in the line. I'm coaching everywhere. I can run every lathe, every machine in this factory. That's the way it should be. I'm a hands-on coach. I'm hands-on recruiting, I'm hands-on on the field, I'm hands-on everywhere. It's my job to motivate and to push, to drive this program. Every day, that's what I do. To me, that's the role of a head coach. Now, there are a lot of different styles out there. My style is complete hands-on in everything. And I love it."

 

But then, thinking of Bobo and other coaches who might have beeen better off being more aloof, l asked if that could be perilous for a head coach.

 

"Absolutely not," Addazio said. "How could it? It doesn't. Like I said, I think the best CEOs can run every machine in the shop. I'm not hands off, yet I'm going to go out and speak where I need to speak and be where I need to be. I was brought into this business that way.


"My mentors from Urban Meyer (at Florida), to Paul Pasqualoni (Syracuse), to Bob Davie (Notre Dame), to Gerry DiNardo (Indiana), I've been around great head coaches and that's the style that they've all been. I think that's the winning style. I've got guys that started with me that are out there with that same style."

 

 Then he brought up two relatively young head coaches -- Ohio State's Ryan Day and the Carolina Panthers' Matt Rhule -- who served as Addazio assistants. Day served under Addazio both at Temple and Boston College, and Rhule was with Addazio at Temple.   

 

"They started with me," Addazio said. "That's the style. Hands on. On the field. Coaching. Getting your hands dirty. Running recruiting. I really don't see it another way in college football, personally. I'm not saying it can't work, but I'd like to see it."

 

The CSU coaching search, with Meyer essentially nominating his former coaching compatriots and serving as a consultant, was a mess, including because of the puzzling lack of serious consideration for Ohio State assistant head coach Tony Alford, the former star CSU running back.

 

This is what the searches at CU and CSU have in common: Ultimately, they should be judged not by the mechanics, but the results.

 

When the Buffs, under head coach Karl Dorrell, meet the Rams, under Addazio, in Canvas Stadium on September 5, these are the start of reboots.

 

And now Addazio is intent on placing his own imprint on the Rams' program in the wake of their 4-8 record in Bobo's final season.     

   

Addazio's resume includes stops in college towns -- including Bloomington, South Bend and Gainesville -- but his previous head-coaching stints came in major markets. He helped turn around downtrodden Temple in Philadelphia before heading to BC. There were advantages, including going through the lines at Geno's and Pat's in Phily, then eating at Giacomo's in Boston's North End. But they weren't conventional college-town jobs, so this is a return for Addazio.   

 

"Yeah, it's fun," he said. "Fort Collins is a great community. You go downtown, you go to visit all the restaurants to eat, people see you, they talk to you,  you feel like you're a part of a community. It's important. They care. They know what's going on. It's not a small bit of a big city. It's been a lot of fun. It was a pro town. This is a college town. This is a community. It's like a family and people, they love Colorado State. They love their athletics, they love football, basketball. It's fun. They want to win. They should want to win. This is a beautiful campus, a great facility, great tradition. We should be able to win. We will win.

 

"Every day I walk into work,  I'm saying, 'I'm working in a great place.' These are Power 5 facilities. That makes this a great job. You've got a great university, you have a great community in Fort Collins, you've got great facilities and you have the ability to succeed in this conference, for sure. And really, it's a platform to grow. There's no reason why one day this isn't a Power 5 place." 

 

This can get a bit tricky, since new coaches traditionally talk about installing a new "culture" in a program. Addazio is doing that, too. The problem in this state now is that Mel Tucker played that game right up to the instant he took the Michigan State job.

 

"These kids love football," Addazio said of the Rams. "They want to work hard. They're straining every day, getting better every day, they're just fun to be around. We have a lot of work to do but we're going about the work, and they're absorbing the work and enjoying it. It's about love and trust. The players have to love you, they have to trust you, you have to love the players, you have to trust the players, and build that mutual love and trust every day. It's letting them know you have their best interest at heart, that you can make them a better player and that you're going to be there for them on and off the field."

 

Tuesday's practice was the Rams' second of the allowed 15 in spring ball, which concludes with the April 9 spring game.

 

"I want to continue to develop that culture," Addazio said. "I want to make sure that we're going to build a tough, hard-nosed football team. We're going to be really fundamentally sound and we're going to get the base of our schemes, special teams, offense and defense, all in place. And have a really great evalutation of our strengths and whatever our weaknesses are and really know our personnel."

 

For the record, Addazio is very close to his CSU offensive line coach, who came to Fort Collins after one season as the tight ends coach at Bowling Green and who previously was an Ohio State graduate assistant.


It's Steve's son, Louie, who lettered for three seasons as a tight end under his father at BC.  

 

 

March 1, 2020

Let's face it: Altitude likely isn't

making peace soon with Comcast

or DISH ... and maybe not ever 

ComcastPepsi.jpg

The message on the concourse at a recent game ... 

 

As I type Sunday morning, the Nuggets will be facing the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors at the Pepsi Center in a few hours and the torrid Avalanche is set to face the Red Wings at Detroit Monday night.

 

The Sunday Raptors-Nuggets game will be carried on Altitude, and the Avalanche-Red Wings Altitude Monday feed also will be shown on Denver's KTVD, Channel 20. KSE has bought the time. Like previous Nuggets and Avalanche broadcasts shown on the over-the-air station that's also available on cable and satellite carriers, this one probably will resemble a PBS-type telethon. It likely will present the Altitude case in the continuing disputes with Comcast and DISH. If you call in and make a pledge, you should get a Peter, Paul and Mary concert DVD.

 

The major difference this time likely will be the addition of aggressive pitches for consumers to switch to DirecTV, including with the incentives (tickets, gift cards ...) that Altitude TV and radio have been touting in recent days.                     

 

(To make clear: I'm not against promotion. Feel free to explore this site.) 

 

Bottom line: If you have DirecTV, you get Altitude. If you have Comcast or DISH, you don't. Altitude at least has backed off from its original ridiculous portrayal of the carriers "blocking" the games. They weren't. Altitude didn't like the new contract offers from the carriers, neither the money nor the terms. KSE could have ended this in five minutes. So could have Comcast. That's business. Their rhetoric would have had meaning if they did hard negotiating and ended up with Altitude accepting a downgrade over what it has received in the past, with that tied to remaining part of basic packages. 

 

That said, early on in the dispute that followed the expiration of contracts, it became well-known that it isn't hard to find live streams and watch the Altitude or other feeds via the internet. That's the elephant-sized pirate in the room. The quality varies from excellent to marginal. And there are other "legal" means of getting the feeds. But it would be better for all if the Altitude feeds were part of conventional packages for home viewing.

 

I wrote this column for woodypaige.com more than four months ago, summarizing my views. Other than the fact that Altitude and DirecTV -- the favorite of sports bars -- reached an agreement, little has changed. So I'll let that stand as my detailed position of record and update some of the highlights here.

 

I'm still perplexed why KSE, controlled by a wing of the richest family in America, can't view Altitude as part of an empire rather than a single business entity to be judged by its own profit and loss statement in an evolving marketplace. Having the games available is a promotional boon for the teams and KSE. This still is about how much Comcast and DISH pay Altitude, regardless of whether it's a part of basic packages or add-on "tiers." And with Altitude continuing the broadcasts -- and the broadcast expenses -- this season, it is hemorrhaging money. We repeatedly are told the offer was a 70 percent cut over the previous deal and "nobody can do business that way." The Kroenkes are not nobodies. They can. This is not a mom and pop grocery store. This is the 2020 marketplace, not 2008. The 2008 marketplace isn't coming back. If KSE can't accept the evolution -- and the revolution -- then it's time to get out of the RSN business. 

 

Does that mean I'm on the carriers' side? No. This is a business dispute among billionaires and mega-corporations. I'm not going to pretend to understand all the intricacies. I also will not buy the rhetoric about the companies being the watchdogs for the public. Comcast needs to go as far as possible in finding  middle ground that can be at least a short-term solution for both.                    

 

The public is getting sick of this.

 

Here are the latest salvos.   

 

AltitudeTweet.jpg 

 

DishTweet.jpg

DISHStatement.jpg

 

There are two problems here.

 

One, I daresay the DISH folks knew this could be rejected and it's probably not a starting point for negotiation. On the surface, it seems quite reasonable to me, but it also seems designed to shift the onus completely to Altitude. It's a regional sports network, and no RSN -- not even the ones controlled by NBC and Comcast -- is on a tier. Now, you can come back and say that the market is evolving in the cord-cutting age, and that KSE/Altitude should have known that. Plus, I'll re-emphasize my point that Altitude should  accept being a promotional loss-leader to an extent if it stays in the business. But that doesn't change this reality: This is a mess and consumers are caught in the middle.

 

The reference to "before the playoffs" is puzzling. The regular seasons are winding down. Even if an agreement came tomorrow -- and it isn't going to -- this has played out through a majority of the schedules. But the playoffs? Unless I'm mistaken, Altitude is done after the first round of the NHL and NBA playoffs, when national networks completely take over. So Altitude is talking about one round for both the Nuggets and Avalanche, regardless of how long the teams last.           

 

The best bet? (Remember, legal sports wagering starts soon in Colorado.) Altitude's days on Comcast and DISH are over. As cords cut, Altitude either has to find ways to stream to a virtually universal audience and get money for it, or sell out -- as in to Sinclair, which owns Fox and its regional sports networks, or to AT&T SportsNet/DirecTV. These kinds of disputes and rearrangements are taking place around the country. Ask Cubs and Dodgers fans, among others. 

 

To close, here's exclusive footage of the most recent byplay

 

 

 

   

            

FEBRUARY, IN THIS ORDER BELOW

* Feb. 28 -- The circus that the NFL Combine has become

Feb. 26 -- Leila Morrison honored at Avs-Sabres

Feb. 24 -- Karl Dorrell wins the news conference

Feb. 22 — Meet Mr. X

Feb. 19 -- On the CU coaching search

Feb. 17 -- How long will Rantanen be out?

*Feb. 17 -- On Pac-12 coaches' bailouts

Feb. 12 -- Tucker cashes in. OK, we get that. But there's a better way

Feb. 8-11 -- Mel Tucker, CU, MSU and a trip to picturesque Watkins 

Feb. 11 -- Gruuuub is back in the groooove

Feb. 11 -- Buffs hoops alone on top of Pac-12. Really.

Feb. 4 -- Worse than Gradishar: Wright hasn't even gotten a sniff

 

February 28, 2020

Putting too much (draft)

stock in Combine is

risky ... and even stupid 

WoodyCombine.jpg 

Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

 

February 26, 2020

Leila Morrison among

those honored on Avalanche's

Military Appreciation Night 

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Leila Morrison with Gabe Landeskog, left; and Jake Schroeder, right. 

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Leila Morrison speaking to French schoolchildren at Normandy. 

 

Video from @nhlonnbcsports Twitter account

 

I've had two nice chats with World War II combat nurse Leila Morrison in the last six days.

 

One was at  Jake Schroeder's and the Denver Activities League's Overlord Project dinner at the University of Denver.

 

 

The other was in the Pepsi Center's Club Lexus before the Sabres-Avalanche game Wednesday night.

 

Honored on Military Appreciation Night, Morrison dropped the ceremonial first puck for the captains -- Gabe Landeskog of the Avalanche and Jack Eichel of the Sabres. Then, as she held Schroeder's arm, she stood with him at center ice as he sang the National Anthem.  

I've interviewed Leila and written about her several times, and here are links to two of the pieces that resulted.

 

Leila as one of the six Colorado-connected World War II veterans who received the French Legion of Honor Medal for their service in Europe. 

 

Leila as one of the veterans escorted to Normandy by former NFL linebacker Donnie Edwards' Defense Foundation at the 75th anniversary of D-Day. 


There is some overlap and repetition, so read the second if you're especially curious about Edwards' organization, which seeks to take veterans back to theirbattlefields -- before it's too late.

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Jake Schroeder at the Project Overlord dinner. That's Leila, at left. watching him.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 24, 2020

Dorrell already is

winning over Buff fans --

and other skeptics 

 

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 Karl Dorrell, Rick George, Phil DiStefano

 

BOULDER -- Karl Dorrell was calm and composed Monday morning in the Dal Ward Center at Folsom Field, yet emotional in the first places.

 

While he will be no firebrand as the Buffs' head coach, it became more clear with every second why CU athletic director Rick George saw Dorrell as a possible good fit as a successor to Mel Tucker.

 

That was even before he discovered that Dorrell had built a new home in Lafayette in recent years, after buying the lot earlier.

 

Early in the search, a friend with football connections mentioned to me that maybe the Buffs should at least talk with Dorrell because he lived in Boulder. I initially took that to mean Dorrell had kept the home he and his family lived in during his days as a CU assistant as an investment. (The Boulder part turned out to be inaccurate. But my point is, his continuing connection to Boulder was no secret, though I discounted it after noting he had just been promoted to assistant head coach/wide receivers with the Dolphins. As it turned out, he returned to the Colorado home to spend NFL coaches' down time -- parts of June and July -- when he was with the Jets and Dolphins.  

