The latest, in order below:
On Mike Bobo
AFCA honors Boulder's Chuck Neinas
On Ralphie's retirement
Running into ex-CU linebacker Derrick Webb
Buffs get a kick out of beating Stanford
Did our guide just say he was a hostage
Keep scrolling past those for the entire 2019 archive
November 16, 2019
Play out schedule, then
(and only then) make
decision at CSU
When everyone was in a better mood:
Mike Bobo on the Rams' 2019 Media Day
Mike Bobo was sitting in his office in the summer of 2018, and we were talking for
my profile of him for the upcoming Mile High Sports Magazine that would serve as the program for the Rocky Mountain
He gestured out the window, to the field and the other side of Canvas Stadium.
"I went through the interview and
they talked about this a little bit," Bobo told me. "I'm thinking, 'Okay, great, a brand-new stadium on campus.'
But this is beyond my wildest dreams. It's first class, everything from every seat in the house for the fans to the functionality
for the players. I believe this is all an ongoing process, putting your imprint on a program."
The wheels have fallen off, or at least shaken loose, since that interview.
The Rams' Saturday night 38-21 loss to Air Force left them
at 7-15 the past two seasons. And the financial issues, as happens everywhere in college football now (see Florida State, see Arkansas...), are brought into play to make the automatic-pilot,
cliched argument that CSU can't afford to not fire Bobo.
Payments on the $239 million in revenue bonds for the $220 million stadium project
were slotted to be $6 million, $8 million and $8 million in the facility's first three years, then are to be $12.1 million
a year through 2055. The positive is the 15-year, $37.7 million naming rights deal with Canvas Credit Union, making it Canvas
Stadium. And revenue has been on pace with expectations.
that said, it's silly to retroactively debate or belittle the merits of
the on-campus stadium project now. The time
for that -- among media, supporters and critics -- was in the three-year planning and debate process. That played out after
visionary businessman and former CSU quarterback Jack Graham in late 2011 first asked president Tony Frank for permission
to attempt to raise money for an on-campus stadium. Graham was named athletic director and then rubbed some the wrong way,
having the temerity to run the athletic department as a business. He was fired in August 2014 as the debate over the project
was nearing a CSU board of governors vote.
spanned many board of governors meetings and public forums.
Some opponents can claim 20-20 hindsight, but that's mainly if their stance was based on the premise that the Rams
would need to be a perennial Mountain West Conference power -- or, eventually, a Power 5 conference member -- for this to
work economically. The big test comes after the annual bond payment goes up next year.
The most vehement podium-pounding opposition, though, involved NIMBY.
Nobody but the charismatic and popular Frank -- now the CSU
system chancellor alone, and no longer also CSU president -- could have gotten approval. But the man who most deserves credit
(or blame) for the project being green-lighted was Jim McElwain, because without that karma-filled 10-2 regular season in
2014, the board of governors would have voted no, or the project would have been taken off the table to save face. McElwain
botched his departure to Florida. There could have been a way to do it with class and walk out the door popular, but messing
that up shouldn't cause all his contributions to be erased.
The timing was fortuitious.
was built, with indispensible adjacent practice fields jammed into the available space. The stadium is not a Taj Mahal, but
a B+ type project because of budget and either/or choices made to meet it. Without the practice fields in the project -- and
at one point that wasn't certain -- the Rams still would have had to practice outside Moby Arena and probably dress there
for practice, too.
Now Bobo is coaching for a third
season in the stadium, and by all means should be held accountable for the not only lack of progress, but regression. CSU's
viability as a choice in Power 5 league expansion has lessened since both the Rams and Falcons at least were taken seriously
when the Big 12 considered adding two schools to make its league name accurate.
So what now?
CU fired Mike MacIntyre during his sixth season with the Buffaloes a year ago. Part
it was he reacted petulantly to criticism during the collapse, belittling the program he had inherited and the players early
in his tenure. (He was "right"; it was just tacky.)
I can't see Bobo doing that, and not only because the circumstances in taking over
a then-successful program are different. The roster unquestionably is "his" now.
Firing him now doesn't seem to be under consideration, and it shouldn't be. Firing
a coach during a season accomplishes nothing.
see Bobo forcing it, either since it would completely contradict his "play-to-the-end" mantra. One thing you have to give him credit for is that no-quit
consistency, even in calling timeouts when opponents are in Victory Formation and are trying to be nice, or the other sort
of end-of-game gambits that have angered San Diego State's Rocky Long, among others.
For a lot of reasons, it also would not be wise to invite both Bobo and Air Force's
Troy Calhoun to your barbecue, as evidenced with the icy "handshake" after the game Saturday night.
Florida State (Willie Taggart) and Arkansas (Chad Morris) fired their second-year coaches
during the season and committed to huge buyouts. Yes, Bobo has had
more chance than that, a full recruiting cycle that has brought in electrifying wide receivers, but not enough roster depth,
especially on defense. But he at least deserves an asterisk for the health problems that especially affected his work in the
Plow on. See
what happens at Wyoming and at home against Boise State. Then decide.
If the decision has been made and this is a charade, that's unfortunate.
Athletic director Joe Parker wasn't part of the hiring process for Bobo. John Morris,
who was heroic in keeping the stadium project viable as others tried to add boondoggles or otherwise tinker with it, was the
interim AD at the time. But Parker is tied to Bobo because of the decision to sign Bobo to a contract extension in December
The deal inclues a $5.5 million buyout if he
is fired before the end of the year, then $3 million in 2020.
Here's the big picture and the issues CSU should consider.
Don't succumb to the off-with-his-head temptations of college football.
Make the decision, yes, weighing the realities, including the dissatisfaction among many Rams
fans, both season-ticket holders and donors. Among other things, the Mountain West's ridiculous television contract that pushes
some finishes until after midnight, is a major test of Stalwart loyalty in anything but winning times.
I get it. It's impossible to say
how distasteful it is to allow checkbooks to have so much influence with much credibility, because now the entire operation
is based on appealing for financial support beyond tickets.
But there still are valid reasons to consider retaining Bobo, even if some of them come off as half-hearted.
First is the buyout, of course. Waiting to bring it
down and then fire Bobo isn't a viable option because it would affect an entire recruiting class, even if the new staff scrambles
to retain those who have announced they will sign with CSU and lands others as minds keep changing up until NLI day. (The
is no such thing as a "commitment" until the signing dates.)
Then ask: Are you willing to be patient as the next coach inherits the Bobo program?
And this also is a sincere question: Does CSU stand more of a chance of getting this turned around with Bobo getting one more
chance with "his" program and the new stadium and its facilities than hiring whoever might come out of the search
firm, interview and hiring process?
Power 5 coordinator? They now make tons of money.
former CSU teammates, Ohio State assistant head coach for offense/running backs coach Tony Alford, and Florida co-offensive
coordinator Billy Gonzales, were in the mix when Bobo was hired. Alford then was at Notre Dame, Gonzales at Mississippi State.
Alford, a Rams star running back from 1987-90, is from Doherty High in Colorado Springs. A CSU wide receiver of the same era,
Gonzales, 48, is from Thornton.
the Rams turn to a former-coach-turned broadcaster itching for another chance, even at the Group of 5 level? Turn on your
TV on Fridays and Saturdays and you'll see them. But the best of them are unlikely to seek or take a Group of 5 offer.
Do you attempt to lure Mark Helfrich, who took Oregon to the national championship
game in 2014 before being fired after the 2017 season, away from the Chicago Bears staff? Then the Broncos, Buffaloes and
Rams all would have former Bears coordinators as their head coaches.
Or check out a former college assistant at Oregon and Washington who now lives in Fort Collins and works for the
credit union that is the stadium's naming rights partner? Fellow named Matt Lubick.
I don't have all the answers. I bring up the possibilities only as backdrop to consider in weighing the advantages
-- and there would be advantages -- of continuity, of stability, of sticking with Bobo.
If you made me bet and be right?
CSU drops the final two, at Wyoming and at home to Boise State, finishes 4-8 and the
three-game losing streak at the end sets the one, rather than the three-game winning streak that preceeded it.
Then Bobo, who as I have noted many times can sound like a booster in emphasizing the
need to win, agrees this isn't working and negotiates the buyout down to, say, the $3 million he'd get next year. He'll have
an offensive coordinator or quarterback coach job within 11 minutes. There would be no need to feel "sorry" for
him. It wouldn't be quitting on his team.
But there still are two games left. He also could pull this off, winning the final
two. It's a longshot, but it could happen. Winning one and playing well in the other also should be considered a sign that
his team didn't quit and the Rams would have finished 4-2.
is going to sound contradictory. The entire decision, either way, shouldn't come down to just the final games of closing stretch.
It's about envisioning whether, all things considered -- including money -- Bobo should get another year.
Wait and see.
This is part of the equation, certainly.
It's a stylistic issue more than strictly an accounting one. This is what Canvas Stadium looked like early in the Toledo game
on September 21. The crowd was decent. And then...
This is what it looked like when
it cam down to the final play of the game, with the Rams in positiion to possibly score the winning touchdown. It was 12:34
a.m., and that was the major isssue, but the sight of the vacated seats was glaring. By Saturday, appearances were that many
in the seats at the Toledo kickoff had become no-shows against Air Force.
November 15, 2019
Chuck Neinas will
get top AFCA honor
Long-time Boulder resident Chuck Neinas will receive the
American Football Coaches Association's Tuss McLaughry Award, the organization's top honor for "service to others,"
at the AFCA convention early next year in Nashville.
Previous winners have included many U.S. presidents, major military and entertainment
figures, former coaches and administrators.
Neinas previously won the AFCA's Amos Alonzo Stagg Award, more specifically targeted
for contributions to college football, in 1996.
He was an NCAA adminstrator
when the organization more resembled a small mom-and-pop firm run out of downtown Kansas City than the huge entity it is today,
and he all but ran the NCAA basketball tournament (before it became Madness) and also the College World Series.
The Wisconsin native has been commissioner of both the Big Eight and many years later, the Big
12; executive director of the College Football Association; and head of Neinas Sports Services, a consulting and headhunting
firm tied to the hiring of many prominent football coaches. He also served as chairman of the board for Ascent Entertainment
Group and acting CEO in 1999-2000 until the company was sold to Liberty Media Group, which soon passed the Pepsi Center, Nuggets
and Avalanche on to Stan Kroenke.
For many years recognized on national "most- powerful"
lists, his level of influence in college sports has been much higher than his profile.
in Marshfield, Wisconsin, Neinas attended Central State College in Stevens Point (now Wisconsin-Stevens Point), played basketball
and enlisted in the Naval Reserves during the Korean War. He was called into active service in January of his sophomore year.
He didn't serve in combat but was on the Queenfish and Tilefish submarines in the Pacific.
commander on the Tilefish, Giles Featherstone Bunn III, punctured the pretensions of those who wanted everything done by the
book, but he ran a tight ship when needed.
"He knew how to get the best out of his men,"
Neinas told me. "I took those lessons with me."
After returning to Central
State and playing basketball as a sophomore, Neinas transferred to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He helped out the
Badgers' radio voice, Art Lentz, and when Lentz left to join the U.S. Olympic Committee in early 1956, Neinas took over the
play-by-play role while a student and stayed in that position, for football and basketball, after graduation.
In August 1961, he joined the NCAA. The entire staff was four secretaries, plus four administrators.
"I was the eighth employee, and now they have 500," Neinas told me with a laugh.
worked under legendary long- time NCAA executive director Walter Byers and served as director of the NCAA Basketball Tournament
and the College World Series.
"Walter was not the easiest person to work for,"
Neinas told me. "He was demanding. As a result, you learned how to do things and do them right. . . . It was a lot different
when I worked for him than it was later, when you couldn't have coffee cups on your desk or anything like that. When I worked
for Walter, at 5 o'clock, he'd say, 'Neinas, get in here and join me for a drink.' And he'd light up his little cigar."
Neinas left the NCAA in 1971 to become Big Eight commissioner. Fissures soon appeared in his relationship
with Byers, including when Neinas testified before Congress that he believed the NCAA's Committee on Infractions had too much
power, and that investigative and enforcement functions needed to be separated.
1980, Neinas accepted the executive director's job of the CFA, which was organized to bring together the major football programs
in an attempt to have better control over their own rules and ultimately television packages. The schools remained NCAA members,
but it was an upstart subgroup, minus the Pacific 10 and the Big Ten schools. Neinas moved its office from Kansas City to
Boulder in 1981.
"We were instrumental in prompting the reorganization of the NCAA into Division
I, II and III, and eventually Division I into I-A and I-AA," Neinas told me. "It was so that people who were affected
by the legislation voted on the legislation."
It's most remembered for backing
the lawsuit against the NCAA hoping to break up the organization's monopoly on television rights. It was an era of limited
games on national TV.
The lawsuit came after the CFA reached a tentative agreement
for its own four-year, $180 million television package with NBC for the 1982-85 seasons. Each of the 63 CFA schools would
receive $1 million or more in TV revenue. The NCAA Council ruled that any CFA members in the agreement would be kicked out
of postseason competition in all sports. That killed it. The resulting lawsuit included dueling Neinas and Byers appearances
on the witness stand. The CFA interests won, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision in 1984.
verdict opened the floodgates for college football on television.
Years later, Neinas
was checking in with Wayne Duke, the retired Big Ten commissioner he worked with at the NCAA. Duke had been critical of the
CFA's militant stands.
"I asked Wayne if he was attending any college football
games, because he'd had some physical problems," Neinas told me. "No, he said, it was really difficult for him to
get around. And he said, 'You know, I can sit at home and watch three Big Ten games on Saturdays on TV.' And I said, 'Yeah,
Duke, I was the son of a bitch who opened it up."
Neinas was laughing when he
told that story.
The CFA eventually dissolved in June 1997, after conferences began selling their own
television packages. "We basically completed our agendas," Neinas told me. "It did things in a practical, realistic
manner. The NCAA doesn't always do that. The NCAA has basically legislated common sense out of the rule book."
Neinas got into the consulting business, helping universities select coaches and athletic directors,
often acting as a go-between. Soon after, he didn't make the hires, but communicated with, checked out, and brought viable
candidates to the table.
"It's about confidentiality and trust," Neinas
told me. "My motto was to try to move forward in a manner in which no one gets embarrassed."
June 1999, Ascent's board of directors asked Neinas -- a stockholder in the company that owned the Nuggets, Avalanche and
Pepsi Center and other entertainment interests -- to take over as chairman and CEO after an announced sale to Bill Laurie
was set aside. He served as CEO for six months and chairman of the board until the next year, through another failed sale
attempt to Denver businessman Donald Sturm. Finally, the sale of Ascent to Liberty Media went through that March. Neinas again
turned his focus back to college sports.
In 2011, Neinas was stepping away from consulting to spend
more time traveling when the offer came to return, take over and shepherd the Big 12 through a leadership crisis. He did a
spectacular and much-praised job with that before going back into semi-retirement. The league added two teams -- West Virginia
and TCU -- and helped land a $2.6-billion television deal.
The AFCA award is well-deserved.
Past Tuss McLaughry Award Winners
1964 Gen. Douglas MacArthur, armed forces
1965 Bob Hope, entertainer
1966 Lyndon B. Johnson, U.S. President
1967 Dwight D. Eisenhower, U.S. President
1968 J. Edgar Hoover, director, FBI
1969 The Reverend Billy Graham, evangelist
1970 Richard M. Nixon, U.S. President
1971 Edwin Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Apollo 11 astronauts
1974 John Wayne, actor
1975 Gerald R. Ford, U.S. President
1977 Gen. James A. Van Fleet, armed forces
1979 Jimmy Stewart, actor
1980 Lt. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, armed forces
1981 Dr. Jerome Holland, educator, business executive
1982 Robert Crippen & John Young, astronauts
1983 Ronald Reagan, U.S. President
1985 Pete Rozelle, NFL Commissioner
1986 Gen. Pete Dawkins, armed forces
1987 Gen. Chuck Yeager, armed forces
1988 Lindsey Nelson, sportscaster
1989 George Shultz, U.S. Secretary of State
1990 Burt Reynolds, actor
1993 Tom Landry, Head Coach, Dallas Cowboys
1994 Charley Boswell, armed forces
Robinson, Head Coach, Grambling St.
1998 George Bush, U.S. President
2001 Andrew Young, United Nations Ambassador
2002 Roger Staubach, businessman, NFL Hall of Famer
2003 Stephen Ambrose, Author and historian
2004 Gen. Tommy Franks, armed forces
2005 Dr. Christopher
2007 Paul Tagliabue, NFL Commissioner
2008 Tom Osborne, Head Coach, Nebraska
2009 Rudy Giuliani, former mayor, New York City
2010 Tony Dungy,
Head Coach, Indianapolis Colts
2013 Robert Mueller, Director, FBI
2014 Jeffrey Immelt, CEO, General Electric
2016 William McRaven, Chancellor, University of Texas System
2017 Grant Teaff, AFCA Executive Director, Head Coach
2018 Jack Lengyel,
Head Coach and Athletic Administrator
2019 Verne Lundquist,
November 11, 2019
Running into the ex-CU
LB I shadowed through
As I walked cross the field Saturday after Colorado's win
over Stanford, I ran into ex-Buffalo linebacker Derrick Webb and we had a nice chat. He's back in his hometown of Memphis
and doing well with his mucic.
In 2013, with the cooperation of Webb, CU coach Mike MacIntyre and even a couple of members of
the faculty, I shadowed Webb off and on over the course of the season to tell the story of a college football experience.
Various photogaphers joined me for several of the visits.
When I was with The Sporting News, I had done a similar narrative story and
portrait, but only covering a week, with Texas linebacker Jason Reeves in 1995. I knew it could be an effective narrative,
a way to remind readers that there is much, much more than players using the college game as a path to the National Football
League. In both instances, I looked for a senior starter who was perceived to be a good player, but was considered to be a
longshot as an NFL prospect.
I had pitched and we had agreed on the Webb package as a multi-part series to run shortly after
the season ended. I wrote it was a narrative on the fly, to speak, in chronological order.
But not much of the Webb narrative story ran in the paper.
That was not my call. A tone-deaf sports department editor considered non-clickbait narrative to be of little merit.
For print, it turned into a single story of moderate length covering the final
two weeks and games of Derrick's CU career. The first three months of his senior season -- and the first 10 games -- disappeared.
I did manage to put together and get posted online a "prequel" as what amounted to Part 1 of a two-part story, telling
the story of the first part of the season. Most of the terrific pictures the photogs gathered while spending time with Derrick
weren't ever seen.
I wish I had saved, or I could find, the original draft of the multi-part story and
my recordings and transcripts.
But for posterity, I put together a single "director's cut," essentially with the "prequel" added to the front of the story that appeared in
You can read it here.
November 9, 2019
Ralphie again a no-show,
Buffs get a kick
of beating Stanford
Buffs' Evan Price (43) connects on the game-winning, 37-yard
field goal as time expires.
BOULDER -- After the desultory,
dreadful showing against UCLA in Pasadena the week before, this was especially needed to etablish that the Colorado Buffaloes
hadn't packed it in. Yes, by now, this is beyond wins and losses, but is about re-establishing resilience in their first year
under Mel Tucker.
So the 16-13 win over Stanford Saturday in the Homecoming game at Folson Field did more than snap a losing
streak at five and get CU to 4-6 for the season. It at least showed that this won't be a complete replay of the horrific 2018
collapse that got Mike MacIntyre fired and dropped a pall over the program.
When freshman backup kicker Evan Price -- stepping in for James Stefanou, out with a hip injury -- nailed
his third field goal of the game as the final seconds rolled off, the celebation was as enthusastic as if the Buffs had just
clinched a Pac-12 division title.
It was that much of a relief.
Going into the game, Deja Vu wasn't just a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album that
had been in the vinyl collection of many of the alumni in the Homecoming crowd when they were in school.
It was a feeling about what was unfolding in the transition season.
On an afternoon when Ralphie's run again was waved off, apparently for injury and safety
reasons, the Buffs said: Enough.
Washington and Utah left, the chances of closing out the regular season with a three-game winning streak and attaining bowl
eligibility are mimimal, but this still was important, and also because significant recruits were in attendance, sampling
"It feels good," said quarterback Steven Montez, who was 20-for-30 for 186 yards. "We'll
take this momentum and hopefully get some good work into the bye week and hopefully come out strong against Washington. We
saw a lot of things in front of us. We can still can do the things we want to do if we play good football and we play fundamentally
sound and play as a team. Everybody's still hungry, everybody's still trying to work. We still understand that if we win the
next two we can be bowl eligible and that's a big thing for us."
The beaten-down CU
defense played well in this one, for the first time holding an opponent to under 30 points and limiting the Cardinal to 372
yards of total offense. (One asterisk: The 30-23 Air Force loss came in overtime, with the score tied 23-23 after regulation.)
The last time
CU won on a game-ending field goal on the final play of regulation was in September 2007, when the Dan Hawkins-coached Buffs
knocked off third-ranked Oklahoma 27-24. That got CU to 3-2 that season, Hawkins' second in Boulder. As it turned out, it
was the high point of his five seasons at CU -- the only time the Buffs won as many as six games and played in a bowl. They
also beat Nebraska and were 6-6 before losing to Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide in the Independence Bowl.
Now it's Tucker's turn to try and build back the program.
was a very good team win for us," Tucker said. "Offense, defense and special teams playing complementary football,
playing together. We talked all week about guys playing for each other and playing for the man next to you and I saw that
out there today. . . It's been a tough stretch for us. It's always good to be in
the left-hand column. We're going to enjoy it beecause it was a victory that was earned."
At one point in the first half, it seemed that Laviska Shenault Jr. (at
right) had been knocked off the field again, this time going to the locker room with a knee injury.
The word was he was probably done for the day, but he came back and made crucial contributions,
with eight catches for 91 yards and rushing from the slot for a drive-prolonging first down in the game-winning drive.
"It was something
I had to deal with," Shenault said. "It's the game of football. I'll be all right. I can't quit now. There's no
point in quitting. I'm going to give my all, any chance, any way I possibly can. . . I live for moments like this."
November 8, 2019
Reprise for Vets Day:
Wait. Did our Fort Logan
guide just say he
was a hostage in Iran?
About this time as he spoke to the Greeeley group at Fort Logan
National Cemetery, James O'Neal Hughes casually mentioned he had served in Vietnam and was a hostage in Iran.
May 2018, shortly before Memorial Day, I joined a "Life After Loss" group of 11 mostly senior citizens from Greeley
on their trip to Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver.
It was going to be a nice little story about the group's tour of the national cemetery
I had been to many times.
My parents -- Jerry, a World War II P-38 fighter pilot who flew 67 combat missions in the Pacific
Theater; and mother, Marian, who worked during the war packing parachutes in Milwaukee -- are buried together at Fort Logan.
this time, I was with a group on a trip put together by Greeley's Adamson Life Celebration Home and was planning to write
about what the visitors from saw and heard on their official tour.
We rode down from Greeley in a van and met up at the administration building with our
tour guide, a Fort Logan staff assistant.
He was introduced as "O'Neal."
The word was, that's what he goes by on the job.
His head was shaved, and his goatee was graying. At the start of the tour, his dark
Fort Logan jacket was zipped just far enough to partially obscure the credentials on the end of the lanyard hanging around
his neck. His dry sense of humor was part of his narration, so the Greeley contingent supplied a laugh track throughout.
The tour's second stop was in Section N, along Sheridan Boulevard in Fort Logan's northwest corner.
There, "O'Neal" stood among the oldest graves on the 214-acre site, which date back to 1889, when Fort Logan was
a new military installation and long before its 1950 designation as a national cemetery.
rattled off considerable general information about the cemetery, where veterans and their spouses are buried free of charge.
Eventually, he said the most visited grave in recent years is that of Navy SEAL Danny Dietz, from
Littleton, who was killed in a firefight with Taliban forces in 2005 in Afghanistan and was a prime figure in the 2014 film,
"Lone Survivor." O'Neal also noted two posthumous Medal of Honor recipients from the Vietnam era, Major William
E. Adams and First Sergeant Maximo Yabes, also are among those buried.
James O'Neal Hughes speaking to the "Life
After Loss" group from Greeley.
asks who's famous here," he told the group. "I say everybody here is famous. You put your hand in the air, whether
you were drafted or not. Spouses are famous, too, because it's hard on the spouse. Like I spent two years in Vietnam. I was
already married. I spent some time as a hostage in Iran and I was married. So I could imagine what my wife was going through
during those times."
Within moments, we were climbing back into the three oversized
golf carts, moving on to the next stop.
I asked the others in my cart: Had I heard right? Did O'Neal
just say he was a hostage in Iran?
He sure had.
The guide's real name is James O'Neal Hughes. I quickly figured that out on my smartphone
and in a brief communication with writer-editor Dan England. "O'Neal" would confirm that later.
On November 4, 1979 -- or 40 years ago last Monday as I write this -- Hughes was an Air Force
staff sergeant, Vietnam veteran and intelligence assistant who was one of 65 hostages taken during the storming of the U.S.
Embassy in Tehran.
I hadn't known that when our tour started at one of the committal shelters.
Then, he still was "O'Neal."
He explained Fort
Logan doesn't have graveside services, and the ceremonies at the committal shelters are limited to 20 minutes. He also explained
about 70 percent of the burials now involve cremation containers rather than caskets.
I first started here, back when we had wooden shovels, it was only about 10 percent," he said.
at the oldest section, Section N, "O'Neal" first gestured in a sweeping motion and noted the wide variety of headstones
there. He explained that the carefully aligned upright white marble headstones became universal in the late 1950s. He said
about 135,000 were buried or interred at Fort Logan and the cemetery averaged about 20 services a day.
also plugged the upcoming 2018 Memorial Day ceremony on May 28 and said it took volunteers about two-and-a-half hours to place
U.S. flags at every grave in advance of the weekend.
For many years on Memorial Day weekend, we had placed flowers next to the flag at our
That's when he mentioned his service in Vietnam and being a hostage in Iran.
the Columbarium mausoleum area, one of the newer options at Fort Logan, Hughes ran down the possibilities for terms of endearment
on headstones and the choices involving casket burials and cremations. The only cost for veterans and their families are the
services from the funeral homes involved.
In the nearby all-dirt area, workers had dug a hole for
a cremation vault that would arrive after a service later in the day. "We just started this section Monday," he
In the same area, several new headstones already were in place and worker Gabriel Arguello
was painstakingly settling the marble headstone of Air Force vet Richard W. Laugesen, a prominent Denver attorney who died
in March 2018, into the ground, before replacing the dirt around it. The group marveled at his meticulousness.
"I've set over 12,000 headstones," Arguello said.
new graves in the area still had temporary cards, identifying the deceased. Soon, they also would have headstones and the
grass would be replaced. Then, as time marched on, the next wave of burials would be in another section.
estimated there was enough space still available for about 30 more years of burials, and noted the then-imminent November
2018 opening of Pikes Peak National Cemetery in Colorado Springs would eliminate some of the pressure.
last stop was the shop were the marble headstones are created.
Back at the Administration
Building, Hughes bid his farewells.
"OK, guys," he said. "I hope I answered all
He handed out the Fort Logan fact sheets.
"I hope this won't contradict too much of what I said," he added with a smile.
Another tour was over.
"I enjoy educating people
and talking to them about the services that are available here and about honoring the veteran and the spouse for their honorable
service," Hughes told me.
This is just part of his job, he explained. He had been
working at Fort Logan since 1997.
"I do anything from budget to administrative work,"
Sensing more questions were coming, he headed them off. Although I had introduced myself
and he knew I was with the folks from Greeley to do a story, he clearly didn't want this to become an "interview."
"I'm not much of
a talker," he said.
After his two-hour tour narration, that was a curious remark.
Did that mean he didn't like to talk about Vietnam and Iran?
"I don't like
to talk about it," he said. "I just don't."
By then, though, with friendships
made and gratitude from the group obvious, he at least would confirm his real name.
A New Orleans native, James O'Neal Hughes in 2019 is 70 years old and lives in Aurora.
He retired as an Air Force master sergeant in 1992.
In 1979, Iranian captors released
Hughes and 12 other African-American or female hostages 16 days into what became known as the Iran Hostage Crisis. The cited
reason was sympathy for suppressed minorities in the U.S. While in captivity, they were fed only bread, goat cheese and rice.
Belatedly, in August 2012, Hughes was awarded the Defense Department's Prisoner of War Medal in
a ceremony at - where else? - Fort Logan. In an interview with Richelle Taylor, a public affairs specialist with the National
Cemetery Administration, Hughes noted he hadn't endorsed the circumstances of his release.
attempt by the Iranians to divide along gender and racial lines did not set well with me," he said. "Part of my
mental health treatment was dealing with the guilt of leaving others behind."
also told Taylor he initially believed the crisis would be short-lived, perhaps ending in a few hours.
being searched, tied up and blindfolded, and marched out of the embassy, I understood that it was something different,"
he said. "During long periods of isolation I would have thoughts of never seeing my family again and that I would die
blindfolded and tied to a chair."
After the release of the 13, the remaining 52 American diplomats
and citizens ultimately were held for a total of 444 days, until they were released on January 20, 1981 - the day Ronald Reagan
was inaugurated, succeeding Jimmy Carter as president.
Hughes, one of the early releases,
told the Greeley group he planned to be buried at Fort Logan.
"I tell my wife,
don't spend a lot of money on me," he said. "Cremate me. Put me in the ground. And then go find two 30-year-olds
and go on a cruise."
On the way back to
Greeley, we stopped at the Cracker Barrel.
the tour group members told me how inspired they had been by "O'Neal" and what he had told them.
To "O'Neal" ... and all the veterans.
Additional 2019 Archive:
Scroll down for ...
Avalanche explodes as Duchene returns
A night for the ages at DU
Landeskog is out. So is Landeskog
On Philipp Grubauer
Nuggets home opener: Honoring Jokic,
buying time for a telethon
Hockey's on a roll in Denver
On the Boys from Halifax
final word on Altitude vs. Big 3...for now
CSU WR Warren Jackson
Pavel Francouz: It was a long time coming
are offficially mediocre
Avalanche opening night
Plan the parade, Mayor Hancock
Coaches under fire: Vic Fangio and Mike
Celine Dion, Columbine and Opening Night at the Pepsi Center
Ag Day and Orange Out at CSU
Updated Collin Hill ... Damn
RIP, Coach Ralston
ahead, blame Bolles for climate change,too
It went to OT, but it was AFA dominance
A sea of red, but a crushing Cornhusklers loss
Mel Tucker gets his first
Advice for Andrew Luck
from another former Stanford QB
Bobo sets high stakes for Showdown's last stand in Denver
My story on Pat Bowlen in SportBusiness
CU's Steven Montez: Throwing against the
From CSU: Warren Jackson is next in line
Would you let your kid play football?
From CSU: Collin Hill
From CU: Are they "Mel's Guys" yet?
Vic Fangio: His Way
Rockies: No Excuse. No excuse at all.
rebuild at Columbine
Garett Bolles' make-or-break
Dan Ficke named coach at Belmont Abbey
Erik Johnson's filly wins at Saratoga
Jared Bednar, the man from Saskatchewan,
Coloradans Horan, Pugh celebrate World Cup title
WWII combat nurse Leila Morrison on returning to Omaha Beach
And at the end of the
day of dealing, Joe Sakic said...
RIP, Pat Bowlen
Just another day at Sloan's Lake
Avs pick Matthew Stienburg: Self-professed "late
Avs and Bowen Byram. What's the rush?
