For 2020, scroll down for...
the Colorado Scene Commentaries
* = Columns on woodypaige.com.
to always have most recent commentaries on top
MAY, IN THIS ORDER BELOW
May 28 -- The best minor-league team since expansion
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 2 -- Arapahoe Park update
May 1 -- "Last Dance" from court level at '92
May 28, 2020
1970 Spokane Indians
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.
Bill Buckner stood
at the top of the small cement stairway that led to the runway between the visiting clubhouse and the field at Eugene's Civic
"Hey, Billy," one of his Spokane Indians teammates called out, "wanna go get a nice steak after the
His teammates laughed.
I never knew who had said it behind me, but I heard it and I saw him grimace. As in, "Very
funny, guys ..." (Or maybe something more graphic.)
Buckner had a broken jaw and it was wired shut.
Ah, I thought
at the time, pro baseball camaraderie.
It is a tiny snippet of what I saw in that summer
of 1970, and it was a tiny part of why I still consider that Indians team -- the Dodgers' Classs AAA, Pacific Coast League
affiliate -- as one of the most memorable teams I've ever been around, however peripherally. That covers a lot of territory
in both a life and a profession linked to sports.
I also believe the Indians, the 1970 PCL champions,
the best minor-league team since the 1961-62 expansion from eight to 10 teams in, first, the American and then the National
Leagues. The Indians were 94-52 and swept Hawaii in the championship series, outscoring the Islanders 38-9 in the four games.
I bet you've already
taken a stab at identifying the men in that picture above.
And the answers are ...
Manager Tommy Lasorda, Bobby Valentine, Steve Garvey, Buckner, Tommy Hutton and pitcher
That's remarkable on its own, but also now consider the other members of that team not included in that group picture:
Tom Paciorek, Davey
Lopes, Bill Russell, catcher Steve Sogge -- the quarterback of USC's 1968 national champions in the backfield with O.J. Simpson
-- plus pitchers Charlie Hough and Doyle Alexander.
Russell played 55 games for the 1970 Indians, but wasn't around for the official team
picture because he had been called up -- for a short-term military stint. Hutton's season was limited to 90 games by injury,
and he and Garvey, who played 95 games, weren't in the team picture, either. The next season, about half those guys were gone,
but Ron Cey also joined the Indians.
I saw the Indians up close, both in the
cramped quarters charitably called the visiting clubhouse and on the field at the converted football stadium across the street
from South Eugene High School.
It was the home of the Phillies' PCL affiliate, the Eugene Emeralds, who had some eventually well-known
players themselves that season, including future managers John Vukovich and Carl "Stump" Merrill; plus Willie Montanez,
AAA standout Frank DeCastris and player-coach Ruben Amaro Sr.
That year, I had a tiny stall in the corner of that
When I could wedge it in among my school and summer ball seasons as a 15-year-old, and also the
next year, when I moved to a corner of the home clubhouse, I suited up and was everything from a batboy, an assistant groundskeeper
who chalked the batter's boxes before many games, batting practice pitcher and catcher both on the side and in the bullpen
before games. I was invited to sit in on the Emeralds team picture. Literally sit in it, in fact. That's me in the team picture
below, wearing a different uniform and sitting alone cross-legged in front.
I caught "on the side" to help
out Emeralds of Phillies staff working with pitchers. Plus, if you were a former successful major-league pitcher fallen on
hard times and wanted to try a greasy new pitch, I was the guy you'd line up to catch you. Then you'd hear me break the news
that while the ball moved, it might not work because I couldn't grip the ball well enough to get it back to you. Visiting
teams occasionally asked me to catch for them, too.
I even made road trips at the end of each season, the first because manager Lou Kahn
was livid that the Phillies left him with only one catcher and insisted on taking me to Spokane and Portland to help out.
I'll never forget the thrill of being handed the envelope with the $6.50 per diem for the trip; outfielder Joe Lis -- a AAA
superstar and great guy who played 356 games at the major-league level -- telling me to be careful and avoid asking anyone
to "pass the ^%$# butter" when I got home; and Lasorda calling me "Bonus Baby" when both the Indians and
Emeralds were on the same Portland to Spokane flight after we bused up from Eugene. I roomed with DeCastris, a great guy who
hit .288 with 19 home runs that season and dserved a major-league chance he never got. (In this 2013 Rocford Register Star story by Matt Trowbridge, DeCastris is pictured with an Emeralds helmet
among his collection.)
The other small-world connection came up that season when young Indians trainer Herb Vike asked me if I knew Oregon's
football coach, Jerry Frei. He said he was asking because they were both from tiny Stoughton, Wisconsin. I don't remember
if it was pure coincidence, or if he'd asked someone in the Emeralds organization about Jerry Frei, had been told that kid
dressing in the Indians' clubhouse was the football coach's son, and he was making sure. But soon, my father came to a game
and, I believe, had a nice chat with Herb and Lasorda. And I was handed a Louisville Slugger with my name etched on it on
one of the Indians' subsequent trips to Eugene.
1970 Spokane Indians
Trainer Herb Vike, Jerry Stephenson, Doyle Alexander, Mike Strahler, Tom Paciorek, George Lott, Dick Armstrong, Charllie Hough,
clubhouse boy Kent Schultz.