 

"Being an NFL coach and being in the NFL going on 10 years or so, it's a very volatile business where you move around a lot," Dorrell said. "We decided years ago that Colorado was going to be our home, to stay, when all was said and done. I had that inkling in the back of my mind, though, that my fondness for the university and getting a chance to be in this position would be a dream. And it came true."   

 

He made the serious point that stamped him as different than Tucker.

 

"You're going to get a guy that's here for a long haul," he said.


Then he joked, "I built a home to prove it prior to getting the job...This is my dream job."   

 

At this point, he is what the Buffs need. It wasn't so much what he said Monday. We've heard it all before. Winning the right way and all that. Tucker was more the evangelist in pitching his "culture" agenda -- one which turned out to be hot air. (Substitute another term for "hot air" if you wish.) But Dorrell was impressive and sincere.   

 

As I noted below in a Saturday commentary after the news of Dorrell's selection broke, I still probably would have argued for going with Darrin Chiaverini as interim coach through the upcoming season and then re-evaluate. And if it came down to former fired UCLA head coaches, I probably would have opted for Jim Mora.  

 

But the unreasonable and vehement overreaction to Dorrell's choice, and the unfairness and even the naivete of some in offering that criticism drove me more toward the Dorrell camp.

 

George and Dorrell told the stories of how the Buffs -- initially with a call from associate athletic director Lance Carl -- contacted Dorrell last Thursday. On that call, Dorrell mentioned he would be in the Boulder area within hours to return to his home and take advantage of the Dolphin staff's weekend off before journeying to Indianapolis for NFL Scouting Combine, which some in Colorado weirdly consider one of the biggest sports events on the national sports calendar.

    

During the Q-and-A part of the news conference, I asked Dorrell why if this was his dream job, why didn't he go after it more aggressively? He essentially said he deferred to Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy.

 

"Did I want to pursue it? Yes," Dorrell said. "I'm very fond and have close relationships with a number of coaches that are from this program. Matter of fact, one specifically that's down the way at Kansas City. I'm very close with Eric. I was being the respectful guy of understanding where he was in the process. But I would say, yes, in the back of my mind I would love for Colorado to talk with me. But I knew there were some guys I was close with that had really great connections and had background and history here with this program, that they would have interest as well."            

 

So how'd this eventually come about?  

 

 

"I left Thursday night from Miami to come here to have a couple of days with my wife, son and family," Dorrell said. "I was flying out (of Denver) yesterday to go to the Combine in Indianapolis. I get this call Thursday afternoon about, 'Hey, would you be interested in the job,' and that kind of floored me, to be honest with you. It really surprised me. And I said, 'Absoutely!' 'Well, when can we talk?' I said, 'Well, I told Lance on the phone, 'I'm actually flying back to Colorado tonight, I'll be there Thursday night. He went and talked with Rick and he got back with me a little bit later that day. He said, 'Can we meet at your house?' and I said, 'Sure.' ... OK, I get that, we want to be discreet.        

 

"So after I was on the phone with both Lance and Rick, I sat back in my chair and thought, 'I have to tell (Dolphins coach) Brian Flores what's happening. So I went in to see him. Brian's going to be a wonderful head coach. I love him. I've worked with him one year and it feels like 15 or 20."


He said he filled in Flores. 

 

"He was very, very supportive," Dorrell said.   

 

At that Thursday night meeting in Lafayette, he was offered the job. He said the Dolphins came back at him to try and keep him.

 

"I would probably still be there because of the way my career was going in the NFL, if it was another college job," he said. "But because it was Colorado, my home, I was nowhere it was going to take me away from this job."   

  

CUTadKarl.jpg 

Tad Boyle meets Karl Dorrell as Rick George looks on.


February 23, 2020

Here's the official

CU News Release

Announcing Dorrell 

 

From Dave Plati, CU Associate AD/Sports Information Director

Read the full release here

 

Perspective from Neill Woelk of cubuffs.com

 

 

 

 

February 22, 2020

As CU coaching search

bordered on farcical,  

Dorrell is Mr. X

GeorgeatUCLA.jpg

 CU athletic director Rick George was at the Buffaloes' sold-out game against UCLA Saturday.

 

 Over the last few days, I'd mentioned there often is a "Mr. X" in coaching searches, whether his identity ever comes out or otherwise.

 

Mr. X at CU was Dolphins wide receivers coach Karl Dorrell.  

 

On Saturday, Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports reported that Dorrell -- the former Buffs and Broncos assistant and former UCLA head coach from 2003 to 2007, when the Bruins went 35-27 and played in five bowls -- was the frontrunner for the CU job. Soon, other reports -- most notably from Ian Rapoport of the NFL('s) Network, meaning it came from the NFL grapevine -- pegged it as a definite hire. And the official announcement of Dorrell's hiring came Sunday afternoon, and Dorrell's introductory news conference is set for Monday morning at the Dal Ward Center. 


By now, you know those "mentioned" in the past 10 days as athletic director Rick George and associate athletic director Lance Carl conducted the search. As the weekend began, more names were thrown into the mix. I'm not going to list them all again.  

 

Dorrell isn't going to overwhelm CU partisans, but deserves open minds. At least to the point of: Give the guy a chance! Bluntly, some of the absurd lazy kneejerk reaction to Dorrell's hiring is driving me into his camp. He'll have to especially scramble to assemble a staff among those available after a handful of assistants caught the shuttle to East Lansing. How he would do that and who he had in mind obviously was one of the questions, and his answers must have been credible. Darrin Chiaverini played four seasons under assistant coach Karl Dorrell from 1995-98, and it seems certain he will remain as assistant head coach -- and not just for contract reasons. Same with the strategy needed to hang on to those in Mel Tucker's much-touted, but abandoned recruiting class, rather than have many ask for releases from their national letters of intent.    

 

The standard of judgment for Dorrell will involve two things:

 

1, Was the right choice even among a field limited by the time of year and bizarre circumstances? For example, another former UCLA coach, Jim Mora, also twice had been an NFL head coach, but he apparently couldn't even get a sniff. That's hard to fathom. He was 46-30 as the Bruins' head  coach in six seasons. His father, Jim, had been a CU assistant and his son spent time in Boulder in his youth. He wanted the job. 

 

2, Given the pool, would it have been better to stick with Chiaverini through the 2020 season and then either strike the "interim" or open up a conventional, full post-season search? At this point, that's still what I think CU should have done.

 

By the weekend, it was apparent that Bielema had flunked the "floating" test, that Calhoun was going to stay at Air Force, Eric Bienemy was going to stay with the Chiefs and Steve Sarkisian had worked contact with CU for a raise at Alabama. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Names kept getting thrown out and even those trying to be cautious had to include them to be on the safe side. (As I did, too.)

 

One of the knocks of the hire we're hearing is that, gee, he was fired at UCLA. After five bowl seaons. Yes, that's a low bar, but it's not as if the Bruins were awful under him. UCLA also fired Mora. UCLA also fired Rick Neuheisel. UCLA also fired Bob Toledo, an excellent coach. The Bruins' program benefits from its picturesque campus and its glamor image, but it also plays in a stadium 45 miles from campus -- albeit a great one -- and gets less help from the registrars' office than other Pac-12 public universities. Chip Kelly will be fired at some point, too. And Bruins fans will continue to believe UCLA should be whipping everyone in the league, and that consistent competitiveness isn't enough.      

 

Then there's his firing after a single season (2014) as Derek Mason's offensive quarterbacks coach. Also fired was wide receivers coach Marc Lubick. (Yes, he is.) The Commodores were dreadful that season offensively. They played our quarterbacks, including more than one in eight of the 12 games. You walk in and coach whom you have. I don't pretend to know the specifics -- whether the personnel truly was that bad -- but I know this much: Stuff happens in this game and those who don't get that don't understand coaching and college football. Almost every resume of excellent coaches includes a firing, whether individually or as part of a staff. Ask Nick Saban, fired by Earle Bruce at Ohio State.

 

 

Bottom line. I repeat: Give the guy a chance.

 

 

 

February 19, 2020

If the CU choice

is Troy Calhoun,

here's an introduction 

Air-ForceAllan-DranbergIcon-Sportswire-880x400.jpg 

 

(To immediately get to my column profile of Troy Calhoun, scroll past the update.) 

 

Updated Thursday afternoon

 

Early in the Colorado State coaching search, I asked out loud whether the site footballscoop.com had been vetted as credible in such matters. I wasn't skeptical. I was asking. I didn't know.  

 

Then it was uncannily accurate during the clumsy CSU search process, with revelatory information, as if somebody had repositioned a plant on the balcony -- or the contemporary internet equivalent -- and then disclosed all.  

 

So I assumeed that its report is accurate -- that the two finalists at CU are Air Force's Troy Calhoun and former Wisconsin and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema.

 

Then in a Thursday morning update, the site threw former Washington and USC coach Steve Sarkisian back into the mix, and Channel 9's Mike Klis -- likely working with NFL agents/sources -- has said that Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy still is a possiblity.

 

Brian Howell of Buffzone.com lists Bielema, Bienemy, Calhoun, interim coach Darrin Chiaverini, Sarkisian and California's Justin Wilcox, and notes that two previously mentioned -- Arkansas State's Blake Anderson and ex-UCLA, Falcons and Seahawks coach Jim Mora -- don't seem to be possibilities. Wilcox, the son of Hall of Fame linebacker Dave Wilcox, seems to be a longshot to be genuinely interested. 

 

Then in mid-afternoon, ESPN's Chris Low reported Sarkisian was staying at Alabama -- with (shocker) a sweetened deal. That doesn't necessarily mean he was offered, or was going to be offered, the job. It even could mean that he wasn't going to be and "withdrew" before the job went to someone else.  

 

There is some misconception out there. This is not a conventional search-committee hire. The search committee is athletic director Rick George and associate AD Lance Carl. Chancellor Phil DiStefano undoubtedly is kept in the loop and has input, but this is not a case of "brass" sitting around a table or otherwise convening and taking a vote.

 

The choice and the deal still will have to be eventually approved by the, um, eclectic board of regents, and while it's hard to conceive of the board rejecting the contract, nothing -- especially in this strange process -- would surprise me anymore. So CU has to be at least conscious of that dynamic.    

 

Keep in mind that Calhoun is coaching the Falcons in spring football. He also has been discussing a contract extension with the non-profit corporation that runs Air Force athletics, but nothing has been finalized and/or signed. So it wouldn't shock me if Calhoun or AFA issues a statement or just lets it be known that he talked with CU, but all are agreed Calhoun and the Falcons will continue to work toward closing the deal. And Calhoun would have simply checked out a possible option.


Then CU announces its choice.

 

But alternatively, it still seems possible Calhoun could be the CU hire.

 

As we await additional word, by way of introduction for Buff fans who might not be completely aware of Calhoun's background, here's my 2008 column on him. 

   

AIR FORCE ACADEMY -- With the Rampart Range as the backdrop, and with the Air Force practice fields emptying of cadet football, lacrosse, soccer and even ultimate Frisbee players in the late afternoon, Troy Calhoun lifted his young daughter, Amelia, and placed her on his shoulders.

 

As the Falcons' Saturday home game against No. 20 Utah approached, the second-year Air Force coach smiled as he thought back to the circumstances that led to him arriving at the academy as a teenager in the mid-1980s.

 

They are the circumstances that give him credibility when he tells his players to hang in there as they cope with the rigors of the academy.

 

Calhoun, 41, has been there.

 

The former Falcons quarterback, who finished his career as the backup to the dynamic Dee Dowis and as a virtual assistant coach in uniform, not only has walked in the cadets' shoes, he has spit-polished them.

 

Calhoun was from the hardworking lumber town of Roseburg, Ore. His dad, Terry, was a teacher; his mother, Joyce, was an emergency room nurse. As he finished up at Roseburg High, he surveyed his options, even thinking of whether he would join many of his contemporaries in going to work at one of the mills.

 

 "My mom pretty much said, 'There isn't a choice to be made here. You're going to the Air Force Academy,"' Calhoun said. "There were many days I was here when I was mad as I could be at my mother. It ended up being a super place for me. But about the first 18 months, you're thinking, 'Mean old Mom.'

 

"Yet, what are you going to say when your mom walks into the house, sometimes she had blood all over. It's not like you're going to complain about being sore or saying this is a little bit too stressful. I guess she did know best. … She tells me all the time she still has those letters from me, telling her how mean she was. I still needle her a little bit."

 

 Calhoun's sister, Callie, was two years behind him at the academy and won six individual NCAA titles in cross country and track and field. So the choices to accept the congressional appointments worked out well for both of Joyce's children, and Calhoun was the natural selection as Fisher DeBerry's successor. By 2006, Calhoun had a deep résumé as an assistant coach on the collegiate and NFL level, including with the Broncos and Houston Texans.