On Coors Field
becoming Wrigley Field West
Colorado Eagles and the Pat Kelly
For $3 million more, Broncos bought Chris Harris'
NBA should steal elements of the NHL/MLB draft
Memorial Day: Why Dick Monfort was named after
Senators' choice has
Avs connection, but it's not Patrick Roy
The most obvious
Ring of Fame omission still is ...
Avs vs. Nuggets? One
is closer, one is better
Killers want(ed) fame. Do we
give it to them?
end to Avalanche season
You know what they say about Game
On the Kentucky Derby fiasco
If Grubauer plays like that ...
"Z" on the line between physical and irresponsible
The Sky is falling. Ah, the fluctuations of playoff hockey
Girard & Makar: What a bad ... What a great idea!
Last time both Avs and Nuggets made second round?
20 years ago, at another Sharks-Avalanche Game 1 ...
Grubauer, 6 days off is a good ... and bad ... thing
30th anniversary of release, a look back at Field of Dreams visit
Honoring a man who went back to his school and made a difference
The Beloved 13
Them Flames is done like dinner
Regardless of result, Bednar back on solid footing
No. 1 vs. No. 8: In the NHL, either can win
Welcome to the NHL, Cale Makar
heart, do-over ... and a kicker.
Previewing Mile High
Sports Magazine story on Irv Brown patch
Day II: Rockies' home opener
Just making the playoffs
not enough for Avs
Great night at Colorado Sports Hall
Embedding with the All-American High
MacKinnon soldiers on
CU in the NIT ... just like the first NIT
Catching up with Tad Boyle, about then and now
Trying to make a case for keeping Keenum
young Israelis in Colorado to play hockey
On the trade
for Joe Flacco
Two columns on the great Irv Brown
Sakic's support of Bednar is the right thing to do
Is it time to play the confectionary salesman in net?
Can Kroenke Sports Stay on a Roll?
Here's why a Colorado nurse was with Supreme Court
English could score 50 ... quietly
Flying The Hump
and more: An epic life
November 7, 2019
in Duchene return
Matt and Ashley Duchene at a Nuggets
game shortly before his 2017 trade to Ottawa.
The Nashville Predators' dressing room in the Pepsi Center was a somber scene Thursday
night, and with good reason. The injury-riddled Avalanche had just ended a losing streak at five, blasting the Predators 9-4,
getting a hat trick from Joonas Donskoi, who joked that if he ever had one before at any level of hockey, it was when he was
5 years old.
But I caught up with former Avalanche center Matt Duchene, anyway.
He had an early second-period goal that gave the Preds
a 3-2 lead before the collapse.
That drew a few boos from the crowd, whether just for form sake, or because they held Duchene's
2016 trade request against him.
It was a strange end to what seemed to be a storybook
pairing of young Avalanche fan-turned Avalanche draft choice and cornerstone. He was the kid from Haliburton, Ontario, who grew up idolizing
the Avalanche's glory
years teams and especially the stars, including Joe Sakic. He had a framed and signed Sakic jersey hanging in his basement.
But it has worked
out for both sides, with Sakic, the Avalanche GM, landing an incredible package for Duchene in the three-team November 2017
deal that sent him to Ottawa, and with Duchene eventually signing a seven-year, $56-million contract with the Predators last
summer as an unrestricted free agent.
Duchene's wife, Ashley, is from the Denver area, and
they held on to their area home until after he signed with the Predators.
actually just sold it last week," Duchene said. "We'll be out here plenty, visiting family. We have lots of friends
and it's always nice to come here. Well, not for a game like that. That's not very fun, but they had a great game tonight
and we were not very good. But I enjoy coming out here and seeing the people that I've built relationships with over the years.
. . We're really, really happy in Nashville. It's a similar type living situation as here. They're both great cities. so we're
It has been two years since the trade. He came back with the Senators a
year ago before he was traded to Columbus and finished out the season and the playoffs with the Blue Jackets as a rental.
Is playing in Denver as an opposing player old hat yet?
"No, not yet,"
he said. "There's still some nerves, for sure. Obviously, with us battling with them in the (Central) Division now, along
with St. Louis, it's going to be a good rivalry all season. Obviously, it didn't go the way we wanted it to tonight, but we'll
Duchene had seemed right at
home at the 2016 All-Star Game in Nashville, playing guitar in an on-stage appearance with country star Lee Brice at the All-Star
Friday Night festivities.
But he said his affinity for country music wasn't an issue in his signing with the
"People draw a lot of conclusions with that, but this summer it was more about the hockey fit, number one, and
lifestyle fit, number two, for my family," he said. "We've got a young lad now (10-month-old Beau) and it's going
to be a great place for him to grow up."
He said he didn't take the boos personally.
"It happens to everybody when
they go back," he said. "I've said many times, I gave it everything I had when I was an Av here and hopefully, there's
enough people who understand that. . . They're a heck of a team over there. They have a ton of speed and Joe's done a heck
of a job over there with their team."
Does he have any lingering bitterness?
he said. "I've moved on. We're good."
November 3, 2019
Tyson McLellan and
a night for the ages
for DU Pioneers
As former University of Denver hockey players filed on the ice
in groups divided by decades and acknowledged the cheers from the Magness Arena crowd between periods Saturday night, it was
a remarkable sight. That, and a reminder of the program's deep roots, going back 70 years, to a time when the Pioneers got
started in an unlikely DU Arena that essentially was a World War II surplus building moved in from Idaho.
"That was awesome,"
said Pioneers senior center Tyson McLellan, who watched the ceremony from the bench with his teammates. "Every one of
us is to lucky to be here. I've never been somewhere that has such a great culture, such great people from the top down. It's
an amazing place to be and I just feel so fortunate to be here.
"It gives you chills. We were sittting on the bench and talking to them coming
by, and they werre going, 'This is going to be you guys one day.' It kind of just opens your eyes. It shows how much people
love it here. For 170 guys to come back for a weekend, to take times out of their lives, out of their work, it's just awesome
to see them."
The tradition is continuing.
The Pioneers are 8-0 under second-year coaach David Carle and undoubtedly will retain
their No. 1 ranking in the college hockey polls in the wake of their weekend seep of Niagara. McLellan had an assist in the
4-0 win Saturday night, and he has four goals and two assists on the season. It gets tougher next weekend, when the Pioneers
-- who reached the Frozen Four last season and lost to Cale Makar and UMass in the semfinals -- open National Collegiate Hockey
Conference play with a two-game set on the road against two-time defending national champion Minnesota Duluth.
The former Pioneers leaving the ice after the ceremony.
all the confidence in the world right now," McLellan said. "With the conference starting, it will be a real test
for us. I know we're ready for it. We're ready to show people how good we really are."
The 5-9, 165-pound McLellan (at right against Boston College) is not a big-time
pro prospect, but he's also the sort of leader and glue-type player every elite NCAA program needs. The Pioneers have seven
NHL draft choices on their current roster, and McLellan isn't one of them. He attended the St. Louis Blues' development camp
before the season, and, yes, his father is Todd McLellan, now the coach of the Los Angeles Kings. When Tyson arrived at DU
and was on an NCAA champion in 2017, Todd was entrenched with the San Jose Sharks and Tyson still lists San Jose as his hometown,
though he spent this summer in Kelowna, B.C.
moved from the Sharks to the spend three-plus seasons with the Oilers, then to the Kings for this season.
Todd played only five
NHL games, with the Islanders, and was coach of major junior's Swift Current Broncos when Tyson was born in early 1996. Tyson's
first hockey memories actually stem from when Todd was an assistant for three seasons with the Detroit Red Wings before getting
the San Jose job. Tyson's formative years in youth hockey came in San Jose, duing his father's seven-season stint with the
"As a little kid, I was able to run around the Red Wings' locker room, not really knowing what was going on," Tyson said. "I was playing mini-sticks with some guys who are
going to be in the Hall of Fame."
Tyson played for the Madison Capitols in the USHL before coming to DU. In 106 career
games, he has 15 goals and 23 assists.
"It's definitely been a whirlwind," McLellan said. "Coming here freshman
year and winning a championship. You kind of think that's what it's going to be like every year. You don't make the Frozen
Four your sophomore year with probably the best team we've had, that humbles you. Last year, there were no expectations at
all, but we found a way to get there. It's a different ride every year. We're just trying to write our own story this year.
I'm trying to be good on both sides of the puck and maybe provide more offense than maybe I have in the past. But I'm still
relishing the faceoff role, the penalty killing role, just trying to be a complete player."
McLellan hasn't ruled out a pro career -- somewhere.
"First, I want to play as long as I can," he said. "I want to have a
good season personally and with the team this season and see where that takes me. I don't have any goals set for that, I just
want to see where it takes me."
In what has become their practice after home game wins, the
Pioneers throw themselves against the glass in front of the student section after the Saturday night win over Niagara.
October 30, 2019
Minus both Landeskogs,
Erik Johnson keeps racing
with 4 in Breeders' Cup
Erik Johnson with another of his horses,
Crosscheck Carlos, at Del Mar in 2016.
(UPDATED WITH FRIDAY AND SATURDAY RESULTS. SEE BELOW.)
Landeskog is out.
So is Landeskog.
up to Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson and say, "Too bad about Landeskog," and his answer might be, "Which
He'll be asking: His teammate or his horse?
With the Breeders' Cup, horse racing's biggest days - yes, even bigger, at least to insiders, than the Kentucky
Derby and the other Triple Crown races - coming up, the coincidence was bizarre. (A real longshot.) The Breeders' Cup schedule includes five juvenile (2-year-old) races Friday and the nine featured
races on Championship Saturday.
On Tuesday morning, the word came that Avalanche captain
Gabe Landeskog would be out "indefinitely" - at least for weeks, not days - because of a "lower body"
injury. He had played against Anaheim Saturday night and I was among those who spoke with him post-game. He practiced Sunday,
but suspicions that something was wrong with him were confirmed and, cutting though hockey's curtain of vague assessments,
he will be out quite a while. (My guess: Hernia or stress or hairline fracture.)
additional problem is that his linemate, Mikko Rantanen, already had been out of the lineup and considered "week to week"
since suffering a lower body injury - it's going around - at St. Louis on October 21.
fairly commonplace on its own, and the Avalanche will try to fight through the absence of two of its stars.
But also on Tuesday morning, noted thoroughbred trainer Doug O'Neill announced after a workout
that Landeskog -- a 3-year-old gelding co-owned by Johnson's ERJ Racing - would be scratched from the $2 million Breeders'
Cup Sprint Saturday at Santa Anita Park.
"He's just telling us he's not 100 percent, so it's
a pretty easy move to make," O'Neill told scribes - and horse-racing writers are scribes - at Santa Anita.
By then, O'Neill knew that the hockey player the horse is named after was injured and would be,
well, scratched for the foreseeable future.
heard the namesake got hurt too," O'Neill said. "Maybe it's twin pain or something."
as ERJ Racing, Johnson had co-ownership stakes in four other horses that went to the post Friday and Saturday.
-- Bowies Hero in the TVG Mile. Jockey: Flavien Pratt. Trainer: Philip D'Amato. Morning line: 12-1. RESULT:
Bowies Hero, going off at 17-1, was fifth in the field of 13. The Equibase chart's comment said Bowies Hero "stalked
outside a rival, then a bit off the rail, came three wide into the stretch, bid between foes in upper stratch and was outfinished."
-- War Beast in the Juvenile Turf. Jockey: Abel Cedillo. Trainer: Doug O'Neill. Morning line: 20-1. RESULT: War
Beast, going off at 86-1, was 11th in the field of 14. The Equibase chart's comment noted War Beast "stalked three deep
then outside a rival leaving the backstretch and into the second turn, came three wide into the stretch and lacked a rally."
-- Two horses in the Juvenile Fillies:
Lazy Daisy. Jockey: Rafael
Bejarano Jr. Trainer: Doug O'Neill. Morning line: 12-1.
Comical. Jockey: Abel Cedillo. Trainer: Doug O'Neill. Morning line: 8-1.
Daisy was sixth and Comical seventh. Lazy Daisy went off at 21-1, Comical at 19-1. The chart's comment: Lazy Daisy steadied
off heels into the first turn, settled toward the inside, angled out but failed to make headway. Comical was allowed to settle
four wide and failed to respond."
Johnson and I have talked several times about his horse-racing
interests over the years.
Raised in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, Johnson first
sampled horse racing at Canterbury Park southwest of Minneapolis. "I went a handful of times," he said. "You
just put the $2 win bets on the 20-1 shot and it's kind of fun."
From there, he mainly followed the Triple Crown races and attended opening day of the Del Mar
"I was kind of in awe at how big of a spectacle it was," he told me.
He got into the ownership aspect in 2014, mostly through bloodstock agent Dennis O'Neill, Doug's
brother, and hasn't looked back. His highlight has been when the 2-year-old filly he co-owned, Shane's Girlfriend, won the $400,000 Grade 3
Delta Princess by 13 lengths in November 2016 at Delta Downs in Louisiana.
I understand the feeling
of enjoying the racing, though my involvement never has been more than a tourist, casual fan, inept handicapper and - most
of all - a writer who loves to tell the stories of the characters at the track, whether at the rail or on the back side. Some
of my favorite stories have been about the horse world, including at second-tier tracks.
thank legendary Nuggets trainer Bob "Chopper" Travaglini for that.
I moved to the NBA beat early in my journalism career, in a time when that meant traveling with the team on commercial flights,
Chopper told me two things.
One: “Piss me off, kid, and your bag’s in Tawian.”
Two: He occasionally would let me know in advance of a trip where he thought it might be a good
idea for me to reserve rental cars.
It usually had nothing to do with getting to the hotels,
arenas and airports.
That was so I could take Chopper to and from horse tracks,
from coast to coast.
I already had covered the ponies some at sprawling Centennial
Race Track, in Littleton, in an area of major commercial development now. The track has been replaced in the Denver area by
Arapahoe Park in Aurora.
It was enjoyable to go to other tracks and marvel that the
same wise guys or Runyonesque characters seemed to be at every track.
the guys arguing with their buddies in the mutuel lines, bemoaning the “woulda,” “coulda” and “shouldas”
and grousing that the licenses of the jockeys on the horses that let them down should be revoked before the next race.
They also seemed to be at the other major and minor
tracks I visited in my later newspaper travels after leaving the Nuggets beat, and in occasional junkets to tracks on vacation
— including Santa Anita Park, Belmont Park, Gulfstream, Pimlico, Bay Meadows, Arlington Park, Longacres, Portland Meadows
… and more.
The Breeders' Cup series of races Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita Park will nudge
a troubled sport into the national spotlight, at least to the point of sharing it with college football for one day.
It’s a short-lived flashback to when horse racing and boxing coverage often outstripped
the attention paid to, say, the NFL in the nation’s major sports sections. When I’ve done book research and gone
back through archival microfilm, it’s absolutely stunning to be reminded how big horse racing was.
Now, the sport is troubled for a lot of reasons.
wagering, from State Lottery tickets to casinos, have hurt the leisurely paced horse racing as a gambling enterprise. For
years, Arapahoe Park’s three-month live racing meet has been a tradeoff for management, which makes its money off year-round
satellite wagering on other tracks at Arapahoe Park and its other state-licensed outlets.
With sports wagering about to be implemented across the land, live horse racing and
wagering will be even more bruised and perhaps shoved farther in the background. The survival of second-tier tracks probably
depends on being allowed to also be outlets for state-licensed sports wagering.
decision to stick with Santa Anita as the site for the Breeders' Cup raised eyebrows and perhaps even ire in the wake of 36
horse deaths at the track in the 2019 calendar year. Outgoing Breeders' Cup CEO Craig Fravel, who it should be noted is about
to go to work for Santa Anita's parent company, was quoted by horseracingnation.com, saying that the Breeders' Cup stayed
put because "when people are trying to do the right thing, you need to stick with them."
Regardless, Landeskog won’t be among those running Friday and Saturday at Santa
And Landeskog won’t be skating, either.
October 29, 2019
Not up to Grubauer alone,
but his goal is to prove
stretch run was no fluke
(NOTE: A version of this story
ran in Mile High Sports Magazine's October hockey issue. The magazine's digital edition is available here.)
Avalanche has gotten off to the fastest start in the NHL, and it appears to be genuine. Of course, after the St. Louis Blues
went from having the worst record in the NHL as late as January 3 before getting on a roll and winning the Stanley Cup, and
after the two top seeds -- Calgary and Tampa Bay -- were eliminated in the first round last spring, it was remindful that
regular-season success isn't necessarily the harbinger of playoff success or failure.
One of the major Avalanche issues going into the season was
whether Philipp Grubauer's work in the net down the stretch and in the playoffs was a promise of long-term success. That,
plus whether Czech veteran Pavel Francouz, who didn't come over to the North American game until a year ago, when he was 27
and spent most of the season with the AHL Colorado Eagles, could be an effective backup ... or even more, if need be.
So far, very good.
Through the Avalanche's 8-2-1
start, Grubauer is 6-1-1, with a 2.59 goals against average and a .920 save percentage.
Francouz is 2-1-0, with a 2.63 goals-against and a .926 save
percentage. (Scroll down for my October 12 commentary on Francouz's first NHL start and win.)
Grubauer's story has remained
surprisingly low profile.
I'll tell it here.
In Rosenheim, Germany, a young Grubauer pondered his athletic choices.
hometown is about 40 miles southeast of Munich, in Bavaria, and roughly the population of Castle Rock.
was a really big hockey town, but all of my friends played soccer,” Grubauer recalled in the Avalanche practice locker
room at Family Sports Center in Centennial. “I just wanted to do something else. My mom always took me to games when
I was 2 or 3 and then took me on a frozen lake. That’s how I started skating.”
Grubauer was a defenseman only.
“Then when I was 6, I’d always wanted to be
in net,” he said. “The coach left and I was the first guy in net the next day. From there until I was 14, I always
switched back and forth between defenseman and goalie. Not to toot my own horn, but I could skate well and shoot a little
At that point, he knew he was coming up on being eligible for the “import”
draft for major junior’s Ontario Hockey League. Yes, even then, he was looking ahead to playing in North America. Nobody
gets drafted as a defenseman-goalie.
“I knew I’d have to pick one,” he said.
“I liked goalie a little more because you can be a difference-maker. I’m not saying goalie is more important than
other roles on the team, but I just felt when I was younger I wanted to be a goalie.”
path was mapped. After being drafted in 2008, he came to the OHL at 16, and played four seasons in the league with the Belleville
Bulls, Windsor Spitfires and Kingston Frontenacs. Living with billet families, he improved his schoolboy English – picked
up in classes from 5th to 10th grade -- by watching television and listening, including in the locker
room (which can be risky). “In school, it was more really grammar stuff,” he said. “You don’t really
learn how to talk. . . I didn’t really say anything over here for the first two or three months, but then I picked it
up pretty quick.”
It also helped that his Belleville teammate was defenseman
Bjorn Krupp, Buffalo-born but the son of German-born former Avalanche defenseman Uwe Krupp, who scored the Stanley Cup-clinching
goal in overtime of Game 4 against the Florida Panthers in 1996. Uwe Krupp would be around every once in a while to
provide advice and tips to the young German goaltender. (Krupp is a former head coach of the German national team and now
coaches Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic.)
A fourth-round pick
of the Washington Capitals in 2010, Grubauer spent most of his first four pro seasons in the ECHL and American Hockey League
before cracking the NHL for good with the Capitals in 2014.
And after serving four years
mostly as a backup, he came to the Avalanche in a June 2018 trade and signed a new contract with Colorado a few days later.
He was coming off being able to raise the Stanley Cup on the ice and then show it off in Rosenheim during the offseason, but
he came to Colorado to challenge the injury-prone Semyon Varlamov for the No. 1 job – or perhaps share it.
The funny thing was, when the Avalanche was in the doldrums last season, from early December to
late February, the major problem was that neither Varlamov nor Grubauer was playing well.
wasn’t as bad as when Colorado Rockies coach Don Cherry – destined to be a Canadian television icon – bemoaned
his goaltending as (bleep) and said he had tried “everyone except the guy who works in the confectionary store.”
But it was close.
Then, finally, Grubauer stepped
There was no mystery to the Avalanche’s turnaround. The major reason was Grubauer.
As he figured out as a kid in Germany, the goaltender can be the difference-maker, and that’s exactly what he was.
The Avs were 15-3-6 down the stretch, made the playoffs
as the No. 8 Western Conference seed for the second season in a row and knocked off Calgary in the first round before falling
to San Jose in the conference semifinals in seven games.
Playing 37 regular-season games,
Grubauer finished 18-9-5, with a 2.64 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. In the playoffs, he was 7-5, with a
2.30 GA and .925 save percentage.
“I look back, for sure,” he said during training
camp. “I’m not really proud of how we finished. For sure, I made some adjustments throughout the year. Obviously,
it was my first year with a different team in terms of stuff like how guys play in front of you, what different guys do. That
was a little bit of a learning process for myself, too, and we will look back and build on what we accomplished.”
On the personal level, what he accomplished was locking down the No. 1 job moving forward. Varlamov
wasn’t re-signed and moved on to the New York Islanders, signing a surprisingly lucrative four-year, $20-million deal
in the offseason to join Thomas Greiss in the net. (So far, Varlamov has been healthy and played well in six starts for the
Grubauer's 37 games in the Avalanche net in 2018-19 were the
most he ever has played in an NHL season. Unless he falters or is injured, he still far surpass that figure this season. A
basis of comparison is that in his seven full seasons with the Avalanche, Patrick Roy’s workload always was from 61
to 65 games.
“The number of games is going to go up, right?”
Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said of Grubauer during training camp. “I don’t know the exact number yet. It will
be determined as we get further through the schedule. Somewhere in that 55 range is usually a good number to shoot for. Possibly
60, depending on how he’s playing and how the workload is and how the schedule sets up. And that’s always subject
“He was rolling through the latter part of the year and in the playoffs as our
starter, so I think his mindset is going to be very similar to that.”
Bednar said Grubauer proved his resilience last season.
was outstanding down the stretch and in the playoffs,” Bednar said. “That’s where his ability lies for me.
That’s where we’d like to see him play, from start to finish. Is that realistic? Maybe not. So the difference
for me is we traded for him (last year), and he was hoping to be our starter. He got in a battle with Varly and it didn’t
go great, or it went pretty well and then it didn’t go r either guy midseason. He worked through that and became our
starter by the end of the year.
“Now, to me, he’s more of a proven guy. Whether
he sees it that way or not, for me he is. I have more trust in ‘Gruby’ now because he’s done it for us down
the stretch and in the playoffs. We’re hoping that he feels more comfortable now in his surroundings and with his teammates,
which I’m sure he does, and gets out to a better start and a more consistent year that he had last year, which will
in turn help and lead us to more wins.”
So this time, Grubauer knows he’s the guy.
Grubauer treated the past offseason differently, staying in Colorado and not returning
to Germany. He worked out at Family Sports with Casey Bond and Chase Engdahl, the Avalanche’s strength and conditioning
“I was here basically all summer,” he said. “I adjusted to the altitude
and got a little bit of altitude training in here. It was nice to stay at home here this summer because the last two or three
years have been really short and really busy, so it was nice to stay here in Denver.”
October 25, 2019
Nuggets home opener:
time, pleading case,
honoring Nikola Jokic
From the scoreboard, pre-game: David
"Skywalker" Thompson and Nikola Jokic,
the Nuggets' only first-team all-NBA choices.
If you were watching the Altitude
TV feed of the Nuggets-Suns game on Channel 20 Friday night, and you're old enough to remember the era when Nuggets games
regularly were on over-the-air television, you might first have been reminded of Al Albert and Irv Brown saying operators
were standing by to take calls to reserve the $2.20 Channel 2 ticket special for the next home game. (Between Al saying, "Issel
with the missile," and Irv noting, "He's a little stiff in the hips.")
Then as the night went along, although Altitude
bought the time for the home opener on Channel 20, it came off more and more like a fund-raising telethon for a PBS station.
(I know it wasn't; it came off that way.) Call in, make a pledge, and get a DVD of the Peter, Paul and Mary 25th Anniversary Concert or the "Chess" concert version in London, with Josh Groben, Adam Pascal and Idina Menzel.
The phone numbers for the "Big 3" carriers -- Comcast,
DirecTV and DISH -- were on the bottom of the screen and KSE executive Matt Hutchings, a good guy, sat in with Chris Marlowe
and Scott Hastings and -- as he has done on Altitude Radio's daytime sports talk shows -- presented the company line unchallenged.
At least Altitude/KSE seems to have dropped the unfortunate DON'T BLOCK MY ..." campaign, since nobody with a brain was
my piece on this, summarized in more detail here.
Some have mistaken my views for taking sides. To repeat, I'm not.
It is three mega-corporations in a business dispute with a company that's part of a
sports empire controlled by a wing of the richest family in America. Nobody is a plucky underdog. This is Goliath vs. Goliath.
There is no moral component here. It's about how much the Big 3 pay Altitude to acquire its programming. Businesses argue
all the time about what one will pay the other. In this instance, the outlets have no obligation to carry the programming
at all. They've made their offers in an evolving marketplace. They have weighed what they are willing -- or not willing --
to pay. That's business. Altitude, bankrolled by a couple worth $17 billion, hasn't taken the offers, insists the regional
sports network has to be considered separately rather than as a promotional arm or even a loss-leader wing of an empire, and
is carefully picking the times and places to make its case. Each side has pondered its options and made its decisions. That's
game, KSE released details of what Hutchings mentioned as a next step, allowing sports bars and other outlets to legally
stream Altitude feeds of Avalanche and Nuggets games through the "upcoming" weekend.
The Avalanche beat Vegas 6-1 on the road Friday afternoon,
and KSE said the short-term agreement was finalized just before the hockey game started. Next, the Avs face Anaheim Saturday at the Pepsi Center. Basically what this does
is formalize what was becoming an open secret around town, that KSE might look the other way if sports bars "discovered"
and showed the Altitude feeds. Without dotting every "i" and crossing every "t," looking the other way
would undercut Altitude's claim to strictly control its own product, as it stridently did when organizations with Avalanche
media credentials virtually instantly posted broadcast video clips on social media.
So that was the side
drama to the Nuggets' 108-107 overtime win over the Suns. The irony is that as the broadcast drama plays out, the Avalanche
is off to an 8-1-1 start and the Nuggets are 2-0. It also has two of the dynamic figures in pro sports, with the Avalanche's
Nathan MacKinnon, who has had a point in all 10 Colorado games; and the Nuggets' Nikola Jokic, who had 23 points, 14 rebounds
and 12 assists as the Nuggets almost blew the home opener and had to go overtime to win it.
Jokic's emergence was emphasized before the game, when former Nuggets great David Thompson presented
him with his first-team all-NBA award for last season. Thompson, whose career was derailed by injuries and drug problems,
but whose game was breathtaking in his early seasons in the league, was Denver's only other first-team all-NBA choice, in
Thompson also appeared with other
former marquee Nuggets at the home opener in 2017, and I wrote a commentary about D.T. then. (That's here, scroll down to October 27.)
Now we'll find out how good Jokic can be in the long run,
combining his uncanny abilities to see the floor, pass and score.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone is
48 and the son of a long-time NBA coach, Brendan Malone. So he had a sense of who and what David Thompson was before he came
to the Nuggets.
"I think it's wonderful," Malone said of the pre-game ceremony.
"I think it's great that we as a franchise have tried to stay in touch with the great tradition that we have, and David
Thompson being one of the all-time greats. I go back and watch that (ABA All-Star Game) dunk contest in 1976 here in Denver,
when David Thompson had a lot more hair, as well as Dr. J."
Malone brought up the 2017 ceremony.
"As great a player as he was, what a humble man," Malone said of Thompson. I think Nikola
said it, 'David Thompson is Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan came on the scene.' I think it's great he came back. The
only two first-team all-NBAs. What a special moment."
The pre-game ceremony took Jokic
"To be honest, I didn't know ... I didn't even know that they were
going to give me that," he said.
October 19, 2019
With Avs, Pioneers,
hockey's on a roll
Pioneers celebrate Saturday night's 6-4
win over Boston College.
The Avalanche is 7-0-1 after beating the Lightning 6-2 at Tampa Bay Saturday night.
of Denver Pioneers are ranked No. 1 in the country and are 6-0 after finishing off a two-game weekend sweep of sixth-ranked
Boston College with a 6-4 win Saturday night in Magness Arena.
There isn't a hotter hockey market in the country. Not Detroit's Hockeytown.
In the broader sense, not Minnesota's State of Hockey. Not anywhere.
I was at Magness Arena Saturday night, watching the Pioneers hold off the
Hockey East's Eagles, who got goals from a pair of freshmen who also were 2019 Avalanche high draft choices -- winger Alex
Newhook (16th overall) and defenseman Drew Helleson (47th). This game was much more wild than DU's 3-0 win Friday night. That
one still was 1-0 late.
I almost never get into this, but the most perplexing thing about it is the scarceness of coverage from
Denver traditional media for the nation's current No. 1 team and Frozen Four semifinalist last season.
Ian Mitchell against BC Saturday
The Pioneers are younger and faster than they were last season, with sage leadership from senior
center Tyson McLellan, who had two goals against BC Saturday; and junior defenseman Ian Mitchell, DU's captain, who got his
third goal of the season.
The young Eagles came with 10 NHL draft choices on the roster, while seven Pioneers
have been drafted.
"They're a top 10 team and we knew that they were going to be very skilled," Mitchell said of BC. "They
had a push there in the third period" -- closing to within 5-4 -- "but we withheld it. There's a great feeling in
our dressing room that we can be one of the best teams in the nation. That's one of the most skilled teams we're going to
face all season and we were able to handle them and limit them to four goals for the weekend was pretty solid."
The program played host to the 2019-20 roster's families, but McLellan's dad, Todd,
wasn't able to make it. He's the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings and had other matters to attend to over the weekend.
But Mitchell's family was in from Calahoo, Alberta, just outside of Edmonton, and they were going out for sushi after the
a second-round choice of the Blackhawks in 2017, quickly and decsively announced his intention to return to DU for his junior
season after the semifinal loss to Cale Makar and UMass, rather than explore signing with Chicago. If he'd done that, he'd
likely be with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.
"I kind of always knew in my heart that I needed to come back another
year," Mitchell told me. "I wanted to come back. And this kind of start definitely validates it. I'm thrilled to
be back. Being the captain is a hige responsibility and a huge honor. I'm a guy that the other guys on the team look up to
and I don't take that lightly. Every day, it's the little things I do on the ice, and to prepare for practice. I hope what
I'm doing is rubbing off on the rest of the team."
I asked DU coach David
Carle about Mitchell's evolving leadership role.
"What makes him special is he's able to look in the mirror better than anyone
else and hold himself accountable," Carle said. "That allows him to hold his teammates accountable and adds to the
selfless culture and the level of accountability we have in that culture."
The Blackhawks who would control his rights until Aug.
15 following his senior season if he stays at DU for a full four-year career. Then he would become an unrestricted free agent.
call once a week to see how I'm doing, and check in on me," he said of the Blackhawks. "I'm very thankful that they've
been supportive about me coming back here another year. . . I'm just trying to focus on this year. Obviously, I want to sign
with the Blackhawks. They've been great to me and I think there's a great opportunity for me there. It's not somehting I'm
thinking about too much, but I definitely want to play for the Blackhawks."
DU coach David Carle
Carle, in his second season as Jim Montgomery's successor, still is only 29. He hit the ground
-- or ice -- running last season after moving up from assistant coach, and he seems to be even more emphatically putting his
stamp on the program in his second year behind the bench.
After the Saturday night win, he agreed that the series against the Eagles
was an early season measuring stick for the Pioneers, who previously had swept non-conference road series at Alaska
Fairbanks and Lake Superior State.