Middle row: Bill Buckner, Geoff Zahn, Sandy Vance, Dick McLaughlin, Tom
Lasorda, Bart Shirley, HJohn Purdin, Marv Galliher, Jack Jenkins.
Front row: Batboy Dave Vaughn, Bob
Valentine, Bob Stinson, Bob O'Brien, Tom Mulcahy, Davey Lopes, Steve Sogge, Gus Sposito, ballboy Mike Wilson.
pictured: Steve Garvey, Tom Hutton, Bill Russell.
1970 Eugene Emeralds
Back row: Batboy/ballboy
Jon Widney, Ken Reynolds, Joh Vukovich, Hank McGraw (Tug's brother), Jack Nutter, Billy Laxton, Ed Sukla. Frank DeCastris.
row: Business manager Craig Hayes, Jim Vopicka, Bill Wolfe, Al Raffo, Jerry Lanning, Billy Champion, Fred Wenz, Jerry
Messerly, GM Hugh Luby.
Front row: Groundskeeper Don Conradi, Barry Cox, Gordy Knutson, Joe Lis,
Stirling Coward, Manager Lou Kahn, Ruben Amaro, Willie Montanez, Carl "Stump" Merrill, trainer Ted Zipeto.
Here are the Indians' 1970 stats. Valentine (.340, 14 home runs, 80 RBI) and Paciorek (.326, 17 HR, 101 RBI) were the stars, with Valentine winning the
PCL's Most Valuable Player award. Pitcher Jerry Stephenson was 18-5.
Thirty years later, in 2000, Lasorda -- by then a Dodgers vice president after concluding his long managerial stint
-- came to Denver to speak at a fundraiser for the University of Colorado Hospital's Anschutz Center for Advanced Medicine.
The Denver Post's parent company sent
its plane to the San Francisco area to pick him up and bring him to Colorado. (I assume he had been in the Bay area for another
arranged for me to be on the plane from Denver and to interview Lasorda on the flight back. Just him and me and the pilots.
He didn't remember me as the kid in Eugene, but I didn't expect
him to and the 1970-era Indians were among the many things we informally talked about in the interview setting. He was both
ebullient and characteristically caustic. We also talked about his one-season stint as a pitcher with the Denver Bears. Lasorda was about to manage the U.S. Olympic team in Sydney, and he also spoke bluntly about patriotism.
Lasorda and his Spokane and Albuquerque players effectively were called up to
the Dodgers together, or close to it. The Indians moved to Albuquerque for the 1972 season and Lasorda joined the Dodgers
as a coach in 1973. He succeeded the venerable Walter Alston as manager in 1977.
I got two columns out of the plane-ride interview. I noted in the first that after we landed in
the Denver area, he hollered up to the two pilots, Tom and Gary: "Great job, guys. You're the only guys who have to bat
Here's Part One. (Note how primitive newspaper web sites
could look in that early internet era.)
Here's Part Two.
At one point, I kicked around the idea of trying to do a book on the 1970 Spokane team,
writing about it as coming-of-age experience for both those who had long major-league careers and those who never got any
higher than Class AAA.
have done it.
May 27, 2020
What Bettman, NHL
put on table doesn't
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
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
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
to add chemistry...
1,100 miles apart
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.
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
O'Brien's top wide receiver, Warren Jackson, is from the Mission Hills area, about 25 miles northwest of
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
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
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
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
May 15, 2020
This time I really
it: Write off
NHL, NBA seasons
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
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
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
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
if Blazers had
drafted Michael Jordan?
Read it here
May 2, 2020
Arapahoe Park will
break from starting
gate on June 6
With so much else in the sporting world shut down, it shouldn't
come as a surprise that Arapahoe Park's live horse racing meeting -- scheduled to begin May 23 and run through August 16 --
has been pushed back. Over the weekend, the track announced on its website that opening day now is scheduled for June 6.
track's barn area, though, opened Friday, meaning horsemen (and women) started bringing their horses to the track.
The other issue, of course, is whether spectators
and live wagering will be allowed at the track, and at this point, it seems unlikely. Other tracks currently running during
the shutdown are doing so without specators and on-site wagering.
This is how Tampa Bay Downs, for example, explains the procedure at its current meeting:
Based on the recommendation of the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we will continue to conduct Thoroughbred racing without spectators for the
foreseeable future. . . Fans can wager on the races through various account-wagering sites such as NYRA Bets, DRF Bets and
TVG, and they can watch the races on the website. Race replays are also available on the website.
The 13-week live racing meet long has been
considered a loss leader for Arapahoe Park's ownership, which was allowed to take wagers on tracks around the country both
at Araphoe Park and off-track betting oulets elsewhere in the state.
legalization of sports wagering in Colorado, including
at selected casino sites, will change the picture considerably.
Also, the Arapahoe Park and horse racing community will be mourning the unexpected January
4 death of long-time racing secretary and plant director Bill Powers, who was 65. At a track that offers thoughbred, quarter horse and appaloosa
races, it's a difficult job to work with all groups and balance the interests, and Powers pulled it off. He also was helpful
to me when I did stories on the track and its fascinating Runyonesque subculture. He will be missed.