 

 He returned determined to diversify the Falcons' offense from its reliance on the option game. Perhaps the most amazing thing about his success in his first two seasons is the Falcons are winning during a major offensive transition. Calhoun again discovered that he had little choice; he had to back off a bit. The Falcons often run out of the shotgun and are getting considerable yardage from tailbacks, but the passing game isn't yet much of an option. In beating Houston last week to go 3-0 for the season, and increasing Calhoun's two-season record as head coach to 12-4, the Falcons didn't complete a single pass.

 

He has changed the Falcons' recruiting emphasis - an emphasis that in any case is subject to the congressional appointment parameters and high standards - in the hope of ratcheting up the speed quotient on the roster.

 

 "You get a little more swift, you get a little more separation on the outside to get the throws in there," Calhoun said. "I'm not saying it's easy. I would almost bet that any time a service academy in the last 30 years had a winning team, it probably wasn't in the top 100 in passing. I think you have to keep pushing."

 

It also involves evolution, since the program's early days of success came when Ben Martin's teams were among the most imaginative and successful passing programs in the country, including when Ernie Jennings was the best wide receiver in the country in the Woodstock era.

 

"Back in that day," Calhoun said, "you probably had to be a little unique in your approach, too. Then, throwing the ball was a little bit unique. The thing you can't be is cut out of the same mold on offense and defense as everyone else. You have to be a little bit different. Maybe as you get a little more size and quickness, you can have a different approach, but you have to be resourceful and creative, and still teach clearly so your guys can execute."

 

And you have to keep in mind that some of your players still are learning to love the place.

 


February 18, 2020

How long will

Rantanen be out?

That is the question.   

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Mikko Rantanen in a better time ... on Opening Night. 

 

MikkoGrimace1.jpg

"Upper body," Jared Bednar said. "He'll be out weeks."

 

Weeks, as in plural.

 

Weeks, as in multiple.

 

Weeks, as in the Avalanche will have a hole to fill down the stretch of the regular season.


That was Bednar's vague post-game assessment after Mikko Rantanen was tripped by Tampa Bay defenseman Erik Cernak, slid and slammed into the end boards. He grimaced in pain and soon headed for he dressing room, done for the night in what turned out to be Colorado's 4-3 overtime loss to the torrid Lightning Monday night at the Pepsi Center. It appeared that he had suffered a shoulder or a collarbone injury.


The Avalanche's injury list already included goalie Philipp Grubauer and forwards Nazem Kadri, Colin Wilson and Matt Calvert (all lower body).

 

Add Rantanen, who earlier missed 16 games in late October and November with a lower body injury. Cernak drew a tripping minor on the sequence. (On Tuesday, the Avalanche seemed to subtly downgrade the severity of the injury, noting Rantanen was "week to week." Rumors that he had suffered a broken collarbone were unfounded.) 

 

 

Rantanen also missed the final eight regular-season games a year ago with an injury before returning for the playoffs. Also, Gabe Landeskog missed nine games before returning for the final five. Then, Nathan MacKinnon stepped up with seven goals in the final 16 games and the Avalanche secured the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

 

And Colorado also went through a series of injuries early this season, and MacKinnon essentially put the Avs on his back and said: Let's go. Ultimately in the 14 games Colorado was without both Rantanen and Landeskog, MacKinnon had 10 goals and 14 assists and the Avalanche went a decent 7-6-1 to stay in the hunt.

    

Now, the Avalanche has 24 games remaining, is mired in a three-game losing streak after winning five in a row. That's a failed opportunity and after getting one point Monday night, the Avs are one point behind St. Louis and Dallas in the Central Division.          

 

 

"I think every team's going through it a little bit ... The other guys have to step up," Bednar said. "It's a great opportunity. We have to find out a way to carve out wins the way we did early in the year. It's going to get tougher and tougher, but hopefully we can get those guys back and healthy as soon as posssible. Guys are going to get opportunities with callups and more ice time for guys who have been here and wanting more ice time. We'll see what they've got."     

 

MacKinnon had his 33rd goal of the season against the Lightning, but his giveaway in the OT led to Nikita Kucherov speeding in on a breakaway to beat Pavel Francouz through the 5-hole for the game-ending goal.    

 

Francouz had 23 saves against the Lightning. Grubauer has played well recently, reminding of his revival down the stretch last season, and he is considered day to day. But the ongoing issue is how hard the Avalanche should continue to check out the veteran goalie options as next Monday's trading deadline approaches. Best bet: The Avs stand pat there, showing faith in Grubauer.  

 

 

Forward is another story; it seems a virtual certainty Joe Sakic will make a deal or deals -- nothing spectacular -- and acquire veteran forward depth. And given the hockey world's low standards for vetting rumors and speculation, the annual game of tossing them against the wall is well underway.   

 

 

On Tuesday morning, the Avalanche recalled right wing Martin Kaut from the AHL Eagles. Kaut was the Avs' first-round pick, at No. 16 overall, in the 2018 draft. He has five goals and 11 assists in 31 games with the Eagles this season. He turned 20 on October 2 and becomes the Avalanche's youngest player. It also was a jarring reminder that the Avalanche soon will have a player born in the 2000s. 

 

 

 

February 17, 2020

Come on, folks,

Pac-12 isn’t dropping

to Group of 6

 

TuckerWoody.jpg 

 Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

 

 

February 12, 2020

OK, we'll reluctantly concede

Mel Tucker cashed in big-time.

But the way he did it stinks 

 

 TuckerGeorge.jpg

Win No. 1 of 5 in the Mel Tucker Era at Colorado. Here, he's with athletic director

Rick George with the Centennial Cup after CU's win over CSU in the Rocky Mountain Showdown 

 

BOULDER -- Rick George looked -- and to an extent, sounded -- as if he had been blindsided.

 

Because he was. 

 

The CU athletic director Wednesday was prone to begin his answers with, "Look ..."

 

It was not condescending or lecturing in tone, but more along the lines of giving us credit for not being naive about the ways of the college football world. And the "us" wasn't just the media members and athletic department staff in the offensive meeting room in the Champions Center, but those taking in the news confence via the Buffs' web site. 


Four days after a Michigan State-connected plane landed three miles southeast of DIA Friday morning and spent nearly five hours here before taking off for San Jose, George took the call late Tuesday night from Mel Tucker's agent, saying Tucker was accepting the Spartans' job and bailing out on Colorado after one season.

 

A lot happened between those two points, obviously, with the Chicago-based search firm DHR operating on MSU's behalf, his agent representing Tucker, and MSU stubbornly coming back at him after Luke Fickell decided to stay at Cincinnati.

 

Look (I guess it's catching), as much as my natural instinct is to say it would be more honorable to reject any and all overtures for at least two seasons after a program gives you your first head-coaching chance, I get it. Even as a CU alum, I get it. I'm more perplexed than I am angry.  Tucker's spiels about culture and buying in and character and even tradition don't only ring hollow.


They ring as empty hypocrisy. He even reiterated all those points in appearances on KOA and Altitude Sports Radio on Tuesday. There are several radio personalities and others involved in the interaction marveling at the gall of the man. And then he actually met with another group of boosters Tuesday night at the Denver Country Club, spewing the same malarkey. He was nanoseconds away from accepting the MSU job. 

 

At his introductory news conference in East Lansing Wednesday night, Tucker said leaving the Buffaloes was the toughest decision he's hand to make in his coaching career.

 

"It was the right decision," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind about that." 

 

He said of the courtship: "Late last week, Michigan State showed interest and I had interest as well. Strong interest, very strong interest. Throughout the process, I decided that it was time for me to take a step back from the process. Obviously there were other great candidates. The search continued then circled back to me, I want to say probably Monday morning with my representation. Ultimately sometime late last night, it was apparent to me that I needed to be here and that's kind of how it worked out." 

 

Tucker deserves to have to cope with skepticism and even chortling disbelief the next time he tries to sell his bill of goods.        

 

The video of him sitting and reaching out via cell phone to coveted prospect Ashaad Clayton, congratulating him and welcoming him to the Buff family, is a stunning embarrassment and should have been a warning sign. Clayton not only had been assured that the Buffs would unretire Whizzer White's No. 24, but that Clayton could wear it. Hey, unretiring a number worn by a three-sport college star/Heisman runnerup/NFL standout/World War II vet/Supreme Court justice is something done all the time to help land a prospect, right? (See earlier commentary below, where I emphasize Clayton has praiseworthy reasons to want to wear No. 24 and obviously is a terrific young man. But...)              

 

Of course, now Clayton -- and others in the Buffs' recruiting class -- can ask for releases from their National Letters of Intent. Whether to try to follow Tucker or go somewhere else.

 

I asked George if he expected such requests and what CU would say.

 

"That's certainly possible and again, what I would say is have patience, we're going to move quickly, we're going to move expeditiously and we're going to have a great football coach," George said.   

 

But the part that really stinks is that this wasn't the result of Tucker changing his mind. 

 

His Saturday Tweet of commitment to CU after a Detroit Free Press Friday night story said that MSU intended to interview him and Fickell over the weekend was lame.   

 

The plane already had come to the Denver area and departed, and Tucker traveled to California to make appearances with George at booster receptions Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

 

"I was asked formally for permission to speak to coach and that's a courtesy we extend to each other," George said. "You have to ask them if he spoke to them or not, but I'm certain that he probably has."    


Those of us skeptical because Tucker didn't respond to requests for comment from Boulder media especially, which could have left him open to detailed questioning, were lectured to back off. His Saturday Tweet was his answer, right?

 

No. It was his dodge.

 

I asked George if he believed Tucker had been truthful through the process.

 

"Coach and I have a really strong relationship," George said. "We had a conversation on Saturday about his commitment to Colorado and I was comfortable with that. What transpired in the last 24 hours, it's disappointing. Look, coach is going to do what's best for his family and I support that. He made that decision and my focus now is moving forward with this program and where we're headed."    

 

Also over the weekend, we were told, among other things, that Tucker's gushing portrayal of his affection for CU and the Buffs program at the receptions was convincing. I'm sure it was. He wasn't the Pinocchio character in the insurance commercial. He was talking of CU being a 22-year destination job. His boss was standing there.  

 

"I believe what Mel told me," George said. "I think we had a shared vision of where we wanted this program to go. You have to ask him that question. But again, I'm committed to this program and we're going to go out and have an incredible coach."

 

At the very least, he was willing to listen and talk beyond the "Who me? I'm flattered" baloney of his Tweet.   

 

All along, all knew Fickell was the first choice. The search firm -- used by CSU in the hire of Mike Bobo in 2014 -- is very good at vetting and presenting candidates to be interviewed, sometimes with special instructions from school officials. Initial meetings and talks would have been exploratory as Fickell listened and pondered, but MSU ultimately decided it needed Tucker -- Vic Fangio's fired predecessor as the Bears' defensive coordinator -- with a single 5-7 record on his resume as a head coach. (He also was 2-3 as the Jaguars' interim coach in 2011.)           

 

It turned out he more than doubled his salary, to an average of $5.5 million annually, and that can ease what will be the inevitable frustrations as he coaches in the Big Ten in a troubled athletic department.

 

What next for CU?

 

Later Wednesday, offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini was named interim coach. That's a wise move, given his deep connection with the program, dating back to his playing days. He should be considered a viable candidate forthe permanent position, which would mirror what Oregon did in promoting assistant Mario Cristobal after Willie Taggart left after one year to go to Florida State

 

 

Other than that -- and George used the word himself -- it's "tricky." Especially now. Trying to raid another program of its head coach -- even a Group of 5 program -- can come off hypocritical unless it is done so transparently, it can be an honorable search. I've tossed out some names, including those of former CU assistant and Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich; Air Force coach Troy Calhoun (what the hell, at least ask and check into his buyout); Dave Logan; and former Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.

 

Notice, I just said "Dave Logan." It would take too long to list all he's done and is doing. That's part of my point. You know who he is. You maybe even know he was my high school and American Legion baseball teammate for a few months after my family moved to Wheat Ridge during my junior year and Dave was on his way to being one of three athletes drafted by the NFL, NBA and MLB. I am mystified by the tendency to trot out the kneejeerk, "... but he's a high school coach," and to ignore the unique situation and circumstances. I am in favor of CU seeking to interview him, if he's willing. He'd be on his own after that and I'm confident he'd handle himself well. And the one thing I think we can all agree on is that CU needed to keep an open mind in this search, to think outside the box.     

 

Yes, I've said check into Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy, but he likely soon will get an NFL job and he also has to accept some of the culpability for Jon Embree's failed tenure as head coach. (To this day, I believe Mike Bohn should have been more patient, and Embree now is assistant head coach with he 49ers.)

 

I'm also thinking there might be somebody out there I haven't thought of, who is out of the game now, is itching to get back and would pass muster with the regents, among others. Vance Joseph, who has beeen mentioned, is a non-starter at CU.


Now ... I'm going to be accused of being an unrealistic hayseed alum here. Some of my better friends disagree with me on this. They didn't go to CU. They don't sweat every time they see Muenzinger Auditorium. They go to LoDo for their college football, not Boulder or Fort Collins.