"We feel like if they're not the best team in the East, they're one of the top
three teams," Carle said of the Eagles. "That team resembles a BC team of four or five years ago ... They have some
really good players over there. We had a mental challenge, too,coming off the road after coming back 4-0 and not thinking
it was going to be easy just because we were at home, and I thought our guys rose to the occasion really well this weekend."
DU has a weekend off before a November 1-2 home series against Niagara. Then they open the National Collegiate Hockey
Conference schedule against the two-time defending national champion, Minnesota Duluth, on the road on November 8-9.
October 16, 2019
The boys from Halifax
again -- and maybe
have another donut
Nathan MacKinnon as a rookie in 2013-14,
when he won the Calder Trophy as the
NHL's rookie of the year..
Tonight in Pittsburgh, the Penguins' Sidney Crosby and the Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon will meet again on the ice
at PPG Paints Arena. It will be on NBC Sports in a thing called a “Avalanche televised game.”
The longtime friends
both were raised in the Halifax, Nova Scotia, Regional Municipality -- MacKinnon in Dartmouth's Bel Ayr Park neighborhood,
Crosby in nearby Cole Harbour -- and both played in the Cole Harbour Bel Ayr Minor Hockey Association programs. MacKinnon,
now 24, is eight years younger than Crosby, and as the Avalanche's star center has progressed, the two annual Pittsburgh-Colorado
games have evolved from curiosities early in MacKinnon’s career to rightfully hyped meetings of two of the league’s
In 2017-18, MacKinnon was second in the Hart Trophy voting to New Jersey's Taylor Hall
(he should have won), and Crosby was 17th. Then last season, 2018-19, Crosby was second to Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov and
MacKinnon was sixth.
several years, Crosby and MacKinnon have trained together in the offseason. They also did commercials together for Tim Hortons.
The Hortons chain, named after and co-founded by NHL defenseman Tim Horton, is a Canadian institution, but now roughly 20
percent of its outlets are in the United States. The Crosby-MacKinnon campaigns were hilarious.
In 2015, for example, a woman was shown at the drive-through screen at a Tim Hortons
She heard the young man taking her order ask her a strange
"Who would you rather be stranded on a desert island
with? Sidney Crosby or Nathan MacKinnon?"
the woman answered: "I love 'em both, both hometown boys. But Nate's a little young for me, so I guess I'll go with Sidney."
The Hortons worker retorted: "All right. I mean,
young at heart, but I'm very mature for my age."
Starting to put two and two together, the woman looked like she was suspicious.
After she drove forward, reached the window and spotted MacKinnon and Crosby, she exclaimed,
"Holy ..." then added to MacKinnon, "You're still too young for me."
I talked with MacKinnon about the campaign after a practice as the Penguins were about
to play in Denver in December 2015.
"He came in the league when I was about
10," MacKinnon said of Crosby. "Being from the same hometown, it was exciting to have someone like that to look
up to. Now it's more of a friendship. It's funny looking back that I idolized him. I consider him a buddy, one of my closest
friends. We train together the majority of the summers and do golf trips and stuff like that. It's different now, for sure."
They've been linked even more the past few years by
the Tim Hortons shoots.
The raw footage in 2016 showed Crosby announcing: "Welcome
to Hortons. May I take your order, please?"
And the two local boys went from there.
They shouldn't quit their night jobs.
"We were both terrible," MacKinnon said. "They show the average time it should take for
cars to come through. The normal was like 22 seconds, and we were over a minute. We were pretty bad. But we were giving out
free stuff, so people enjoyed that."
said he was at first a bit anxious.
knew who Sid was, obviously, but I think the majority of people recognized me," he said. "Which was nice, because
I was a little nervous."
At several points, Crosby asked customers -- who still were
at the ordering screen and couldn't see the window workers -- trivia questions.
One was: "Can you name a hockey player from the East Coast?"
"Uh, Sidney Crosby?" a woman answered
"Good answer, drive right through."
When several answered Crosby, MacKinnon was exasperated.
Then Crosby tried to prompt a woman who had named him.
"From Cole Harbour, who else comes to mind?" he asked.
"Oh!" the woman exclaimed. "There's this guy, my God, he just got drafted a year
ago! Oh, last name begins with an 'M.' Um ... McGinnis!"
MacKinnon, as are many Canadians and U.S. residents in select markets, was raised on Tim Hortons.
"What do I like?" he asked. "Oh, a Boston
Creme. It's like a doughnut with white goo inside. My dad always took me there when I was a kid after my early-morning practices
to get a Boston Creme."
The next offseason, one commercial in the campaign showed
driver Crosby and passenger MacKinnon pull up to the restaurant's drive-through screen in a red Hortons truck.
“Welcome to Tim Hortons," says an unseen
female. "What can I get for you?"
I've got a big order coming for you here," Crosby says. "A hundred and 35 coffees ..."
MacKinnon is cracking up, and the female asks incredulously: "A hundred and 35
When she punches in that part of the order, it triggers
an automated voice response: "The quantity entered exceeds maximum."
After apparently placing the rest of a massive drink order, Crosby and MacKinnon pull up to the
window. Workers, by now knowing what's going on, have gathered there to see the two hockey stars, and when Crosby jovially
asks if the order is ready, he says they will instead pull the truck around to the parking lot and come in for the coffee,
orange juice, water and milk. In the lot, MacKinnon gets out and tries to guide Crosby -- unsuccessfully at first -- to back
the truck into a spot between the lines.
took about five hours," MacKinnon told me of the commercial shoot. "It was awesome."
"The past couple of years, he's become one of my best friends," MacKinnon
said. "We see each other every day in the summers training, or hanging out, or going on golf trips or whatever. We've
become closer as I've gotten older."
2016 commercials, for example, were packaged as three "stops":
"Tims Run, Stop 1: Loading Up," involved picking up the huge order in the truck.
"Tims Run, Stop 2: Game On," showed Crosby
and MacKinnon visiting a kids' street hockey game.
"Tims Run, Stop 3: Fire Drill," featured the hockey stars' visit to a firehouse.
MacKinnon also appeared on, and was a huge fan of, the
2001-18 Canadian television series "Trailer Park Boys."
Did he have his actors' union card?
He laughed and said he actually got a letter from the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation
of Television and Radio Artists.
I paid, I could be a certified actor," he said.
(Postscript: If you "got" that headline, you're a true hockey fan.)
October 14, 2019
My final word on
on Altitude vs. Big 3 ...
I've tweeted and written my views of the Altitude vs. Big
3 carriers for more than a month. I get frustrated when it seems that so many still seem to misunderstand the realities
on both sides of the equation. But I've decided that after this, my stance, at least until something happens, will be ...
Wake me when it's over.
I've deleted my earlier commentaries on the issue, and my October 10 column on woodypaige.com will stand as my view on the matter.
October 14, 2019
Next man up in
Colorado State wide receiver Warren Jackson Monday was named the Mountain
West Conference's offensive player of the week. He had nine receptions for 214 yards and two touchdowns in the Rams' win at
New Mexico Friday night. He has missed two games with injuries, and he has 40 catches for 541 yards and five touchdowns. The
loss of starting quarterback Collin Hill for the season in the third game, after he suffered a torn ACL against Arkansas,
hasn't helped, but Jackson and Hill's successor, Patrick O'Brien, were in tune against the Lobos.
practices in August, I did this profile of the Rams' latest marque receiver:
FORT COLLINS -- Rashard Higgins is with the Cleveland Browns, Michael Gallup is
with the Dallas Cowboys, Preston Williams is with the Miami Dolphins and Bisi Johnson, a seventh-round draft choice this year,
so far is hanging on with the Minnesota Vikings. (NOTE: Johnson, from Bear Creek High, made the Vikings' roster and has
nine catches for 94 yards.)
the roll call of wide receivers at Colorado State from 2013 on who have moved on to the NFL.
Warren Jackson likely will join them in the pro game in a year or two, but for now,
the 6-foot-6 junior from the Los Angeles area area is poised to step into Rams' top-receiver role after the departure of Williams
He had 32 receptions for 405 yards and four touchdowns for the Rams as a sophomore in 2018.
And he knows that if the Rams have any chance of rebouding from a 3-9 season a year
ago, he will need to step up, additionally hone his chemistry with redshirt junior quarterback Collin Hill and be the sort
of threat to make favorable comparisons to CSU's recent big-play receivers appropriate.
"I feel like I can be a real spark for this offense and help us win games," Jackson told me. "Collin
and I always had good chemistry. From my freshman and his redshirt freshman year, we were always on the field together. It's
something we've built in our time here and I think it's starting to pay off now. It's just catching the ball where he wants
me to be, where he's going to put the ball, knowing where I like it and how he likes certain routes run. It's a lot of little
things like that."
Jackson's decision to come to CSU was a bit of an upset.
In Jackson's recruiting profile updated after he signed a national of intent with the Rams in early 2017, ESPN.com listed him with scholarship offers
from CSU, Arizona, Colorado, Fresno State, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon State, San Jose State, Washington State
Yes, Colorado was in there.
Jackson attended Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach and played football there his sophomore
and junior years before transferrring to Bishop Alemany High in Mission Hills, about 35 miles north, midway through his junior
the end of his stay at Redondo Union, his father, Ron, had been taking him to Redondo Beach, though Ron lived and worked in
the San Fernando Valley.
"I lived in the Valley and was driving to the South Bay every day," Jackson said. "It was
tough on my dad, going that hour and a half every morning. We just decided I'd go somewhere that was five minutes away, great
school, Catholic school with a pretty good football team."
He said that on the day he transferred to Bishop Alemany, he had just taken an entrance
test when the schooll's football coach found him and announced that CU assistant coach Darian Hagan wanted to talk with him.
me on the day I transferred," Jackson said of the Buffaloes.
Jackson called Hagan "a real good dude. He came out and said, 'We've been watching
you, you have a scholarship,' and I was really shocked. I had never heard from them until that day. I was, 'Wow!'"
After finishing his junior year at Bishop Alemany, Jackson announced via his Twitter his "commitment"
to Arizona. But as is so often the case, he changed his mind by the national letter of intent signing date about eight months
later and instead signed with CSU. (The use of the term "commitment" at that point of the recruiting process --
even when qualified as "verbal" -- continues to be a joke, but remains the norm.)
Jackson said the CSU staff was
recruiting him early and that the Rams offered him a scholarship during his sophomore year at Redondo Union.
"I didn't know
too much about them," Jackson said. "I'd seen Rashard. watched his tape and said, 'Man, he's really good,' so I
kept tabs. They kept recruiting me that following year, but then I had the commitment to Arizona. I was set to go to Arizona,
but then I took a visit there. I liked Arizona a lot. It was a great environment, great team, great teammates. But then I
took a visit here and it was something I never had experienced before. I loved the atmosphere, I loved the team, I loved my
soon-to-be teammates. The staff was amazing and builing that new stadium helped too."
Two weeks after his official visit to Arizona, he announced his "decommitment" on Twitter.
Following his visit to Fort Collins, he signed with the Rams in February 2017.
Why not CU -- the Rams' in-state rival and opponent in the Aug. 30 Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium
at Mile High? (Hagan, by the way, is a holdover from the Mike MacIntyre staff and is running backs coach under Mel Tucker.)
don't know," Jackson said. "Me and the coaches didn't have that relationship. We talked once in a while, but it
wasn't as much as we talked here and with Arizona."
CSU, Jackson didn't redshirt and played as a true freshman in 2017, and he had 15 catches for 265 yards and two touchdowns.
"I'm glad I got my feet wet," he said. "I'm glad I got an opportunity
to learn this offense by playing it. You learn better when you're actually doing something. I'm glad I didn't redshirt, I'm
glad I had the opportunity to play with these guys. Mentally, I've gotten a lot tougher. Physically, I got a lot stronger.
I've gained probably 25 pounds since I've been here. I got faster as well. It's just the mental things, the Xs and Os of football.
I've learned a lot more of the playbook, and watching film and watching my opponent.
"I learned every (receiver) position by being here and watching those guys, watching how
they ran certain routes. I watched the route the ran, and now it's the routes I have to run because I'm in that position now."
October 12, 2019
Long time coming:
Francouz gets win
in first NHL
Pavel Francouz makes a third-period save
Pavel Francouz is 29 and he played profesionally eight seasons in Europe, including
in his Czech Republic homeland and in the Kontinental Hockey League with Chelyabinsk, Russia.
Finally, he signed with the Avalanche
organization a year ago and came to North America, spending most of his indoctrination season with the AHL Colorado Eagles
and making two relief appearances with the NHL club during brief callups.
Francouz got his first NHL start with the Avalanche
Saturday night and made 34 saves as Colorado beat Arizona 3-2 in overtime.
It was significant for a lot of reasons, including that
the Avalanche swept the season-opening four-game homestand in advance of the upcoming and testing stretch of six consecutive
road games. (It's not one trip; the Avs will be home between the fifth game, at St. Louis, and the sixth, at Las Vegas.)
after, his teammates -- mainly Gabe Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon -- insisted on skipping interviews at their stalls, suggesting
the media members head over to Francouz. "Go talk to Frankie," MacKinnon told me. "It's his first NHL win ...
go talk to him."
OK. I went to Francouz’s stall, waited for him to remove his gear and asked him about the satisfaction
of his first win. (At this point, the rest of the media were in a pack with Austrian Andre Burakovsky, who scored the game-ending
goal in OT.)
"It's been a long journey for me," Francouz told me. "I was dreaming about playing here
and it's just a fun time for me. I know
it's only one regular-season game. But for me, it was big. The guys helped me a lot. They played really good in front of me.
It was a defensive game, it was even on zeroes after two periods. We were fortunate to score the first two goals and then
unfortunately, we got scored on twice, but we won in overtime and we're really happy.
"Actually, honestly, I was expecting to be more
nervous. I really don't know why, but I just tried to enjoy the game because it's only going to happen once in your life.
It's your first NHL game and I just wanted to enjoy this one as much as possible."
Francouz had to make only one save in the three minutes
"It was in their end, mostly, and I was just hoping the guys would score," he said.
it made a winner of Francouz, who last season mostly was 50 miles up the road. He accepted that as a transition season, but
there were some nervous moments before the Avs signed him to a one-year NHL deal in May, signaling they were ready to move
on from Semyon Varlamov, even as Philipp Grubauer's backup. It wouldn't have been shocking if he had decided to return to
his solid career in Europe, minus a gesture of commitment from the Avalanche.
I asked him if he was looking ahead to this night when
he was with the Eagles.
"I didn't really think that far," he said.
"I would say I was just trying to play the best as possible in the minors."
Others joined us at that point.
He told me his two relief appearances
last season helped.
"One of those was against Arizona, too," he said. "I think it helped a little bit because
I kind of knew how it feels to play in the NHL."
I asked him if he had noticed how happy his teammates seemed to be for
course, there's a great group of guys," he said. "You could see that they were trying to help me as much as possible.
They were blocking shots and playing really solid defense. I can only say thank you to them."
A few minutes
later, I asked Avalanche coach Jared Bednar about how the "room" seemed genuinely thrilled for Francouz.
that's one of the toughest jobs in hockey," Bednar said. "You're sitting around and working, and working, in practice,
before and after practice with guys who are putting in extra work, the injured guys. You're committed to the team gave, right?
That's the most selfless guy in the room. He has to watch it all and cheer everyone on.
"So when he gets a chance to go in, the guys want
to see him succeed and they play hard for him and check hard for him. I thought we did (that), tonight. For him, he's still
an unknown to our group a little bit. So for our team to gain confidence in him and know that he wins hockey games is great
and that's the type of atmosphere we want."
Francouz played roughly half the time in his three KHL seasons -- which has 62-game
schedules -- with Traktor Chelyabinsk and also was in net for the Czech Republic in several World Championships and the 2018
Olympics at PyeonChang. Here, if Grubauer is able to hold up to the No. 1 scrutiny all season, and both stay healthy, Francouz
seems likely to get 20 to 25 starts.
"It's a little bit hard because you don't have as much game feeling," he told me. "I'm
trying to see it from the positive side. I would say I was rested and ready to play."
The best bet for his next start is
at Tampa Bay next Saturday. That's the second half of a back-to-back for the Avalanche, following the game the night before
at Florida against the Joel Quenneville-coached Panthers.
October 9, 2019
KSE honcho Hutchings
to the (Altitude)
airwaves, re: TV dispute
I just got done listening to Matt Hutchings, executive vice president and
COO of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, plus President and CEO of KSE Media Ventures, on Altitude Radio's morning show with Vic Lombardi,
Marc Moser and Brett Kane. Matt's a good guy and I consider Vic and Marc good friends. (I haven't met Brett.)
Here, I'll mainly have Hutchings lay out the Altitude position about the contract discussions
involving the KSE "house" network that carries Nuggets, Avalanche, Mammoth and Rapids games.
"There's information out there that we came out and asked for a huge increase
because our teams are both really good, all three teams at the Pepsi Center were good last year, so we came out and asked
for really high rates," Hutchings said on the air. "That is blatantly false. That's not true. For anybody to say
that is disingenuous and it's just not true.
agreements expired at the end of August. We had 15 years of relationships and deals with Comcast, DirecTV and ATT/DISH. Five
years ago, they all stepped, we had great renewals, they were happy. So we took the rate that we finished with and we asked
for a nominal increase, percentage increase to move forward with the next round of our extensions. They came back and said
no, that was not in their wheelhouse, so we came back and we offered 5 percent. And we said, 'Look, we're happy to even stay
the first year flat.' We could go with any term. They have not accepted that.
"So we did not come out and ask for a huge increase. We's even come back on multiple occasions to
ask for various ways to get a deal done, and they're not engaging with us. Essentially what they've come back with ... is
two of the carriers came back with economic terms in the deal they presented were less than 50 percent of what we had previously.
One was a 70 percent reduction. So to put that in kind of easy terms to understand, essentially if we paid somebody $10 an
hour for something, what they came back with, two of them said we are only going to pay you $5 now and one of them came back
and said we're only going to pay you $3."
jumped in and said accepting those rates "would not allow us to broadcast the games."
Hutchings responded, "It's economically not viable. They know that. They knew
we can't accept those deals. So when they say, (Altitude) took the games away from you, no, they took the games away from
us and the fans. They know that it's not economically viable and more important ... two of the big carriers have their own
regional sports networks. They are not asking themselves, they are not putting this in deals they're putting in front of their
own networks and they'ree not putting them to each others' networks. We are the only network in the country that's being asked
to do this right now. We're an independent t and there are only four or five independents in the country. We are the only
network in the country that is being asked to do this. They know that this is not economically viable.
"In order for sports teams to be successful in today's world, and really for the
last 15, 20 years, you have to have broad-based distribution. What they've put forward is just not economically viable. And
they know that."
One problem, though, is that the KSE "DON'T BLOCK MY ..."
campaign is backfiring with intelligent consumers who get that nobody is blocking anybody, that it's a business dispute in
an evolving marketplace, that contracts have expired and nobody can carry the games without contractual agreements. And sports
fans sometimes have a hard time accepting that not everyone is a sports fan, and many consumers are rebelling against high
cable or satellite bills, and the companies would be derelict as business models -- the sort of business models Hutchings
cites -- to not react. Plus, there is no moral obligation on the part of the Big 3 to "buy" the Altitude product
three carriers have taken these games from the fans," Hutchings said. "The disinformation out there is that we've
been unreasonable, we're trying to get more money, we're holding back is just patently false. It's not true. We have come
to the table multiple times trying to get a deal done and offering every kind of option to these carriers to get something
done. All three of them have come back and refusd to engage in good-fath negotiations and put something there that's economically
viable for us and good for them. What they put forward is absolutely not ... we can't accept it. And they know that.
"And again, you have to go back to the fact, why are they picking on Denver.
Why are they picking on our teams? Why are they picking on Colorado and the region when they're not doing this to anyone
else? And by the way, AT&T and DirecTV just extended their deal with our friends down the street at Coors Field and we're
happy for them, that's terrific. The bottom line is they all know what we've offered is fair and equitable for both. We're
happy to negotiate in good faith, but they've got to come to the table ... They're all saying the same thing at the same time,
which is concerning."
October 5, 2019
After loss to Arizona,
face it: Buffs are
Khalil Tate after he threw for 404 yards against CU.
BOULDER -- The Buffaloes were banged up, most significantly minus their two injured marquee receivers from
DeSoto, Texas. Laviska Shenault Jr. again didn't play and K.D. Nixon wasn't on the field in the second half.
Tight end Brady Russell also left the game.
They also were short of manpower at defensive back by the end of the game, eliminating
packages and flexibility.
At low ebb, the Buffs were
minus nine starters overall, five defensive and four offensive.
So there were reasons, not excuses for their 35-30 loss to Arizona Saturday at
came down to not making a stop as the Wildcats went 77 yards in 13 plays
to get the go-ahead touchown with 6:51 left and then stalling out on the subsequent possession with 2:23 remaining.
Khalil Tate might wish that he can play all his road games in Boulder. Two years ago, as an 18-year-old coming into the week
as the Wildcats' backup, he piled up 469 yards of total offense (142 passing, 327 rushing) in a 45-42 Arizona win in Boulder, stealing the headlines from a CU senior
running back -- Phillip Lindsay (whatever happened to him?) -- who ran for 281
yards as be became the program's all-time leader in career all-purpose
This time, Tate was 31-41 passing for 404 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing only four times for
So the Buffs are 3-2 and this is coming into focus: That's what they are in their first season
under Mel Tucker. Decent. Gutty. Yet ultimately mediocre.
There will be no mouth-dropping turnaround with Tucker taking over after the collapse
that led to Mike MacIntyre's ouster last year.
With Oregon coming up in Eugene Friday and a tough conference schedule remaining, this
now has the look of a team that again will go into the stretch hoping -- at best -- to attain bowl eligibility.
The comeback overtime
win over Nebraska now seems less impressive, given the Cornhuskers' hiccups since.
The overtime loss to Air Force at home
The split with the Arizona schools wasn't a surprise and the loss at home to the Wildcats canceled out
the thrilling win over Arizona State at Tempe.
"We've got a really disappointed locker room, obviously," Tucker said. "We've
got to give Arizona a lot of credit. They made more plays than we made, they executed more often than we did. We felt like
in the first half like we left some plays on the field on both sides of the ball."
"On offense, we had penalties. On
defense, we were stopping the run, but we weren't getting off the field on third down early in the game and we gave up some
big plays. We were able to start to get off the field on third downs where we stopped the run game, but still, we gave up
some big plays in the second half. Offensively, we were able to move the ball ... We had some guys open, we missed some plays
and when you play a good football team, you really can't afford to leave plays on the field."
Tucker noted, "Injuries
are part of the game. Next man up is not a cliche. It's what's required. We had enough guys to finish the game. We were able
to put 11 out there on each snap, so there's really no excuse or no explanation."
During the game, CU revealed
that cornerback Chris Miller underwent ACL surgery Friday and is done for the season; defensive end Mustafa Johnson has a
high ankle sprain and in addition to missing the Arizona game, will be out another one to four weeks; and that Shenault has
a core muscle strain and will remain day-to-day. Nixon threw for a 38-yard TD to Dimitri Stanley on an end-around pass in
the second quarter before departing.
Against the Wildcats, Steven Montez continued to be maddeningly mercurial, impressive
one moment, befuddled the next. He was 28-42 for 299 yards and one TD,with 10 of his completions going to Texas Tech transfer
Tony Brown, for 141 yards.
"It's definitely disappointing because we don't practice our butts off all week to go out
there and lose," Montez said. "I think it definitely can be taken as a learning experience. I think there's a lot
of things that we can clean up, especially on offense specifically. I think we did a lot of good things, too, so it's not
It's a lot of mediocre.
A year ago, this
team was 5-0 ... a deceptive 5-0.
they're 3-2 ... and it seems about right.
Look familiar? Khalil Tate, then only 18, after he amassed
469 yards against CU in Boulder in 2017.
October 3, 2019
It's a Mikko Ran-ta-nen
of Opening Night
Since he signed a six-year, front-loaded $55.5 million contract last weekend,
and then arrived to practice with the Avalanche, Mikko Rantanen has taken some teasing.
"Probably have to buy a few dinners when we go on the road, " he told me Thursday night.
"But that's for the start of the year, and then the other guys can pay again."
This was after Rantanen scored twice in the Avalanche's 5-3 opening night win over
Calgary at the Pepsi Center. Despite not having training camp and he exhibition season together, the top line -- Nathan MacKinnon
centering Gabe Landeskog and Rantanen -- clicked as the Avalanche knocked off the Flames in a rematch of Colorado's first-round
playoff upset last spring.
"When you play so many
games together, it's easy to come together again," Rantanen said. "It takes maybe a couple of games, but we got
three practices together, so that helps."
potentially awkward issue is that at 22, Rantanen -- who will be paid $12 million in each of the next two seasons, now is
far and away the highest-paid Av. And he likely will remain so through at least through the next four seasons as MacKinnon
finishes out his seven-year, $44.1-million deal. In the final years of his contract, Landeskog will make $6 million this season
and $6.5 million in 2020-21.
The given, though, is
that renegotiation is verboten under the terms of the NHL's hard-cap collective bargaining agreement, so the Avalanche couldn't
give MacKinnon a raise -- even if it wanted to. In a business in which competitive athletes also use dollars as the scorekeeeping
mechanism, the inflexibility of the NHL's system can forestall problems. Yet human nature can come into play, and MacKinnon's
determination to make winning the primary consideration will be tested.
For now, the line is back together for the four-game homestand to open the season and Rantanen has demonstrated
his European workouts were grueling.
doubt before he gets here," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. "Then as soon as I watched him practice for a couple
of games, I could see he was going to pick up where he left off. He came in and practiced and it looked easy for him. I know
he's got a lot of confidence, he's happy, has a new contract and we're glad to have him back. He must have put in some good
work there in Switzerland for a couple of weeks."
After the morning skate, Rantanen told me, "I feel good. I missed training camp
and all the preseason games, but I skated and practiced hard in Finland and Switzerland. I feel good now. . . Sometimes it
was hard to watch the guys here when I was back in Finland. I'm glad it's over now and I can just focus on helping this team
win. We can put that in the past. I know what's going to happen in the future, so it's a good feeling."
Rantanen's fellow Finn, Joones Donskoi, the offseason signee from San Jose, also scored
twice in the opener, getting the first goal and then the clinching empty-netter. For a team that made most of its offseason
moves with secondary scoring in mind, that also was encouraging.
The Avs have been one of the most fashionable choices for postseason success -- including by me, per below -- and
while the Altitude vs. Big 3 fiasco limited eyeball exposures here, the opener drew a lot of attention around the league landscape,
including north of the border.
"Every line can
score and every line can defend," Rantanen said. "That's what winning teams have. . . I think we got stronger this
year. Our lineup is stronger than last year. It's nice to be one of the favorites. You don't want to be an underdog. We're
going to show that we can be the favorite and go deep this year."
October 2, 2019
Plan the parade,
Avs will win Stanley Cup
This is not a "per sources" news flash, nor was it leaked
to me by, oh, I don't know, NHL Central Registry.
One of the beauties of the NHL is that any of the 16 teams making the playoffs could
win the Stanley Cup.
It's not just rhetoric.
It's not marketing department propaganda.
It happens, thanks to hot goaltending and other
variables in the most physically and mentally testing postseason in professional sports. The Blues were the worst team in
the NHL for a significant part of the 2018-19 season before starting the run that culminated in an unlikely.championship
The Avalanche has
gotten that good. It usually takes good fortune and a few good bounces, not flukish good luck, to make it through and end
up taking turns holding aloft Lord Stanley's lovely parting gift to the Dominion of Canada. But now, the planets don't even
need to be completely aligned for the Avalanche to claim the franchise's third NHL championship -- and its first in 19 years.
It may well turn out
might turn out that the Avs are a year (or more) away, or that we're all overrating them, but on the eve of the regular-season
opener at home against Calgary, I'll get this on the record. I'm a contrarian, and in 24 years of covering the franchise,
I've been accused of bending over backwards to avoid being labeled a homer, but I honestly believe this. Coming out of the
challenging Central Division, the Avs can -- and will -- pull it off.
If you're reading this, I probably don't have to rattle off the reasons, or the potential pitfalls.
This mainly assumes Philipp
Grubauer's work in goal during the regular season stretch run and postseason was a harbinger, not an aberration.
I might be the only person on the planet still wondering if
Colorado's defense, with the unquestionably electric and talented Cale Makar and Samuel Girard still possibly paired, could
be too small for the 82-game grind -- even after the departure of Tyson Barrie. Joe Sakic's offseason acquisitions -- some
of which he discussed at his Wednesday news conference (pictured) -- seem to have addressed the issue of secondary scoring,
and Nazem Kadri's sharp-edged emotion could be beneficial for this team ... if he finally knows when not to step over the
line to counterproductive and selfish.
progress from underachieving and disappointing, to being the sort of generational talent he wasn't even billed to be when
he went first overall in the 2013 draft, has been enjoyable to watch. There no reason to expect his improvement to slow, and
part of that is his attitude: He has remained hungry, he is in superb condition as a leader of offseason work in Vail, in
addition to with Sidney Crosby in their native Halifax, and he won't be affected by the weirdness of his contract situation.
He was wide-eyed and awed when he signed a seven-year,
$44.1 million extension that runs through 2022-23. He initially was overpaid. For the past couple of seasons, his deal was
about "right." And now, in part because Mikko Rantanen's cap hit will be $9.25 million for the next six seasons,
MacKinnon will be "underpaid." But that's the NHL's hard cap -- I still hear folks saying the Avalanche
should do right by McKinnon and give him a new deal -- and renegotiation is impossible.
The most underplayed
aspect of the Avalanche's return is that Colorado is only a little over two years removed from the worst bang-for-the buck
season in NHL history, when it had 48 points in a hideous 2016-17 as it scraped the salary cap ceiling. (That's really hard
to do.) In that context, the turnaround -- which led to No. 8 seeds the past two seasons and a first-round upset of the Flames
last season -- has been stunning.
Now comes the bigger challenge. This hasn't gone unnoticed. The Avalanche won't sneak up on anyone.
Colorado is a fashionable choice to make additional waves this season. I hate going along with the crowd, caving in to fashion.
But count me in.
"We expect to
make the playoffs and make a run at the Stanley Cup," Sakic said Wednesday. "Pretty much every GM at the start of
the year is going to say the same thing. Tht's our expectation, get off to a good start, play consistent. We like our group
internally. We want to win and that's our goal. . . I believe in this group. I believe that we have a chance. It's not going
to be easy. It never is. But we're confident in this group and we know the type of character we have in there. They have one
goal. That's to win. And we believe in them."
September 29, 2019
Vic Fangio, Mike Bobo:
A combined 1-8 and
Orange Crushed: Vic Fangio after loss
to Jaguars Sunday, Mike Bobo after loss to Toledo on Sept. 21 (and 22)
Gardner Minshew II on the field after the game.
waited nearly 40 years for a head-coaching opportunity, with a couple of college stops, but mostly bouncing around the NFL.
He was the sort of journeyman assistant that long-time NFL umpire (and former NFL fullback) Pat
Harder had in mind when he told a former Wisconsin teammate who had just moved to the NFL after a long stay in the college
game: "Jerry, I see the same coaches every year ... but they're in different places."
("Jerry" was my father. who ended up coaching with three franchises before becoming
a scout and administrator in his second stint with the Broncos. He and Harder spent their common time in the NFL together
arguing about what constituted holding.)
So I've admitted I'm pulling for first-year Broncos coach Vic Fangio, now 61, in the sense that I
believe he's carrying the torch for all those long-time NFL assistants who were typecast, whether as coordinators or position
coaches, and never got their head-coaching chances.