May 1, 2020
In light of "Last Dance,"
view from court level
With "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.
The series' remaining schedule on ESPN, all at 7 p.m. Mountain:
Sunday, May 3, Episodes 5 and 6.
Sunday, May 10, Episodes 7 and 8.
Sunday, May 17, Episodes 9 and 10.
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.
It also was the Blazers' second trip to the Finals in three years. They'd lost to the Pistons in four games
in 1990 and then were the best team in the league in 1990-91, winning 63 games in the regular season. In retrospect, that
was the Blazers' best team in the three-season stretch -- and the only time they didn't make the NBA Finals, thanks to a six-game
loss to the Lakers in the West finals.
By then, as this series shows, Jordan was well on the way to being ... just Michael.
the Blazers could have had him. (More on the details in my May 6 column for woodypaige.com.)
That was part of the stage-setting
for the 1992 Finals.
Jordan went nuts in Game 1, scoring 35 points in the first half, including
uncharacteristically nailing six 3-pointers in the first half. He famously shrugged toward the broadcast table (Hey, what
can I say?), and I also was among the Oregonian contingent at court level that also included Dwight Jaynes and Kerry
So ... here are my deadline columns on the series-opening Game 1 and the series-ending Game 6, both at Chicago. (You
didn't get to go into the computer system and keep changing your stories for online beyond newspaper deadline. There was no
Another misconception is that the series was a blowout. It wasn't. In fact, the Finals were tied 2-2 after four games
and for most of Game 6, it seemed as if the Blazers were going to win and extend the series to seven games.
CHICAGO -- This isn't tennis, Clyde Drexler
said all week. This isn't golf, he said. Eventually, a slight strain of impatience crept into his voice when the questions
persisted, coming in waves. Michael vs. Clyde. Air vs. Glide. Olympian vs. Olympian. Champ vs. challenger. Absolutely,
and rightfully so, it was the matchup angle being played up from coast to coast, and not just in a quick NBC promo for the
National Basketball Association Finals during ``Nightly News.''
Drexler left out boxing.
Maybe he subconsciously sensed he was being set up for the sucker punch.
Anybody vs. Jordan is a mismatch.
When Jordan is at his best, as he was
with a 35-point first half in the Bulls' 122-89 romp Wednesday night in Chicago Stadium, ``incredible'' is an understatement.
His team could be tough to beat if the other Bulls do nothing but relax and allow themselves to be sucked into the jet stream.
And when Jordan, who usually neither needs
nor looks for 3-pointers, comes out Wednesday night and makes 3-pointers with the ease of free throws?
Lethal Weapon 23 had gone nuclear.
``It was definitely incredible,'' Drexler said. ``He made some medium-range jumpers,
too. But that's actually the shot you want him to take. Those are the shots that are going to be available in Game 2.''
Jordan vs. Drexler -- as well as Bulls vs.
Blazers -- was no contest.
Bulls could have picked the score, so when there was a little commotion in their huddle during the third quarter, the guess
is they drew numbers out of a 1992 NBA Finals hat and settled on 122-89.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, let's get back to boxing.
The way this went, there should have been a grizzled, gravel-voiced trainer named
``Murph'' in the corner, throwing in the towel for Drexler when it became bloody and gruesome in the second quarter.
The Illinois State Boxing Commission would suspend
Drexler's license for 90 days after this knockout.
Drexler might have flown to new levels this season. He might have become the second-best player in the
NBA. He might have made the Olympic selectors seem short-sighted.
Jordan still is on another planet.
Drexler's right: This is a team game. The point isn't that Drexler was bad, because he wasn't,
really. He was very ordinary, and after the acclamation comes your way, that's fair criticism. His whole team was embarrassed,
but it is the superstar's burden to be expected to become even better when the spotlight shines. There are unrelenting, sometimes
unfair, sometimes unreasonable, high expectations that the great players treat as welcome challenges.
As Jordan did in Game 1.
You sensed that Jordan was getting a little peeved, too, by all this
talk. Is Clyde getting to your level? Could it be that you guys are now 1 and 1A, not 1 and 2? And especially because you're
going to be matched up in more than name -- unlike the Magic vs. Michael talk of 1991, when the two marquee guards
rarely guarded each other -- isn't this an invigorating challenge?
It's safe to say: Jordan used it. He took this talk and used it, almost like a high
school football coach putting clippings on the bulletin board of the locker room. The one element in Drexler's game -- and
even Jordan said this -- that might outdo Jordan is the Portland guard's 3-point touch, which took on
a new reliability this season.
knew what the hype was in terms of myself against Clyde Drexler, but I just tried to stay within the framework of the offense,
the system,'' Jordan said. ``Next thing you know, the shots started falling from everywhere.''
It couldn't have been that coincidental. The Blazers condensed their defense,
sure, but Chicago knew that was coming. The 3-pointer, the shot at which Drexler was supposed to have the advantage, was going
to be there. Jordan knew that.
And because this indeed is a team game, when Jordan was this devastating, the Bulls made the Blazers look
like the Orlando Magic. On one of Orlando's worst nights. On one of those nights when Orlando had seven guys hurt and was
using guards who a week earlier were riding vans to Albany, N.Y., for a minor-league game and wondering if they should quit
and go to air-conditioning technicians' school.