 

OregonWR2.jpgOregonWR.jpg


I'm tired of the CU program's defensiveness about "resources," and of outsiders trashing the CU job as one of he least attractive in the Power 5. George brought it up himself more than once at the news conference, even when he wasn't asked. Any CU coach has sufficient resources, George said.               

 

Mike MacIntyre had facililty upgrade promises in his contract, and CU -- in part because it backed off the requirement to raise the money before breaking ground -- delivered. I took a tour through the latest version of the showcase Oregon facilities in the Hatfield-Dowlin complex (that's the weightroom, above) in the spring of 2014, shortly after it opened. CU is in that arms race. The Champions Center has less marble and leather ... and that's about it. And the notion that Boulder and the campus are anti-football is at least overstated. There are anti-football faculty on every campus in America -- including at Alabama.   

 

Bring recruits to the US 36 overlook -- whether they've been promised a retired number or not.

 

CU can be a Pac-12 power. 

 

It can be done. 

 

If it could have been done with Mel Tucker as head coach, we'll never know.

  

CUGeorgePC.jpg

Rick George begins his remarks at the Wednesday news conference. 

 

Saban.jpg

 

Final point: When I was at The Sporting News, I chronicled a year in a college football program's coaching transition.

 

I first checked in with the MSU program in their season-ending game at Penn State, when George Perles was on his way out, and then heading to the Cleveland Browns' facility to meet with the Spartans' new coach -- Browns defensive coordinator Nick Saban -- after he was hired.

 

 Saban had just agreed to a five-year contract. His first-year base salary -- and I am not making this up -- was $135,000. (That would be $220,000 in 2020 dollars.) 

 

Then I periodically checked in with Saban and his program for the next year, and here's the retooled story. 

 

Ultimately, of course, Saban bailed on MSU to go to LSU.  (Yes, MSU has had the shoe on the other foot.) 

 

 

February 8-10, 2020

Mel Tucker, CU, MSU,

a Spartan entourage's trip

to picturesque Watkins ...

CUTuckerNLI.jpg

 

Midnight Tuesday night, post-Avalanche game: I've moved this commentary back to the top after hearing the rush of reports that Mel Tucker indeed is headed to Michigan State. Below was an evolving post, as you'll notice from the time stamps. But I believe it's clear Colorado media -- across the board, and I include myself -- didn't work hard enough to pin down Tucker about his initial contacts with MSU. That includes the situation when the MSU plane was in the Denver area from Friday morning at 9:15 until 2 Friday afternoon ... or before Tucker was in California at alumni functions on Friday and Saturday night.   

 

The Bottom Line: Updated Monday  

 

The word broke this morning, from Yahoo Sports (and other sites), that Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell had decided to stay with the Bearcats.

 

That begs the question: Will Michigan State seek to talk with Colorado's Mel Tucker -- and from all indications, speak to him for the second time? At least as of Monday afternoon, his name hadn't been tossed back into the mix.    

 

 

 When  Tucker makes himself available to Boulder/Denver media and declares that ...  

 

a) He has not interviewed and will not interview with Michigan State, or,

 

b) He acknowledges that he was interviewed or that he at least met with MSU representatives last Friday. (Yes, definition of terms can come into play.)

 

... that's more definitive than a Saturday Tweet that doesn't directly answer those questions.   

 

Is there anything wrong with Tucker just listening and talking with MSU if the result is that, like Fickell, he stayed (or stays) with his current school? That's in the eye of the beholder. Suffice to say it can seem to call into question his complete commitment to CU, and that many CU partisans are angry that he apparently would talk with MSU after only a season in Boulder. Players who are being asked to buy into the Tucker program culture and future prospects hear of this, too.   

 

As it turned out, the MSU entourage's plane landed at 9:15 a.m. Friday at the Colorado Air and Space Port airport at Watkins, three miles southeast of Denver International Airport, and then departed for San Jose at 2 p.m. If Tucker met with them then, before the Friday night and Saturday functions with CU supporters in California, it actually was before the Friday night Detroit Free Press story that said MSU was planning to interview Fickell and Tucker over the weekend. (That info came from following the flightaware.com link in the Detroit News story.) Those challenging this premise need to plot out the timetable. Tucker could have flown out Friday afternoon -- whether from nearby DIA or any of the other airports in the area -- and been in California Friday night.    

 

Plane.jpg

From FlightAware.com. Note: UTC is seven hours ahead of Mountain Time. 

 

The MSU entourage indeed interviewed Fickell in Cincinnati Sunday, and he seemed be the frontrunner. One online report based on a television sports director's Tweet had it that Fickell had taken the job, but that report was quickly yanked. And then the word came Monday morning that Fickell had said he would remain with Cincinnati, and soon came the Free Press story that Frickell and his wife had been concerned about the campus culture, which also could involve the impact of NCAA sanctions.  

 

And Tucker? His Saturday Tweet continues to be taken almost universally as an adamant statement that he is staying put at Colorado. But now that it fell through with Fickell for MSU, that potentially changes the dynamic.       

 

Tucker has done a terrific job at CU so far, and the 2019 record was secondary in drawing that conclusion. He astutely takes advantage of his mix of NFL and elite program college coaching experience. (It often seems to be overlooked that he a Vic Fangio predecessor as the Bears' defensive coordinator before he returned to the college game with Alabama and Georgia.) The outlook is promising in Boulder, at least if the standard is a return to perenially challenging in the Pac-12 South ... or for a league championship, period.        

 

How could be frame this? He has made 10 coaching stops. He's seen how merciless the business can be. It's not out of line to say coaches, in virtually any situation, should listen. The untold part of the story is that many big-name coaches listened to and/or spoke with other programs -- without it ever coming out. (Especially in a quieter age, when secrecy was easier to uphold.) Others moved, as Rick Neuheisel did, for example, after four seasons with the Buffaloes. (The other examples are legion. Nick Saban going from Michigan State to LSU. Bret Bielema, now a possible candidate at MSU, going from Wisconsin to Arkansas. Willie Taggart going from Oregon to Florida State ...) And Tucker does have a history with Michigan State. The potentially bigger problem moving forward is if he doesn't head off the perception that, say, a search firm can include him on a list of viable candidates to be presented to a university seeking a new coach. 


By Monday afternoon, both Detroit papers were tossing out a new batch of names, including former CSU coach Jim McElwain (who just finished his successful first season at Central Michigan) and Pat Shurmur, the newly hired Broncos offensive coordinator. Here and here (slide show). Tucker's name remained absent from those lists.

   

Here's how we got there.  

 

Saturday morning

 

The first stipulation: For the moment, I'm assuming that the Friday night Detroit Free Press report -- saying that Michigan State plans to interview Mel Tucker and Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell this weekend for its vacant head-coaching position in the wake of Mark Dantonio's sudden retirement -- is true.

 

The paper and reporters David Jesse and Chris Solari are credible. This isn't someone throwing "I'm-hearing" darts. 

 

Most important, neither CU athletic director Rick George nor Tucker himself jumped on the chance to respond to inquiries from Buffzone's Brian Howell Friday night and shoot it down, or even to use social media to do so. They were together at a CU supporter function in the San Diego area.

 

Here's Howell's story.

 

 

If that weren't the case, I'd believe it was possible that the message got garbled in the translation, that the Chicago-based search firm MSU is using, DHR International, had merely cited Tucker as someone the Spartans should consider and seek to interview.

 

That's the same firm, by the way, that CSU used in the process that led to the hiring of Mike Bobo in late 2014. I'm not saying this will come into play here, but the other thing to keep in mind is that the involvements of search firms and agents sometimes allows for plausible deniability, as in: "I have not been in contact with anyone from Slippery Rock Tech."

 

Also remember that a search firm vets, to whatever extent possible, and suggests or brings viable and diverse  candidates to the table. It's hard to justify the use of a search firm if only one candidate is presented.      

 

 It's not even necessary to debate whether Tucker interviewing for the MSU job is understandable or is a betrayal. Nor is it necessary to compare it to Rick Neuheisel bailing out after four seasons to go to Washington, after CU had given him his chance to be a head coach in the wake of Bill McCartney's retirement and McCartney's own preference for Neuheisel's fellow assistant, Bob Simmons.

 

As Howell notes, Tucker likely would get a significant raise from the $2.675 million he is scheduled to make at CU this year, a larger salary pool for assistant coaches, and have more resources. Plus, he has attachments to Big Ten territory as a Cleveland-area native, as a former Wisconsin Badger defensive back, and as a graduate assistant at MSU and as an assistant at Ohio State.

 

Fickell is the favorite. It seems to be his job to lose -- or turn down.       

 

If the report is true and Tucker at some point showily withdraws his name from consideration, it could be either a face-saving move after realizing Fickell is going to get the job, or a sincere choice to step out of the running. Either way, the damage likely is done. 

     

His rhetoric -- previously impressive -- about building the culture of an elite program at CU will ring hollow. He will have made his ambitions clear and while career advancement is not a horrible goal, he will have stamped himself as a short-termer in Boulder ... if he has his way.

 

It's a fine line. It goes with the territory at Group of Five programs, for example, where if a coach leaves for a Power Five job, he can he thanked on the way out the door for making the program better ... as long as he handles his departure with class. Yes, that could have been the case at CSU with Jim McElwain if he had been more up front in the process. And Bobo interviewed with Missouri after his first season at CSU. He essentially declined to talk about it, but didn’t deny it.

 

In this case, though, it would be Power 5 to Power 5. If he interviews, even if he stays, Tucker will have undercut his own program. At least in the short term. And while the ink has just dried on the national letters of intent signed on the second and final signing date -- including by the prized running back, Ashaad Clayton, who will get to wear the unretired No. 24 worn by the school's greatest athletic figure, Byron "Whizzer" White. Keep scrolling for my view on that.

 

I'm not going to rule out CU and Tucker being able to be adept in the damage control mode. Maybe this will all seem unreasonable kneejeerk reaction if he stays and passionately says the experience reminded him how determined he was to get the Buffaloes' program turned around after the 5-7 season in 2019. Yes, the record matched Mike MacIntyre's final season, but the program seemed to be making progress in other ways.

 

Yet this is where I'll be adamant as an alum: No way should CU offer him a sweetened contract, whether simply as a raise or an extension, to get him to stay or after he stays. Not now. His contract is his contract. That's not something you do after one season -- especially one 5-7 season. If he leaves, CU gets a $3 million buyout, easing the pain of the renegotiated $7.2 buyout of MacIntyre. CU should take that and move on.

 

 Saturday afternoon

CU released the following statements, which notably did not directly address the issue of whether Tucker was interviewing with Michigan State or not. Curiously, the Free Press interpreted them as meaning Tucker was definitely was staying at Colorado. 

 

CU Athletic Director Rick George:

“Mel has turned heads here with the culture he’s quickly building and recruiting success he’s had, so it’s only natural that programs looking for a coach are going to be taking note. I know he’s committed to the Buffs all the way and we’re committed to supporting the vision he has for our program and winning championships. I’ve said plenty of times that we couldn’t be more excited that Mel is our head coach.”

 

CU Head Football Coach Mel Tucker (from his Twitter Account):

“While I am flattered to be considered for the head coaching job at Michigan State, I am committed to CU Buffs Football for the build of our program, its great athletes, coaches and supporters.” 

(He added hashtags: #UnfinishedBusiness #GoBuffs #Relentless #Culture #The Build.) 


      Closing remarks, for now:

 

1, It is not difficult to say, "I have not interviewed and I am not planning to interview for the coaching job at Michigan State. I am staying put at CU." If Tucker is trying to avoid being untruthful, more power to him. But he needs to say something like that. If it's true. FootballScoop.com — which indeed tends to get things right with an insider’s bent — Saturday night said that Glenn Sugiyama of DHR had reached out to Tucker, and he declined to move forward. That begs for a definition of terms and leaves me wondering if that’s covering tracks.

 

 If Tucker met with Sugiyama and a Michigan State contingent, whether in Colorado or California, before attending another CU findraiser with George in the Bay Area Saturday, say that -- because it will come out.

 

Whether any of that would fit the parameters of making the original report accurate is open to question. 

 

But I'll keep coming back to this: Tucker and George had opportunities to categorically shoot down the talk Friday night and early Saturday ... and didn't. If there was nothing there, CU didn't need to go through all this angst.        

 

This isn't necessarily over, folks, especially if Fickell isn't hired for whatever reason to take over the football program in a problem-ridden athletic department.

 

2, Those trying to track travel to East Lansing are on the wrong scent. As I've alluded to, interviews not only rarely take place on the campuses involved, they -- especially when a search firm is involved -- can take place in conference rooms at airports or at airport hotels in neutral territories. Say, LAX, San Jose or O'Hare.