After the Broncos blew
an 11-point halftime lead and fell 26-24 to the Disney movie that is Gardner Minshew II and the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday
at Empower Field at Mile High, Fangio is 0-4 as a head coach.
Up the road in Fort Collins, Mike Bobo's Colorado State Rams are 1-4 in his fifth season as head
coach after losing 34-24 at Utah State Saturday night.
On Sunday, I asked Fangio if this start has affected his confidence in his ability as a head coach,
and in what his staff is trying to do. Frankly, I considered it a softball slow pitch, an opportunity to be defiant.
He didn't really take advantage of it.
not," he said. "I'm sure it's harder for the players to believe in it because this is a bittom line business and
our bottom line isn't very good right now. But we're going to keep treading forward, we're going to keep coaching these
guys, keep trying to correct our mistakes, trying to get better, and that's what we're going to do."
It would be ridiculous
to give up on Fangio as a head coach this soon, and it would be lazy, cheap-shot clickbait to do it.
As was the case when
Vance Joseph was head coach, Fangio is working with a roster that isn't close to elite.
The ownership mess and the decisions of John Elway and
the football operation are fair game for criticism. But Fangio also still looks uncomfortable on the sideline as the ultimate
decision-maker after years as the coordinator piping in from the coaches' box at the press box level.
Elway obviously was looking for a veteran, a Joseph antithesis in his latest coaching hire. Football SOP
is that when one approach doesn't work, you go for the antithesis. Joseph had been a defensive coordinator one year. The issue
now is whether a better choice among the finalists would have been veterans with head coaching experience, Chuck Pagano or
Munchak joined the Broncos anyway as offensive line coach.
jury still is out for Fangio. In some ways, he’s every bit as much learning on the job as Joseph.
At CSU, there are strains of similarities in that Bobo is a first-time head coach after a long stint as
a quarterbacks coach and coordinator, albeit all but one year of it at his alma mater, Georgia. He didn't bounce around or
work under a lot of head coaches, and the narrowness of his perspective shows.
Head coaches typically can filibuster about how they took
a little bit from each coach they've worked under as assistants.
Bobo is mainly his own man, which
is not necessarily a bad thing. But he has lost the support of a significant portion of the usually doggedly loyal CSU constituency
with the Saturday Homecoming game against San Diego State coming up.
Ridiculously, it will start at 8 p.m. or later (maybe even much later) because of the Mountain West's relatively
small-change television deal. A similar situation led to an embarrassing exodus of fans at the previous home game, the loss
to Toledo that came down to the last play in the early morning hours on Sept. 22.
Under the terms of his
contract extension, which went into effect in 2018, Bobo now would be due a $5.5 million buyout if he is fired before 2020.
That's at the heart of why I long ago ceased to have sympathy for fired college coaches. The typical buyouts are golden parachutes.
When fired (unfairly) at Oregon, Mark Helfrich walked away with $11 million. The examples of that phenomenon, including Mike
MacIntyre at Colorado, are legion.
Once you get a Division I head coaching job, you're
all set. Regardless of how long you stay in it. Plus, thanks to the coaches' network, if you want a job, you've got one --
as with MacIntyre returning to Mississippi as defensive coordinator.
Let him coach out the season and then evaluate. In-season coaching changes do no good, including at Colorado in 2018.
The elephant in
the room is the $12 million in annual bond retirement payments for Canvas Stadium that begin next year. Season-ticket bailouts
will be significant. Rams followers are frustrated over the record and the absurd past-midnight finishes for the petty-change
MWC payoffs to appear mostly on "what number is that?" secondary cable networks. Why put yourself through that when
single-game tickets are easily available and you cann pick your games — and times?
Gotta-fire-somebody approaches are
short-sighted, and unless the rest of season is a complete embarrassment, giving Bobo one more year is pragmatic. It would
lower the buyout and give him one more chance with touted recruiting classes.
I've noted many times that
Bobo, a good man, sometimes sounds like a winning-is-the-only-thing SEC booster. I believe one of the possibiliities is that
if the season is that disaster, Bobo ultimately recognizes this isn't working and he reaches a settlement with AD Joe Parker,
agreeing he's resigning and settling his buyout for the $3 million if he is fired in 2020.
I'd love to be a fly on the wall if Bobo and Fangio get together for a beer ... or two.
September 27, 2019
It's All Coming Back
to Me Now: Celine Dion,
at the Pepsi Center
Tuesday is the 20th anniversary of the Pepsi Center's
Opening Night, and it seems frequently forgotten that the building's first event was a concert, not a sporting event.
It was not coincidental timing that it
opened with a stop on Celine Dion's "Let's Talk About Love" tour.
Angelil and Celine Dion
also ended up an extraordinaily emotional night because Dion's special guests were Columbine High School students and faculty,
including those injured and the families of the 12 students and one teacher killed in the April 20 shootings earlier that
the way Frank DeAngelis, the school's principal from 1996 to 2014, described it in his recent book, They Call Me "Mr. De": The Story of Columbine's Heart, Resilience and Recovery. (Disclosure: I was proud to be Frank's collaborator and help him with the book.)
In October 1999, Denver’s new Pepsi Center –
the home of the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche – was set to open. The opening act
was singer Celine Dion, whose husband, Rene Angelil, was the best friend of Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix. Lacroix
lived near Columbine and, along with several Avalanche players, had been very supportive in the wake of the killings.
Celine asked if our
vocal music group could go down to the concert, and she also invited the injured students and their families, plus the families
of the murdered. The choir director, Leland Andres, asked I would join them as a chaperone. I jumped all over that.
Dion rehearsed with
the kids and I was up in the seats. When they were done, we went into this little locker room, and Avalanche players Claude
Lemieux and Joe Sakic and others started walking through to go to the concert. Then Celine walked in and she was the nicest
person you’d ever want to meet.
At the concert, they let us stay down near the front after
the kids’ part with her was over. As the concert was ending, one of her representatives came over and told me Celine
wanted us to come to her reception. So went up and the kids were all there, and we got more pictures, including one that hung
on my office wall for years. And it turned out that she donated all the proceeds from the concert to the Columbine mental
health foundation for Columbine victims.
Many of the Columbine delegation were in the front row, including Patrick Ireland, the heroic "Boy in the Window"
who crawled for hours across the library floor after he was shot twice in the hjead and once in the foot by one of the killers,
climbed out the window and dropped into the arms of SWAT officers.
Dion's first song was indeed “Let's Talk About Love.” The Columbine choir came out wearing “We
Are … Columbine” T-shirts to sing the final chorus with her. After the song, she talked directly to the Columbine
kids, saying: “Your pain and suffering was felt around the world. Everyone grieved with you, everyone prayed for you,
everyone wanted to comfort you and everyone cared, and they still do.” The choir members presented the injured and the
families of the murdered with roses, and Dion came off the stage to greet the Columbine delegation. Frank didn't mention it,
but at the after-party on the club level, where Dion again visited with the Columbine kids and families, many of the Columbine
students formed a Conga line and danced. That made Frank misty. It struck him that this was the first time since April 20
that he had seen "Mr. De's" kids act like kids.
Dion's set list that night.
In part to have a construction delay cushion, the
Avalanche played its first five games of the 1999-2000 season on the road before facing the Boston Bruins in the Oct. 13 home
opener, winning 2-1.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
is spectacular, absolutely beautiful," Bettman told us. "The sightlines, the spaciousness ... They've done a great
The Avalanche goaltender at the time
-- a fellow named Patrick Roy -- said: "It was weird at times. I mean, going out there, and even here, it's almost
long distance if you want to talk to the guys at the other end of the dressing room. It was fun. We could hear the crowd pretty good. It was a concern, whether we
would have the same kind of feeling we had at McNichols. I think it was pretty good."
didn't open at home in the regular season until Nov. 2, against Phoenix.
Denver had a new arena.
The twist is that the Avs' original corporate ownership, Ascent, wasn't in control of the franchise when the team
finally made it into the new privately owned building. The NHL approved the transfer of the Avs to Donald Sturm earlier on
Oct. 1. Even that was bizarre. The Pepsi Center empire had seemed to be going to Bill and Nancy Laurie before Ascent stockholders
contested the sale and it was scuttled, and Sturm then won an auction.
That didn't work, either, and Stan Kroenke eventually took control
in July 2000.
2019, the Pepsi Center has held up as well or better than other arenas of its generation. The most jarring thing about McNichols
Sports Arena is that it was only in use for 24 years. Like other arenas of that wave, such as Reunion Arena in Dallas and
Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, it was out of date virtually the second it opened, with skinny concourses and minimal private
boxes. The Pepsi Center's weakness is its lack of intimacy for basketball, plus it seems to cause those in control of such
things at Nuggets games to (get off my lawn) play the music and announcements at 77 kazillion decibels, ruling out any conversation
other than two fans sitting next to each other screaming in each others' ears.
But it's still a nice, big-time arena and I'm grateful that it has had only one name rather than
undergoing a name change every two years, as seems to have happened in other NBA/NHL markets.
Twenty years later: At the Pepsi Center Thursday
night: Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer faces Colin Wilson in a pratice-closing shootout.
September 21, 2019
On Ag Day "Orange Out,"
Aggies -- er, Rams -- roll
up yards, but lose
The lower level on Canvas Stadium's east side at least was an "Orange
Out" at the start of what turned out to be the Rams' 41-35 loss to Toledo.
But by midway through the third quarter, with the game still close, it looked like this ...
... and it would get much
worse by the time the game ended. Below is the final play. If CSU had scored, it would have won. Yet look how few remained
in the stands, at least on the east side.
FORT COLLINS -- This is really hard to
-- Amass 694 yards of
total offense ... and lose.
-- Get 249 yards rushing from a running back (in this
instance, Marvin Kinsey Jr.) and 405 yards passing from your quarterback (Patrick O'Brien) ... and lose.
-- Start a game on Saturday ... and end it on Sunday.
But the reeling Colorado State Rams pulled it off in their 41-35 loss to the Toledo
Rockets. The backdrop was the ridiculous 8:26 opening kickoff -- that's not CSU's fault, other than it is a willing participant
in the relatively small-change Mountain West TV deals that insult the fans who actually show up and are loyal -- and a mass
exodus from the stands in a game that wasn't decided until the final play.
Too bad so few were around to see the second half.
Kickoff, originally scheduled for 8:15 p.m. on ESPN2, actually came 11 minutes later
because the Old Dominion-Virginia game ran long.
Even at that, the start of the game at Canvas Stadium was switched over to ESPN News.
Then the first half took a tortuous 1:56, and by the time the third quarter kicked
off, it looked as if at least half the fans in the announced crowd of 24,464 decided to bail at halftime.
And the score was
14-13 -- with Toledo leading. So we're not talking about heading for home because the outcome seemed certain.
They'd had their
They'd shown their Ag Day and Orange-Out colors -- alfalfa and pumpkin.
Doing the math and realizing this was going to last
well past midnight, they'd had enough.
As it turned
out, the game ended at 12:34, with the Rams getting to the Toledo 2 on a 23-yard pass from Patrick O'Brien to E.J. Scott as
time ran out.
And they left.
Look, Toledo is a decent Mid-America Conference program with tradition. Nick Saban
coached there on his way up. This was no "disgrace." The Rockets had 547 yards of total offense themselves, including
228 yards rushing from Bryant Koback.
CSU let this one get away, and now the Rams are 1-3 heading into Mountain West play. They've lost their quarterback, Collin
Hill, for the season (again), yet O'Brien -- the transfer from Nebraska -- doesn't appear to be a major downgrade.
The defense, though, can't stop anyone. And it's going to have to undergo a quick transformation
for the Rams to have any shot of salvaging Mike Bobo's fifth season as Jim McElwain's successor.
"A lot of disappointed guys in the locker room," Bobo said. "And rightfully
so. We worked as hard as they worked and you can't find a way to win, it's disappointing. I'll tell you ahat I told
them. There's fight in that room, guys are playing their butts off, all right? But we're not good enough to make the mistakes
that we're making to win ballgames. You can't have self-inflicted wounds in the red zone ... We have to take advantage of
every opportunity to score points. We don't line up on the ball correctly. We false start, we call the wrong formation, and
that's nobody's fault but me as coaching.
"Defensive side of the ball, we've got to stop the run. You can't give up 240
yards rushing and expect to beat anybody."
late game was actually more of a potential disanvatage for Toledo, given that on Eastern Time Zone body time, it ended after
Closing Time in Ohio. But I asked Bobo about whether it lessened the chances for good football.
"I mean, I don't control
that," Bobo said. "People tell us what time and we show up and play. There's a lot of arguments both ways. If they
say we play atb 8 a.m., we play at 8 a.m. If they say 8:20 and they slide it to 8:25, we're goingto be ready to play. I don't think the time had any affect on the way
we played the game. It had an effect on people leaving early, but at the end of the day that's the time, so I don't get caught
up in it too much."
O’Brien about the Rams’ situation heading into the conference season.
“I feel like we’re good, you
know?” he said. “I mean we’re four games in and we haven’t quit once. We’ve been in every single
game and so there’s just some little things that we need to get better on. And those little mistakes, those penalties,
us getting into the red zone and scoring touchdowns instead of field goals, that’s the difference between the games.
So we just get rid of those things and continue to get better we’ll be fine.”
A Tree Grows in Fort Collins
Maybe it was because Glenn Morris was an Aggie athlete and he was the student body president of CSU when it was known
as Colorado A&M.
Before entering the media gate Saturday night, as I have periodically on my visits to CSU the past two years,
I made my way to outside the northeast corner of the stadium and checked on the growth progress of the Glenn Morris Oak Tree
and then went inside the Iris and Michael Smith Alumni Center to take another look at Morris' actual gold medal from his victory
in the decathlon at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
I actually held the medal when it was in the trusteeship of educator Morris Ververs in Morris' hometown
of Simla as I began the research that eventually would lead to my book Olympic Affair.
Below is how the oak looked Saturday.
You can compare it to how it looked two years ago,
when the tree was moved from near the Glenn Morris Field House on the east side of campus to the stadium area. My On the Colorado
Scene commentary, which explains how this all came about and shows the tree then, is here.
The Glenn Morris Oak outside the Alumni Center at Canvas Stadium.
And inside the Alumni Center, here's Morris' actual gold medal
Here's Glenn Morris with that same gold medal on Glenn Morris
Day in Denver after his return from Europe.
September 17, 2019
Horrible news for Hill, Rams
CSU coach Mike Bobo Tuesday confirmed that junior quarterback Collin Hill suffered a torn ACL against Arkansas
Saturday and will miss the rest of the season. It's the third time he has suffered the same injury in his left knee, and it's a pity. Hill actually stayed
in the game for two more plays before coming off. He'll undergo surgery again after the swelling lessens.
in good spirits. He was out at practice today after you guys (media) left,” Bobo told reporters at his post-practice
availability. “Like I said after the game, great human being. I just can’t say enough about the kid. Even during
the game, he knew it was torn and he came back out and was being supportive of the guys and the quarterback Pat (O’Brien)
who was in there.”
O'Brien, a redshirt junior, is a transfer from Nebraska, and his backup will be redshirt sophomore
I went back and read the stories I did on Hill after a one-on-one interview with him on Media Day for this
site and for the Mile High Sports Magazine September issue that doubled as the Rocky Mountain Showdown program.
I only wish the optimism
had turned out to be warranted.
Now the decision will be whether to try to rehab a third time and give it another shot next season,
if doctors approve. It would seem unlikely that he would be ready for spring practice.
(Scroll down for my August 5 commentary on
Hill: How a young quarterback from South Carolina ended up in Fort Collins.)
September 16, 2019
R.I.P., Coach Ralston
John Ralston and his Broncos staff. Top row from left: Doc Urich,
Myrel Moore, Bob Gambold, Jerry Frei, Dick Coury. Bottom row from left: Max Coley, Ralston, Joe Collier.
Stanford and Denver Broncos coach John Ralston passed away over the weekend.
Denver owes him gratitude because during his five-season tenure with the Broncos, he was instrumental
in getting the franchise moving in the right direction after its early days of ineptitude in the AFL and then the NFL. Much
of it had to do with his ability to spot and judge talent. During his five-season stint as GM and coach, the Broncos took,
among others, Randy Gradishar, Otis Armstrong, Louis Wright and Tom Jackson, when there were reasonable justifications
to overlook them, and it laid the foundation for the Broncos' improvement.
His exit was complicated, far more so than the way it is often portrayed -- as the result of a
widespread player revolt.
In fact, the "revolt"
was led by a very small group of players, it was rebuffed by ownership and management, and the manifesto loosely attibuted
to a "Dirty Dozen" was leaked after many present at a team meeting to discuss it believed they'd not approved it,
agreed that it would not be released and instead endorsed a much more mild statement, only offering support for general manager
Ralston ultimately was fired when it became
clear that he wouldn't be able to stick to his promise to just be the coach after he was given a choice between his two jobs
-- GM and coach -- and he picked coaching. Fred Gehrke was named GM, but it became obvious early on that couldn't work because
Ralston continued to act as if he was in charge of personnel, too. He was good at that and he could have been a Hall
of Fame GM.
I told the story
in'77: Denver, the Broncos, and a Coming of Age.
A link to the pertinent pages
Later in the
book, when profiling the '77 players, many of them when into more detail about their gratitude to Ralston. And it was sincere.
My father, Jerry, had coached against Ralston in the Pacific 8 and moved from Oregon to be Ralston's offensive line
coach in Denver from 1972-75. After Ralston's fourth season, my dad kept his promise to his closest friend in coaching, John
McKay, to join his staff if he ever moved to the NFL. So my father was not on Ralston's staff for the climactic 1976 season.
He and Ralston remained friends, though.
Click for John Ralston excerpt from '77
September 16, 2019
climate change, too
You know the details of the Broncos' wrenching 16-14 loss to the Bears Sunday at Empower
Field at Mile High.
You also know it was trendy to blame it on Garett Bolles, the Broncos' struggling -- and I'll agree that's putting
it mildly -- left tackle. This time, he drew four holding calls (two accepted, two declined) and then had the wisdom to agree
to face the music after the game, telling media members he would get this turned around. If there was a bit of denial and
a persecution complex strain in his remarks, that's probably human and understandable.
Vic Fangio emphasized Bolles would remain the left tackle
going forward and essentially that he would be Mike Munchak's special project.
So is there
I still think so. Stop laughing. I still do.
Later Sunday night, I watched Ty Sambrailo, a former Denver
second-round draft choice from Colorado State, holding down the right tackle spot for the Falcons against the Eagles. There
are some commonalities there, including that like Bolles, Sambrailo caught the eye of John Elway and the Broncos with mouth-dropping
athleticism for a big man. Sambrailo was a national-class age group alpine skier at one time and Bolles was an impressive
lacrosse player. The Broncos gave up on Sambrailo in part because they became impatient with his shoulder problems, but he
seems healthy enough now to be entrenched on the right side with the Falcons.
a reach in trying to justify not giving up on Bolles?
Perhaps. And perhaps this is
the contrarian in me, reacting to the pervasive and searing criticism of Bolles as responsible for everything that ails the
Broncos ... and more.
And after listening to the Monday reaction, it apparent to me that Bolles can and should be also blamed for:
a) Climate change.
b) I-25 projects making traffic worse, not better.
c) In-N-Out taking so darned
d) Comcast/DISH/DirecTV vs. Altitude dispute
offside call. (Once some sports talk radio hosts were told who Landeskog is.)
f) Outrageous cost of ski passes.
The Godfather Part III
h) The Rockies' bullpen.
i) James Holzhauer losing on Jeopardy
j) Famine, pestilence
k) Game of Thrones' final episode of Season 8
l) Pineapple on pizza
m) Donut spare tires
of this typing, the broadcast day isn't over.
It's coming from some whose expertise is undeniable, whether
from former players and offensive linemen and broadcasters who know what they're talking about, plus from others jumping on
There's no denying this: Bolles is awful right now. The problem is, the Broncos have
no viable alternative. Look, we all know Fangio isn't as locked in to staying with Bolles as he's saying, because with nobody
he can plug in, what's the purpose of saying he's giving up on him?
With all due respect
to those scoffing at the notion that some of this is self-fulfilling prophecy, that Bolles sometimes is called for holding
because he is known to hold, I believe that can't be completely dismissed. No way does it excuse or explain all of Bolles'
problems, so I'm not offering that as a complete rationalization. I'm not even criticizing individual calls, but saying that
one thing you learn covering sports is that reputation -- pro and con -- is a crucial factor in any league. What's holding
on the perceived problem player -- and it is holding under the letter of the law -- isn't holding on the superstar.
That's the truth.
(Scroll down for my earlier July 22 On the Colorado Scene commentary on Bowles'
make-or-break season, with a reprise of my profile of him following the 2017 draft.)
September 14, 2019
That was no fluke:
most of the game
CU coach Mel Tucker congratulates
AFA running back Kadin Remsberg,
rushed for 150 yards on 23 carries.
The last play of overtime: On 4th-and-12
from the AFA 16, Steven Montez's
for Leviska Shenault Jr. falls incomplete.
Kadin Remsberg, left, ran 25 yards for
the winning TD in overtime and guard Nolan Laufenberg, right,
from Castle Rock's Castle View High School, did strong work up front in his home state.
BOULDER -- Air
Force coach Troy Calhoun Saturday afternoon enthusiastically greeted and congratulated the Falcons as they entered the tiny
visiting locker room lobby in the Dal Ward Center at the north end of Folsom Field.
They had just beaten Colorado 30-23 in overtime in a
game the Falcons dominated, yet almost slip away before Kadin Remsberg ran 25 yards for a touchdown on the first play of overtime
and the AFA defense kept the Buffs out of the end zone to end it.
As raucous as the on-field and even locker-room celebration seemed to be,
Calhoun a few minutes later almost seemed to be doing an imitation of Bill Belichick at a podium, unexcitedly saying, in effect,
"It's on to Boise."
As he finished up his post-game radio interview on the
Falcons' network, he did allow, "For about 45 minutes of football, it was really pretty impressive. From the middle of
the first quarter to the middle of the fourth quarter, I don't know if you could have played much better defense."
But when I next
asked him what the win meant to him and his program, he didn't exactly gush. The Falcons' Mountain West Conference opener
is Friday night at Boise State.
"It was a really, really good one, but at the same time we have to get back on feet,"
he said. "We have a short week this week, so we have to bounce back and get to Friday."
I politely suggested he wasn't allowing
himself to be joyous about what might be the biggest win of his coaching tenure at his alma mater.
"I probably would if I had a
real week, a longer week to be able to do that, Terry, but at the same time it was really a remarkable effort by our guys
and their guys too. Just tip your cap. . . Last week (against Nebraska), you know what Colorado did and they did it again
today. So credit to them, too."
He said of the in-state rivalry, revived after 45 years:
"It's one game. It really is. That's not to understate any one game. For our grads, there are a lot more importan things
going on in the world."
It's been so long, prhaps it's understandable that few
seemed to get the context and background of the rivalry's end -- and then resumption. The last three AFA-CU games in Boulder
-- 1968, '71 and '73 -- were played during the Vietnam War, and Falcons players of the era had to steel their ears to derisive
taunts from students in opposing stadiums. In fact, in my novel, The Witch's Season, set in 1968, a protest turning ugly at a Falcons road game is a major plot
element, and it was based on what I saw as a kid and heard since.
But times have changed, and Saturday, there was a fighter flyover befrore kickoff and as far as I know, the CU students'
reaction to the Falcons was either respectful or a shrug, with AFA being just another opponent on the field at Folsom.
It was just football, and the Falcons would have romped minus their two lost fumbles.
it ended in OT, shortly after Remsberg ran down the right sideline and
dived into the end zone for the tie-breaking -- and ultimately winning -- touchdown.
huge win, it's exactly what we needed going into the (conference) season," Remsberg said. "We have Boise next week..."
-- I have a hunch Calhoun made that point in his post-game speech -- "...coming off a huge Colorado win, and we're going
to be rolling from now."
Remsberg's TD run turned out to be the Falcons' only
offensive play in overtime.
"I got the ball and I knew my team needed me and
I told myself there's no way I'm not scoring on this play," he said. "As soon as I got in open space, it was over.
. . It would have taken a lot to tackle me."
is a junior from Newton, Kan., and the Falcons' national roster and appeal in theory would water down the impact of its games
against in-state opponents, with Army and Navy higher on the list of concerns and priorities. That's especially true with CU, given the long gap between meetings.
"It means a lot more," Remsberg said. "We haven't played them in so many years and we come up here.
We want to be the kings of Colorado. That's how we look at it. We're going to play CSU this year, too, and we're going to
beat them. That's our stance on playing the Colorado teams, so this feels great."
Remsberg also mentioned the axe many Falcons have when facing Power Five conference teams, and that's not
receiving scholarship offers from Power Five programs. For Falcons junior starting guard Nolan Laufenberg, it's more personal
than than when he goes against both CU and CSU. He's from Castle Rock's Castle View High School, and neither the Rams nor
Buffs showed any interest in him.
"I feel like I was passed over by a couple of Colorado schools," Laufenberg said. "This
is one of them. To come here and put it to them is awesome."
Gone are the days the Falcons can't get behemoth
linemen into school -- their nose guard, Mosese Fiftita, is 6-foot-1 and 330 pounds and even Laufenbeg is listed at 6-3 and
295 -- but they're still not supposed to be as dominant up front against a Power Five opponent as they were Saturday.
This was no fluke.
It was a beatdown.
September 7, 2019
OK, we give ... renew
the rivalry when possible
and put it in Denver
Folsom Field's west side
And here's the east side
And here's the south end zone, which includes the CU student section in the lower portion
Daniel Graham, the John Mackey winner as the nation's top tight end in 2001, congratulates
CU tight end Beau Bisharat
Mel Tucker after the game. Both of his two wins have come in front of neutral crowds.
BOULDER -- Steven Montez violated his coach's, um, guideline about not saying much about opponents.
"You guys saw all those crazy quotes they were putting out early in the week," the Colorado
quarterback said after the Buffaloes' comeback 34-31 overtime win over Nebraska Saturday at Folsom Field.
"I mean, to be honest, truly I think they talked themselves out right out of the game. I think they
came in too amped up, they talked themselves right out of it. They were talking before the coin toss. They were talking trash.
At the bottom of piles, they were spitting, they were doing dirty stuff, so they got what was coming."
Curiously, that came right after I asked him about his -- or his team's -- reaction to the sea
of red that was Folsom Field Saturday. Estimates varied, but it seemed that roughly half of the sellout crowd of 52,829
was in Cornhusker red.
Either that, or they were Stanford fans who got on the
wrong flight and decided to make the most of the weekend, anyway.
mean, credit to Nebraska's fans, they travel real well," Montez said. "There was a lot of red in the stadium today,
but there was a lot of black and gold in the stadium, too, which we loved to see. And I'm almost positive that our fans were
definitely louder than theirs, so take that as you will."
Let's be blunt
here. At halftime Saturday, with the Buffs down 17-0, Montez had thrown for 84 yards and many in both the stands and the press
box were trying to figure out who his backup is. (Answer: After the offseason switch of Montez's 2018 backup, Sam Noyer, to
safety, the Buffs' No. 2 quarterback is sophomore Tyler Lytle, from Redondo Beach, Calif.)
A couple of hours later, Montez finished 28-for-41 for 375 yards and two touchdowns -- one a 96-yarder
to K.D. Nixon on a flea-flicker after a handoff to Alex Fontenot and a flip back to Montez in the end zone; and the other
a 26-yarder to Tony Brown with 46 seconds left that forced overtime.
the Buffs won it when James Stefanou, the 32-year-old Australian, kicked a 34-yard field goal and Isaac Armstrong's 48-yarder
was wide for the Huskers.
As it turned out, a possible difference maker was Mustafa
Johnson's third-down, 7-yard sack of Adrian Martinez, making the field goal attempt more daunting.
Look, it was a terrific game.
In this era of the secondary
and online markets, it's futile to even try to control who ends up with the tickets. It's especially ridiculous in pro sports,
with franchises openly facilitating the resale market and taking a cut.
fans came from Arvada, Denver, Highlands Ranch, Cozad, Kearney, Lincoln and Omaha. And maybe even Vail, Grand Junction and
Some of them even can credibly claim to have been to Misty's or the Sidetrack
Lounge in the past on the eve of gameday in Lincoln.
on record that the college game should be on campuses, and that putting the next three meetings in the CU-Colorado State rivalry
in Fort Collins (twice) and Boulder (once) was the right thing to do.
I've come around on this: If Nebraska could be talked into it, renew the rivalry, create spots on existing schedules for the
non-conference games (it can be done), anywhere from annually to once every three years.
And put the games in Denver at (OK, here goes...) Empower Field at Mile High.
Accept and embrace the idea that half the sellout crowd of 76,125 -- or nearly one-third larger than a
sellout at Folsom -- will be in Nebraska red.
That's the reason it's in Denver.
Yes, the capacity of the frequently expanded Memorial Stadium in Lincoln is 85,000 and change,
but turning this into the western versions of Oklahoma-Texas in Dallas and Georgia-Florida in Jacksonville would be energizing.
Lincoln is nearly 500 miles from Denver, but it's a manageable eight-hour
drive, or roughly four minutes longer than from Highlands Ranch to Thornton in rush hour. And then there's this: Towns in
western Nebraska are closer to Denver than to Lincoln. Ogallala, for example, is 211 miles from Denver and 274 from Lincoln.
Many Big Red fans in the western part of the state are fans of the Broncos and perhaps the Rockies, Nuggets and Avalanche.
Maybe I'm dreaming here, but the exposure of the Cornhuskers'
program in Denver, and the positives of also having Big Red fans pulling into the parking lot with Colorado plates and Cornhusker
bumper stickers are many.
Going in, you know this is a neutral site for the meetings
of the programs that long were Big Eight Conference rivals, but now would be non-conference opponents.
CU's move to the Pac-12 was wise;
Nebraska's to the Big Ten still is open to debate, and not only because it has gone to a 14-team league that can't count.
Empower Field could be like Lodo, with the bars welcoming fans of both local schools
and programs from afar. Half red, half black (or silver or gold ... which is one of CU's problems. It doesn't have a single
most recognizable color. Like, oh, I don't know ... red.
don't know what percentage of the Nebraska fans at Folsom Saturday were Colorado residents. But I'm thinking that in this
transient, transplant state, many of them were. They were the equivalent of local Cubs and Red Sox fans at Coors Field, plus
Lakers, Celtics, Red Wings and Blackhawks fans at the Pepsi Center.
what the heck.
Renew the rivalry. Whenever it's possible.
And move it to Denver.
August 30, 2019
CU's Mel Tucker
first win as head coach.
How come nobody's excited?
Mel Tucker, his sons and the Centennial
was the most low-key Rocky Mountain Showdown victory celebration I've seen on the field in ...
It was if the Colorado Buffaloes had just beaten Idaho
State Friday night -- or, more accurately, Saturday morning, since it ended six minutes after midnight.
Yes, there were some yells and whoops, especially as they were presented the Centennial Cup. Yet it still
came off as more of a routine post-win reaction than a rivalry beat-down. That's what the 52-31 rout of Colorado State was
in the final Rocky Mountain Showdown in Denver for the foreseeable future.
But the Buffs took it in stride, and not even Mel Tucker
was particularly giddy after his first win as a collegiate head coach, at age 47. (He was credited with a 2-3 record as the
Jacksonville Jaguars' interim head coach in 2011.)
That's supposed to be a take-the-game-ball-and-and-have-everyone-sign-it
moment, but at least the trophy ended up in Tucker's hands as he headed off the field.