Jordan stunned them, and they didn't do much to fight back.
The Blazers turned the ball over 21 times.
Usually relentlessly aggressive, they got beat on the defensive boards, giving
up 16 offensive rebounds to the Bulls.
They came into this series bristling at the ``stupid'' label. But the way they played in Game 1, repeatedly making
horrible decisions and letting their offense disintegrate, let's say they barely even got their name written on the test paper
before they broke their pencils and couldn't answer any more questions.
It wasn't that
long ago that Cleveland embarrassed Chicago in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals -- in Chicago Stadium, no less
-- and some fans probably walked out saying hockey's Blackhawks were the city's best bet for a winter sports title. The Bulls
recovered from that debacle, and it would be possible that the Blazers could, too.
But Jordan will have
to come back down a little closer to earth.
June 15, 1992
-- Would it have been better to lose quietly in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, going meekly into the offseason with a routine,
maybe even decisive loss on the road?
Or is it better to be able to say you almost saved face, but ended up with egg
all over it?
Yes, it's going to
be hard to remember that the Trail Blazers played a courageous, terrific game for three quarters on Sunday night. It will
be much easier to summon the memory of their horrific, fourth-period collapse in Chicago Stadium.
Their lead, the 15-point lead over Chicago after three quarters, the lead that
looked even more secure the instant the Chicago Bulls came out for the fourth period without Michael Jordan, disappeared.
Along the way, so did all the Trail Blazers'
Rick Adelman tried to
arrest the slide with ``Time!'' after ``Time!'', but couldn't do it. ``I was trying to stop the momentum, and I ran out of
timeouts and they wouldn't allow me any more,'' he said wryly after the Bulls' 97-93, series-ending victory.
So in the final few minutes of Game 6, America
saw the Blazers trying to pull this game out on the fly, trying to regain both their lead and their composure in the eye of
a storm. And if Adelman could have traded half his playoff share for one extra timeout in the final minutes, he might have
done it. He took a huge risk, a very defensible risk that will be ripped nonetheless, and he lost.
``I talked during the last timeout,'' Adelman said, ``saying, `We're out of them
now, we've got to make something happen,' but it was very difficult. When it's a close game at the end, and you're without
timeouts, it's very difficult.''
the fact is, the Blazers did not lose this series on Sunday night.
They lost it in 1984, as even Michael Jordan attested.
On the court after the game, even as ``Rock and Roll, Part II'' blared through
the sound system, Jordan's hollered comment was: ``Thank you for drafting me!'' A little later, he picked up the same theme.
``I'm so glad Chicago drafted me eight years ago,'' Jordan said in the interview area, with his right arm balanced across
a souvenir basketball, with a championship hat on his head and the title trophy to his left.
No, the Trail Blazers didn't lose this series because of, ahem, ``a lack of adjustments,''
``shortage of gray matter,'' or even a debilitating case of moss between their toes. Moss between the toes, by the way, makes
as much sense as some of the reaching contentions that have been tossed out the past few days about the Blazers' plight.
They lost it eight years ago, when they passed
on the chance to draft Jordan, taking Sam Bowie instead.
They lost in the 1992 finals because they didn't have Jordan, and the Bulls did.
That little fourth-quarter run with the Bulls' F Troop was an aberration, because
without Jordan, the Bulls are nobodies, and that should make this collapse even harder for the Blazers to take.
Going much deeper than Jordan in the list of
reasons is like having someone ask you the weather report, and you go on and on for about five minutes about high-pressure
systems and low-level disturbances and midmorning adjustments, when you could have told the guy all he wanted to know with
three words: ``Clear and hot.''
right, for the record, Terry Porter had an awful series; Clyde Drexler was less than superstar sensational; Adelman didn't
come up with the magic solutions; the Blazers didn't find a way to slip a bulldozer onto the court and get away with using
it on defense, and they passed on the opportunity to double-team Jordan in the crucial final minutes of Game 6 and got burned.
Yet Jordan beat them. Even if the Blazers had
held on in Game 6, Jordan was going to summon the will to beat them in Game 7. With a little help from his friends. A better
team, better because of Jordan, beat them.
In the next few days, in the aftermath of the Bulls' second straight championship, somebody's probably going to try
to pawn off a piece on the ``Building of a Two-Time Champion.'' It would list all these brilliant decisions made by the Chicago
front office over the years. Drafting Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. Trading for Bill Cartwright (in a rotten exchange for
Charles Oakley). Getting John Paxson. But, really, once the Bulls drafted Jordan, and discovered just how lucky they had been,
the rest was about as tough as deciding whether it should be pepperoni or sausage on the Domino's. Jordan can make obvious
decisions seem inspired.
were brilliant only if somebody slipped decision-clinching negative information into the Blazers' scouting file on Jordan,
and/or tampered with Bowie's college-days X-rays. The challenge after drafting Jordan was: Just get him a decent supporting
cast, to steal a phrase. That probably could have been done with the NBA Central Scouting reports and a satellite dish in
somebody's back yard. They already had the man that would revitalize the game in Chicago. For that, they had -- and still
have -- Portland to thank.
the Chicago fans, several of whom were showing up in Chicago Stadium for Bulls games before that draft, now are fighting over
tickets in divorce settlements and are screamingly told at every home game that they're ``THE GREATEST'' fans in the NBA.