 

In this case, since Tucker is familiar with Michigan State, there would be even less reason for him to have to be interviewed at Michigan State. He was not interviewed in Boulder for the CU job, and the same is true of CSU's last two hires -- Bobo (interviewed in Las Vegas) and Steve Addazio (interviewed in Indianapolis).

 

In Fickell's case, the Michigan State entourage was headed to Cincinnati to interview Fickell Sunday. ("It's on to Cincinnati," quoth Bill Belichick.)   

   

February 11, 2020

Gruuuuub is back

in the groooooove

for Avalanche 

Groob.jpg 

Philippe Grubauer was in a good mood after this third shutout of 2019-20.

 

Is this starting to look like the stretch run from last season?

 

After Phillippe Grubauer's 34-save shutout Tuesday night in the Avalanche's 3-0 win over Ottawa, the Colorado goalie had allowed only three goals in his last four starts.

 

It's similar to how it shook down a year ago, when the Avalanche got -- and this is he nice way to put it -- shaky goaltending as it waited for either Grubauer or Semyon Varlamov to step up. And Grubauer finally did, in February and beyond, as the Avalanche secured a playoff spot, knocked off Calgary in the first round and took San Jose to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals.       

 

Now, with a better and deeper team in front of him, the bar is set higher as the Avalanche chases St. Louis for the Central Division lead and No. 1 Western Conference seed and seeks to advance farther in the postseason.  

 

Through 55 games last season, the Avalanche was 22-22-11. After they ran their latest winning streak to five Tuesday night, they were 33-16-6, or a full 17 points ahead of last season's pace. This time, the goaltending has progressed from inconsistent and lackluster to staunch. Grubauer now has a 2.64 goaaaals-against average in 34 games, with a .915 save percentage and an 18-11-4 record. Rookie Pavel Francouz has been solid as his backup.


After the game Tuesday, I asked Grubauer if he felt as if he was back in the groove he was in late last season.

  

He knew what I was asking, but he first reframed the question for his answer.

 

The team's the thing.


"I think as a team, yeah, for sure," Grubauer said. "We're making things easy. If you play the way we play, that makes things really easy for me back there, so that's what we need to do."

 

I politely said, no, I meant his play.

 

"Yes, I feel good, I'm seeing the puck really well," he said. "Thanks to the guys." 


He said the Avalanche's nearly two-week break for its bye week and the All-Star Game helped.

 

"I think it was really good for us everywhere," he said. "We were a little bit banged up, a couple of injuries," he said. "I wasn't that great leading up to the break, so it's nice to get a couple of days away from hockey and get your mind free and get ready for the last push."

 

 

Coach Jared Bednar noted the Avalanche has "tightened the screws on what we're giving up. And our goalies, I think, are playing better. I think it's a combination of both. . . There's a lot of hockey left to be played, right? We will monitor (Grubauer), but we want to keep him going and feeling good about his game. We had a number of games in mind at the beginning of he year for him to play and I think we're still on track to do that."

      

  

February 11, 2020

Buffaloes heading to 

Oregon in first place 

and ranked 16th  

BoyleWright.jpg

Tad Boyle and McKinley Wright IV during Stanford game 

 

 

 Look. There. at the top of the Pac-12 men's basketball standings.

 

After sweeping California and Stanford over the weekend in Boulder, the Colorado Buffaloes are alone in first place, at 8-3 in league play and with seven games remaining in the regular-season. They're one game ahead of Oregon, and they meet the Ducks Thursday in Eugene and then head up the road to face Oregon State in Corvallis Saturday.

 

CU coach Tad Boyle, a former Oregon assistant, isn't getting cocky here.

 

After the Buffs' Saturday 81-74 comeback win over Stanford, I asked Boyle how he felt about his team -- now 19-5 overall -- heading into the trip to the Willamette Valley.


"I feel good," Boyle said. "We know that Oregon trip's tough and Oregon's one of the most talented teams in our league. It's not easy to win there. We're going to have to strap our boots up and lace them up and let it all hang out. And Oregon State beat us this year (in Boulder). One thing I know about Oregon, they'll be ready. They're well-coached, they're a talented team." 

 

No screaming headline or bulletin board material there, right?  

 

Looking at this realistically, the Buffs have five of their final seven on the road, and after the Oregon swing, they have USC and UCLA at home, then are at California, at Stanford and at Utah.

 

Staying on top and claiming the seed in the Pac-12 tournament at Las Vegas will be difficult -- and perhaps even unlikely. Regardless, though, with sparkplug junior guard McKinley Wright IV leading the way, this has been Boyle's best coaching job and it's with a scrappy somewhat undersized team -- the Buffs list a three-guard starting lineup, and starting forwards Tyler Bey and Evan Battey both are listed at 6-8 -- that's especially fun to watch.

 

Wright, from North Robbinsdale, Minn., is terrific, averaging 13.8 points and 5.2 assists. Yet this team doesn't have the star power it has had in the recent past with Spencer Dinwiddie, now with the Nets, and (for one season) Derrick White, now with the Spurs. It's a roster that meshes, is hard-working and at this point perhaps even overachiving.    

 

The Buffs are ranked 16th in the country, and that's rareified heights for the program. It's the 11th time they've been ranked in the AP top 25 this season, and they're 15th in the coaches' poll.

 

After CU trailed by 11 at halftime and 16 early in the second half against Stanford and rallied for the win, Wright alluded to being at the top of the standings. He had 21 points against the Cardinal and D'Shawn Schwartz, the junior from Colorado Springs, finished with 20.

 

"We knew we couldn't afford to loise this game," he said. "We have a target on our backs, the No. 1 team in the Pac-12. Everybody's going to give us their best shot." 


The catch is that the Pac-12 is mediocre this season, with no real national championship threat. It's not deep enough to land anywhere close to a Power 5 league's typical quota of teams in the NCAA field.

 

 

That said, barring a complete collapse down the stretch and in the tournament, the Buffs seem a good bet to land their fifth NCAA berth in Boyle's 10 seasons in Boulder.

 

CUWrightStanford.jpg

Buffs Tyler Bey (1), D'Shawn Schwartz (5) as McKinley Wright IV (25) takes stock  in win over Stanford. 

 

 

 

 

February 4, 2020

Congrats to deserving

Atwater, but  Broncos

still under-represented

LouisWright3.jpg GradisharCollier1.jpg

                Louis Wright.                                          Randy Gradishar and Joe Collier. 

 

Yes, the Saturday announcement that former Broncos safety Steve Atwater was one of the selection committee's Class of 2020 Hall of Fame choices was worth saluting.  

 

The committee got one right ... and for reasons that go far beyond a single crushing hit on the Chiefs' Christian Okoye.

 

Atwater will be the fourth Broncos' enshrinee in four classes, and the eighth overall. That's if you count (as you should) Champ Bailey and Gary Zimmerman, who didn't exclusively play for Denver. 

 

But if anyone is tempted to say that all those familiar with the Broncos should be grateful, shut up and stop pointing out the shortcomings of both the process and the exclusion of Broncos who long ago deserved to be in the Hall, that's aggravating.

 

(Yes, we're hearing that.) 

 

The process, though tweaked, is capricious and seriously flawed. In the regular selection commitee voting, there are two few voters, horse trading, a "swordfish" password at the door and unfair expectations for the commitee member from the candidate's market to act as keynote speaker and campaign manager -- whether the committee member was around to have actually covered that player or not. It puts the advocate in a difficult position at best, impossible at worst.  

 

 It was absurd that Floyd Little, the franchise's first superstar, didn't get in until 2010 … as a seniors candidate. That set the tone.

 

I'll stick to players for now, stepping away from the issues of when or whether Mike Shanahan and perhaps Dan Reeves should go in. Shanahan is at least on a par with Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher, who benefited from their post-retirement television studio exposure. (Not that there's anything wrong with it.)   

 

The backlog of those deserving is extensive, and it includes:

 

-- Linebacker Randy Gradishar. He inexplicably wasn't among the 10 Centennial Slate senior (retired for at least 25 years) player choices for the 2020 induction class in mid-January. That was a makeup call opportunity after years of injustice.   

 

-- Cornerback Louis Wright.

 

-- Linebacker-defensive end Karl Mecklenburg.

 

 -- Center Tom Nalen.  

 

Some wouldn't stop there. I will. For now. Those four have become backlogged. Others who played more recently jumped in line in front of them. Most of their times have come ... and, sadly, gone.   

  

If you're here, you've likely heard or read my spiel about Gradishar many times. (Scroll down to my January 15 commentary for the latest version. The politics of his excusion are shameful and farcical.) I'm certainly not a voice in the wilderness, and it bugs me when the sentiment is waved off as Colorado hiomerism. It would be ignorant to deny that familiarity with and affection for Gradishar turns the vehemence up to 11. I realize virtually every NFL market has a former player or two (or more) championed as being long overdue for selection, and the line has to be drawn somewhere. But I'm confident that Gradishar belongs. 

 

The others do, too. Or they at least deserved more consideration than they got through the selection cycles.

 

The most overlooked on all fronts has been Wright, because his low-key personality and efficient play didn't draw attention. The Broncos' Orange Crush pass defense approach was Louis had the opposition's top receiver -- and everything else fell into place beyond that. He was the best there was for a spell, he retired on his terms, and he stayed out of the spotlight in retirement, getting into teaching and coaching. I've found over the years that younger fans who have become aware of Gradishar as the Orange Crush's marquee player, and also know more of  Tom Jackson because of his ESPN work, know very little or nothing at all about Wright.

 

So ...

 

Click on this for my introductory profile of Wright, and also additional passages about him, in '77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age. 

 

 

 

 

 

JANUARY, IN THIS ORDER BELOW

*Jan. 31 -- "Cut" Rockies broadcaster Jerry Schemmel reflects

*Jan. 28 -- LIV or so tips for Super Bowl party

Jan. 26 -- A walk-on Texas WR had lofty goals

*Jan. 24 -- With Pro Bowl and NHL All-Star on tap...

*Jan. 22 -- With all due respect, Nolan... E5

Jan. 20 -- Red Wings fans show, but take the L on way out

Jan. 18 -- Makar still has ways to go to catch Beck

Jan. 16 -- Ryan Graves, always a plus

*Jan 16 -- An NFL coaching hire should be for CEO 

Jan. 15 -- Gradishar snub has become a bad joke

Jan. 14 -- Avalanche too good to rationalize

Jan. 14 -- Nathan MacKinnon wins two major Colorado honors

Jan. 10 -- Short memories about Avs' goaltending

Jan. 9 -- Irv Moss was a Colorado Classic

*Jan. 8 -- David Stern was cool to internationalization ... at first

Jan. 5 -- Buffs' epic collapse against Beavers

Jan. 2 -- Cale Makar gets back on track

*Jan. 1 -- College QBs are scrambling 

 

 

 

January 31, 2020

"Cut" Rockies, ex-Nuggets voice

Schemmel reflects on plane crash, 

wife's illness, Kobe ... and what now 

WoodySchemmel.jpg

 Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

 

January 28, 2020

LIV (or so) tips

for making it through

a Super Bowl party 

WoodySBParty.jpg

                               Read it here 

 

 

January 25, 2020

Even as Texas walk-on WR,

Kyle Shanahan set his

coaching goals high  

Kyle.jpg

 

This is about how I came to write a column about a Texas Longhorn walk-on wide receiver named Kyle Shanahan in 2001— and about the eerily foreshadowing column itself, reproduced below.

 

I had spent much of the summer in Texas and Arkansas, doing face-to-face interviews and research for Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming, which would be released in December 2002. 

 

I had a fall week circled on the calendar for a final, supplemental trip to Texas -- when the Colorado Buffaloes met the Longhorns, led by Chris Simms and Cedric Benson, in October. 

 

I went down to Austin early in the week and met with Darrell Royal and James Street to connect dots and finish up.

 

On game day in Austin, I stayed on the Longhorns' side, writing a sidebar about their reaction to the 41-7 romp over the Buffaloes. I put in some ancillary interview requests, too, for a Monday column on Coloradans playing for the Longhorns.

 

When the main podium part of the news conference wrapped up, that Texas wide receiver was waiting for me in the back of the room.

 

Here's the column about Kyle Shanahan and the other Coloradan Longhorns. 

 

Take a look.

 

Monday, October 22, 2001 

 

Eyes of Texas on

Longhorns from Colorado,

including Kyle Shanahan 

 

AUSTIN, Texas -- Longhorns football players still tend to be Texans, hooked since childhood on the lore of the UT program.

 

Yet when the Longhorns routed Colorado 41-7 on Saturday, three Texas players considered it more than a decisive victory over a Big 12 opponent.

 

Guard Tillman Holloway, from Faith Christian Academy in Arvada; tight end Bo Scaife, from Mullen High; and wide receiver Kyle Shanahan from Cherry Creek were able to shake hands with high school friends and opponents in Colorado's white jerseys, then say they wished the Buffaloes good luck the rest of the season.

 

And they meant it.

 

Scaife, a sophomore starter who had one catch for 7 yards, is having a solid year after recovering from the serious knee injury that forced him to sit out last season.