He stopped to pose with his sons, then carried it to
the locker room as he walked with athletic director Rick George.
A little later, I asked Tucker -- Vic Fangio's predecessor
as the Chicago Bears' defensive coordinator -- about the emotions involved.
"It was very gratifying," he said. "Not
so much for me, but I just really felt good for our team. The players and for the coaches, all of the hard work that they
put into it, just really believing and in me and our coaching staff and our process. Then to see us compete and come out with
a win ... and it wasn't easy. There was some adversity on both sides of the ball and special teams.
"I was also really proud of
our fans. It was a great environment for college football. It was loud. Everyone was into it. It was an important game. This
team, this football program is so important to so many people and you could feel that leading up to the game. You could feel
It usually takes time for the meaning of a season-opening Showdown's result to come into focus (as in, "We should
have known that..."), but in this case, Steven Montez's steady night for the Buffs -- he threw for 232 yards and two
touchdowns -- and sophomore running back Alex Fontenot's emergence, with 125 yards, were encouraging.
But why so subdued?
it was another day at the office," Montez said. "We work hard all week. We want to win a whole lot more games and
this was just the first game. We're business as usual and we're going to come back to work Monday and start getting prepared
And the Rams?
Turnovers and mental glitches plagued them, and CSU coach Mike Bobo --
whose teams now are 0-5 against the Buffs -- was peeved about some of the circumstances as the Rams were overrun after trailing
24-21 at halftime.
Unprompted in his opening pre-question remarks, Bobo brought up what was ruled a Marvin Kinsey Jr. fumble
on the Rams' first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, leading to CU taking over on the CSU 27 and scoring on Fontenot's
7-yard run three plays later. But it also should be noted he both prefaced and followed up his comment with disclaimers.
He started with:
“First of all, give them credit. They made more plays, took advantage of more opportunities in the game. It's hard to
beat anybody when you turn over the ball four times and you lose the turnover ratio four to zero. I will say this, our team
played their ass off, they played hard. We didn't make the plays when we had to and they did. We had some opportunities.
understand how big this game is, that you don't have neutral refs. . . That's all I'm going to say about that."
No, it wasn't.
He paused for about 1.4 seconds, then plowed on, touching on the fact that the officiating crew was from the Pac-12 -- as
it was in the Showdown two years ago, when bizarre offensive pass interference calls on CSU were glaring in a 17-3 CU win.
"The fumble in the second half, the damn umpire's saying, 'Ease up, ease up, ease
up everbody,' and they allow it to be a fumble," Bobo said. "That's not right.”
This is important. Then he added,
“But we got our ass beat."
Later, when I asked him if what happened
in the 2017 Showdown affected his thinking and if his memory is that long, he said: "Yeah, it is. I think it's bullcrap."
But this wasn't
all gloom and doom for CSU. Collin Hill looked healthy and impressive, throwing for 374 yards and three touchdowns. If the
Rams play like this offensively, they'll at least hang in contention in the Mountain West's Mountain Division until the final
few weeks, rebounding from the 3-9 mess of 2018.
So the Showdown in Denver now is history ... for the
Next season's game is in Fort Collins, then there's a home-and-home in Boulder in 2023 and Fort Collins
again in 2024.
I'm on record: The Showdown should continue as an annual rivalry, on the campuses.
And this game -- on a Friday night
for ESPN, but delayed nearly 50 minutes because of lightning strikes in Kentucky (or something like that) -- was remindful
that playing the Showdown in Denver on a Friday night is a stupid idea. A walk through the parking lot inevitably causes questioning
about how these freshmen/rookies throwing up two hours before the game are getting back to Boulder and Fort Collins.
Mel Tucker and CU athletic director Rick George heading to the
August 26, 2019
Advice for Luck from
another ex-Stanford QB
Read about anti-NFL activist Mike Boryla here.
August 26, 2019
Bobo sets the stakes
high in Showdown's
Colorado State's Mike Bobo and Collin Hill came to Denver last week to appear at the Front Range Media Huddle at
the Blake Street Tavern, joining the head coaches and players from Colorado, Air Force, Northern Colorado and Colorado School
The major topic of conversation, of course, was the upcoming CU-CSU Rocky Mountain Showdown at Broncos Stadium at
Mile High Friday night.
Bobo is acutely
aware of the stakes as he goes into his fifth season in Fort Collins.
The Rams are double-digit underdogs, are coming off a disappointing 3-9 season, and haven't beaten the
Buffaloes during Bobo's tenure.
considerable talk about the Power Five Buffs having more to lose against the Group of Five Rams in the Showdown -- and that's
justified -- but this time that's not true.
If CSU pulls off the upset, it's a shot in the arm for the Bobo program and also provides
reason for hope that the Rams' 2018 was an aberration, partially the product of Bobo's health issues as the season approached
and in its early weeks.
There would be considerable grousing among CU supporters, but Mel Tucker has the cushion of a honeymoon
season, including the temptation for fans to blame misfortune on Tucker's predecessor, Mike MacIntyre. By citing the need
to get bigger, stronger and more physical, that emphasizes inherited deficiencies -- and short-term rationalizations.
So now, with what likely will be the final Showdown in Denver a few days away, the
banter (and lunch or beer wagers) between CU and CSU alums in downtown Denver offices -- or anywhere else -- will take place
against that backdrop.
"I think we're very conscious of the Denver market and the amount of Colorado State graduates that
live in the Denver market," Bobo said. "As much time as our athletic director (Joe Parker) spends down here in Denver,
I think he drives down here three to four times a week. We -- myself and our coaching staff -- have come down numerous times.
It's engagement and activities, dealing with people, alumni of Colorado State. It's not right here in Denver, but it's an
hour away. I think everything we're doing is to make people proud of their university, proud of their athletic program, and
that takes a passionate fan base as well. It takes one, filling that stadium up.
"I have to do my part, And our team's
got to do our part, and that's going out and putting a good product on the field and represent them the right way. It goes
hand in hand. Personally, I think the passion has to be there week in and week out. If you don't get it done as the head coach,
the next guy's got to come in. But the passion has to be there."
I've mentioned this before, but Bobo -- whose previous coaching experience all was
at Georgia, with the exception of one season at Jacksonville State -- can sound like a well-heeled booster at times, setting
the bar high and even directly mentioning the inevitability of change if a coach doesn't win enough games, almost as if he'd
be fine with that and be joining the chorus.
easier for coaches to speak that way in this era, with golden parachutes built into contracts, but it's still noticeable.
"In rivalry games
we have not done well at all since I've been the head coach," Bobo said. "We have not beaten CU in the game, in
the Rocky Mountain Showdown. It's something that I'm not going to sit here and lie to you about it and say aw, it doesn't
matter. It does matter. And I know it matters to Colorado State alumni, our fans. Because CU thinks they're better than the
Colorado State University. That hurts our fans and my job is to go out there and make sure our team's ready to play and put
a good product on the field."
The Showdown will be at Fort Collins in 2020, and then after a two-year lapse, resume
in Boulder in 2023 and Fort Collins again in 2024.
that's all that's on the future schedules ... for now.
the short-term back to the campuses was appropriate.
where the Showdown belongs, especially after CSU's investment in the new Canvas Stadium.
I'm fully aware of -- and even have covered -- showcase games on neutral sites, including
Oklahoma-Texas in Dallas, Florida-Georgia in Jacksonville and formerly Auburn-Alabama at Bimingham. And while they don't involve
traditional rivalries, the trend toward early season games on neutral sites, such as the upcoming Auburn-Oregon matchup in
Dallas, isn't going to abate.
Still, I'm an advocate
of home-and-home in rivalries, including CU-CSU. In this instance, it would require members of the Denver media who especially
require use of a GPS to find their way to Fort Collins (or to a lesser extent, even Boulder) to get out of their comfort zone.
But it's best for college football in this state.
The truth is, if CU could have gotten this 2019 game
placed in Boulder, it might have scheduled the upcoming sea-of-red Nebraska game for Denver and that would have lessened the
Buffs' argument for games belonging on campus.
But especially if leaving the game in Denver came with 8:10 Friday night kickoffs,
as will be the case again this year, getting the game out of Denver for the three remaining scheduled Showdowns is the right
August 23, 2018
My story on Pat Bowlen
is on SportBusiness.com
is subscription only for the viewing of articles, but here's a look at how it's presented. The story covers Bowlen's legacy and also the drama involving the Bowlen Trust and the
maneuvering over which of two Bowlen daughters -- if either -- takes over as principal owner. SportBusiness is based in London,
but also has a Miami office.
August 22, 2019
Buffs' Montez never has
against the wind
Steven Montez Thursday in Denver,
In the fall of 2013, Jim Jeffcoat, the former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman on Mike
MacIntyre's Colorado staff, was on a recruiting trip to El Paso, primarily looking at a defensive lineman at Americas High
CU quarterback Steven Montez, from El
Paso's Del Valle High, not only has heard the story.
He lived it.
retold it Thursday.
Montez was at the Front Range Media Huddle, featuring the region's Division I and II programs, at the Blake
Street Tavern, a one-block walk from Coors Field.
"I guess the story goes, Jeffcoat kind of asked, 'Is there any other talent here
in El Paso I might as well go look at while I'm down here,'" Montez, 22, said. "The head coach at Americas at the
time, I forget his name, but he was like, 'Yeah, go over to Del Valle, they got a really good quarterback over there,' talking
"Jeffcoat came over and I ended up meeting him, and he asked if I could throw for him. At the time, there was
like 30 mile an hour winds outside. It was ridiculous. There was dust everwhere, it was as windy as it can be, I was just
like, 'Oh, man I don't know how I'm going to throw in this, I gotta be crazy.'
"But I went out there, threw to some receivers,
threw the ball well, was cutting through the wind, so he ended up liking me, and he ended up talking to Coach (Mike MacIntyre)
about me, and they ended up getting me up here to camp (in the summer of 2014)."
Neill Woelk of cubuffs.com spoke with Jeffcoat about it in 2016. Jeffcoat said the Americas High
coach asked, "Have you ever been to Del Valle High School?"
Jeffcoat added, "I said no I haven't. That's when he said the best player in El Paso is at Del Valle,
and his name is Steven Montez."
Montez went to many camps, but he eventually signed a national letter of intent with CU, and he will open his senior
season as the Buffs' holdover starter in the Rocky Mountain Showdown against Colorado State next Friday at Broncos Stadium
at Mile High.
It makes for a better story, of course, to make this sound as if Montez was completely unknown and the Buffaloes
were the first to check him out, period.
That would be exaggeration. There's just too much information and video out there about
prospects. And his father, Alfred, played at Texas Tech and Western New Mexico and briefly was on the Oakland Raiders' roster
shortly before Steven was born.
Alfred also had been
a multi-sports star --playing on state champions in 8-man football, basketball and baseball -- at small-town Granada High
School in the southeast corner of Colorado, 140 miles east of Pueblo. He got into coaching at Deming, N.M., before moving
to El Paso.
His son, Steven, was a junior at Del Valle. Most notably, this was his first look from
a Power Five program. Until then, he had been considered more of a second-tier prospect, and his first scholarship offer had
come from hometown UTEP. One reason was because Del Valle was no powerhouse, and playing there wasn't the greatest way for
a quarterback to draw attention.
"My tallest O-lineman was probably like 6-foot maybe, probobably 265, 270 pounds," the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Montez said Thursday. "We had a lot of guys who worked hard, had a lot of heart, had a lot of toughness, had
a lot of grit, but we didn't have the most talented guys out in El Paso, Texas. . . It was definitely harder to get noticed
because I was playing in El Paso, I wasn't playing in Dallas or California, where it's a hotbed for a lot of talent. I' m
just luckly, I'm blessed, that Colorado came out and found me."
(By the way, Jeffcoat, the coach who initiated the Buff' contact
with Montez, was caught up in the ouster of MacIntyre's staff after last season and now is the defensive line coach of the
Dallas Renegades, beginning play in the XFL next year.)
His four scholarship offers were from UTEP and nearby New
Mexico State, plus CU and Air Force.
liked Montez's 3.6 grade-point average and his athleticism, and while Montez wasn't tailor-made for the Falcons' option game,
coach Troy Calhoun has demonstrated a willingness to tweak his offense for his quarterbacks, or move his "athletes"
to other positions.
"To be honest, I got the offer and I was excited about it, but I didn't really want to go the military
route," Montez said. "It was kind of just there. I was leaning more towards UTEP before Colorado offered. I was
thinking about staying home. Looking back at it now, I'm glad I didn't."
Now Montez is set to play in the final
Showown in Denver in the foreseeable future.
"It's just really special," Montez said. "Especially when you get all
the students from each college going and getting Mile High rocking and everyone's excited," Montez said. "Half the
stadium's green and half the stadium's white or black or whatever color we're wearing that day. It's a very high energy game,
there's a lot on the line, a lot of bragging rights. It's a rivalry game, it's in state, so it's just a special game to be
a part of. I love playing on an NFL field, eventually that's one day where I want to be. It's very special."
Steven Montez's CU statistics
2016: 83-for-140, 1,078 yards, 9 TDs, 5 interceptions.
2017: 228-for-377, 2,975 yards, 18 TDs, 9 interceptions.
2018: 258-for-399, 2,849 yards, 19 TDs, 9 interceptions.
Scroll down for previous on the Colorado Scene commentaries on the Buffs and Rams,
including on CSU quarterback Collin Hull.
August 11, 2019
High school football
hanging in there ...
more so than
Limon vs. Strasburg
If you drive past your
area high school Monday in Colorado, you might see the football team going through its opening day of practices.
Reports of high school
football's imminent death have been extremely exaggerated ... and I was part of it.
Over the years, as I've
played (briefly) and written about football, I've experienced and witnessed the physical toll the game can take.
I've seen how many of my journalism and book subjects in college and pro football
have been struggling later in life with various maladies and after death have been shown to have had significant CTE, or brain
The most notable on that front
was Greg Ploetz, the Texas defensive tackle in Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming. For what I've written about Ploetz, go to my HHNC page and scroll
down to where an archive of my stories on him appear at the right. New there (and also here) is a link to my column on woodypaige.com about his wife, Deb, reflecting
a year after accepting a settlement in her lawsuit against the NCAA and continuing her crusade against football itself.
Beyond the college game, the
NFL's $1 billion concussion settlement highlighted the peril of playing the game -- especially as a career -- while also essentially
limiting the league's liability. (Albeit at a staggering cost, but there's plenty of money to go around.) It can be
both stunning and aggravating to notice how today's players still often are in denial, acting as if they are invulnerable
or at least willing to put off consideration of the risks.
Yet as this has played out, it hasn't been unreasonable to wonder about the future of the game. The most
expreme scenario would be that liability and other issues literally kill off football at all levels, but that isn't happening.
The more pertinent big-picture
issue is whether participation at the youth and high school levels drops so significantly, NCAA and NFL football becomes more
of a gladiator pastime than it even is now.
parents' concerns about the sport cause more of them to say, "No, you're not playing football."?
It has become a cliche, but the water cooler or easy talk-show question often has been
whether you'd let your kid play.
If you'd asked me
in, say, 2012, I would have thought that by 2019, high school football would be in more trouble than it is now, and that participation
would have slipped far more than it has. I wondered if rural school districts could afford the liability insurance now, as
the end of the decade approaches.
No question, the
numbers have dropped. The National Federation of High School Associations says the peak in particpation for 11-man teams was
a in 2009-10, and that it has dropped about 6.5 percent since, but the number of players still is over one million nationally.
The other significant possibility is that we haven't seen the effects of the doubt over the safety of the game show up in
participation levels at the high school level, and that could take place as those declining to play -- or not being allowed
to play -- youth football get older.
But for now, football
is hanging in there.
Part of it is due to the realization
that the risk of suffering concussions is almost universal in sports, especially given the increased awareness of the issue,
the need to diagnose and dictate protocol. In football, yes, but in soccer, lacrosse, even baseball, certainly hockey ...
and more. Plus, we've gotten so much smarter over the physical parameters of practices. I'm not sure Oklahoma drills
were the embodiment of evil they have been portrayed to be, and I believe some of the no-contact, or no-tackling-to-the-ground
standards in practices have been a bit of overreaction. But I understand why it has happened.
This is my stand on football now.
still OK for kids to play it.
As long as they're not
rushed into it too young.
As long as their coaches
As long as they WANT to play it and
aren't being pressured into it by parents, peers or anyone else.
And as long as it's made clear that if they don't enjoy it, quit. Don't buy into the crap that you'll be a quitter
in life if you quit football ... or the piano.
my generation, the problem was that if you were a good athlete, or even a marginal one capable of donning pads, holding tackling
dummies and liked being known as a football player, you were both under pressure -- even in the mirror -- and expected to
play football. Even if you liked another sport more, and were better at it.
It's healthy that we're past that.
It's a fine line because I believe that while skipping football because you enjoy another sport more is fine and
understandable, or because you don't enjoy it, period, overspecialization can be a plague.
It's good for young men and women to play multiple sports,
rather than a single one, often year-round on traveling and club teams and buying into it because of the usually ridiculous
belief that a college athletic scholarship is the inevitable reward.
Yes, some of the slippage
in football numbers has been because of overspecialization, and that bothers me.
But if the kids out there
Monday for the first football practices are there because they want to be, I'm still with the program.
NOTE: This column also ran in the Portland Tribune and its afillates, the Clackamas Review/Oregon City News. Access that
August 5, 2019
Collin Hill won't look
Now, he's healthy
and ready to
Mike Bobo and Collin Hill (Don Reichart photo / CSU)
-- In that 2014 offseason, Collin Hill was the heir apparent starting quarterback at Dorman High School in Roebuck, S.C.
He and his Cavaliers teammates traveled to Athens, Ga., and won the 7-on-7 camp competition
at the University of Georgia.
The Bulldogs' offensive
brain trust -- head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo -- noticed the big quarterback, who actually lived
in Moore, S.C., adjacent to Roebuck.
"We wound up winning it," Hill told me Monday at Colorado State's Canvas
Stadium, on the Rams' Media Day. "It was after our first or second game, my coach said, 'Come over here,' and I talked
with Coach Richt and Coach Bobo. So I was like, 'Whoa...'
was the first time a college coach talked to me. I was really kind of nervous and excited. Coach Bobo met my parents and established
kind of a bit of a relationship. We talked on the phone and I went to a camp and a visit."
The problem was that Jacob Eason, one of the nation's top quarterback prospects in
the Class of 2016, committed to the Bulldogs in July 2014 and Hill became, at best, the fallback.
"They just said, 'Hey, if something changes, we'll call you, and we're not sure
we're going to take another (quarterback) or not,'" Hill said.
But after Hill's junior season, CSU hired Bobo to succeed Jim McElwain as head coach in late 2014, and Bobo knew
the Bulldogs' fallback could be a higher-priority recruit in the Mountain West.
"He kind of hit me up," Hill said.
Quarterbacks coach Ronnie Letson watched Hill throw to be sure.
"They offered me and I came out on a visit and loved it," Hill said.
So that's how the 6-foot-5 kid from South Carolina
ended up in Fort Collins, and he has been through ups and downs since arriving on campus in 2016. The downs include two ACL
surgeries on the same knee in a year and a half, and he's entering the 2019 season as a redshirt junior starter, holding off
a challenge from Nebraska transfer Patrick O'Brien.
he made it back on the field last season after suffering his second knee injury as a Ram while playing pickup basketball in
mid-March 2018, just before the opening of spring practice, Hill wasn't close to full strength and mobility. Washington transfer K.J. Carta-Samuels
was the starter much of the season as Hill essentially rehabilitated on the fly, completing 109-of-202 passes for 1,387 yards.
"I feel great,
I really do," Hill said. "It was really nice to go through a full offseason, starting in January, doing all the
lifting and the running and then getting in 15 practices. The knee feels really strong."
It was a bit surprising in 2016
when Bobo benched holdover starter Nick Stevens early in the season and abandoned plans to redshirt Hill. After a one-game
trial for Faton Bauta, Hill ended up playing in five games and starting four as a true freshman before suffering the season-ending knee injury against Utah State on Oct. 8.
He redshirted in 2017 as Stevens finished out his career,
then was poised to be the starter when his knee went out in that pickup hoops game and he again faced a long rcovery.
Now he still can seem a green quarterback, though he's going
into his fourth season in the Bobo program and the Rams' coach considers him a savvy veteran.
"I feel line he's crossed
that threshold," Bobo said Monday. "I feel lik being able to play at the end of last year was very beneficial for
him and then having a spring practice ... Last year was little like a sophmore year, though there were years in between. He
had a lot of success early on as a freshman and then his second year, he struggled and we struggled a little bit. He had that
spring practice to go through and kind of work through some things, I kind of feel he's in a good position.
"He's got really good command of the offense and the more he can do, the better
we can be on offense because can put our offensive line in a better position to execute when we can get in and out of
the right play. . . We have to put more on him this year."
On the first day of all drills, Bobo noted that Hill was more decisively playing the part of leader.
"He has taken
over this team and doesns't shy away from those expectations," Bobo said. "He's got an ego, too. He wants to be
considered one of the best quarterbacks in the country. But you have to go out there and do that. I think he's embraced that."
Hill labels his CSU career a "mixture" of experiences.
"I don't know exactly how many games I've played
in," Hill said, "but I haven't played in as many as you'd think I would have. At the same time, I do fel like I've
been in the offense a long tiome and I know what's going on. I could look at it like I haven't been in a lot of games, but
at the same time, I'm still in all the meetings, I'm still watching the games, watching the film, so I feel very confident
in the offense. I do feel like I have command of the offense and that's the key to moving the guys."
One question about his career revolves around what
might have happened if Hill had been redshirted as a true freshman rather than being rushed in to temporarily supplant Stevens.
"I don't play the what if game," Hill said. "It hasn't been easy. It
hasn't ben all sunshine and rainbows, but I think I've grown in the situation I've grown as a player, and as a man, and in
my relationship with the Lord. It's all been a bit of a atest fo me. You could look at it like, 'Oh, man, this guy has had
it rough.' But if you put things in perspective, it's just a game, it's just a knee ligament. There are a lot of worse things
out there. I totally understand that."
Of course, with Bobo running the offense, Hill has worked with his head coach more than most quarterbacks.
"I've learned so much, I really have," Hill said. "That's one of the
reasons I came out here, why I ended up coming all the way out here. I wanted to play for him. I know what he did for guys
at Georgia. He's taught me so much about Xs and Os and defenses, so I feel like he's really helped me develop as a quarterback."
This fall, starting with the Aug. 30
opener against Colorado, Hill will be charged with helping lead a recovery in the wake of the Rams' 3-9 debacle a year ago.
This will be his second appearance against CU. He was 1-for-4 for 5 yards in the 2018 Showdown.
"I really think we've had a really good offseason," Hill said. "I feel
like as a result of the things I've gone through, the way I carry myself, that has given me an opportunity to be a leader
on this team. I'm an older guy and it kind of goes with the position too. I'm really excited to kind of take over and be that
guy, the leader trying to push everybody."
of that offseason for him was serving as a counselor in June at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La.
"Man, it was cool, it was a lot of fun," Hill said after the first preseason
practice. "The Mannings were really cool. They're really good people. . . It was cool to meet other college kids. I got
to work with eighth though 12th graders. That was cool to kind of build relationships with them, too. I enjoyed it. You work
out really twice a day, in little sessions with the high school kids, too."
He said he talked with Peyton Manning "for a while one night, about what he did in the offseason,
how many times would he be throwing, if you're doing drills, what drills, how much film are you watching, What are you watching?
Is it teams? All that kind of stuff. I don't think there's necessarily one specific thing, but there were a lot of nuggets
along the way."
During one drill, with the quarterbacks
rotating, Hill threw a pass and heard a voice behind him, saying, "Good ball."
"I turned around," Hill said, "and it was Peyton Manning. I was like, 'Ooooh, that's
pretty cool.' But, yeah, he was really down to earth, to talk to, and it was really kind of surreal to talk to him. He's a
legend, don't get me wrong, but to talk to him, he's super humble."
Collin Hill's CSU Stats
2016, true freshman: 75-for-129, 2 INT, 8 TDs, 1,096 yards
2018, redshirt sophomore: 119-for-202, 7 INT, 7 TDs, 1,387
August 3, 2019
So whose players
BOULDER -- It's right out the modern-era coaching transition handbook.
In part because the change usually was made because the previous coach didn't win enough
football games, his successor speaks of changing the culture -- the new buzz phrase -- plus usually getting bigger, tougher
and more physical.
That's the way
it has played out at CU, with the well-traveled Mel Tucker advancing that agenda at CU after taking over for Mike MacIntyre.
One of the potential downsides to that is that while
there is an element of a my-way-or-the-highway ultimatum, there also is the reality that a college football program requires
bodies, turnover takes time, and you've got to get the best out of athletes you're implying -- as a group -- need to be upgraded.
How do you earn that loyalty?
And in the next few seasons of transition and recruiting classes, how do you avoid
the "Mac's Guys" vs. "Mel's Guys" schism?
That was going through my head Saturday as I attended CU's Media Day gathering after the Buffs' third pre-season
practice -- the first in shoulder pads -- at Folsom Field. The names have changed. The situations haven't ... much.
I've gotten teased or been derided about this, and bitterness over the circumstances
of his departure makes this unfashionable even among Colorado State fans. But the best job I've ever seen of shepherding a
team through that sort of transition and overachieving with inherited players was Jim McElwain and his Rams staff from 2012-14.
Over and over, the same scenario plays out.
But I was impressed with the way Tucker addressed the issue.
Repeatedly, he framed it as nurturing his inherited players, challenging them in the
weight room and conditioning, and not running them off or finding replacements as quickly as possible.
Of course, it's not as if the cupboard is completely bare, given the presence of a
decent -- if wildly inconsistent -- senior quarterback in Steven Montez, plus wideout Leviska Shenault Jr., and others.
Tucker never is going to publicly badmouth his inherited talent, anyway, but I've seen
and heard coaches wink and get across the message by implication that they deserve a lot of leeway the first few seasons.
"December 5 was his first team meeting," junior inside linebacker Nate Landman
said Saturday. "I'll always remember, (Tucker) came in and he told us we were his players and he was our coach and nothing
was going to change that, even though he didn't recruit us. He believed in us and he just wanted to win games. I think that
instantly made the team more comfortable just because it's hard to come into a new situation, especiaally when the guy who
did recruit you is no longer in the program.
"But I think the biggest thing he did was make us feel comfortable and instill
a winning mindset in the team."
Senior guard-center Tim Lynott Jr., from Regis Jesuit, will finish out his career under
Tucker as a four-year starter.
"He's been great," Lynott said of Tucker. "He's accepted all of us as players,
he knows we're not his players like in recruiting, but he's accepted us all and brought us all in and he's trusting us all
to be the best we can. I think that's very beneficial to us ... (to) put it aside. He's including every single one of us to
make us all feel part of the team."
I mentioned to Lynott that I had seen programs fall apart in the transition coaching
change seasons. One way it happens is for the next staff to shove aside marginal veteran starters and replace them with underclassmen,
to get the changeover into higher gear.
"I know," Lynott said. "That was kind of my thing I was scared about,
coming into my fifth year. I was worried about would he like us, would he kick us to the curb, but he's definitely done a
good job. He's included us and it's been beneficial to the entire team."
The most stunning aspect of the coaching change
is that last October, it seemed inconceivable that MacIntyre would't be coaching the Buffs in 2019. They were 5-0, lost two,
but then led lowly Oregon Sate 31-3 at halftime before the epic CU collapse led to the Beavers winning in overtime.
The Buffs didn't win again.
As it turned out, that game cost MacIntyre his job. If CU had won, however shakily or even in OT, the Buffs would
have been 6-2 and bowl-eligible. I'm convinced that with momentum and karma being what they are, CU would have found the way
to win at least two more and an 8-5 year would have saved MacIntyre's job.
There would have been grumbles about what ultimately
would have been a disappointing season after the misleading start against a softer-than-it-initially-seemed schedule, but
MacIntyre wouldn't have been ousted.
Instead, he was fired, with his contract calling for a $10.3 million buyout that eventually
was negotiated down to $7.23 million after he accepted the defensive coordinator job at Mississippi. He received roughly half
of it earlier this year and is scheduled to receive the other half in early 2020.
CU officials emphasize the payments come through and from the athletic department, not from student
tuition, tax monies, or the general fund.
Nice work if you can get it.
On Saturday, I asked CU athletic director Rick George if the athletic department has
been able to mitigate the hit from the buyout and where it leaves the Buffs.
"When we made the decision we took all those
factors in play, obviously," George said. "We were able to finish the fiscal year, we were able to fund the first
half of that buyout because of an accounting principle, the additional payment that we'll make in January was included in
this year's budget and that's why we showed a deficit in our budget. But going into it, we knew our ticket sales for this
coming year would be better and we do a great job of fundraising. There are some other factors from contract extensions and
things like that.
"What it has done for our program, I told our staff that we were going to operate flat compared to
where we were last year and everybody's on board with that. They know that. I think the prospects of what's ahead and where
our football program can generate for this athletic program is going to be significant moving forward.
"For us to be able to compete at he level I want to compete at, with all of our
sports teams, they all need more resources, football and men's basketball are our two biggest drivers. When they're consistently
winning at a high level, it means a lot. So all the buckets will rise and I'm very confident in our revenue generation and
the way we handle our budget.
"It's certainly a little bit of a setback, when you have too have a payout like that, but
we're well-positioned for the future and I feel pretty good about that."
In other words ... despite all he talk about
student-athletes and GPA and graduation rates and everything else cited in pumping up the football program as an academic
enterpise, there are millions of reasons it comes back to this:
Just win, Mel.
of which staff recruited these guys.
July 31, 2019
Vet assistants, Fangio
as they await chances
go to eleven." -- Nigel Tufnel in "This is Spinal Tap"
"I don't care. Keep the damn things off." -- Vic Fangio
Football as a workplace is unique, but it also has many things in common with other businesses.
One of them is the
tendency to take mental notes and say something along the lines of, "If I'm ever in charge, this is how we're going to
do it ... or not do it."
I'm hearing and seeing a lot of that in Broncos coach Vic Fangio, the well-traveled 60-year-old
veteran assistant who has worked extensively in both the pro and college games. And he stablished the precedents early, from
his introductory news conference on.
Turning off the music at practice runs counter to recent tradition and even against
the grain of the iconic "mockumentary" movie that came out when he was 25. (Yes, it was that long ago.)
It's really a very minor thing -- with Fangio saying he wants to be able to hear the
guy across from him as they talk at practice -- but it also is a noteworthy indication that he doesn't feel the need to avoid
being accused of chasing players off his lawn. That phrase has become such a lame, tiresome reaction to anything that doesn't
pander to, say, a radio ratings group, it's aggravating -- and I. of course, just did it.
The most underrated point in hiring or eventually evaluating head coaches is there
is no one-size fits all, though many try to reduce it to that in chasing after the latest "type" or hot trend. Fangio
was a "hot" coordinator after his stretch with the Bears, no question, but was plagued by the frequent tendency
to wonder out loud about veteran assistants: How come nobody has hired him for a head-coaching opening by now? (It's the same
in the draft. The NFL tends to be what-do-they-know-that-we-don't-know league.)
I'll keep coming back to this: The head coach is the CEO. He can be a de facto coordinator on
either side of the ball, with the coordinator in title tending to the details the head coach doesn't have time to get to,
and actually being too controlling can be counterproductive. Great coordinators as head coaches can sabotage themselves. The
potentially great CEO head coaches, those with innovative ideas about how to run a staff and a roster, often don't get their
chances because their latest organization hasn't drafted a decent linebacker in 12 years.