If the Bulls hadn't drafted
Jordan, Chicago's yellow ties probably would be getting into brawls over the office's hockey season tickets instead. They'd
be saying: When's Jordan coming in with Portland, and can we get those tickets? The leaguewide renaissance of the mid-'80s
on would have had an effect in Chicago, too, and attendance would have picked up, but this level of fanaticism?
But late Sunday night, the horse-riding policemen were standing guard outside
the Stadium. Nearby, on the West Side, the celebration turned ugly in a few spots with scattered looting. On nearby Division
Street, two taxis were smashed by marauding ``fans.'' And Horace Grant went live on Chicago's Channel 7 and pleaded for calm.
``Turning over taxicabs and burning buildings is not the answer,'' he said. ``Celebrate, do what you want, don't drink and
drive in it, but just have fun.''
If the Blazers had only called Jordan's name, Chicago would have been quiet on
APRIL, IN THIS ORDER BELOW
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
April 25, 2020, 7:15 p.m.
NoCo health care execs tell
Weld County commissioners:
"too soon" would be dire
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 Schock, whose firm has the new competing UCHealth hospital that opened last year in West
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.
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.
The three other signatories
of the letter to the commissioners were:
-- Hoyt Skabelund,
CEO, Northern Colorado, Banner Health.
-- Kevin Unger, president and CEO of Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Medical
Center of the Rockies in Loveland, and UCHealth Northern Colorado
-- John Santistevan, president and CEO of the Fort Lupton-based Salud Family Health
I obtained a copy of the letter, and what a hard copy looks like is below.
here's the summarization passages:
"Opening too soon or without a staged plan will negate the community,
individuals, and businesses' hard sacrifices to date and lead to widespread, severe illness that our health system cannot
handle. The resulting deaths will be tragic. The resulting strain on health care will be overwhelming. If we open too soon
and the virus spikes, do we have enough health care workforce to staff our facilities? To staff the alternative care sites
housing those who are ill? Enough equipment to house the patients? The resulting impact on the economy will be even more hardship
and disruption. . .
"As health care leaders, we want to protect the health and welfare of
northern Colorado. If we open the economy slowly enough with strict adherence to public health guidelines, we can bend the
curve, meet the need, and allow our community to safely return to a healthy life and strong economy long term.
impact to our economy now is real and destructive. We can rebuild business -- we cannot replace lives that are lost. We implore
you to reconsider your 'Safer-at-work' plan. Please lead a staged, slow opening of the economy. Please promote unified public
health guidelines. And tell us how we can help you -- we stand ready to serve."
Leading up to that, the letter noted:
"We also believe the immediate threat of death and serious illness related
to COVID-19 needs to be further mitigated before the economy is fully reopened. Unified guidelines must be followed, opening
must be staged. As health care leaders, we see firsthand the devastating effects of this virus on people and their families,
We are directly aware of the fact that Weld County has the 3rd highest rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Colorado
-- and the numbers continue to rise. We see exhausted health care workers leaning in with courage and compassion, setting
fear aside to care for hundreds of people fighting for their lives.
"In our hospitals,
we have never-seen-before numbers of patients relying on ventilators to stay alive. We have additional COVID-19 hospitalized
patients, all of whom could decompensate very quickly to ventilator-level care or death, all of whom are facing weeks of recovery.
Many of whom may be facing CIVID-19 related chronic disease moving forward.
care, Sunrise Community Health is seeing 70-80 patients walk in every day seeking care, 80% of them with respiratory issues.
Of the more than 600 tested for COVID19 at Sunrise, 40% have been positive. Emergency Medical Ssrvices (EMS) crews are responding
to our main facility in Evans multiple times per week for patients in crisis.
"We are thankful
the public health measures in place have had the intended effects and have helped us weather the storm. But we need more time
to see cases, deaths and hospitalizations decrease to know if we have bent the curve."
This tends to be misunderstood in Denver and other areas, where Weld County often is
thought of as "Greeley." Yes, Greeley is the county seat and the home of the University of Northern Colorado and
now-troubled JBS USA meat packing plant, which the Monfort family sold to ConAgra in 1987. But Greeley is only a small geographic
part of the sprawling county, which also includes such towns as Evans, Eaton, Platteville, Ault, LaSalle, Frederick, Severance,
Mead, Hudson, Johnstown, Erie, Fort Lupton, Firestone, Erie, Dacono, Milliken, Keenesburg, Roggen ... and whomever I left
out. Most of those towns and rural areas tend to be far more conservative than Greeley.
Greeley City Council Friday said it would
remain in line with Governor Jared Polis' "Safer at Home" plan to go into effect Monday, part of a phased-in "reopening."
Clearly pertubed by the Weld County commissioners' counterplan, Polis Friday mentioned yanking business licenses and
emergency funds to the county.
"As Governor," he said, "I'll take whatever steps necessary to protect the health
of the residents of Weld County."
In Greeley, the city-issued statement Friday made it clear the city wouldn't join a
The statement read, in part: "Based on the best medical advice and information available, Greeley
officials will extend the widespread public closures of city facilities until June 2 in order to best protect the health,
safety and future of the community."