 

Holloway, also a sophomore, started against CU and splits time at left guard with junior Derrick Dockery.

 

And Shanahan, a walk-on junior who has developed into a valuable backup with the Longhorns, caught three passes for 26 yards.

 

"I've got a bunch of friends on CU, and it was fun to get the ball there," Shanahan said.

 

The Longhorns' program is the coaching laboratory for Shanahan, who hopes to follow his father, Mike, into the business. Kyle transferred to Texas from Duke after playing two seasons for the Blue Devils. At one of the nation's elite private universities, the basketball program was in the sports spotlight, and the football team, after a brief renaissance in the mid-1990s, had regressed to its typical losing ways.

 

"I went there excited, and I thought I could play there right away," Shanahan recalled. "And I did play right away. But I realized football was important to me, and I shouldn't be at a place that made me not happy. We didn't really have that edge. We weren't used to winning and we kind of acted like losers."

 

A Shanahan accepting losing? It wasn't going to happen. So after catching 13 passes in two seasons for Duke -- his sophomore season lasted three games before he suffered a hamstring injury -- Kyle transferred.

 

By now, Shanahan's role as a backup in the Longhorns' deep receiving corps probably is significant enough to warrant a scholarship, but it isn't much of an issue.

 

"I'm playing, and there are a lot of people who really need them," Shanahan said. "I'm happy with my situation."

 

Shanahan settled on Texas in part because he had met Longhorns coach Mack Brown when he coached at North Carolina, and Kyle and his father decided the Brown staff in effect would be good professors. Kyle is adamant he is a player first, a coach-in-training second, but adds that the Longhorns experience is helping him "see things from another angle. I know not everything in coaching is good, but I really couldn't see myself doing anything else but football. It has become such a part of my life."

 

Shanahan is insistent that he will begin as a graduate assistant on the college level. Yet he is ambitious; when asked about "the record I dream of breaking" for the Texas media guide, Kyle wrote: "Most Super Bowl victories by an NFL head coach."

 

"It does help having my dad, but I definitely want to take the long path and make sure I pay my dues," he said.

 

The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Holloway's path to Texas involved a family connection -- his grandfather, Bud McFadin, was an All-America guard at Texas from 1949-50, and eventually played for the Broncos. Holloway was born in Houston and moved to Colorado when he was 9. His father founded a church in Basalt, then moved the family to the Denver area for a couple of years before going back to Basalt.

 

Holloway was home-schooled for much of his education, but he played for Faith Christian, a natural tie for the family because his father was instrumental in the founding of Faith Ministries.

 

An all-state player, Holloway narrowed his choices to Nebraska and Texas. He made an oral commitment to Texas in the fall of 1998.

 

(Note: The copy of the column I have ends there. I'm pretty sure it was cut for publication. That happened. If I didn’t, I should have mentioned that of the starters on the legendary 1969 Longhorns team, only three weren’t from Texas, and two of those three were from Colorado. In fact, safety Freddie Steinmark and guard Bobby Mitchell were from Wheat Ridge High ... my alma mater.)

 

Kyle Shanahan’s coaching path:

2003 – UCLA, graduate assistant

2004-05 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers, offensive quality control

2006-09 – Houston Texans, wide receivers, QBs, offensive coordinator

2010-13 – Washington Redskins, offensive coordinator

2014 – Cleveland Browns, offensive coordinator

2015-16 – Atlanta Falcons, offensive coordinator

2017 on – San Francisco 49ers, head coach 

 

ADDITIONAL UPDATES:

-- Colorado rebounded to win the Northern Division and beat the Longhorns 39-37 in the Big 12 championship game. The Longhorns then beat Washington in the Holiday Bowl and finished 11-2. The Buffs lost to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl and finished 10-3.      

-- Bo Scaife, the Longhorns' tight end from Mullen, had a seven-year career with the Titans and Bengals and in retirement started Fresh Ed. Dylan-Palm Trujillo, one of my students at MSU Denver, told Scaife's story here. And here's a UCHealth story on him.  

-- Tillman Holloway, the Longhorns' guard from Arvada's Faith Christian Academy, has been involved in several business ventures and is CEO of The Register, a networking club with outlets in Denver, Austin, Atlanta and Nashville.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 24, 2020

With NHL All-Star and

Pro Bowl on tap, ranking

four All-Star Games

Trout1.jpgmcdavid1.jpgGreek.jpg

 Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

January 22, 2020

With all due respect,

Nolan, "disrespect"

is ridiculous

ArenadoWoody.jpg

Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

 

January 20, 2020

 With MacKinnon, Kadri

scoring twice for Avs, Wings

fans take that "L" on way out

 

WingsRed.jpg

 Red-clad fans, Red Wings celebrate early Tyler Bertuzzi goal that gave Detroit a 1-0 lead. 

Jerseys.jpgComcastAvsGame.jpg

L: Stars from the rivalry's heyday -- or at least facsimilies -- visit the beer stand together.

R: The game was the NHL Network, but blacked out here. As the sign shows,  KSE continues to hammer away at Comcast. Of course, if Comcast just showed the games without paying what KSE considers a sufficient rights fee, a $72 kazillion lawsuit would be filed the next morning.  

 

The answer was "yes."

 

With the Detroit Red Wings coming into Denver with the worst record in the NHL, and with a realistic "chance" to post even fewer points than the 48 the Avalanche had in the historically dreadful 2016-17 season, I wondered if the area's transplanted Wings fans would show in the usual numbers at the Pepsi Center Monday.

 

They did. Looks down at the seats and around the concourse made it clear a significant portion of the Martin Luther King Day matinee crowd was rooting for the Wings.

 

My guess? Perhaps one-third?

 

Of course, most of them probably bought the tickets before it became clear just how bad the Red Wings were going to be, and after the 6-3 loss to the Avalanche, they are 13-34-4 for 30 points. (For the record, the 2016-17 Avalanche -- the worst bang-for-the-buck team in NHL history given the Avs were scraping the salary-cap ceiling -- were 15-34-2 for 32 points at the same point, after 51 games.)

 

Also, the biggest surprise of the Avalanche season has been that the number of "opposing team" fans in the Pepsi Center seats seems to have increased, rather than decreased.  

 

The size of the Penguins' rooting contingent was especially jarring on Jan. 10. That night, I even learned what a "Yinzer" is, even as I longed for a visit to Primanti Brothers for a sandwich with the French fries in it. And the Blues, Wild and Blackhawks have been in twice apiece, with their fans extremely noticeable. As usual.  

 

In a way, or in a lot of ways, Red Wings-Avs isn't nearly as fun as the rivalry in its heyday, and now the issue is when the Wings will be back to respectability after the Avs beat even their own timetable to pull it off.  

 

On Monday, Nathan MacKinnon scored twice to get to 30 goals for the season, and Nazem Kadri also had two goals -- getting to 17, surpassing his total for all of last season at Toronto -- and an assist as the Avalanche finished 3-0-2 in its slow-starting homestand and now will be off for its bye week and the All-Star break before opening a road trip at Philadelphia on February 1. In fact, Colorado's next home game won't be until Feb. 11 against Ottawa.

 

Kadri centering the second line after he came from Toronto in the trade that sent Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot to the Maple Leafs has been part of an overall upgrade of scoring depth, and Kadri for the most part has kept his infamous temper from detracting from his net effectiveness.

 

"I had to learn the hard way, unfortunately," Kadri said after he game. "That's life's lessons, being able to learn from your mistakes. I understand that I'm much more valuable on the ice than I am sitting in the penalty box or in the dressing room. So it's about finding a balance. I'm always going to play with that edge and that pride and that's something that has made me as successul as I am."

 

Kadri added that he's having "tons" of fun with the Avalanche, and of late has been centering Valeri Nichushkin and Andre Burakovsky.

 

"I love it here," Kadris said. "I love the guys, I love the fans, everyone's made it so comfortable for me to just come in and do what I do."

 

I asked Avalanche coach Jared Bednar about that balance Kadri has found.

 

"Tonight I really liked him," Bednar said. "I liked him in a lot of different areas. He's had some important checking roles for us lately for us. That line's been good, Burakovsky's picked up his play over the last couple of games. Val just seems to make any line that he's on better.

 

"Kadri in particular tonight, I thought he played to his strength. If you look at his power-play goal, he came cruising through the slot, gets a screen, he gets a tip and he scores. On a long, extended shift for them in the third, he scores on the back side right after winning a cycle play. And then even on the (Ryan) Graves goal, another o-zone play where he just breaks the goalie's eyesight, great screen in front. I don't think (Jimmy) Howard's seen it, (Kadri) just slid out of the way at he last second. That's sort of been his M.O. coming over to us and those subtle plays make a big difference in scoring or not, whether the goalie can see the puck or not. So he's in on three of those."          

 

As the Red Wings fans filed out, Kadri did the on-ice interview as the No. 1 star.  

 

 

 

      

January 18, 2020

If you want to be picky,

Makar has a ways

to go to catch Beck

Cale20.jpg.w300h225.jpg

BeckRookieFront.jpgBeckRookieBack.jpg

 

As the scrum was breaking up around Cale Makar in the Avalanche dressing room Saturday afternoon after about 10 minutes of interviewing, I just had to ask another question.

 

Did the Avalanche's prized rookie defenseman know who Barry Beck is? 

 

"Pardon?" Makar replied.

 

I asked again.

 

"Um, it sounds familiar, but to be honest with you...," Makar started.

 

I jumped in and told him Beck was a defenseman for the old Colorado Rockies and had scored 22 goals as a rookie in 1977-78. He was a Calder Trophy runnerup to Mike Bossy, who had a staggering 58 goals as a rookie with the Islanders.

 

That season, I was fresh out of college and in my first year -- yes, a rookie -- on the NHL beat.

 

"No, I don't have that ... that might be a little bit before my time," Makar, the 2019-20 Calder frontrunner, said.

 

I wasn't trying to turn it into a sepia-toned nostalgic session about the Rockies, whose NHL tenure in Denver lasted six seasons -- from 1976-77 through 1981-82 -- but just was curious. 

Bubba3.jpg

 

This had come up because with all attention paid to Makar passing John-Michael Liles to set the Avalanche franchise record for goals by a rookie defenseman, with his 11th of the season in the second period in the 5-3 win over the Blues, I received a tweet from Bill Bayne, a former Rockies employee now in Arizona. (Liles, now on the Altitude set as an analyst, had 10 goals as a rookie in 2003-04.)

 

 Bayne (@azpuck) said: "Until (Makar) beats Barry Beck's rookie record of 22 goals and 60 points, he won't hold the Colorado NHL rookie record for a defenseman." 

 

I answered: "I'll go along with that. I don't want Bubba mad at me. Not even now." 

 

I also appended Beck pictures, including the one above that's from the appearance of several ex-Rockies at a 2015 Avalanche game.

 

While it was long before Makar was born, Beck also was from Western Canada and had been well-known in his prime as an intimidating defenseman -- he was the NHL's most fearsome fighter -- with a booming shot from the point. It wouldn't have shocked me if Makar had heard of Beck; but it didn't surprise me when he said he hadn't.

 

Beck was with the woebegone Rockies for two-plus seasons before they -- with the approval of controversial coach Don Cherry, who with the Rockies off to a 1-7-2 start was desperate for goal-scorers -- traded him to the New York Rangers on Nov. 2, 1979 for a multi-player package the Rockies soon essentially parlayed into acquiring Lanny McDonald and Joel Quenneville.

 

Trading Beck was a mistake, though, given he was a cornerstone for a franchise struggling on the ice and at the box office. He would have been a Hall of Famer had he not developed serious shoulder issues with the Rangers.

 

Who knows, perhaps if he hadn't been traded, the alternative universe would have led to the Rockies still being an NHL team -- and to New Jersey looking elsewhere for a team to call the Devils.

 

In retirement, Beck is a long-time resident of Hong Kong and coach of the national team, doing praiseworthy work both socially and athletically.

 

Before bringing up Beck in the dressing room Saturday, I asked Makar about getting the Avalanche franchise record. 

 

"I'm very honored and stuff," he said. "But I don't believe I'm going to go home and celebrate. But, no, it's a credit to how well these guys have been playing. We have so many smart players in this team in terms of hockey sense and that's why everybody's been producing so well and getting career highs."

 

It's not hard to get career highs as rookies, whether in Beck's day or Makar's time, but you get his point.

 

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By the way, I told the story of covering the soap opera that was "Rocky ... Really Rocky ... Hockey" here, in an adapted chapter from Playing Piano in a Brothel.

 

Years later, when asked for a "Funny Hockey Memory," Beck told Mark Malinowski of The Hockey News: "Don Cherry’s dog Blue came waddling into our locker room. He came in and, you know how those dogs do it, he rubbed his butt on the floor – right in front of my locker, in the area I used to do push-ups. So I gave Blue a little whack with my stick and he ran yelping down the hall back to Don’s office. Then Don came in and asked who did it? We kind of looked around, said we didn’t know. The next day I got traded to New York. ”
 
 
The day the deal was announced—ironically, the day before the Rockies played and beat the Rangers in Denver with a stunned Beck, who was having a home built near Evergreen, going through the motions—I saw Cherry and general manager Ray Miron walking down the hall in front of me. Cherry, who would last only one season on the job, actually patted Miron on the back. That might have been the last time that ever happened.
 