So after waiting all these years, Vic Fangio not only saying he wants to do it his
way (which all coaches say), but also carrying through with it (which fewer do as they get caught up in perception and convention),
is refreshing. There is no B.S., he says what he means, he means what he says. He doesn't bluff when someone asks him how
so-and-so looked. If he wasn't watching him, rather than offering up some cliched response that would have been good enough
for the sound bite, or the 3,214 Tweeted quotes that will come in trhe next 10 seconds, he says he wasn't watching him.
He seems to have trust in his staff, including in veteran Ed Donatell, his defensive
coordinator, and Rich Scangarello on the offensive side of the ball. That's easy to say now, before the season starts, but
Nobody likes to talk about this much, either,
but the NFL also has had many teams that were well-coached during the week, but the head coach jumped in and screwed everything
up on Sundays. That happens less nowaways, or can't be hidden, in the information explosion and also the increase in the number
of assistant coaches to an astounding number (I can't even count them ... and it depends on definition of terms).
I don't know if Vic Fangio is going to be a great head coach. Coaches, especially those
getting their first chances as had coach, often are affected by much beyond their control.
But I respect the way he seems to be setting the trend that -- cue up Frank Sinatra
-- he'll do it his way.
July 25, 2019
This is as disappointing
Rockies ever have been.
They're better than
On a night when starter
Kyle Freeland deserved a better fate at Washington, the Rockies last night lost 3-2 to the Nationals and fell to 3-16 in their
last 19 games.
There's no excuse. None.
There are rationalizations and "reasons" -- the problematic bullpen, inconsistent
starting pitching, a lack of punch and inept play at first base from Daniel Murphy ... and more -- but no excuse.
Usually in the Rockies' past, it always came back to the reality
that the 162-game season is a defining test, and that after all the inevitable ups and downs, the record is what you are.
(To quote noted SABERmetrician Bill Parcells.)
now with the Rockies sitting at 47-55, this just doesn't add up. Four All-Stars. Two of the best players in the game. Now,
I get it, the Coors Field phenomenon has produced offensive imbalance all along, but never has it been this aggravating.
The Rockies are better than this.
Part of it involves the regression of the youg starting pitching, which seemed to be so encouraging a year
But there's more to it.
This team is thunderously underachieving.
So now the trading deadline is less than a week away, and the slide has made it far more likely
that Colorado will be sellers in the year that post-deadline waiver deals no longer will be possible. We're already hearing
the jabbering about the Rockies' struggles and the opening of Broncos training camp mean that the Rockies no longer are relevant
and that anybody who goes out to Coors Field the rest of the way is a sap, and that going to a still-beautiful park for a
fun night out is something we should apologize for.
Trade Charlie Blackmon? Move him to first and unload Murphy for anything you can get? Of course, rule out
trading either Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story?
the deal: My philosophy on this is pretty much invariable from sport to sport. The emphasis on the status of the team at the
deadline, any deadline, sometimes deflects front offices from looking at the bigger overall picture. Rather than basing it
on the buyer-or-seller definition -- do you have a chance to make the postseason or not? -- I'd argue that it always should
come back to the same standards.
Does it make your
Yes, that can involve interpretation, including whether you're talking short- or long-term, but I've never understood
why executives don't operate under a single standard.
Whether in the NHL, NBA, NFL or MLB and anyone asks about trade possibilities or trade
rumors -- in hockey, rumors are a cottage industry -- I'd just respond:
My answer is the same to any question about
possible trades. If contractually possible, I'll trade anybody on this roster if it makes this team better. I'm not going
to respond player by player. My answer is always the same.
So my answer about whether the Rockies should be buyers or sellers is another question:
Why should they have to pick one?
July 24, 2019
Jeffco decides: No
But does that end debate?
At former Columbine High School principal Frank
DeAngelis' booksigning for They Call Me "Mr. De": The Story of Columbine's Heart, Resilience and Recovery Saturday
night at Barnes and Noble in Glendale, the inquisitive moderator -- me -- asked DeAngelis what he thought of the proposal
Jeffco Schools had floated to possibly tear down the existing school and replace it with a new building on adjacent ground.
Columbine's HOPE Memorial Library, built since the
1999 killings as a replacement for the original library, where 10 students were murdered, likely would have remained as the
anchor for the new school.
DeAngelis told us
that news about the decision would break in the upcoming week, then again mentioned that what made Columbine great was the
feeeling of community and spirit, and that involved far more than walls and a building.
The word came down Wednesday, in a letter from Jeffco superintendent Jason Glass to the Columbine
and Jeffco constituencies: The school won't be torn down and rebuilt. (The full letter is appended to this commentary.)
Razing the existing school and rebuilding it on the same plot of land would have been
a well-meaning project, but not one that necessarily addressed and overcame the issues that caused the proposal to be brought
up in the first place. And that involved what Glass earlier termed a continuing "morbid" fascination with Columbine
20 years later. That led to, among other things, the school becoming a tourist site for the curious and harmless, but also
a point of fascination for such warped personalities as the 18-year-old young woman who traveled to the area from Florida
in April and easily (and legally) bought a pump-action shotgun within two miles of the school before committing suicide in
the Arapaho National Forest west of Denver.
With the emphasis on keeping the name, the nickname and the school's traditions, Columbine would
have remained Columbine -- and not just in name. That's good. That's praiseworthy. For the past two years, Columbine has been
graduating seniors not born at the time of the murders. As the subtitle of DeAngelis' book emphasizes, the school and community
displayed defiance and courage in rebounding,. including in the 15 years DeAngelis remained principal after the shootings
-- and beyond.
Yet even when Glass floated the proposal
to tear down and rebuild, the response from DeAngelis and others underscored -- perhaps even inadvertently -- the fallacy.
Columbine is more than a building.
Columbine is a spirit.
That would have remained the case if a different building carried the Columbine name.
Unfortunately, it still would have been Columbine to the nuts, too.
That's what I thought when I originally wrote about this after Glass sought public
views on the tear-down-and-rebuild proposal.
what I still think after the period of public feedback.
I'm a graduate of another Jeffco high school, Wheat Ridge, and I've noticed the upgrades in security at my alma mater
and other schools in the district in recent years. The intrusion and crisis response protocol in place in 1999 at schools
now seems unfathomably passive and lax. Securing the perimeter, with maddening delays, was the primary concern. First responders
despised it; but they followed it. We've learned.
Columbine moving forward, I'll come back to this: I believe there were two viable choices. And tearing down the existing school
and building a replacement a few steps away was not one of them. If it was guaranteed to enhance safety and lessen
the lure of Columbine for the wackos, cost is no object. But I don't think it's distateful to say it wouldn't have changed
enough to make it cost-effective.
Option one, keep the existing school, with the concessions that remodeling projects at schools are routine, and they
will continue at Columbine in upcoming years under the 5B bond program. The transformation of the old library into an atrium
and opening the HOPE Library addresses the most painful emotional wounds. Also emphasize, as DeAngelis mentioned in his remarks
at the booksigning Saurday, that Columbine 's level of security is not just extraordinary; it's unparalleled in a time of
heightened vigilance. And as part of moving forward, that level of security will increase.
two, tear it down, close it, and celebrate Columbine's final 20 years as that story of heart, resilience and recovery. I get
that some will say the killers would have won. I get that Columbine graduates would feel betrayed. I'd agree if we were talking
about five or 10 years after the murders. But we're not. It's a generation later. Columbine "won."
That would require dispersing Columbine students to other high schools in the open
enrollment district, or building a replacement school with a different name far enough away from Columbine to differentiate
But at least Jeffco, with feedback from its constituents,
has ruled out the proposal that while drastic, really wouldn't have changed much.
Frank DeAngelis was in the Pittsburgh airport when
I spoke with him. He had attended a conference in Triadelphia, W. Va.
"Dr. Glass consulted with many of us and we decided to explore to see if there
was support for building a new Columbine," DeAngelis said. "After the input came back, there was a lot of emotion
on both sides. There werte people who felt a new building was in order, and ehere were those sho felt the old building should
remain. It was a good decision by Dr. Glass after getting all the feedback and now Columbine will be renovated as was planned
prior to Dr. Glass exploring oher options. And Columbine will remain one of the safest schools."
Glass' Wednesday letter:
month, we initiated a conversation in our community about the future of Columbine High School. The timing was driven by the
number of “unauthorized individuals” (some 2,401 as reported in the Colorado Sun) who came onto Columbine’s grounds this past school
year and the planned $15 million renovation of the current site using bond funds from the 2018 5B ballot question.
put forth an idea in the Jeffco community for consideration: should we rebuild Columbine High School, further back from the
street on which it presently sits, and redesign the building so as to remove the attraction as the site of the 1999 murders?
ensuing discussion both locally and joined by those around the country, was emotional and complex and I want to express my
appreciation and gratitude for the honest, respectful, and civil way these discussions took place in the Columbine and larger
In putting forth the idea of rebuilding the school, Jeffco Public Schools was careful
not to say what we should do. Rather, rebuilding the school was presented as an option we should explore. In the course of
our discussions, this option was considered and evaluated and other options and proposals also came forward.
June, we issued a public statement and a brief survey to our stakeholders about rebuilding Columbine. Based on our analysis
of survey data collected, evaluating commentary on this issue that has taken place on various social media sites, reading
opinion statements published in a variety of formats, and engaging in face-to-face discussions on this matter, I do not believe
there is sufficient support to move forward with a proposal to rebuild the school.
While this concept
has supporters and merits, there are also valid concerns that were raised. It is clear to me that no consensus direction exists
to rebuild the school.
Still, while Columbine High School is now arguably one of the safest schools in
the world, the “unauthorized individuals” problem at the school must be addressed. In addition to the great lengths
that our safety and security team take to address each “unauthorized individual,” more supports are necessary
to mitigate the impact on the school. Therefore, we will be implementing changes to enhance the security and privacy of the
site, including the creation of an improved and defined perimeter around the building.
While final plans
have yet to be determined, it is our goal to create a classic and stately appearance for the school that the community will
be proud of. The school already has an existing “Design Advisory Group” working on planned improvements as part
of the 5B bond program and we will use these individuals to advise us on creating the perimeter and other security and privacy
We will fund these security and privacy enhancements from existing district resources within
our capital fund and will not be asking taxpayers for additional dollars. The planned 5B renovations and improvements to Columbine
High School will not be reduced because of these additions and we will not take funds from other schools planned bond improvements.
deeply appreciate the engagement and respect our community has shown in navigating this difficult question. I understand the
prevailing wishes of the Jeffco community on this matter and we will work to meet those, keeping Columbine a great school
and making it even more secure going forward.
July 22, 2019
season -- maybe
preseason -- for Bolles
After the Broncos' season-ending loss to the Chargers, I was on the field and then behind Garett Bolles
as the Broncos' tackle headed to the locker room.
He went over to the section at the southwest corner of the stadium, near the dressing-room
portal, and greeted his wife, Natalie, and their young son, Kingston.
The mood was somber, but the scene was touching.
Then Bolles went into the tunnel and once he was out public
sight, while still on the move, repeatedly and heatedly bashed his helmet against the wall and punctuated it all with guttural
hit me: That's Garett Bolles in a nutshell.
Now, at age 27 and as he approaches his third season and at least in training camp remains installed
at left tackle -- now playing next to rookie guard Dalton Wisner, from Kansas State and Wiggins -- this is inescapable:
Bolles' development, or
lack thereof, is one of the key issues of the 2019 camp and preseason, and beyond. This new coaching staff, including
offensive line guru Mike Munchak, should be and will be allowed to independently make a decision on Bolles' suitability to
remain the starter or even on the roster. There's no guarantee he'll be either against the Raiders on Sept. 9.
It's Bolles' make-or-break
season, as least when it comes to the issue of whether he ever will be worthy of the faith the Broncos showed when they made
him the first offensive lineman taken in the 2017 draft, at No. 20 overall.
To do that, he must be more than a journeyman bouncing around
and hanging on in the league.
He must be that cornerstone left tackle. For the Broncos. And soon.
You're laughing? You're saying that ship already has sailed
and the Broncos have scaled back their best-case scenario expectations for Bolles? If he can just hold on (to coin a phrase)
to the starting job at a key position on merit, not on the basis of what Denver has invested in him, both in terms of money
and expectations, that's about all you can hope for?
But it would be a mistake to give up on him. Yet.
There's so much at stake.
Unless the Broncos are better at protecting the quarterback
than they have been in recent years, the acquisition of Joe Flacco will have only minor impact.
At 34, Flacco is neither elusive nor a statue, but has the
step-here, step-there maneuverability that can be part of the bigger picture. This is no newsflash, but he needs major-league
protection to be effective.
Case Keenum had his problems and Trevor Siemian never was going to be the answer, but the the ineptitude
up front handicapped them and Siemian especially was banged up.
Now, in attempting to bill Flacco as the difference-maker, John Elway deserves credit
for acknowledging the misjudgments about quarterbacks the franchise has made since Peyton Manning's retirement. (Hello, Paxton
the backdrop should include the reality that offensive line improvement -- under Munchak's tutelage -- should be at the top
of the list of priorities.
And Bolles is the biggest variable there.
way training camp works, story lines often reflect what the Broncos themselves are advancing and hoping for, but the talk
of Bolles showing signs of maturation -- including from veteran guard Ron Leary -- is genuine. He also likely will benefit
from playing next to Risner, savvy beyond his years and capable of providing on-field direction for Bolles.
Ah, but what of his holding and his mistake-prone play?
It seems as if he has
drawn flags not just during the game, but during pre-game warmup and at halftime.
Some of them, perhaps even many or most, had been video-definition
of holding calls, or overt tackles, but sometimes it's not so simple and reputation comes into play in such a subjective decision
isn't about what holding is; it's about what's called holding.
The respected veteran offensive lineman? Hey, (wink), it's
not holding if it isn't called.
The guy with the reputation for holding at every opportunity? The same maneuver is holding.
That's the double standard
so prevalent in all sports. Reputation plays a major role.
I'm not turning this into an officials' vendetta defense of Bolles.
I'm just saying part of his battle is earning that respect
and having the flags stay in the pocket on the gray-area calls.
He has to get better, much better, for all of that to happen.
I still think he's capable of it, and that the Broncos being
enamored in 2017 of a big man with such athleticism was understandable. Plus, he was raw. Lanky coming out of high school,
he wasn't even a prospect. As my profile below outlines, before he developed an offensive lineman's physique, he took two
years off from football and then played two years at Snow Junior College and only one at Utah in the Pac 12 before entering
the draft and breaking in as a 25-year-old rookie.
But this is his last chance to show he can be that cornerstone.
What often seems to be
forgotten or at least underplayed is that last November, he -- and the offensive line as a unit -- seemed to be coming around.
The Broncos won three in a row and questions from the media to the offensive linemen were prefaced with remarks about them
starting to prove the critics wrong. Then the wheels fell off down the stretch.
admit I'm rooting for Bolles in part because of that quick-hit profile I did on him from Dove Valley in the weekend of the
2017 draft. I'm proud of it for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I managed to put it together, tracking down other figures
in his life and career, in about 36 hours.
Bolles' story is compelling.
Read my Denver Post online version, with pictures, here.
To read just the text, continue:
April 28, 2017
In August 2011,
Greg Freeman was in his company truck in Lehi, Utah, about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City.
The owner of a garage door installation and service company who dabbled as a high school lacrosse coach, Freeman
spotted a teenager he had known for years, first coaching him in lacrosse as far back as seventh grade; and then as his own
children and wife, Emily, helped tutor the kid through high school.
who had just turned 19 and had graduated from Westlake High School two months earlier, was at the side of the road near his
family home, carrying garbage sacks and duffel bags full of his belongings.
father, Grove, fed up with his son's propensity to get into trouble at the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong
people, and with the wrong things, had kicked him out, saying that for the good of all, Garett needed to find somewhere else
Freeman pulled over. He spoke with Garett and got the story. He called Emily.
He explained the situation and asked his wife: "What do you want me to do?"
At the Broncos' Dove Valley headquarters Friday, Emily Freeman, 47, recalled her reaction.
The Freemans had four children of their own, two boys - including a son, Josh, in the same graduating class as Garett
at Westlake - and two girls. They both knew Garett fell far short of qualifying for a halo. Yet they were about to add a third
"I hit my knees and prayed," Emily said. "I thought, 'God will
know. He'll know what's right for Garett, he'll know what's right for our kids.' ... It was clear as day. 'Bring him home.'
I said, 'Greg, put his stuff in the truck and bring him home.' "
Friday, Greg Freeman, 49, was only a few minutes removed from being teary-eyed as the Broncos' 2017 first-round draft choice,
Utah tackle Garett Bolles, thanked the couple he now calls his parents at his introductory news conference at the team's headquarters.
Bolles was the NFL's No. 20 overall choice, the first offensive lineman taken. And this was all less than six years after
he literally had nowhere to go ... and ended up with the Freemans.
was struggling with growing up," Greg recalled. "He was known by the city police and things of that nature by first
name and he knew them by first name. He did have an issue with vandalism and spent the night in the jail, and so, yeah, he
was a wayward kid needing some love and guidance."
Said Emily: "Even
behind all of the hard things that were going on at home and with the law, and everything he was facing, you just saw inside
there was a kid with so much potential. He just needed someone to tell him it was there."
Grove Bolles works in real estate financing and has remained in Garett's life since that night, and attended the
draft in Philadelphia on Thursday as part of Garett's entourage. The one thing that can't be doubted: This worked out for
the best after Garett, always a handful, was adrift following his high school graduation.
"He had a pretty good senior year in high school football," Grove said Saturday. "Not quite good enough
to be a college player, but you could see that that talent and the future was there. He kind of struggled with not having
a landing board out of high school. His two older brothers, Kyle and Weston, served LDS missions and he wasn't quite sure
if he was ready for that on the maturity level. He wasn't quite sure he was ready for the workforce and what he wanted to
"So he decided to start partying. It got pretty out of hand."
Grove and his wife had split up the year before and as a single father, Grove still had Garett
and his two younger brothers and sister in the household.
a real hands-on dad," he said. "I've been an integral part of his life, his whole life. I've probably spent more
time with him than any of my other children because he needed it. We've always been very close in that regard. When he started
spinning out of control, we had a lot of talks about maturation and focus and direction and being patient in life's process
and understanding he was going to have to find himself and be more disciplined in his choices. Well, he chose to hang around
a bunch of knucklehead kids who were pretty bad kids."
he felt as if he had lost control of his son.
"I wouldn't say
his partying was exceptional or extraordinary," he said. "Typical things of young boys trying to find themselves
in life. Drinking, a little bit of drugs. But his disrespect at home had gotten off the charts. ... It was understandable
what he was doing, but it certainly wasn't acceptable. Finally, one day I came home on a Saturday morning and there were three
of his buddies in his room who were forbidden to be in my house. Two of those kids went on to prison and jail."
Grove said he told Garett's buddies to get out of the house.
Then he turned to Garett.
"I said, 'I'm going to give you four hours to
get your stuff out of the house, and when I come back, if you're here, I'm going to get you arrested for trespassing.' He
said, 'You're kidding, Dad.' I said, 'No, this has come to an end. You need to get out of the house. I'll still keep being
your dad, still love you, still going to support you, but you can no longer live here. You're upsetting the household, you're
not helping, your brothers and sister don't like you being around right now, you need to find someplace else to live. I'll
be there for you, but you can't live here.'"
Grove said he emphasized
that if Garett got his act together and showed he could be respectful long-term, he could return to the family's home. But
not until then.
When Garett moved in with the Freemans, Greg and Emily declared there were three
rules. Garett would attend weekly services at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he would tithe 10 percent of
any income he made to the church, and he would turn off and turn over his phone every night.
"Garett and I have a real interesting relationship," Emily said. "He'll tell you he's scared of me,
which is funny, my kids laugh so hard. But he knows when I tell him something, I'm serious about it. When he came in, I said
there won't be any warnings. I said, 'You break one of these rules and we'll help you find somewhere else to live.' I wasn't
going to leave him on the street. He never did break them. He went to church every single Sunday. He paid his tithing. None
of the kids that worried me came around. There were other battles along the way that we would go through and work out one
As Grove Bolles spoke Saturday, he was very enthusiastic in his praise of the
Freemans and while expressing gratitude for what they have done with their rules that Garett accepted in reassessing his life.
"Garett would call me frequently, sometimes several times a day and say he was adjusting
to a new household, new rules, a new environment," he said. "I said, 'That's Emily and Greg's house, I know what
kind of household they have, it's a great place, you need to adjust and abide by their rules. But you can't come home.' I
said, 'I'm here for you, I'm still your dad, I'm still going to love you, that's where you need to be right now.'
"I think it's a classic example of what a mother- and father-run household can do as
compared to a single-parent household. ... I was completely involved in his life and all his activities. I want to focus on
the positive, what's Garett's made of his life and how Greg and Emily have helped. I've been there supporting him unwaveringly
the whole time. I didn't abandon him. I didn't disown him. If anything, I was more involved in his life than ever. But I had
to support Greg and Emily in their efforts because that was his last chance. I saw that and he saw that."
Greg Freeman noted: "His real father put him out for lessons of good love. Grove is still
a good friend of ours. At that point, Garett needed a different direction, and I happened to be there."
The lore is that, before all that happened, Garett was "kicked out" of five schools
as he was raised in Lehi. That's misleading because it treats suspensions as expulsions.
"I just fought a lot," Bolles said in a conversation in the lobby outside the Broncos' position meeting
rooms Friday. "I had a lot of anger, because there was a lot of turmoil at my house."
Struggling at times because of attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADDH), Garett transferred from Lehi
High to the new Westlake High during his junior year. At Westlake as a senior football player, he got caught up in that vandalism
incident at Lehi - his former school.
"I spray-painted my archrival high school,"
Bolles said sharply. "Whatever you want to think of that, you can. I was just a high school kid playing a high school
prank that went wrong so I don't really think about it. That stuff's in the past. I'm going to bury it and never bring it
back up. I'm a Denver Bronco and that stuff's behind me. Now I have to work with a team to make them better and make me better."
Michael O'Connor at the time was, and still is, the athletic director at Westlake.
"He can be a character at times, as everyone knows," O'Connor said of Bolles. "All
the things he went through and all he's done to make his life better, it shows a lot about who he is. But he and a couple
of kids obviously didn't make the right decision then and they spray-painted (Lehi's) turf field. That was at the very beginning
of the season, so he ended up having to sit out a few games. That flustered him, and he's a passionate kid. He's emotional,
and everything comes from his heart right away. I know they got fined and the kids had to pay for it. There were three or
four of them, all suspended.
"He wasn't on track to graduate. But something
sparked right after football season. ... He got his work done and then some and he graduated. We could have given up on him.
We didn't give up on kids."
As he played football and lacrosse and also met the
Freemans and others for tutoring during his high school years, Bolles talked about someday playing in the NFL. (Westlake didn't
have a lacrosse program. Freeman was the lacrosse coach at Lehi. So even after Bolles transferred to Westlake, he played high
school lacrosse for Freeman at Lehi.)
Emily Freeman, among others, reminded Garett that
academically he wouldn't pass the NCAA's muster to receive a scholarship. He was a decent high school football player, but
lanky and immature physically. His NFL talk seemed complete fantasy.
the next 18 months, after moving in with the Freemans, Garett worked for Greg as a garage-door technician. He not only liked
the work, he became very good at it. "It's my passion," he said. "It's something I love to do. Anyone out there
that needs help with their garage door, call me, I'll be there."
Greg: "My thought was this guy probably will take over this business and be in the garage-door business his whole adult
Starting in early 2013, Bolles also spent nearly a year on an LDS mission to
Colorado. He officially was based in Colorado Springs, but spent much of his time in Pueblo.
"I loved Pueblo," he said. "They're great people down there. The food's outstanding; they put the
green chili on the burgers and they smother burritos. Fat food for offensive linemen like me. I loved them; I have so many
friends and friendships that always will play a big role in my life."
to the Freeman home in early 2014, he again worked with Greg's company. But by then, he had grown and gained a lot of weight.
As he played on an adult team in a summer lacrosse league, with Greg as a teammate, he displayed eye-popping speed and athletic
ability for a big man.
With encouragement from Grove, who did some checking
with a football coach friend, and from the Freemans, Garett and Emily Freeman ended up meeting with a Brigham Young University
assistant coach in Provo. The coach summoned Snow Junior College coach Britt Maughan to meet Bolles, and Maughan invited him
to attend the start of preseason practices on what amounted to a tryout.
Freemans told Garett, OK, if he earned a scholarship at the junior college program in Ephraim, Utah, great. If he didn't,
it was back to the garage-door business.
"My mom told me, 'If you have cleats on you,
you're the first one on the field and the last one off, you run everywhere,' " Bolles said. "That's what I did.
I kept running and doing what I needed to do to make myself successful."
got that scholarship, and after his freshman season, it was obvious he was capable of playing at the major-program level.
In March 2015, he attended Snow's "True Badger Night."
a dance, and then you go into the bell tower and it's a big kissing frenzy," he said. "I had a warm feeling to go
and there she was, and I told her, 'Let me show you how a real man kisses.' That's what happened."
"She" was Natalie Williams.
"She gave me her
phone number and I thought it was one of those when girls give you fake numbers, but it was the right number," Bolles
Now Natalie Bolles, she also was at Dove Valley on Friday.
"The first night we hung out, I asked him about his life because it was my first time meeting him," she
said. "He just told me his life story. Like everything. I just saw the passion and the caring person that he is. I cried
when he told me his story. I said this guy is so sweet, he's so nice, he's a guy I would like to keep hanging out with."
He even told her about garage doors. Really. "He loves to talk about it," she said.
"That was one of his favorite things. If you ask him anything about a garage door, he'll tell you how to fix it, where
to get it, how long it will last." She added something that's especially interesting in light of his ADDH struggles.
"Once he retains information, it's there," she said.
engaged in June 2015, married in December 2015 and now are the parents of 4-month-old son Kingston, who was in "Lion
King" Garett's arms when the Broncos' top draft choice joined NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the stage in Philadelphia
on Thursday. Kingston also was with his parents at Broncos headquarters Friday.
a sophomore at Snow, Bolles was the Western States Football League's offensive player of the year. As a tackle.
Once planning to attend BYU, he decided to consider other options after he became one of the
most highly sought junior college players in the country. Sifting through offers from power five programs, he chose the backyard
school, Utah, and was an all-Pac-12 choice as a junior last season before declaring for the draft.
"He had a strong desire to be the best and is willing to put in the time afterwards," Utah offensive line
coach Jim Harding said. "If we would have an individual period, and he maybe didn't feel like he got the technique down,
he would grab me after practice and ask to work that technique again."
Did he see any of the troubled kid that Bolles once was?
I didn't, and that's what I told the scouts," Harding said. "I can't say that about every kid I have in the offensive
line, but on Friday and Saturday night, I'm not wondering what Garett Bolles is doing or if he's doing the right thing. Nothing
that is in his past ever showed up when he was at Utah. ... He got married when we were still recruiting him, and he's been
with Natalie ever since he came to campus, and that's a real stabilizing influence for him.
"The Freemans are a tremendous positive influence on him, and I think it's tremendous where Garett is going
because it's the closest place it could have been to Utah. Emily and Greg have done wonders for him."
It's a story that doesn't need to be made up.
July 20, 2019
Denver's own Dan Ficke
head hoops coach
at Belmont Abbey
Dan Ficke at Belmont Abbey
The Ficke family
has gone full circle at Belmont Abbey College, just west of Charlotte.
Crusaders -- a Division II program playing in the Conference Carolinas -- named Denver's own Dan Ficke, 32, their new head
men's basketball coach, succeeding Billy Taylor, who left to become an assistant coach at Iowa.
Dan's father, Bill Ficke, proprietor of Big Bill's New York
Pizza in Centennial, is an iconic figure in the Colorado sports community -- and beyond. Bill knows everyone and everyone
knows Bill. And it's not only because he's a former Nuggets assistant coach. His 9/11 "Day of Giving" at Big Bill's,
with free food for voluntary contribiutions to the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation, annually raises six figures for Colorado
cancer organizations and his heart is huge.
In 2007, JoAnn and Bill's son, Dan, then playing for Loyola (Maryland), delivered his mom's
eulogy and there wasn't a dry eye in the church.
felt, and still feel, as if we have watched Dan grow up, including at Regis Jesuit and Loyola and beyond.
So now we have all the more reason to be proud.
Dan's hiring at Belmont Abbey hire has been in the loop
for several weeks, but Dan arrived at Belmont midweek and the official announcement came Thursday.
Before his collegiate career at Loyola, Dan played at Aurora's Regis Jesuit.
Most recently, he has been an assistant for four seasons at the University of Denver, under Joe Scott and
Prior to DU, Dan worked in the programs at Wake Forest and Loyola.
Big Bill not only played at Belmont Abbey, he played there under legendary coach Al McGuire, whose first head coaching
job was there from 1957-64. Bill already was ticketed for fall induction into the school's Hall of Fame.
this is a Ficke family return to the school.
"It's hard to put
into words how incredibly blessed I feel to have that opportunity," Dan told me from Belmont on Saturday. "My dad
is probably, outside of my wife, my best friend and he's definitely my role model. I've walked in his very large footsteps
for a very long time. So to be able to go back there to the school where he played and has such great memories of, it means
everything for my first head coaching position to be at the place where he played college basketball. It seems like a divine
intervention to be there."
Bill was ecstatic.
"Next to the day I got married to my wonderful wife, and then when my son was born, and then
when I saw him become a father, I'd have to say it's all right up there," Bill told me. "Whoever thought 57 years
later, there'd be a Ficke with the basketball team at Belmont Abbey? . . . The best thing that happened to Dan was his first
job was with Jeff Bzdelik at Wake Forest, and Jeff laid the foundation for his work ethic and knowledge of basketball. He
really worked with Dan and helped him grow."
also is the president of the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation. The Day of Giving, a salute of 9/11 victims and first responders,
predates JoAnn's 2007 death and subsequent formation of the foundation, and has raised $1.2 million overall.
info on the JBFCF and on Bill and JoAnn's story, click here.)
Dan and his wife, Jordan, have 20-month-old
twins, William Winslow and Sloane Smith.
Belmont Abbey athletic director Stephen Miss announced Dan's hiring. Dan had interviewed
for the job when Taylor was hired in 2016, so he was in the Crusaders' memory bank when the job opened again.
The Crusaders were 23-8 overall and 14-4 in league play last season, finishing
second to Emmanuel. So the cupboard won't be bare.
"During what was a thorough and comprehensive national search, Dan Ficke emerged as the right
individual at this time to lead Belmont Abbey College's men's basketball program," Miss said. "In addition to having
benefited from playing for and working with many exceptional coaches, Coach Ficke articulated repeatedly during the interview
process an appreciation of and conviction in our mission that positions him well to form and develop our students as they
endeavor individually and collectively to realize their full potential: body, mind, and soul."
The fact that Dan
played both high school and college basketball at Catholic schools was a plus for him in the selection process. Dan also can
benefit from Bill's and his own connections in the coaching fraternity, and in the recruiting networks. Plus, some of Bill's
former teammates are supporters of the program.
December of January, I can't remember when it was, the president of the university came out and told me they were going to
put me in the Belmont Abbey Hall of Fame," Bill said. "That's going to happen on October 12. So I said, 'Great 2019's
He laughed and added, "Now I've been upstaged by my son."
When Dan was playing at Loyola, his teammates labeled frequent visitor
Bill as "Thornton Mellon,'" after the Rodney Dangerfield character in "Back to School." Ever since, I've
pictured Bill on the Tonight Show couch, tagging on his tie and lamenting, "I tell 'ya, Johnny, I don't get no respect.