In the same statement, Mayor John Gates said, "Based on the medical amd scientific
data, and the high number of cases in Weld County, the city of Greeley strongly supports following the 'Safer at Home' philosophy.
This approach protetects lives, flattens the curve and is a step in the right direction for getting our community back to
a fully operational economy."
About the rest of the county, the commissioners should heed
the messages -- both from Gates and the six health care execs. The commissioners obviously are well-meaning and backing off
shouldn't be interpreted as weakness, but as prudent reconsideration.
Update: On Sunday morning, Moran said that after the letter to the commisioners went out
the day before, commissioner Scott James called her and they had a constructive conversation. "He was grateful for the letter and genuinely weighed our concerns," she said. She added
she was "hopeful the commissioners will evolve their planning." She also emphasized she believed
the commissioners would be open-minded about listening to various viewpoints in formulating their position moving forward.
The letter was sent to media outlets Sunday morning. As it became more widely known, former Greeley Tribune colleague Trevor Reid wrote an excellent piece on the commissioners' response to the letter, and it was posted on the Trib site
Sunday afternoon. Any portrayal of the letter as "NEW" information Sunday was not correct. I had posted the full
letter and this commentary Saturday evening and promoted it several times on social media.
Perhaps I should have played the silly "BREAKING,"
"EXCLUSIVE," "PER SOURCE," "NEW" game.
for the heck of it, here's an illustration of why I enjoyed my year in Greeley; how and why I made friends there and in Weld County; and why I still care
about the area.)
Left: Kevin Unger, president and CEO, Poudre Valley Medical Center,
Madical Center of the Rockies, UCHealth Northern Colorado
Center: Hoyt Skabelund, CEO, Northern Colorado, Banner Health
Right: John Santisteven, president and CEO, Salud Family Health Centers
Left: Banner Health's North Colorado Medical Center, Greeley
Center: UCHealth Greeley Hospital
Right: Sunrise Community Health's Monfort Family Clinic, Evans
April 25, 2020
Four first-round QBs:
many will be busts?
Why so hit and miss?
Read it here
April 22, 2020
Arizona should be
that's the way they go
Read it here
April 20, 2020
Guns and Columbine:
but not soon enough
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.
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,
was privileged to aid Patrick Ireland, Columbine's "Boy in the
Window," with his memoirs. (Excerpt on ESPN.com.)
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.
-- A 9mm carbine.
-- A 12-gauge pump shotgun.
-- A double-barreled
-- 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.
I'll say: Remember the Columbine 13. And all the others.
April 16, 2020
Jared Bednar on the
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."
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
"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.
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
April 13, 2020
Time marches on:
captain Ian Mitchell
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.
I asked him about his relationship
with the Blackhawks.
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
That's the way the system works.
Here's the Blackhawks' announcement, with links and video.
April 9, 2020
Freedom Bowl flashback:
in green and
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
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.
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
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.
for fun, here's what I wrote that night:
-- A normally smart Oregon team came down with a severe case of Saturday night brain lock.
*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.
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.
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.
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
``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
``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.''
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.''
* * *
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.
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
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
Here are the
summary and stats from that night:
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
Burwell 3 pass from Musgrave (McCallum kick), :23, 2nd
CS.......Safety, Bud Bowie recovered fumble in end zone, 7:24,
CS.......Brown 35 FG, 2:23, 3rd
UO.......Michael McClellan 44 pass from Musgrave (Burwell pass from Musgrave),
CS.......Greg Primus 49 pass from Gimenez (Brown kick), 12:21, 4th
CS.......Todd Yert 52 run (kick blocked),
UO.......Burwell 1 run (pass failed), 1:01, 4th
Yert (CS) 12-94, Copeland (CS) 8-44, Alford (CS) 14-42
Musgrave (UO) 47-29-0-392
(CS) 10-5-1-73, Verdugo (CS) 5-3-0-35
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.
Rushes / Yards
Fumbles / Lost
Tony Alford during his CSU career
April 8, 2020
Final buzzer should
sound for NHL, NBA's
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
April 2, 2020
Amid so much on hold,
George says NIL
report on track
Rick George, center, with basketball coach Tad Boyle and new football
coach Karl Dorrell
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 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 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
-- for time being
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.
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.
"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
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
Here's No. 1 and No. 2.
The rest, you can debate
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
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
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:
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,
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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
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
Castle Rock's Beth Malone
appears on "Stars
in the House"
The coronavirus crisis obviously hits the arts community hard,
too, with everything shut down.
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.
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"
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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,
Read it here
March 20, 2020
crown NHL, NBA
champs for 2019-20
One night, Stanley Cup ...
Next night, Larry O'Brien Trophy
Read it here
March 10, 2020
Congrats to Logan, English,
Holliday on High School
of Fame choices
The 1972 Wheat Ridge Farmers.
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.
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.
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
Here it is:
October 20, 2019
Mr. Bruce Howard, director
National High School Hall of Fame
PO Box 690
Indianapolis IN 46206
Dear Mr. Howard,
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.
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.
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.
They'll all be
honored in Denver this summer.