Beck quickly came to love playing in New York.
 
I doubt Makar is in danger of being traded. 
 
 
 
 
 

January 16, 2020

Avs' Ryan Graves:

Always looking at

plus side of things

 

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After Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves had a goal and was a plus-one in Colorado's 4-0 win over San Jose Thursday night, he was up to a plus-31 for the season.

 

That's not just good.

 

It's the best in the NHL.

 

Yes, Ryan Graves (right), the 24-year-old D-man who is far from the Avalanche's most recognizable player and usually is squeezed off the marquee.

 

But there he is, at the top, just ahead of two members of the Carolina Hurricanes -- Dougie Hamilton (plus-30) and Erie High School grad and Colorado College's Jaccob Slavin (plus-26).

 

Graves' fellow Avalanche defenseman, Ian Cole, is fifth, at plus-23.

 

After the Thursday win at the Pepsi Center that featured Philipp Grubauer rebounding for his first shutout of the season and making 27 saves, the dressing-room atmosphere understandably was an upbeat contrast to how it was after the four consecutive losses -- the final two in overtime at home -- that preceded it.

 

"It's one win," Graves said. "But we're going to keep going."

 

Grave mostly has been paired of late at even strength with prized rookie Cale Makar, and it has benefited both. For one thing, it enables Erik Johnson to be paired with Samuel Girard and compensate for the undersized Girard's defensive shortcomings. Plus, and perhaps more important, Graves and Makar mesh well.

 

"He's an elite player," Graves said. "He's fast. It's a treat in a D pairing to give it to someone who can break the puck out with their feet, and he certainly does that. I just go D to D and see him take a hard stride and he's by two of their forecheckers and that's something that's tough to do. He's a treat to play with  and I think we can complement each other. I'm definitely a safe style and he's dynamic and he can take his chances where he wants to. We've been playing well together. I think we've played with everybody so far this year and we have seven able D here and we're confident in everybody."

 

At that point, I asked Graves about the significance of being atop the plus-minus list. It's essentially (but not completely) an even-strength stat and it can be affected by a goalie's work, but it's still a fair element in evaluating a skater's work. Graves also has seven goals and 10 assists for Colorado. 

   

"I try to sorry about the minuses more than the pluses," he said. "I'm plus whatever I am and I definitely don't have that many points. So it's not me putting the puck in the net every time. But for me, every game I'm trying to be reliable defensively and trying to keep the minuses to a minimum. If I'm reliable defensively, I'm the best asset to the team. Obviously, we have a high-scoring offense and we have a lot of talent here, so I think that if you can keep the puck out of your own net, the offensive kind of comes."

 

The remarkable part of the story is that Graves is a showcase example of the cliche -- that it takes defensemen longer to develop. And the Avalanche got him from the Rangers in a February 2018 trade for defenseman Chris Bigras.

 

That was a what-the-hell deal for both teams, involving young D-man considered disappointments.

 

Graves, a fourth-round draft choice in 2013, was in his third AHL season in the Rangers' organ-eye-zation and slid over to the Avs' AHL affiliate at the time, the San Antonio Rampage.

 

It's actually a bit of an upset that he has made the jump to the Avalanche and is playing well, and that he seems to have become an entrenched NHL D-man. after splittting time with the AHL Colorado Eagles and Avalanche last season.

 

Bigras, a second-round pick in that same 2013 draft (the one in which the Avs claimed Nathan MacKinnon at No. 1 overall), is in the AHL with the Philadelphia Flyers' affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.      

 

"There's been doubts, yeah," Graves said. "There are times you're wondering. I was fortunate to get a chance here, for the Rangers to let me go and get a fresh start somewhere else. They obviously had some really good defensemen coming to theier system too, so I hold no ill will towards them. I'm thankful for my opportunity here. It's been fun. It's just a start for me and I know there's a lot of work to be done."

 

Like MacKinnon, Graves is from Nova Scotia, in his case Yarmouth.

 

"That's good company," he said with a laugh.

 

I also asked Avalanche coach Jared Bednar about the significance of Graves' plus-minus as a measure of his effectiveness.

 

"I see it and I say, 'Yup, it's accurate," Bednar said. "I look at his play. He's a heavy, solid, committed defender and he just has really good instincts. He's got a great shot, number one. But if you look at it, there are some D that are really active and dynamic and they're always up in the rush. When we're in the offensive zone, a guy like Girard is all over the place.

 

"There's other guys who just kind of find a niche. . . He doesn't roam around. He's getting all those points from distrubuting the puck or shooting the puck or getting it into the right areas out on the blue line. Great O zone, blue line movement, and he makes good decisions. He made two or three plays tonight where I went, 'Yeah, wow,' and then he shoots one and gets the goal. He has another chance joining the rush ... I mean, he's doing a lot of great things on both sides and it's why he's playing with Cale."

 

Those are all pluses.

 

      

January 16, 2020

NFL coach search 

should be for CEO,

regardless of resume 

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Read it here on WoodyPaige.com

 

 

 

January 15, 2020

Gradishar Hall of Fame

snub, once mystifying,

has become bad joke

 

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Randy Gradishar with renowned Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Collier 
 
This was going to be a chance for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to get it right.
 
Finally get it right.
 
Instead, the word came Wednesday that Randy Gradishar wasn't among the 10 players in the "Centennial Slate."
 
The consolation for Colorado residents and Broncos fans with institutional knowledge about the area was that beloved long-time Denver resident Winston Hill made it. He was a Jets tackle blocking for Joe Namath, Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer, then after retirement twice owned barbecue restaurants in Denver.
 
Trust me: They were terrific and Hill often was there, mingling with customers. Even sports writers. He passed away in 2016.
 
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The 10 player choices were: wide receiver Harold Carmichael, offensive tackle Jim Covert, safety Bobby Dillon, safety Cliff Harris, Hill, defensive tackle(/actor) Alex Karras, safety Donnie Shell, defensive tackle Duke Slater, end Mac Speedie (a one-time Broncos head coach in the early AFL years),  and defensive end Ed Sprinkle.
 
This is so obvious, I'm not even going to run through Gradishar's bona fides -- well, at least after saying he was one of the best short-yardage linebackers in NFL history.  
 
Look, I get -- and I witness and have been a part of -- that media get caught up in "hometown" sentiments much of the time in these kinds of matters. But this goes beyond that. This is more than a homerism-powered bandwagon. In fact, it isn't that at all.
 
Gradishar belonged in the Hall of Fame long ago.
 
This is a joke. An absolute joke.
 
A few years ago -- I believe it was when I was writing '77 -- I emailed long-time Sports Illustrated writer Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman and asked him about what many had said about Gradishar's candidacy. That Zimmerman spoke against Gradishar as a Hall of Fame selection in the committee meeteing, citing that he believed the Broncos padded the tackle statistics in Gradishar's era. It was widely perceived that while Zimmerman perhaps hadn't blackballed Gradishar, his opinions in the selection committee meetings were influential.
 
Zimmerman with civility emailed me back and said, no, that was not true and he would be upset if I wrote that.  
 
I believe he believed it wasn't true, but also that semantics, hair splitting and definition of terms was involved in the cronyism-affected, horse-trading milieu that was the surprisingly small committee of the time, with one representative from each team's market.
 
The problem is, that set the precedents and Gradishar essentially was shoved back into the background as other mostly worthy choices came up for consideration. I'm absolutely convinced that Broncos "Orange Crush" cornerback Louis Wright -- a shutdown corner before the term was invented -- also should be in the Hall of Fame.
 
Bbut that's the other problem: The Broncos, still were under-represented as a franchise when their obvious and usually more contemporary choices got in (Elway, Zimmerman, Little, Davis, now Bailey ...).
 
 
Gradishar, Wright, Karl Mecklenburg and Steve Atwater -- yes, and others -- still were out there.  
 
 
The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection process, while tweaked in recent years, still is ridiculous, capricious and unreliable.
 
Gradishar should be in and while I hate the linking of this word with sports, it applies here.
 
It's disgraceful.
 

Read the Gradishar introductory chapter in '77 here

 

 

 

January 14, 2020

Avalanche is too good

to rationalize getting

anything but 2 points

 

After Dallas defenseman Esa Lindell scored at 1:54 of overtime to give the Stars a 3-2 win Tuesday night, Avalanche captain Gabe Landeskog -- who was on the ice with Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar -- slammed his stick, broke it and heaved it to toward the other end of the ice before charging into the bench and toward the dressing room.

 

It was that frustrating.

 

The Avalanche is stumbling along, at 1-4-2 in its last seven home games -- with the two overtime losses in succession.

 

Colorado still is ensconsed in a playoff spot, in third in  the Central Division, but the standings are compacting and those outside the playoff field if the season ended today (don't you love that kind of talk) are closing in.

 

That's point No. 1.

 

Point No. 2 is that this team NEVER should lose two overtime games in a row.

 

Settling for one point is unadulterated failure.

 

The win-some, lose-some mentality in overtime should be a complete joke for the Avalanche. 

 

Why?

 

It's as if when then-Detroit GM Ken Holland suggested the 3-on-3 overtime format as the prelude to a shootout, he was proposing the placing of a premium on speed, skill and the ability to take advantage of what can look like a doubling in size of the ice sheet. 

 

That's the Avalanche, at least last season and this season.

 

So the Avalanche's OT futility is mystifying. Inexplicable. Unfathomable. And, yes, inexcusable. 

 

Colorado was 3-12 in games that went to overtime in 2018-19.

 

This season, the Avalanche now is 3-6 in games that have gone to overtime. (Among those, the Avalanche has lost its only shootout, at Dallas on Dec. 28. That was another lost opportunity within the division.)

 

That's dreadful.

 

That makes no sense. I'm semi-serious about this: It'a almost to the point where sending out Matt Calvert, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ian Cole out to open OT might shake things up and open up opportunities for MacKinnon, et al, in the later matchups ... if it goes that far, of course.  

 

And it was just a little too easy to wave off losing ground to the Stars -- now two points ahead of the Avalanche -- by attributing it to the play of Denver-born Stars goalie Ben Bishop, who had 41 saves and allowed only the first-period goals from Nikita Zadorov and Landeskog that gave Colorado a 2-0 lead.

 

The Colorado collapse repeated a pattern of late, with no lead safe and third-period collapses commonplace.

 

This also was the rare occasion when Avalanche coach Jared  Bednar, perhaps hoping to forestall a feeling of panic, pulled punches and seemed to be rationalizing rather than assessing.

 

"I thought we were engaged, start to finish," Bednar said. "Checked hard, worked hard offensively. I mean, I thought we played real hard. I don't know how else to summarize it. It seems like right now, what can go wrong, will go wrong. Again tonight, you see it, so we just have to keep grinding. I liked our push, even in the third period, we were up a goal and we were still going after them, we didn't want to sit back. We didn't want to let them come at us. We hit a couple of posts, we had a couple of grade-A chances that we created. Their goalie makes the saves."

 

Bishop was good, but this was no 62-minute standing-on-his-head performance, either.  Aain, the Avalanche is too good now to rationalizing these kinds of losses as 27 straight opposing goalies emulaing Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek...on their best nights.

 

"I think we've gone through it in years past, too," Bednar said. "I don't think it's home-road. You lose a little confidence, pucks stop going in for you a little bit, and like i said, you make a mistake, it seems like it's in the back of the net. That's not goaltending tonight. Our goaltender was excellent. They're finding ways to capitalize on chances and we're not. . . I think if you play like that on most nights, you get two points."

 

No. Those sorts of losses, to divisional opponents, are the worst. They're lost points. They're failures. Not taking advantage of opportunities.

 

And there's no excuse.

 

 

 

      


 
Updated January 14, 2020 
 
Nathan MacKinnon nets 
two major Colorado
honors for 2019 
 
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HallFame.jpg 
 
In the past four days, Nathan MacKinnon Friday was named Mile High Sports Magazine's Sportsperson of the Year for 2019, and then Tuesday also was voted the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame's Male Athlete of the Year.  
 
 
My story profiling MacKinnon and explaining the choice was posted on the Mile High Sports site Friday, and it also is in the January edition of Mile High Sports Magazine, available at various outlets and hitting mailboxes now.

 
The timing just worked out that Mile High Sports CEO Nate Lundy and Editor Doug Ottewill posted the story and revealed the choice of MacKinnon as Friday as the Avalanche was set to face the Sidney Crosby-less Penguins Friday night at the Pepsi Center.

 
Unfortunately, Crosby -- MacKinnon's fellow Halifax Regional Municipality native and close friend -- missed his 27th consecutive game with a lower body injury. 
 