No respect at all."
On Saturday, Bill joked, "I'm going back to school,"
then added: "No, I figure about once a month I'll go out and see him and the grandkids. During the season, I'll go when
there's two or three games in close proximity and see him coach."
Dan and Bill Ficke on the Day of Giving,
JoAnn B. Ficke,
July 11, 2019
Erik Johnson got off
train at Saratoga for
the 14th time ... and went
to winner's circle
Erik Johnson with another of his horses, Crosscheck Carlos
Comical, the 2-year-old filly co-owned by Erik Johnson, Thursday won the Schuylerville
States, a Grade 3 stakes race at the famed Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the Avalanche defenseman was
there to celebrate in the winner's circle.
an unbelievable feeling to win at Saratoga," Johnson told Jeff Scott of the Saratogian. "Hats off to the entire
team that got her here. We're excited to see what the future holds. Her dam is a full sister to (2008 Travers Stakes winner)
Colonel John, so hopefully she can stretch out."
Going off as the 3-1 second favorite and ridden by Javier Castellano, Comical beat
the Todd Pletcher-trained Kiss the Girl by a neck in the 6-furlong sprint on a muddy track. Both Comical and Kiss the Girl
are daughters of successful sire Into Mischief.
The even-money favorite, Shippy, ran third.
Comical now has won both her
starts -- a maiden special weight race at Santa Anita on May 26, then the Grade 3 race for 2-year-old fillies at Saratoga
Thursday. The filly earned her connections -- that's horse racing talk -- $39,000 at Santa Anita and $82,500 on Thursday.
Bloodstock agent Dennis O'Neill generally picks out
the horses for Johnson and partners to buy, and they're usually trained by Dennis' brother, renowned trainer Doug O'Neill.
In addition to Johnson's ERJ Racing, the other co-owners for Comical are listed as
Gary Barber, Dave Kenney and Madaket Stables.
John Fuller, Kenney and Madaket Stables also are the co-owners of Landeskog, winner of $85,000 so far in three career starts.
The latest was the Grade 1 Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes day last month. Landeskog was not offside,
but was ninth in that race after winning once and finishing second once in earlier starts, both at Oaklawn Park in Hot
I've spoken with Johnson several times over the years about his horse racing interest, and how he managess to follow ERJ Racing's horses, even during
“It’s so easy with the
apps nowadays, you can just plug your horse into your virtual stable and then you get notifications on your phone,”
he told me. “Like if they work out or when they run. It takes no effort at all, just pick up the phone and look at it
and it takes a minute and a half to watch the race.”
By the way, Crosscheck Carlos -- the colt pictured above -- earned $136,453
in eight career starts, with two firsts and four seconds, before he was retired in 2017 because of injury.
Raised in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, Johnson first
sampled horse racing at Canterbury Park southwest of Minneapolis. "I went a handful of times," he told me. "You
just put the $2 win bets on the 20-1 shot and it's kind of fun."
there, he mainly followed the Triple Crown races then attended opening day of the Del Mar meeting, near San Diego, when he
was a high school student.
"I was kind of in awe at how big of a spectacle it
was." he said. "I followed it casually since and I'd say in the last year and a half, I got into it on the ownership
side and I've really, really enjoyed it."
Johnson has co-owned
horses with other various partners, including former NHL player and current broadcaster
Ed Olczyk; Paul Reddam, the Canadian businessman who separately owned 2016 Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquist; and Florida Panthers
owner Vinnie Viola.
Johnson's trainers also include Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.
P.S.: Bonus points for any Guy or Doll who gets the headline.
July 9, 2019
The Avalanche Tuesday announced that Jared Bednar, who had
one year remaining on his contract, to a two-year extension.
So he's under contract through 2021-22, which passes for security in a league that champions the scapegoating of
coaches in times of trial.
It's well-deserved. After
three seasons as Patrick Roy's replacement, Bednar has settled in -- as much as a first-time NHL coach (or NHL anything) can
-- as an unflappable, respected voice behind the bench, with an intuitive sense of which buttons to push.
It was a long time coming for the man from Saskatchewan.
* * *
The grain storage elevator was the tallest structure in
the village. Population fluctuated, and if the count was taken at the right time, it might crack 300. This was Elbow, Saskatchewan, halfway between Regina and Saskatoon, and elementary
school student Jared Bednar was the son
of an often transferred Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, settling in and making new friends.
Bednar was used to it.
"Every two or
three years, we'd move," Bednar told me.
Born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Bednar spent the most time in his childhood
in a big city, Humboldt, population 5,000, because his father, Wally, was stationed there twice, including when Jared was
beginning to advance through the ranks of youth hockey.
"In rural Saskatchewan, you live, breathe, eat, sleep hockey," he said.
"That's what you do. So it didn't matter what time of the year, you found a way to play, whether you're playing street
hockey on the pavement or ice rinks or outdoors on ponds. That's all we did. Well, we played other sports as well, but we
found a way to make sure we were getting our hockey in every night -- that and watching 'Hockey Night in Canada.' "
to play for the Humboldt Broncos, the local Tier II team, or maybe -- just maybe -- major junior's Saskatoon Blades. As a
big, tough defenseman who saw dropping the gloves and fighting as part of the job description, he attained both, eventually
playing four seasons in the Western Hockey League with the Blades and the Spokane Chiefs, Medicine Hat Tigers and Prince Albert
Raiders. He went unclaimed in the NHL draft and was 21 when he finished his major junior career.
"I assumed that I was going
to play at at least the American League level," he said of the NHL's "triple-A" feeder. "When that didn't
happen and I wasn't part of an NHL team and I didn't sign, I was thinking, 'What do I do now?' "
His coaches had contacts in what
then was called the East Coast Hockey League, a step down from the AHL, and he caught on with the expansion Huntington (W.Va.)
didn't know anything about the league," Bednar said. "I'm 21 years old, I'm leaving Saskatchewan and
Western Canada really for the first time to jump in my car and drive down to West Virginia and play hockey. I had no idea
what it entailed."
Bednar was a stay-at-home defenseman, even more popular with crowds and his teammates because he dropped
the gloves to avenge and defend and also because at that level, at least one good scrap a night was part of the league's identity
and box-office allure.
"It was something I could contribute to help my team, so I did it," Bednar said. "I wanted
to play and I loved my teammates."
In Huntington, the home of Marshall University, Bednar met and started dating the woman
who later would become Susan Bednar. In his third season, though, he was traded to the South Carolina Stingrays, based
"I was crushed," Bednar said.
The immediate silver lining was that his teammate, roommate and best
friend, Dan Fornell, was traded with him, and they quickly became valuable members of the Stingrays.
"We always referred to him
as 'Bedrock,' " said Rob Concannon, a Stingrays teammate who now is president of the ECHL team. "He had a cool persona
about him, and at one point he had the long hair and an earring. ... We find out that we're getting Jared Bednar and
Dan Fornell from the Huntington Blizzard and we said, 'Let's look at the guys' stats!' That first (expansion) year, Jared
was minus-82. Minus-82! So of course we were all saying, 'Who the hell are these two guys?' And then they came to town.
"I played a kind
of antagonistic role and Jared would turn to me and say, 'Coocs, you go out there and do whatever you want, I have your back.'
That's what he was. He always had your back."
As the South
Carolina Stingrays' captain,
Jared Bednar holds aloft the Patrick J. Kelly Cup.
Jason Fitzsimmons was the Stingrays' goaltender.
"He was a great
teammate," Fitzsimmons said of Bednar. "He stood up for his teammates, he spoke with his actions and he held
people accountable. I think those are things he has taken over to the coaching side."
The Bednars came to love Charleston so much, he and Susan Bednar and
their two children made it their base during Jared's subsequent hockey travels.
The Stingrays won the league's Patrick J. Kelly Cup twice
when Bednar played for them, in 1997 and 2001. In between, he had brief stints in the AHL with St. John's and Rochester,
and in the International Hockey League with Grand Rapids, but wasn't considered an NHL prospect. He didn't mind going back
to the Stingrays and winning championships.
"It was awesome," he said. "You don't know any better. I didn't know
any better. I went down there and we were drawing 10,000 fans a game, selling out our building and they're treating us like
we were an NHL team. We were Charleston's team, South Carolina's team and the fans were great."
In 2002 he was pondering whether
to play another season when Fitzsimmons, the former goalie, moved up from assistant coach to head coach. On the night of his
hiring, Fitzsimmons asked Bednar, who lived two blocks away, to come to his house for a talk. He asked Bednar to
retire and become his assistant.
"I wanted to stay in hockey and I didn't know if I was going to be able to do that as a player," Bednar said.
"Probably the biggest factor in me deciding was I had played one way my whole life. I wasn't the most talented, but I
was real competitive. I had some anxiety at certain points in my career about fighting, but generally I fought because I was
in the moment and wanted to do it. My last year, that kind of went away. I was at a spot where I had my son and I didn't feel
that I battled to the point I did the rest of my career."
He was torn. He told himself he wanted to play one more season, return
to his passionate role and go out that way. But he told Fitzsimmons yes.
His coaching career had begun.
"I fell in love with it,"
he said. "It gave me a chance to work and learn and make a lot of mistakes."
Bednar and Fitzsimmons, who remain close, were on
the Stingrays' bench together for five seasons.
"Even though I was the head coach and he was the assistant coach, I viewed it
as being co-coaches," Fitzsimmons said. "I learned a lot from him. I knew I was pretty green and we were both young
kids and I knew that being an ex-goaltender, I used to talk about the game with him and I knew we had the same philosophy.
I think I kind of talked him out of playing another year and I think now, 15 years later, he's probably thankful I did that
In 2007, Fitzsimmons moved on to the Washington Capitals as a professional scout, and Bednar became South
Carolina's head coach. In Bednar's second season, the Stingrays won the Kelly Cup again in 2009, and as much as he loved
Charleston, he was wondering whether he might be able to coach at a higher level.
He signed on as an assistant to Jim Playfair, a former
NHL defenseman who was the head coach of the AHL's Abbotsford Heat.
"I quickly realized that first and foremost, our personalities
connected," said Playfair, recently named the associate coach of the Edmonton Oilers. "There just weren't many loose
parts in his coaching and his disposition as a person. His connection to the players. His attention to detail. His preparedness.
I was just really impressed that coming out of the East Coast League, that he was as well-versed in handling video tape and
teaching structure and getting his point across to the players."
Playfair recalled a conversation with Bednar after the Heat
was eliminated from the playoffs and the coaches and players were in the Calgary airport.
"I said, 'Look, you are past being an assistant coach
at this level. I think you're good enough to be a head coach,' " Playfair said. "I made some phone calls to different
general managers that I had relationships with that I thought might be looking for a good, solid, young coach."
The St. Louis Blues
hired Bednar to be head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Peoria Rivermen. So he had gone from ECHL assistant to
ECHL head coach, from AHL assistant to AHL head coach and he was on the path to the ...
Not so fast.
The Rivermen were 81-63-12 in his two seasons, but Bednar's
contract wasn't renewed.
"It was disappointing," he said. "I'd put a lot into that and I felt like it was my chance.
I'm a competitive person. I want to win and we didn't, but I thought our staff and myself put a lot into that team and I felt
we did everything we could with the group we had. ... I think deep down I worried a little bit that that was my chance as
an American League head coach. But I'm of the belief that everything happens for a reason."
As coach of the Lake
Bednar holds aloft the Calder Cup.
The Columbus Blue Jackets hired him as the second assistant for their AHL franchise,
the Springfield Falcons. After two seasons, Falcons head coach Brad Larsen -- a former Colorado winger -- moved up to the
Blue Jackets' staff, andBednar was a head coach again. The Blue Jackets' affiliation switched to the Lake Erie Monsters
in Cleveland for 2015-16, and the Monsters stormed through the AHL playoffs and won the league's Calder Cup. Bednar signed
a new two-year contract with the Blue Jackets' organization, but after Roy's stunning Aug. 11, 2016 resignation, the Avalanche
interviewed Bednar and hired him two weeks later.
He kept his poise through his painful introduction to the NHL, the dreadful
48-point season in 2016-17, and Joe Sakic kept the faith, conceding the rebuild in progress had placed Bednar at a great disadvantage.
Then came the stunning turnaround in his second season behind the bench, when the Avs jumped to 95 points.
Although the Avalanche's midseason
lull last season seemingly placed his job in jeopardy under conventional NHL standards, Sakic never came close to firing Bednar
and Colorado recovered to claim its second straight No. 8 Western Conference seed and this time knocked off Calgary in the
And now he's under contract
for three more seasons.
July 7, 2019
Coloradans Lindsey Horan,
Mallory Pugh celebrate
Lindsey Horan, then 17 and heading into her senior year at Golden High School, is third from
left, wearing a gray shirt and carrying her backpack, at a Colorado Rush practice in Littleton during the 2011 women's World
I'm not going to dwell on the negative
here. But I admit I was both surprised and disappointed Sunday morning when I heard that coach Jill Ellis' starting lineup
for the USWNT's championship game meeting with The Netherlands didn't include midfielder Lindsey Horan of Golden.
Instead, Ellis went
with Sam Mewis.
Horan, the reigning MVP in the National
Women's Soccer League with the Portland Thorns, didn't play in the 2-0 win that will be -- and deserves to be -- much-celebrated
from coast to coast.
It could have been even more
of a boost for the NWSL, which began play in 2013 as the third attempt to make a women's pro league a thriving part of the
American sports scene, if the league's MVP had been more visible in the tournament and especially the title game.
Horan even talked about the possible impact on the struggling NWSL in an Associated Press story as the championship game approached.
But Horan didn't play. Neither did the other Coloradan on the roster, Mountain Vista
graduate Mallory Pugh.
Lindsey Horan in Portland Thorns uniform, and with David Beckham
when they both played for Paris Saint-Germain teams.
I've done a handful of stories on Horan over the years, as
far back as when she was a Parade High School All--American as a junior at Golden. That was quite a trick, considering she
didn't play high school soccer, but instead concentrated on the Colorado Rush program, including playing on boys' teams. I
wrote more on her through her choice to bypass a college soccer scholarship at North Carolina and turn pro to play for Paris
Saint-Germain. I caught up with her after she established herself as one of the stars of the French league. I've followed her from afar since she returned to North America
to play for the fledgling NWSL and become even more entrenched as a standout in the national program.
The picture above is from my visit to a Rush practice in Littleton,
during the 2011 women's World Cup in Germany.
My mission that day was to get the reaction of several of Colorado's top young players to the U.S. victory
over Brazil in the quarterfinals. I spoke with Horan; Wheat Ridge High's Annie Kunz, who went on to be a track star instead
at Texas A&M; Morgan Kennedy and Morgan Stanton. They all mentioned they hoped the World Cup exposure would help women's
soccer, and we hear it every four years. (Same with the men's program.)
OK, this time it should mean the addition of a Colorado
franchise in the NWSL, which now has nine franchises, with USA Soccer assigning the players to the various rosters and paying
them. Bring home Horan and Pugh (left), who plays for the Washington Spirit, as initial draws.
But for now ... bring on the parade.
On Sunday, Horan and Pugh accepted post-game award ceremony congratulations from a
line of officials that included French president Emmanuel Macron, and it struck
me that he now has been part of honoring three Colorado women over the past five weeks. Keep scrolling to come to the story about 97-year-old former combat nurse Leila Morrison of Windsor, who came
ashore at Omaha Beach and was at the 75th D-Day anniversary ceremony at Normandy last month.
June 17, 2019
came ashore at Omaha Beach, too:
WWII nurse Leila Morrison back in
D-Day visit to Normandy
Leila Morrison in Normandy, signing the jacket of Best Defense Foundation program director
Ralph Peeters, who lives in The Netherlands. (Photo courtesy Ralph Peeters)
Leila Morrison is seventh from left (in white pants) among the Best Defense Foundation-escorted
veterans on Omaha Beach. (Best Defense Foundation photo)
On June 6, the 75th anniversary of D-Day,
former Army nurse Leila Morrison looked out over Omaha Beach.
"I just couldn't believe it," Morrison told me Monday. "It
was so different from 75 years ago, when we arrived. There wasn't anything recognizable except maybe the sand on the beach.
It brought back so many emotions and everything else you had inside of you."
Morrison is 97 and since 2010 has lived
in a senior citizens' home in Windsor, between Fort Collins and Greeley.
This often is lost in the narrative, but Leila (then known as Leila
Allen) and other Army nurses came ashore shortly after the D-Day landings and moved with the battle lines and the U.S. troops
across Europe, working under trying conditions in operating "rooms" that actually were triage tents. With the 118th
Evacuation Hospital, she witnessed both the carnage of war and, at the Buchenwald concentration camp, the results of the horrific
actions of Nazi Germany in implementing the unspeakable "Final Solution."
Russell Pickett, 19 when he made it through German fire
reach Omaha Beach, at the landing site.
(Best Defense Foundation photo)
the only woman among the 14 U.S. veterans of the Normandy campaign taken to France for the D-Day commemoration by the Best Defense Foundation, a remarkable organization founded and run by former San Diego Chargers linebacker Donnie Edwards. The group sat behind President
Donald Trump at the official commemoration ceremony, and Trump introduced and hugged one member of the party, Russell Pickett,
who as an 19-year-old private in the 29th Infantry Division was among the first to arrive on shore, braving the German fire.
French president Emmanuel Macron helped Pickett stand.
"Today, believe it or not, he has returned to these shores
to be with his comrades," Trump said of Pickett. "Private Pickett, you honor us all with your presence."
Leila Morrison with French children
(Best Defense Foundation photo)
was sitting nearby.
"There are very few of us left from World War II," she said.
"They told us while we were there that we were probably the last World War II folks who would be there for a public ceremony,
and it really was a big one."
The commemoration ceremony was the highlight of the Best Defense Foundation's
10-day trip, which also took the veterans to Paris and other and other French cities and sites.
"It was quite a trip, especially for
an old woman," Morrison told me. "It's taken me longer to get over than I thought. It was a schedule for a teenager.
But we made it and I'm thankful I could. We were treated like royalty. The French people respected us and gave us every courtesy
possible. They were just happy to serve us. Even though it's three generations later, the people seemed to really be willing
to remember it and they're teaching their children about what happened. We went to a couple of schools and the children really
welcomed us and had made little banners. They seemed to know and understand quite a bit about World War II."
The Best Defense Foundation, which takes veterans back to the sites of their combat, came across her story and invited her on the momentous 75th anniversary
She met the group in Los Angeles and they flew -- in First Class, thanks to upgrades from United Airlines -- to Paris
and eventually ended up in Normandy.
Leila Morrison, center, is surrounded by
other Coloradans, from left: Julie Mann, Lilly Schroeder,
Brooke Moser, Quinn Schroeder, Carrie
(Photo courtesy Marc Moser)
Activists who support Edwards include Jake Schroeder, who is the head of Denver's Police Activities League and
sings the National Anthem at Avalanche games; and Avalanche television broadcaster Marc Moser. They have become close
friends of Ralph Peeters, the Best Defense Foundation's Netherlands-based program director.
Both Moser and Schroeder were at Normandy
for the 75th anniversary with their daughters and interacted with Morrison.
beloved among Best Defense Foundation personnel and charmed the young people meeting the American visitors.
"She was an inspiration and a lovely
lady to have on the program," Peeters told me. "She was an ambassador for all nurses who served in World War II."
another Foundation program director involved with the trip, said Morrison "was the sweetest and nicest person there.
An absolute angel! All the boys loved her!"
Raised in Blue Ridge, Georgia, Morrison entered the Army Air Corps
as a nurse after her graduation from nursing school in 1943. Her training was at Lowry Field in Denver and Santa Ana Air Base,
and then Camp Bowie in Texas. There, she was shifted to the Army and soon was commissioned as an officer. Also while
at Camp Bowie, she met a dashing Army officer named Walter Morrison at a dance and turned down his virtually immediate marriage
proposal, saying she couldn't get married while a war was raging. But they remained in touch.
Leila Morrison's Army uniform and medals
(Photo courtesy AJ Frankson /
She was transported to Scotland on the coverted (and packed) Queen Elizabeth,
went through additional training and briefly was stationed in England before she was assigned to the 118th Evacuation Hospital.
Then she and other nurses traveled on a British ship, the Southampton, to Omaha Beach.
Morrison said it was "a couple of months"
after the D-Day landings. The battle lines had moved on, but the goal was for the medical personnel in the unit -- including
40 doctors and 40 nurses -- to catch up.
"We could not come in very close, because of the mines and sunken
ships still there in the harbor," she said. "So we had to swing off this little, bitty ship on this rope ladder.
Some GIs were there in this little LST (Landing Ship, Tank) boat. I think that's the name of it. It opens up in the front.
We went in on that, and we walked out of it onto the beach. There was a two-and-a-half-ton truck there, and that's what we
toured Europe in, all the rest of the time. They took us down to a small town there in Normandy and then we proceeded on to
where the lines were to set up our hospital."
moved through France, Luxembourg (in the Battle of the Bulge), Germany and Czechoslovakia.
"It was all in tents," she said.
"We lived in tents. The hospital was in tents. It was all a bunch of tents with a big red cross on top."
to identify it as a hospital, making it off limits for bombing under international law.)
In tents, the unit treated the seriously wounded, hoping to get them alive to better facilities, usually
station hospitals. Yes, think a M*A*S*H unit -- but even more makeshift and more on the move.
"Our hospital worked like a big emergency room" she told me. "We only
took emergencies. If we thought a soldier would not make it back to a station of a general hospital, we took them and brought
them out of shock and stopped their hemorrhaging for surgery. We gave many, many units of blood plasma. There was no preservation
of whole blood at that time, so the next best thing was blood plasma. It was a powder we had to mix with sterile water. We
gave that to almost all of them."
When I asked her
about following the battle lines, she responded: "Many times we didn't even know where we were. It was a complete blackout,
of course, and we traveled a lot at night. We'd say, 'Where are we?' And most of us would say, 'Well, I don't know. Somewhere
in Germany or somewhere in France.'"
Veteran Pete Shaw and Leila Morrison on the trip to Normandy
Defense Foundation photo)
Eventually, they arrived at Weimar, Germany and the site of the
notorious Buchenwald concentration camp. It had just been liberated.
"Some things I didn't believe,"
she said. "We pulled into the town and set up our tents and we were told that we would be moving on the next day. Then
they told us that evening, 'Buchenwald is just across the stret here, you could walk over there,' They said, 'You girls be
ready in the morning because we're going to have to go down there and help out.' The next morning, we were ready to go and
they came and said, 'You girls can't go today. The doctors are already down there and the conditions are too deplorable for
you girls. You have to wait until tomorrow.' So that's what we did.
"The next day we went down and they had it cleaned up -- I guess
that's what you would call it -- to a certain extent, and we saw things that I still hav a hard time believing. The poor people."
They saw the
crematorium, stacks of bodies and emaciated survivors.
"The crematorium, they had it worked out like a factory of murder,"
she said. "It was a two-story place and they had eight ovens on each side of this brick crematorium."
surrender and and after returning to the U.S., Morrison was told she would be deployed in the upcoming invasion of Japan.
But that nation surrendered in August 1945.
The storybook wartime romance had a happy ending. Leila married Morrison,
who served in George Patton's U.S. Third Army. They were married for 65 years before Walter's death. Leila was a civilian
nurse for 30 years, and she came to Windsor from Georgia to be near her son, Wally, and his family.
For many years, Morrison said, she didn't
talk much about her wartime experiences with anyone but he husband.
"The two of us could talk about it and understand," she said.
"But just didn't talk to other people about it," she said. "I hear people say, 'Oh, my grandpa served, but
he wouldn't talk about it.' We didn't either, for years. We had two daughters and a son and my daughter asked years later,
'Well, Mom, why didn't you tell us some of it? You never mentioned it to us.' It was all such a horrible thing and my husband
and I could talk to each other. He understood. We had an outlet for the two of us because we could share it."
Leila Morrison is third from left in this shot from the Many 2018
Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington D.C. She's with
four women veterans from the Vietnam
War era and one from the Korean War era.
The past 13 months have been dizzying for Morrison. She was one of 123 veterans who were part of the Honor
Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington D.C. in May 2018, the next-to-last trip for that organization before it shut down
in the wake of the death of Col. Stan Cass, its founder and organizer, then was rebooted as High Plains Honor Flight.
Next, in a February ceremony at her retirement home in Windsor, she
was one of six World War II veterans with Colorado connections who received the French Legion of Honor Medal for their service
in Europe. I previously profiled Harry Maroncelli,
Bill Powell, Philip Daily and Joe Graham, and will merge this piece with
that to make it a single five-veteran group profile here.
Other members of the Best Defense Foundation group received the medal while they were in France.
Honoring Morrison and the others was part of a labor of
love for Donnie Edwards and the Best Defense
Foundation, who earlier in the year escorted
a group of surviving veterans to Iwo Jima.
During the trip to France, he told the Chargers'
web site: “I am very honored and proud to bring these great
men back to Normandy and also very proud to be bringing back a WWII nurse who served in triage tents, nursing our wounded
men. We’ve attended ceremonies, parades, visited schools, and several of our veterans will be receiving their French
Legion of Honor Award. We will spend time with the vets in private settings where they are able to reconnect with each other
and share memories and stories.”
Donnie Edwards on Omaha Beach with vet Pete Shaw
(Best Defense Foundation photo)
The group also visited cemeteries and laid
wreaths. But it all came back to Omaha Beach, the focal point of the trip.
"When we first pulled up, I looked
out there at that big ocean," Morrison said. "It was a cloudy day. The wind was blowing. I thought, 'Oh, my goodness,
how in the world did I ever have nerve enough to swing off the side of that ship?' I just couldn't believe I had done that.
Of course, 22 years old and 97 years old makes a little bit of a difference there."
Leila Morrison and the other veterans on the Best Defense Foundation Trip at an
school in Carentan. (Best Defense Foundation photo)
At the Carentan elementary school, Leila Morrison talks to the children.
Defense Foundation photo)
In Paris, Leila Morrison is seventh from left among the veterans.
Defense Foundation photo)
Leila Morrison in early 2018, on the Honor
Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington DC (Photo courtesy Tami
Honor Flight Northern Colorado)
with her son, Wally, during the
Honor Flight Northern Colorado trip to Washington DC in early 2018.
(Photo courtesy Tami Stieger, Honor
Flight Northern Colorado)
July 1, 2019
MacKinnon apparently fine
On the opening day of unrestricted free
agency Monday, the Colorado Avalanche made a handful of moves.
If you're looking for a breakdown of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's faceoff
proficiency or Joonas Donskoi's upside, there are other outlets for that.
By the end
of the day, when Joe Sakic was made available for the second time on a conference call, I had two questions I couldn't get
of my head.
This was after the Avalanche had finished off Monday by sending Tyson Barrie, the signing rights to Alexander Kerfoot
and a sixth-round pick to Toronto for efficiently abrasive forward Nazem Kadri, fringe prospect
defenseman Calle Rosen and a third-round pick.
The Avs, while collectively gritty, sometimes are too nice. Kadri is not nice. Not that
there's anything wrong with that.
My first question involved the fact that the Avalanche's best player,
and one of the top handful of players in the NHL, Nathan MacKinnon, has just finished the third season of a seven-year, $44.1
million deal he signed in the summer of 2016.
In other words, he's locked in at $6.3 million a season through 2022-23.
I've even heard some Denver (radio) folks muse that, of course, the Avalanche will have to tear up that deal and
give MacKinnon a renegotiated contract, because it's the right and fair thing to do.
The problem with that, of course, is: You
can't do that.
In football, the frequent focal point of preoccupation in Colorado, yes, you can do
In hockey, you can’t.
The NHL's "hard" salary cap, in place because the league was
willing to shut down for the entire 2004-05 season to get it; and because the NHLPA both panicked and caved, forbids renegotiations.
consider buyouts renegotiations.
This also is underplayed: When MacKinnon
signed the seven-year deal, he had yet to break through. The Avs were showing faith in him.
He was a No. 1 overall draft choice who
had won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 2014, but it still was clear that the perception
of the 2013 draft at least then remained accurate -- there were no "generational" players available in his draft
When he signed the deal, he had scored 58 goals in his first three seasons. That isn't
with him in a conference call.
And he said:
"It was very weird signing it today.
I hesitated before I sent it back. ... Just thinking where I'm from and that kind of money. It's just crazy to me, but I'm
very lucky and I know I'm very fortunate."
So he’s not going to whine now –
when he is perhaps one of the most “underpaid” players in major league sports, measured against the evolved economic
Also, he was awful in the first year of the deal, getting 16 goals in 2016-17 as the Avalanche stumbled to 48 points
and the worst bang-for-the-buck season in NHL history, considering it was pushing the cap ceiling.
Since, he has been terrific. A finalist,
he deserved to win the Hart in 2017-18 and without getting into silly and unknowledgeable hair-splittting, he was every bit
as good last season. He has become a
OK, that's the recent background.
Going back farther, Sakic is only a few years removed from emphasizing "structure"
in payroll issues. Bsck then, he said something along these lines repeatedly: We have to be mindful of our stucture.
It wasn't just about money and the cap, but money was the internal scorekeeping mechanism.
At $6 million a year in a five-year contract signed in 2013, Matt Duchene was the "ceiling."
Erik Johnson signed a long-term deal at
-- guess what -- $6 million, and I remember him mentioning that "structure" himself.
Semyon Varlamov's five-year deal, signed the same offseason as Duchene's, came in at
$29.75 million. (You do the per-year math.)
O'Reilly and his family were intransigent in seeking to go far above that Duchene ceiling in talks about an extension, the
issue was that much-cited "structure." So he was traded to Buffalo and soon signed a seven-year, $52.5 million extension.
(Add the 4, carry the 2, divide by pi ... that's $7.5 million a season for the reigning Conn Smythe and Frank Selke winner.)
There is no disputing that if the Avalanche had signed him to a similar deal, the raised benchmarks would have affected the
franchise to this day. It frustrates me when intelligent, well-meaning folks don't get that this isn't about being "cheap";
it's about managing the cap and, to a lesser point, egoes.
In discussing the Avalanche free agency
signings Monday afternoon in the first conference call, Sakic said he was willing to be very aggressive in both term and money
for one UFA. (Guess who ... )
Later Monday, I brought up that "structure" backgound and
asked Sakic if keeping his best player his highest-paid player was an issue or consideration at all, and whether he had had
any conversations with MacKinnon and his camp about the issue.
"Absolutely," Sakic said. "Nathan just wants to win. It's a different landscape right now than just
a few years ago. That's where all these restricted free agents are going now ... Nathan just wants to win."
Sakic -- who
himself signed a front-loaded $21-million, 3-year offer sheet with the Rangers that was designed to make it impossible for
the Avalanche to match -- conceded that RFA Mikko Rantanen would get a major deal, and it doesn't take hours of calculations
to conclude he will be higher-paid than MacKinnon at some point in the next four seaons.
"That's just the way the league has
gone the last couple of years," Sakic said. "The contracts have gone up, and there's new structures for all these
question I had revolved around the issue of whether Colorado could get away with having three "undersized" defensemen
-- regardless of how talented they are -- among its top six. At some point, flashiness aside, the task includes support of
the goaltender in the defensive end. Yes, that's probably influenced by my buying into the league's traditional views in all
my years of covering the NHL. Defensemen are big and physical. (Right, Patrick?) I'm teasing myself here, but I was apoplectic
when the Avalanche paired Cale Makar -- hours removed from the Frozen Four title game -- with Samuel Girard in the playoffs.
Could it work long-term, with both of them, plus Barrie, one of the most talented offensive
D-men in the league, in the top six?
I'm not so sure.