March 9, 2020
How first NCAA
came about ...
and how it went
Read it here
March 6, 2020
NHL is wise and right
in EBUG protocol
Read it here
March 5, 2020
In these standings,
Little Sisters of the Poor home in North Denver. No, not the Highlands
or LoHi or RiNo.
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.
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
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.
Here'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.
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
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
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)
84-44 .656 --
81-46 .638 2 1/2
Maple Leafs 35-32
76-52 .594 8
73-55 .570 11
a - Panthers 33-33
LOS ANGELES 141-113 .556
b - Ducks 27-40
9, NEW YORK
146-178 .451 27
c - Devils 26-40
d - Nets 27-34
e - Coyotes 33-35
MINNEAPOLIS-ST PAUL 52-75 .409 31 1/2
f - Wild 33-33
g - Timberwolves 19-42
13, SF BAY AREA
43-85 .336 41
h - Sharks 29-37
j - Warriors 14-48
35-96 .267 52 1/2
Red Wings 15-53
b – Anaheim
c – Newark, N.J.
d – Brooklyn and Uniondale, N.Y.
e – Glendale, Arizona
f – St. Paul
g – Minneapolis
j – San Francisco
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
No. 1 at CSU
Steve Addazio, left, with Patrick O'Brien (12) at Tuesday's
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
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
The Rams' first spring ball under Addazio will run through the April 9 spring game. They'll have 15 on-field workouts
"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
March 3, 2020
Addazio settling in
gets going at CSU
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
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
March 1, 2020
Let's face it: Altitude likely isn't
making peace soon with Comcast
DISH ... and maybe not ever
The message on the concourse at a recent
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.
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.
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.
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
* 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
Feb. 22 — Meet Mr. X
Feb. 19 -- On the CU coaching
Feb. 17 -- How long will Rantanen be out?
*Feb. 17 -- On Pac-12
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. 7 -- On unretiring CU uniform numbers
Feb. 4 -- Worse than Gradishar: Wright hasn't
even gotten a sniff
February 28, 2020
Putting too much (draft)
in Combine is
risky ... and even stupid
Read it here
February 26, 2020
Leila Morrison among
those honored on Avalanche's
Leila Morrison with Gabe Landeskog, left; and
Jake Schroeder, right.
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
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
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.
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.
Jake Schroeder at the Project Overlord
dinner. That's Leila, at left. watching him.
February 24, 2020
Dorrell already is
winning over Buff fans --
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.
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
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
"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."
Tad Boyle meets Karl Dorrell as Rick George looks on.
February 23, 2020
Here's the official
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
Dorrell is Mr. X
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
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,
(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.
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.
are the circumstances that give him credibility when he tells his players to hang in there as they cope with the rigors of
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."
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.
Mikko Rantanen in a better time ... on
"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).
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.
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.
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
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,
to Group of 6
Read it here
February 12, 2020
OK, we'll reluctantly concede
Mel Tucker cashed in big-time.
the way he did it stinks
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rick George begins his remarks at the Wednesday news conference.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
"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
Tad Boyle and McKinley Wright IV during
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.
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
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.
Buffs Tyler Bey (1), D'Shawn Schwartz
(5) as McKinley Wright IV (25) takes stock in win over Stanford.
February 7, 2020
Unretiring CU numbers
least should have been
given this some thought since originally reacting after hearing about CU athletic director Rick George's Wednesday afternoon
CU was putting three
retired numbers -- Byron "Whizzer" White's 24, Joe Romig's 67 and Bobby Anderson's 11 -- back into circulation while
honoring the three ex-Buffs with patches on the specific jerseys moving forward. And the late Rashaan Salaam's 19 can be brought
back as soon as 2036, honoring CU's only Heisman winner.
I will stand by this: If CU had put this up to a vote among alumni, or simply proposed it and asked for opinions,
I would have voted no. Adamantly. I'm grateful to my alma mater and even to some folks still there, and proud to be an alum.
But I disagree with this call, and especially with its timing and the perception involved.
I still would vote no.
I've heard the justifications and plans since. On the way to receiving my journalism degree at CU, I was advised to at least consider other points of view and countering
arguments. Although this doesn't fit the
"hot take" requirement that I must pick out an extreme and angrily pound the table and keys, I'll concede that some
of the countering arguments are reasonable.
we've got to start with this. On the way to receiving my history degree from CU, my appreciation for tradition increased.
-- White, from Wellington, was a
Heisman Trophy runnerup and also a Buff basketball and baseball standout. He was selected as a Rhodes Scholar and was headed
to Europe after his rookie NFL season with the Pittsburgh Pirates (yes, Pirates), but the outbreak of World War II in Europe
derailed that and he returned to the U.S. He was an intelligence officer in the Pacific Theater during the war. He eventually
was a United States Supreme Court justice appointed by President John F. Kennedy.
-- Romig, from Lakewood, also was a Rhodes Scholar and is one of the most honored physicists in
-- The versatile
Anderson, from Boulder, was a consensus All-American too, starred for the Boulder Collegians baseball team in the summers,
and also renowned as one of the top all-around athletes in a state that has produced a ton of them.
OK, the uniform patches will call
renewed and ongoing attention to the three, plus to Salaam if his 19 indeed comes back into play in 2036.