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Of course, there were other worthy candidates for the Mile High Sports honor. I mention Mikaela Shiffrin, Nikola Jokic, Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and, yes, the late Pat Bowlen. (My thinking there was another posthumous honor.) With hindsight, Troy Calhoun probably should have rated mention.


For the record, I didn't have a vote for the Mile High Sports honor, but I agree with the selection of MacKinnon. 

As a long-time member of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame selection committee, I did have a vote in the Hall of Fame male athlete of the year choice Tuesday, and, yes, I voted for MacKinnon.
 
 
The awarding of separate male and female awards made the choice less difficult than the Mile High Sports choice, given Shiffrin's continuing dominance of the World Cup circuit. 

Shiffrin and MacKinnon will be honored at the Hall of Fame's annual awards banquet on April 23 at the Hilton Denver City Center. It's unlikely that MacKinnon will be present, given that's 19 days after the final regular season game, and he most likely will be competing in the Western Conference semifinals with the Avalanche or be playing for Canada in the IIHF World Championships. 
 
Featured will be the six-member 2020 Induction class, selected last October: Lindsey Vonn, Bob Gebhard, Alonzo Babers, George Gwozdecky, Terry Miller and Erin Popovich. 
 
Other award winners selected Tuesday were:  


Male college athlete: Thomas Staines (Colorado State University-Pueblo track & field).
 
Female college athlete:  Lynnzee Brown (University of Denver gymnastics).

Male high school athlete:  Cohlton Schultz (Ponderosa wrestling).

 
Female high school athlete: Anna Hall (Valor Christian track & field).  
 
 

 

January 10, 2020

Short memories? Avs'

goaltending was shaky 

last season ... until February 

 

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The Penguins celebrate after their 4-3 overtime win 

 

The Avalanche's goaltending has been, well, spotty lately.

 

The latest example was Friday night, when backup Pavel Francouz allowed four goals on 30 shots, including a soft, 5-hole game-ender by the Penguins' Jared McCann at 3:19 of overtime, giving Pittsburgh a 4-3 win.

 

Colorado now is 1-4-1 in its last six home games.

 

In the net, No. 1 Philipp Grubauer has been struggling, and his goals-against is up to 2.92 and his save percentage is a pedestrian .909.

 

Francouz, at 29 and in his first NHL season after coming over fromEurope to primarily play for the AHL Colorado Eagles in 2018-19, has come back to earth after playing well enough to bring up the issue of a "goaltending controversy" -- in the more desirable context of one goalie stepping up.

 

"I don't like separating our goalies from our team," said Avs coach Jared Bednar. "Because there were areas of our game tonight that were great. But that's a really good hockey team. It was a really good hockey game. I have no problem with the way we played and the effort that we played with. There'll be  some guys that watch that game and say they have to be better, they have to give us a bit more. I'm sure Frankie probably would say he wants one of those goals back."

 

 Amid the talk of panicking and making a trade for a veteran goalie as the Feb. 24 trading deadline approaches, this seems to have been forgotten: This should look familiar.

 

Last season, the Avalanche's goaltending, with Grubauer and Semyon Varlamov in the net, was brutal for a long stretch. 

 

In late January, I wrote:

 

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

 

But not long after that, Grubauer snapped out of it. He claimed the net and was larcenous down the stretch as the Avalanche claimed a playoff spot, knocked off Calgary in the first round and then fell to the Sharks in the Western Conference semifinals. The No. 1 job seemed to be his. Varlamov wasn't re-signed and ended up with the Islanders, for whom he posted a 32-save shutout against the Avalanche last Monday. And Francouz all along looked to be at least a capable NHL backup.

 

My point?

 

It's too soon -- way too soon -- to write off Grubauer ... or to overreact and pronounce the Avalanche goaltending as a disaster. If Grubauer hadn't  shown what he can do when he's on and confident, it would be different.

 

The Avalanche (25-15-5) has 55 points after 45 games. Last season, Colorado (20-17-8) had 48 points after 45 games.

 

I'm not guaranteeing that Grubauer will repeat his late-season stingy stretch of a year ago. Or saying that Francouz is capable of that kind of standing-on-his-head, self-assured play if given the chance to be the No. 1 guy.

 

But there's no need to panic.

 

Yet.

 

       

 January 9, 2020

Irv Moss and that grin

were Colorado Classics.

RIP, Irv

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Irv Moss in 2016, as he was about to retire. Photo courtesy John Leyba

 

This On the Colorado Scene entry has been moved.

 

Please click for my current commentary and my

profile/salute of Irv Moss at his 2016 retirement

 

It has been much noted that we lost two legendary Irvs in 11 months. Please click for my Greeley Tribune columns on Irv Brown after his death in February 2019   

 

 

 

 

 

January 8, 2019

Stern was cool to 

internationalization at first,

but soon was all-in  

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Read it here on WoodyPaige.com 

 

 

 

January 5, 2020

Just when it seems

Buffs will start 2-0 in

Pac-12, roof caves in 

CUOSUBench.jpg

The Oregon State bench, with coach Wayne Tinkle at left, reacts as the final seconds count down.

 

BOULDER -- I was at the Pepsi Center Thursday night, watching the Avalanche whip the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, but one television in the press box was tuned to the ESPN2 broadcast Oregon vs. Colorado in the Pac-12 opener for both schools at the CU Events Center.

 

Without being able to hear, but with friends and social media contributing impressions, I inferred that analyst Bill Walton had a nice time during his visit, and also that he probably knows he would have fit in as a student in Boulder, and not just because he would have played with Scott Wedman and Dave Logan.

 

And I wondered whether a sign from God was involved, and what Walton was saying, when the broadcast feed disppeared for the final two minutes and the studio folks back in Bristol had to put away the Doritos and fill time until the feed returned ... which it never did.

 

But that night, the Buffs impressively knocked off the fourth-ranked Ducks 74-65, improved to 12-2 overall and seemed to re-emphasize its claim as Pac-12 contender and possible NCAA tournament team.

 

Also, though, the Buffs needed to hold serve at home, and that's why Sunday's 76-68 loss to Oregon State at the CU Events Center was doubly devastating.

 

The Buffs needed a sweep of the Oregon schools at home to set the tone for the conference season.

 

If it had happened, CU might have cracked the AP top 25.  and were in great position to claim it when they led by seven at haltime, by 12 with 13:21 left, and still by 11 with 7:57 remaining.

 

(Update: Actually, much to my surprise, and underscoring that the game ended at 8 p.m. Eastern, the Buffs had climbed into the AP top 25 released Monday morning -- at No. 25.) 

 

Consider this: In that final 7:57, the Beavers outscored the Buffaloes 24-5. 

For CU, that's ugly.

 

That's a collapse.

 

The Buffaloes stopped moving on offense, got trapped and often turned the ball over against the Beavers' 1-3-1, couldn't hit the shots they did get, didn't defend well, fouled on Beavers' prayer 3-pointers, and lost their poise. For the Beavers, guard Ethan Thompson had 24 points, including 16 in the second half. 

 

Other than that, all was fine for CU. 

 

CUOSUBey.jpgTyler Bey (left), who finished with 20 points, didn't score after his dunk with 8:54 left. And he didn't get the ball down the stretch, with the Buffs playing tight.

 

Guard McKinley Wright IV had 14 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds, but he didn't take control when it most mattered.

 

Uh, there still are a few bugs in the system.

 

It was a blown opportunity to take advantage of opening the conference season with the set at home, and when it was over, the four schools involved -- Oregon, Oregon State, CU and Utah -- all were 1-1 in conference play. Oregon rebounded with a Saturday win at Utah, and the Beavers had lost at Salt Lake in the Thursday league opener.

 

So, really, this became a treading-water first weekend for the Buffs ... and it should have beeen more.

 

""We just didn't execute," Wright said. "We practiced against all that defense. We knew it was going to come at some point, but we didn't execute down the stretch." 

 

CU coach Tad Boyle was befuddled.

 

"Disappointing loss, to say the least," he said. "Credit to Oregon State, don't want to take anything away from them. We imploded the last five minutes of the game against that 1-3-1 and it's frustrating because we practiced against it, we knew it was coming, we talked about it ... We didn't know when it was coming, but we knew it was coming  at some point. I thought it was kind of a last resort for Oregon State, they were down 10 with five minutes to go. They said, 'Well, let's throw that out there and see if they can handle it,' and, whoo, we did not handle it. We peed down our leg and turned that thing over and got on our heels and lost our aggressiveness."

 

(Yes, he said, "Peed down our leg.")  

 

Boyle added, "One of the things we talk about against that defense is that it's not very sound especially boxing out. You can really offensively rebound against it. But in order to offensive rebound, you have to get shots. We couldn't get shots because we turned the thing over. . . I take responsibility as a coach. We did not handle that well. That's my fault.

 

"We lost our composure and confidence, we got on our heels and that can't happen. It's league play and welcome to the Pac-12, guys. We're a veteran team. That's what's disappointing. If we have a bunch of freshmen and sophomores out there, I'm like, 'OK, we'll learn from this,' but that's not the case. There are no excuses to be made for that."

 

I asked Boyle why his attempts to arrest that lack of composure hadn't worked.

 

"I think you have young kids out there, playing a game in front of a lot of people on a big stage," he said. "Sometimes they handle it well and sometimes they don't. And when they don't, it just happens. You have to live with it, you have to move on from it, and you have to learn from it."

  

 

 

January 2, 2020

In front of his former
UMass teammates, Makar
gets back on track 
 
 
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Last summer, Cale Makar helped out on a Kroenke Sports and Entertainment community service
day at Denver's Sloan's Lake Park.
 
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Last spring, Cale Makar and most of the UMass hockey players sitting together at the Pepsi Center Thursday night beat the Denver Pioneers in the Frozen Four semifinals and then fell to Minnesota Duluth in the championship game. 
 
The next day, Makar -- Colorado's first-round pick and No. 4 overall in 2017 -- signed with the Avalanche and within 48 hours of the title-game loss stepped into the Colorado lineup for its Game 3, first-round win over his hometown team, the Calgary Flames. "There was such a quick transition, but at the same time, this is what you're been working for," Makar said Thursday night. 
 
And all -- or at least most -- has gone well since, with Makar one of the early favorites to contend for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie as the Avalanche head for one of the league's bright-lights circuits, in this case consecutive road games at Newark against New Jersey Saturday, at Uniondale against the New York Islanders Monday and in Manhattan against the Rangers Tuesday.
 
 Although he missed eight games with an upper body injury before returning to the lineup last weekend, Makar -- the Hobey Baker Award winner as NCAA hockey's top player last year -- leads NHL rookie defensemen in points, with 31, and is second only among all rookies to Buffalo's Victor Olofsson, who has 35. Makar has nine goals and 22 assists and is a plus-5.
 
That was after he had a goal and an assist in the Avalanche's 7-3 rout Thursday night of the defending Stanley Cup champions, the St. Louis Blues.
 
The Minutemen, who meet DU at Magness Arena Friday and Saturday, eagerly checked in as spectators -- for the record, following NCAA student-athlete regulations when lining up the tickets after the schedule came out -- to watch their former teammate.  
 
"I keep in touch with all those guys," Makar said. "It's pretty awesome they were able to come, that's for sure. . . I didn't get to see them at all, but I love all those guys. I don't want to reminisce in the past, but it was awesome to have them out there and hopefully, I'll be able to see them tonight."
 
Along the way this season, there have been occasional reminders that as gifted as he is, the transition for young defensemen is the most difficult and even the elite at te position can look befuddled and rushed at times as rookies.
 
But he's back.
 
"I don't think I'm out of shape at all," he said. "Tonight, I'm a little bit sick, so I was taking pretty short shifts. It's stuff you deal with. It's getting comfortable again with the pace."      
    
I asked Avalanche coach Jared Bednar if Makar's continuing education in the NHL game.
 
"I thought he was good tonight, number one," Bednar said. "Maybe had a couple miscues with the puck, but he was dangerous in the areas we want to see him. If I break down his season, his start was probably putting a little too much pressure on himself with lockdowns, trying to do too much in areas where he should just be simple, and not doing enough in areas where we thought he could do more. There was some meetings and he grabbed it right away and came around.
 
"I think we saw some excellent play before he was hurt. Now he's already faced some adversity in his pro career. It's the first time he's ever been hurt, and it lasted longer than what he wanted. I think there was some frustration there. I think coming out of that, he was trying to pick off where he was at the start of the year, he was trying to do too much when he shouldn't. . . Now he's starting to build it back.
 
"I expect that we're going to see real good play here from Cale going down the stretch. He's an important piece to our lineup and he just keeps getting better and better. I think that where he can grow is we get him to a point where he's mature and he gets in better condition. Not that he's not a well-conditioned athlete. He grows into a man and we get him into the area where we can start playing him more and more and get him up in the high 20s."    
 
He means minutes, of course. 
 
 

January 1, 2020

College QBs are scrambling,

and that doesn't mean

leaving the pocket

 

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Read it here on WoodyPaige.com