Other schools are
doing this. "Retired" numbers are becoming "honored" numbers. Point conceded. It would be
even worse to selectively unretire some, but not all, long-retired numbers at any program and make those choices of prioritization.
Just because others are doing it, that doesn't make it right.
The surviving players involved, or the other families, have signed off on it. (What are they going to say?)
I just believe when you retire numbers, that's it. At least at the college level. When
you choose a college program, you're signing on to the tradition, too. One of the key lines in Mel Tucker's video presentations
is, "The Pride and tradition of the Colorado Buffaloes will not be entrusted to the timid or weak."
(So don't throw Frank Tripucka and Peyton Manning, or Terrell Davis and Phillip Lindsay
This is secondary, yet
also more problematic. CU announced it AFTER coveted running back prospect Ashaad Clayton posted the announcement that he
would wear No. 24 at Colorado.
-- or at least seemed to come -- out of nowhere.
Clayton's reason for seeking No. 24 is praiseworthy and heartwarming, as you can see below.
I won't presume to know exactly
when that issue entered the recruiting process and to what extent it was an issue in his decision as he also communicated
with other schools as Wednesday's second national signing date approached. He clearly is a terrific young man. But the perception
is that CU made this move to seal the deal for a single touted player. Regardless of who the player is and his motives,
that's not a good precedent.
We're told it is, that this had been
discussed and explored long before this came up publicly. I respect and trust those saying that. But I'd also argue that CU
should have broached this as a possibility and sought reaction. In that process, CU could have presented many of the reasons
for the move, perhaps preventing or at least lessening the negative feedback. Instead, CU now is trying to justify it after
So what else now?
Don't wave off those
alumni with sentiments like mine. Don't trot out the lame and tired "off my lawn" dismissals of any view that cites
history and traditions. Don't say we don't get the mentality of today's "kids" -- which they aren't -- and argue
that this type of thing needs to be done.
Instead, salute that tradition. Don't just give it lip service. Truly prove that this can be used to additionally
honor the former Buffs involved as representatives of CU's traditions, history and pride. History has its warts. This
is not about embracing everything. I get that. Shamefully, CU didn't integrate its football program until the mid-1950s, or
long after eventual football and wrestling stalwart John Mosley joined the CSU (A&M) program in 1939, showing up and asking for a uniform and hearing Harry Hughes say, "Sure."
Show this wasn't a recruiting strategy, a strategy retroactively
I'm still against this. But I -- and I think many others -- could be won over.
February 4, 2020
Atwater, but Broncos
Randy Gradishar and
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
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.
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
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
*Jan. 1 -- College QBs are scrambling
January 31, 2020
"Cut" Rockies, ex-Nuggets voice
on plane crash,
wife's illness, Kobe ... and what now
Read it here
January 28, 2020
LIV (or so) tips
making it through
a Super Bowl party
Read it here
January 25, 2020
Even as Texas walk-on WR,
Kyle Shanahan set his
coaching goals high
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.
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.
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.
Monday, October 22, 2001
Eyes of Texas on
Longhorns from Colorado,
AUSTIN, Texas -- Longhorns football players still tend to be Texans, hooked since childhood on
the lore of the UT program.
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.
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.
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,"
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
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
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,
2014 – Cleveland Browns, offensive coordinator
2015-16 – Atlanta Falcons, offensive coordinator
2017 on – San Francisco 49ers, head coach
-- 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.
Here's an alternative version of this
column for woodypaige.com
January 24, 2020
With NHL All-Star and
Bowl on tap, ranking
four All-Star Games
Read it here
January 22, 2020
With all due respect,
Read it here
January 20, 2020
With MacKinnon, Kadri
for Avs, Wings
fans take that "L"
on way out
Red-clad fans, Red Wings celebrate early Tyler Bertuzzi goal
that gave Detroit a 1-0 lead.
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.)
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.
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."
added that he's having "tons" of fun with the Avalanche, and of late has been centering Valeri Nichushkin and Andre
"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
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?
"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
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.
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
"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.
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. ”
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
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).
Avalanche defenseman, Ian Cole, is fifth, at plus-23.
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.
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
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
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,
Read it here
January 15, 2020
Gradishar Hall of Fame
snub, once mystifying,
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
Instead, the word came Wednesday that Randy Gradishar wasn't among the 10 players in the "Centennial Slate."
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.
me: They were terrific and Hill often was there, mingling with customers. Even sports writers. He passed away in 2016.
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
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.
Read the Gradishar introductory chapter in '77 here
January 14, 2020
Avalanche is too good
to rationalize getting
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.
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,
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 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
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.
there's no excuse.
two major Colorado
honors for 2019
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.
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.
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
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
Male college athlete: Thomas Staines (Colorado State University-Pueblo track & field).
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
season ... until February
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
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.
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.
January 8, 2019
Stern was cool to
internationalization at first,
Read it here
January 5, 2020
Just when it seems
will start 2-0 in
Pac-12, roof caves in
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
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
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.
Tyler 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
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
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
summer, Cale Makar helped out on a Kroenke Sports and Entertainment community service
day at Denver's Sloan's Lake Park.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
leaving the pocket
Read it here