I also wonder if Sakic was concerned about that, too.
I still wonder
if it were sustainable in the long term and whether there was more to the trade of Barrie than the fact that his four-year,
$22-million contract is up in a year.
So I asked Sakic if there was any component to the deal involving trying
to avoid having three undersized "D".
"No, not at all," Sakic said.
"We had no problem starting the D group with the three smaller defensmen. This is today's game, it's all about puck moving
defensemen and moving the puck up and hitting your fast forwards. Size doesn't matter any more."
I don't completely agreee with that ...
but I get it.
June 14, 2017
RIP, Pat Bowlen,
a Hall of Fame
owner and man
Among the first memories that flashed when I heard of Pat
Bowlen's Thursday night death were these:
-- A triathlon
competitor, he rode his bike to training camp. From Denver to Greeley, where the Broncos held training camp for the first 18 summers of his ownership.
-- When my father, Jerry Frei, and John Elway's father, Jack
Elway, died three months apart in early 2001, Bowlen spoke at both memorial services. He eloquently saluted the two veteran
football men who were close friends and had worked for the Broncos for many years, much of the time sharing an office at Dove
Valley and also serving as hosts for staff Happy Hour at their suite in the University of Northern Colorado's Lawrenson Hall.
They were Jack & Jerry, and Bowlen called for a symbolic toast with Jack's favorite, Sky vodka.
Those sorts of specific and personalized memories vary this morning, but whether you
just follow the Broncos or were intimately involved with the franchise, you most likely have them.
Sadly, Bowlen's upcoming induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2019
will be posthumous.
After a five-person selection subcommittee recommended his choice last August, we heard and read the recitation of his "qualifications" mostly as if
this is solely an exercise in analytics, accounting and merit points for serving on 15 league ownership committees during
the league's phenomenal economic growth .
Updating following the 6-10 record in 2018, the Broncos
still have had as many Super Bowl appearances (7) as losing seasons under his ownership.
As an influential
member of the league's television committee, he was instrumental in pushing for Sunday Night Football, a revenue and ratings
jackpot since 2000; and also in bringing the Fox network into the broadcasting mix in 1994, which pressured the rights fees
additionally into the stratosphere.
All of that undoubtedly came into play in the talking-point
consideration of contributor candidates in the meeting room at Canton last year.
is what was underplayed.
Most important, Bowlen did it right.
the top of the organization, he oversaw a mostly first-class operation for 30 years until he officially stepped aside from
an active role in acknowledgment of his Alzheimer's diagnosis.
Not all has been
Before John Elway returned to the organization as the head of the football operation,
there was toxic and counterproductive infighting within the front office and football operation.
times, because of all the maneuvering, the organization was dysfunctional and Bowlen's trust in the chain of command could
be misplaced, until he stepped in and said, "Enough..." That could be in emotional times between friends, as when
he and Wade Phillips and Shanahan parted ways, or when he was embarrassed and angered by Josh McDaniels' graceless incompetence
and immaturity and signed off on firing him during the 2010 season.
The Broncos recovered
under John Elway, who returned in 2011 as VP of football operations and added the GM title the next year. Since Bowlen relinquished
control to the Pat Bowlen Trust, president and CEO Joe Ellis has served as de facto owner, and the possible passing of the
controlling ownership torch to one of Bowlen's daughters, Beth or Brittany, remains a puzzlingly intricate soap opera.
In his active years as owner, Bowlen was not warm and fuzzy. But neither was he, as often has
been tossed out there, especially in his early days in Denver, shy or aloof.
With those he trusted or respected.
dealings with the media, he was far more accessible than sometimes has been portrayed. Plus, he was thoughtful, offering insight
and information only he could have delivered. But you had to pay attention, had to get past the somewhat soft-spoken, matter-of-fact
tone to realize just how unfiltered he was being. He answered all but the most unreasonable or brainless questions, rarely
hiding behind the no-comment cloak. Attempts since his withdrawal from an everyday role to bill him as the supreme optimist
are understandable, given the temptation to idealize his tenure, but inaccurate. He wanted to win, and he hated it when the
Broncos didn't. That especially was true when he felt his trust was misplaced.
the early years of Bowlen's ownership, affable GM John Beake could be his bad cop, in dealings both in the building and outside.
But there was a sort of winking understanding that what Beake said could be coming from Bowlen. They weren't fooling anyone.
To me, the most interesting aspect of his influence in league and broadcasting circles is that
it underscores his selectivity. Nobody tuned out Bowlen because of relentless, ego-driven bombast. When he talked, yeah, you
darned well better listen. He not only knew what to say, he knew when to say it - and whom to say it to. He was a facilitator,
but he also would call bluffs.
In the era of increased player movement, the "family"
feel within an organization is harder to nurture. Yet when Bowlen was operating as the owner, that feel could permeate the
organization even if the family, as many families do, has traumatic moments.
He is "Mr.
He was not a meddler, as is the Redskins' Daniel Snyder.
was not a former football player and astute businessman who operated as his own general manager and loved the spotlight, as
does the Cowboys' Jerry Jones.
He was the owner, working out at the Broncos' facility in
the early mornings as the players arrived, and greeting players by name as they joined the organization. He was not one of
the "guys" so much -- i.e., he wasn't a regular at the Smiling Moose or the State Armory in Greeley during
training camp -- as he was the man in charge who didn't expect pandering.
even uncomfortably, he successfully campaigned for six-county voter support for an indispensable new stadium, with more than
two-thirds of the funding coming from the public. That was 1998, shortly before voter rebellion and recognition of revenue
possibilities made predominantly privately funded stadiums more feasible.
He was a
In that sense, he was a Hall of Famer all along.
P.S., June 18
I was among the approximately 5,000 who showed up at Broncos Stadium at Mile High Tuesday
to honor Bowlen.
are my amateur pictures from the well-done and touching displays.
It was as much a tribute to the Broncos' accomplishments and first-class operation
during Bowlen's ownership tenure as it was to Bowlen himself, but the two are inexorably intertwined.
And that's the way Bowlen would have wanted it.
That's the point.
Pat Bowlen's desk
Left: Jacket signed by Broncos Hall of Famers
Right: Bowlen's famous fur coat and a more modest outfit
Left: Bowlen and Jim Nantz, Super Bowl post-game
Right: Bowlen's boots and binoculars
Left: Super Bowl L game ball
With President George H.W. Bush
On Bowlen's desk
My commentary on Pat Bowlen is
in July issue of Mile High Sports Magazine
June 27, 2019
Offseason caravan rolls on
for Tyson Jost, Cale Makar
with wheelbarrow duty
Tyson Jost and Cale Makar hauling mulch from the east-side
parking lot to trees along Stuart Street at Sloan's Park.
For three days, as the Avalanche development camp showcases the organization's recent draft choices and prospects
in what usually is a select-and-watch process, Kroenke Sports and Entertainment staff has had young Avalanche standouts Cale
Makar and Tyson Jost on a offseason promotional caravan -- dubbed the Summer Roadshow.
I'd call it a Magical Mystery Tour, escept Jost, 21, and Makar, 20, would have
no idea what that meant.
Wednesday, they went to Falcon Stadium at the Air Force Academy, the site of the Avalanche's Stadium Series outdoor game against
the Kings on Feb.15.
also made in-studio appearances on three radio stations -- KKFN 104.3 The Fan; Altitude Sports Radio (92.5 FM); and KOA (850).
On Thursday, I caught up with them at Denver's Sloan's Lake, where they pitched in
with KSE's Day of Service, with about 20 employees working on trees in the One Tree Planted project.
A total of about 375 KSE employees were in the field Thursday at 28 community projects.
Jost and Makar were assigned wheelbarrow duty, loading
up mulch with rakes and taking it to the trees on the park's east side, where KSE employees spread it out.
It was a photo op
for Altitude, obviously, but all hearts were in it -- including Makar and Jost's.
Finally, on Thursday night, they're expected to
join the Rockies for batting practice before the game against the Dodgers. As of the morning Sloan's Lake appearance, it still
was up in the air about whether they'd actually take some swings in the cage or simply be spectators.
If Makar gets a vote, he'll be in the cage.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "We'll
This is a far more common scene
on a summer weekday at Sloan's Lake than two NHL players. As they pitched in, this woman went by -- with her dog and baby.
thing to me about the Roadshow was that with more veteran stars otherwise occupied, Makar, who has yet to play a regular season
game for the Avalanche after his spectacular sophomore season at UMass and then his signing before the third game of the first
round series against Calgary; and Jost, who signed after his freshman season at North Dakota in 2017, credibly can be billed
as young faces of the franchise for the purposes of this first caravan.
"We just had such a spectacular season, and there's so much enthusiasm coming
up about next season, we wanted to kind of give everyone something over the summer," said Becca Villanueva, KSE's director
of marketing communications. "Yesterday, we went down to Air Force, and that was super-cool. For the guys, that was the
first time they'd ever seen the stadium and the new locker room. The Academy couldn't have been better hosts. Just taking
the guys down to Colorado Springs was good, because sometimes it's hard for (media) to get up here, from the Springs, Trinidad,
a lot at them over the last couple of days and they've had fun. Today, it's rakes and mulch, and yesterday it was footballs
in a stadium. Today, we have baseball later. They couldn't have had a better attitude. They've been great to work with."
Makar said, "It's been fun, it's been good. That batting practice with the Rockies is going
to be fun, too. I'm getting to spend a lot of time with Jost, so I can't complain about that. He's an easy-going guy, so it's
been a lot of fun to be around him, to toss the football around with."
Makar called the Air Force Academy setting "incredible.
It's going to be unbelievable viewing for that game. I hope I get the opportunity to play in it, but, man, it's a pretty cool
place, and will be especially when the rink is in."
Jost said he also was enjoying hmself.
"Seeing the stadium was really
cool," he said. "We'r just bombing around, and hopefully creating some more enthusiasm for the Avs. Obviously, our
goal is to win the Stanley Cup and we have a lot of the right pieces right now and I'm just happy to be a part of it."
Jost will be considered
an even more integral element in the Avalanche lineup following he trade of veteran center Carl Soderberg to Arizona, and
the picture also could change over the next few days, when the unrestricted free agent signing period opens.
Makar seems locked
in as a top four defenseman, and a possible trade of Tyson Barrie could additionally alter the situation.
At least on Thursday morning, they put on gloves and loaded and unloaded mulch.
Nobody had told them to borrow a
dog or a baby carriage for the morning.
Tyson Jost and Cale Makar arrive
at the east side of Sloan's Lake.
June 25, 2019
Matthew Stienburg hoping
follow the lead of his father,
Avalanche 2019 draftees, left to
right: D Bowen Byram, first round, No. 4 overall; C Alex Newhook, first round, No. 16 overall; C Matthew Stienburg, third
round, No. 63 overall; RW Alex Beaucage, third round, No. 78 overall; RW Sasha Mutala, fifth round, No. 140 overall; C/RW
Luka Burzan, sixth round, No. 171 overall; G Trent Miner, seventh round, No. 202 overall. D Drew Helleson, second round, 47th
overall, was arriving in Denver Tuesday night.
When Joe Sakic was a teenaged rookie with the Quebec Nordiques in 1988-89,
one of his teammates was 22-year-old center Trevor Stienburg.
Stienburg, as it turned out, wouldn't play in the NHL after that season, finishing up his career with five seasons
in the American Hockey League.
So when the Avalanche claimed his Cornell-bound son, center Matthew Stienburg (right), in the
third round of the NHL draft, at No. 63 overall, it was a bit of a "reach," all right -- a reach back in the past
for Sakic, the Colorado executive vice president and general manager.
coming off two seasons of prep school hockey at St. Andrew's College in Aurora, Ontario, joined six other members of the Avalanche's
2019 draft class for an introductory availability Tuesday at the Pepsi Center. The team's development camp starts on the ice
Wednesday at Family Sports Center.
"I might not have expected to go that early in the draft," Stienburg told me Tuesday.
"Playing in the prep school route, there were some question marks about the level I played at. There was a broad range
of where people had me ranked. There were a few teams that had me up in that area, a few teams that had me lower. For me to
go that high, I'm really excited.
"There's a few things that might have given me a chance to jump up with. This is a great
organization kind of on the upswing, and it has a Maritime connection, where I'm from. So I think it's a good fit."
That was a reference
to his hometown, Halifax, Nova Scotia -- also the hometown of Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby, who work out together there
in the offseason and annually co-star in funny Tim Hortons commercials. (Cole Harbour, often listed as Crosby's hometown,
is part of the Halifax Regional Municipality.)
"With those guys, the high-end guys, you just tag along and follow," Stienburg
said. "I've met Nathan a few times. I've been on the ice with him a couple of times and see him around the gym a lot.
He's a good guy to look up to."
Stienburg, now 18, had 71 goals in 113 games over two seasons at St. Andrew's, then
finished up last season getting a taste of the United States Hockey League, with Sioux City.
"St. Andrew's was big for
me," he said. "I kind of grew in the offensive side of the game the last two years. Coach (David) Manning did a
really good job of that. Our practices are structured, a lot of small area games and stuff to develop that side of the game.
That style of game we played really benefited me."
He is ticketed to join the ECAC program at Cornell as a freshman in 2019-20. It would
be a surprise if he doesn't stay at least two seasons.
"Being a late bloomer, I want to take as much time as I can, or as much time as
I need," he said. "The major reason to go this route might have been to give myself time. I don't want to put a
timetable on anything and rush it at all."
So how did he end up in prep school hockey, rather than Junior A or Major Junior? He
said he had a bone infection in his shoulder and hip that required surgery and set him back.
"Being an undersized guy,
I was always open to the NCAA route," he said. "Then with the kind of injuries I had my Minor Midget year, quite
honestly the Major Junior route wasn't an option at that time. So I knew I had to go back and play Midget again. And after
that second year of Midget, I went through the process with a few schools and St. Andrew's felt like the best one for me."
And now it's on to
Cornell ... with the Avs watching.
June 23, 2019
Byram obviously was
right pick at No. 4, but
be any rush
So why that picture at left on the top of a commentary about
the Avalanche's 2019 draft and its possible impact?
I mentioned this on Twitter Saturday, but in case you weren't among those who saw it and perhaps responded,
I'll bring it up again here.
picture, one of the many taken of perhaps the most iconic sequence in Avalanche history, is from June 9, 2001.
Defenseman Bowen Byram, whose name was announced Friday night
in Vancouver by the guy on the right in the photos above and below, was born four days later — on June 13,
Rob Knobenbauer of coloradoavalanche.com interviews Bryram in Vancouver, about
an hour after his selection, here.
At one point, he discusses the twist that Sakic
— raised in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby — made the choice in Vancouver, where Bryam plays major junior for
the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League.
he's a pretty famous dude," Byram said.
is a compliment: Sakic, always a Hall of Famer, always a Hart Trophy winner, always a captain raising the Stanley Cup overhead
or passing it off, isn't an ex-player in a suit.
He's an executive.
No more have I felt that than on Friday night, when he drafted a player born after
that 2001 Game 7 in Denver, which remains the single most momentous sporting event in area sports history. (Only AFC championship
games can rival it.)
For several years, we've been dealing with players being asked about such things
as the rivaly with the Red Wings and having younger guys — most notably Mikko Rantanen at one point — smile and
point out they were in diapers (if that) when the rivalry became venomous.
After the Avs ended up with the fourth pick despite having the most favorable odds of landing
the top choice in the lottery, this was as good as they could have come out — if the projections of Byram as the top
defenseman in this draft are correct.
I'm not going
to pretend to have done major scouting myself, nor will I spew material from Central Scouting as it's compiled from marathon
hours of personally watching video in the basement.
But this all sounds right.
the televised coverage of the draft for much of the two days seems to be trying to avoid conceding that, at most, only a handful
of players drafted in the seven rounds will be in the NHL in the upcoming season.
It's as if they were told not to admit that, perhaps on the theory that the casual fan wing will
lose interest if they don't buy into the fact that the draftees should be shopping for condos in the NHL markets after they're
I actually find the NHL's project,
draft and watch talent process more interesting than the NFL draft, which I have covered in New York and at team sites.
At the NFL draft, as you had the chicken scarpiriello at Carmine's on the night before,
you knew that players in the football draft would be in the league in a few months.
In the NHL, we're mainly dealing with players who might go back to major junior, who might be
headed from Junior A to NCAA hockey, or who might remain in Europe for a year or two.
Or maybe never even be signed, period.
As noted in my May 28 commentary below -- where I argue that the NBA would be well-advised to mimic some
aspects of the NHL draft -- hockey does a better job of conceding the realities tied to young players at he crossroads to
the pro game.
But now, the Avalanche taking two teeenaged
defensemen two years apart at the No. 4 overall slot, and it provides an example of how no one path works best.
Cale Makar starred for the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League -- a
Junior A league that preserved his NCAA eligibility, which wouldn't have been he case if he head played major junior -- before
the Avs claimed him at No. 4 in 2017. He was committed to play at UMass, and he followed through, playing two seasons for
the Minutemen before joining the Avs during the playoff series against Calgary after the Frozen Four championship game in
April. There was no way he could have gone from Junior A to the NHL, and all acknowledged that. His intergration into the
Avalanche postseason lineup was stunningly seamless, but that coudn't have happened without his NCAA experience.
Byram took the major junior route, for two full seapons with the Giants, before he
was drafted. Major junior's pro-like schedule and rules mimic the NHL, so those are the major reasons Byrum is far more "ready"
for the pro game than Makar would have been. But while the consensus is that Makar was terrific in his NHL bow last spring,
but his two NCAA seasons after he was drafted -- major minutes, star's role as the Hobey Baker Award winner -- were crucial.
was litttle choice with Makar. He was headed for UMass, and it did him good. Bryam can play nine games with the Avalanche
next season before his three-year entry level contract would kick in. The transition for defenseman is more difficult for
defensemen than forwards. That's a given. It doesn't meant it's impossible for a D-man to jump right in from the draft-- see
Aaron Eckblad and Victor Hedman, among others in the past 10 years -- but it' a more daunting step.
Byrum will be in
town this week, for the Avalanche's introduction of its draft picks, plus development camp. Then he'll be back for training
camp. Unless he is overwhelmingly impressive at camp and in exhibition games, and perhaps in the first nine regular-season
games, the best move for all concerned would be for Byram to spend the bulk of one more season with the Giants. The Avalanche
already will have Makar, who turns 21 on Oct. 30, and Sam Girard, 21, on the blue line. Rushing Byrum, and dropping him in
the six-man rotation too soon, would be potentially conterproductive, regardless of whether Tyson Barrie remains with the
organization or is traded.
The NHL draft process is
about looking down the road.
For Joe Sakic, executive,
there's no reason to redirect that focus.
June 8, 2019
Holy Cow! Lodo is
Coors Field at the home opener. There were quite a
few Dodgers fans there that day, too.
During the AT&T SportsNet's Rockies-Mets telecast from New York Friday night, the
periodic plugs for tickets to the upcoming Coors Field series against the Cubs came with implorations to show up and drown
out the Cubs fans.
Absolutely, the invasion of "opposing" team fans to arenas and stadiums is a sore spot in Colorado
sports circles. Celtics and Lakers. Blackhawks and Red Wings. Cubs and Cardinals. Steelers and Raiders. I'm not going to limit
it to those teams, but when they come to Denver, the crowd loyalties are the most noticeably divided.
In the recently completed season, Nuggets coach Michael Malone's most popular line was his parting shot
-- "Take that L on the way out" -- at Lakers fans at a game in Denver in late November. It was his most popular
line because it struck a nerve with Colorado fans who have had it up to ... here.
Mainly because of the sheer number
of fans involved, though, the Cubs' appearances generate the most complaints.
This has to be conceded: At least to some
degree, the invasion of "opposing" fans happens everywhere. Including when Colorado teams are on the road.
The crews in the trucks at Rockies, Avalanche and Nuggets road broadcasts usually spot and show fans displaying their Colorado
team loyalties in "opposing" venues. The fans in Avalanche sweaters high-fiving after a Nathan MacKinnon goal in
Vancouver. The fans in Nuggets sweatshirts on their feet after Jamal Murray drills a 3 in Minneapolis. The fans in Rockies
jerseys cheering the Nolan Arenado home run in St. Louis.
But they seem more isolated and rare than the huge gatherings of fans so often advertising
their visiting team favoritism in Colorado.
Sometimes, those fans of visiting teams are Colorado natives who want to be contrarian
and latch on to teams from other markets. They might be unashamed frontrunners who during winning times retroactively became
instant lifelong fans of, say, the Golden State Warriors.
Yet in the transplant-heavy state, the visiting team garb often advertises that the
fans have moved here -- and retained their past loyalties. That's OK. Except when it seems part of a strategy to not just
display it, but flaunt it. Rub our noses in it. And more.
As I'll get to in a minute, sometimes
Cubs fandom is the product of the '80s cable television world that gave them a quirky national constituency, often with a
self-deprecating sense of humor -- even when the Cubs were rotten. That's a tiny asterisk.
But that doesn't change the aggravating
reality: That "opposing" fan syndrome is never more noticeable than when the Cubs come to town.
disingenuous for franchises to complain much about "opposing" fans, given they buy their tickets and fork over the
debit cards at the concession stands, and are a significant part of the revenue base.
The major question is: At what point do the fans of the "other" teams visiting Colorado--including
the Cubs--deserve to get grief?
When they cross the line to obnoxiousness.
When they act as if they believe anyone who actually has deep-rooted affection for Colorado teams
just fell off the turnip truck.
When they act as if Colorado history didn't begin until
they did the area the favor of moving here.
This is what bugs me most of all: When they come off as
fans who care more about "their" teams now, after they have moved to Colorado, than when they lived in the "other"
It's a way to remind us: They're transplants.
previously were casual fans of "their" teams; yet they turn into passionate loyalists here, or at least when those
teams come to Denver. That's flaunting it.
I don't claim to know what percentage of the visiting team
fans fall under that. But I sense a lot of them do.
It's a gauche, lowbrow, unrealistic
view, and I should be both more pragmatic and understanding of the All-American phenomenon. Embracing one team of mercenary
athletes over another team of mercenary athletes is not the measure of commitment to a community. I know that. I should know
It's still how I feel.
Also, many of those
"visiting team" fans don't seem to grasp or care how galling it all can be to natives who are reminded at every
turn that much of the Denver-area populace is made up of transplants.
mobile society. I don't live in my native area, either, although I first came here as a high school junior. There's nothing
"wrong" with moving somewhere, whether reluctantly for work reasons or eagerly to be close to, say, skiing or family.
Affectionately reflecting on their native area? Fine. I do it, too.
why do folks move someplace, then spend much of their time aggravating natives or long-time Colorado residents by bragging
about the greatness of the place they left? If it's that important to them, why not move mountains, so to speak, to move back?
Again, there's nothing wrong with having good-natured fans
of the "opposing" team in the seats, and hearing the teasing go back and forth. To various extents, it's part of
the dynamic at every NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB game.
Harry with a Cubs fan visiting the booth.
OK, here's where I'll concede that many current Cubs
fans were products of the cable television boom years, when the Cubs played all their home games during the day and they were
broadcast on "superstation" WGN, with Harry Caray ("Holy Cow!") and Steve Stone ("Now let that be
a lesson to you young ballplayers out there...") in the booth.
a (very) young scribe writing for the Portland Oregonian, I once talked on the field at Candlestick Park with Harry
Caray for a column about that national constituency -- which included a lot of fans in Oregon.
I think it's because of day baseball," Caray told me. "That's why the country loves the Cubs. When they play at
home, they're the only team playing in the daytime. So when the Cubs come to whatever's near Portand or wherever, fans will
either ride a train or a plane or drive here, because they have a rooting interest."
The Atlanta Braves, with Skip Caray's dry wit part of the attraction, also had a national fan
pool, nurtured by superstation WTBS.
Yes, in the dark ages, national network games were rare.
There was no MLB Network. ESPN's national game contract didn't kick in until 1990.
was all before the Rockies began play as an expansion franchise in 1993.
But it all
comes back to this: Now, this week, brace for the Cubs fans. Three games. Monday through Wednesday. Lodo becomes Wrigleyville
If Gino's East and Al's Italian Beef can just put franchises in Lodo, all will be forgiven.
Honor Pat Kelly's spot
in Colorado hockey history:
Give back the trophy!
Captain Matt Garbowsky and Pat Kelly after the Loveland-based Colorado Eagles won their second
championship -- and the Kelly Cup -- in 2018. Repeatedly overlooked as the
saga played out over the weekend was that
Kelly was the coach of the NHL's Colorado Rockies.
Jared Bednar, now the Avalanche coach, holding aloft the Kelly Cup as captain of the South Carolina Stingrays.
It's obvious there is more going on behind the scenes than has been publicly disclosed.
Perhaps it's disagreement over the Colorado Eagles' departure terms from the ECHL in 2018.But this fight between the Eagles
and the ECHL, their former ""AA"-level league, has gotten silly.
Without knowing more, it's not possible or even
necessary to take sides.
But the bottom line is: Give the trophy back, Eagles.
On the way out the ECHL door, the Loveland-based franchise won the ECHL's Pat Kelly Cup for the second
consecutive time in 2018, then -- as planned -- became the Avalanche's American Hockey League affiliate, effective in the
The Avalanche didn't buy the franchise,
but took over the hockey operation as the Eagles remained under the ownership of respected developer Martin Lind.
Chris Stewart, who had been with the franchise as a coach and executive since it began
play in the Central Hockey League in 2003, stayed as president and general manager, to oversee the business side on behalf
of ownership. He no longer has to worry about player procurement, putting together a roster under a strict salary cap and
with a few trickle-down players from an NHL organization coming into play. He was a master at that in both the CHL and ECHL.
In the 2018 Kelly Cup playoffs, the Eagles celebrate after beating Fort Wayne 3-2 in overtime in Game 1 of the Western Conference
Finals. Hats are flying on the ice to commemorate Avalanche farmhand Michael Joly’s hat trick.
Here's my Mile High Sports column during the 2018 playoffs, when I attended an Eagles-Fort Wayne game in the Kelly Cup's Western Conference
finals. It runs down what was coming up, the Eagles' move to the AHL the next season.
And note that during my coversation with Stewart, he told me: "Absolutely, we want to walk out of here with that
He didn't say -- and obviously didn't mean -- it would be for good.
The ECHL says the Eagles havn't returned the trophy and the league has had to make
another one to present to the winner of the ECHL Finals, going on now between the Toledo Blades and Newfoundland Walleye.
The Eagles said they tried.
The ECHL says that ain't so.
Tongues are out fingers are pointing.
the weekend, the Eagles conceded they still had the trophy.
Here's Lind's statement, as posted on the Eagles' site.
Can't we all get along?
And the Avalanche should nudge the Eagles into getting the trophy back to the league,
for the good of hockey -- and in honor of Kelly.
near as I can tell, none of the stories highlighting the fiasco yet have mentioned that Kelly was the coach of the NHL Colorado
Rockies in 1977-78, taking them to their only playoff berth in their six seasons in Denver and for part of the next season.
Thn general manager Ray Miron -- ironically, later the founder of the Central Hockey League and the namesake of the league's
Ray Miron Presidents Cup -- let him go. (Kelly's successors were Aldo Guildoin on an interim basis for the rest of the season
and then, yes, Don Cherry in 1979-80.)
I was a young scribe at the Denver Post during all of that, and I
enjoyed covering both Kelly (as Rockies coach, at left) and Cherry as I was getting my feet wet on what would turn out to
be the first of my several stints covering the NHL.
had been a long-time minor-league player and coach and then had earned widespread praise as coach of the WHA's Birmingham
Bulls, before the Rockies hired him. This was the year "Slap Shot" came out, and there was a bit of Reg Dunlop finally
getting his chance in Kelly. (I never did tell Kelly that I was trying to capture the spirit of the thing, though.)
The Eagles have a long and praiseworthy history in Colorado, including being visionary
and positioning the franchise to take advantage of the Northern Colorado area's explosion.
Before the Eagles hit the ice, I took a tour of the under-construction Budweiser Events
Center with co-founder Ralph Backstrom, the former Montreal Canadiens (and Denver Spurs) center who also served as coach of
the University of Denver Pioneers. And I visited and wrote about the Eagles many times duringthe successful runs in, first,
the CHL, and then the ECHL. Lind, Backstrom and Stewart did an amazing job with NoCo's showcase franchise, appealing to Fort
Collins, Greeley, Loveland and even Longmont -- and more.
Again, without being party to the internal wranging,
I'm not saying who's at fault here.
But it's time
for the trophy -- the real Pat Kelly Cup -- to go back to the ECHL.
At the October 2017 news conference officially announcing the Eagles move to the AHL as the top Avalanche affiliate
in the 2018-19 season. From left, Avalanche assistant GM Craig Billington, Eagles owner Martin Lind, Avalanche GM Joe Sakic,
Eagl;es co-founder Ralph Backstrom and, partially obscured, Eagles president and GM Chris Stewart. A few months later, the
Eagles finished out their ECHL run by winning the Pat Kelly Cup for the second consecutive season.
May 29, 2019
Broncos knew it was worth
extra $3 million to have a
happy Chris Harris Jr.
There isn't a lot of mystery here.
The Broncos wanted a happy Chris Harris Jr. in 2019, and subject to the twists and turns of what can be
the NFL soap opera, they seem to have ensured they'll have a happy Chris Harris Jr. for 2019.
The price tag: Roughly an extra $3 million.
That's small change in the big picture.
All along, despite some mild trade whispers, the Broncos were destined to have Harris on the field in 2019.
Did anyone not believe that?
Yes, he asked for a pre-draft trade if the Broncos weren't going to be willing to adjust his deal, which called for
him to make $8.9 million this season. But nothing of substance happened before the draft and nothing happened after the draft,
not until the Tuesday confirmations (after the brief "sources" gamesmanship) that Harris had agreed to an adjusted
contract under which he will make $12.05 million this year, incluing reporting bonuses of $650,000 (OTAs) and $600,000 (training
NFL players long ago became relatively invulnerable
to criticism for asking for -- or demanding -- adjusted contracts. That's because on the other side of the table, teams do
it all the time. Take a cut or you're history. And although contracts are front-loaded with guaranteed money, they're not
aspect was that virtually the only thing that changed is what Harris will make this season. He had one year left on his deal
and he still has one year left on his deal. To a point, as many brought up, that seems curious. The Broncos didn't extend
him and, yes, that raises suspicions that there is some sentiment within the organization that in the wake of his fractured
fibula and with his 30th birthday coming up in three weeks, it's better to keep him on a one-year deal. Assess him after the
2019 season. The Broncos gave him a raise. That's about it on the surface.
But his "happiness" and front-office credibility in the locker room means something.
After the Broncos gave Kareem Jackson a three-year, $33-million deal, this was inevitable.
The bill for the other side of the NFL's maneuvering came due.
In the league with the most simple and inflexible salary cap, the NHL, Nathan MacKinnon can be locked up thouh 2022-23
under a seven-year, $44.1 million contract -- at $6.3 million per season -- that isn't renegotiable. It also was "fair"
at he time, since it involved mutual faith and came before his breakout to becoming one of the top players in the league.
That's the benchmark for the Avalanche's "structure," and in four years, he'll get an even bigger deal. Coincidentally,
the Nuggets' Nikola Jokic also is locked up through 2022-23, playing under an escalating five-year, $147-million deal. But
those situations are different.
The Broncos made the
right call on Harris. Even though they really didn't have to.
May 28, 2019
NBA could follow
NHL lead: Draft at 18,
you're ready ...
Nathan MacKinnon, as a rookie at left, was drafted at 17 and jumped from major junior to the NHL. NBA prospects
have to wait at least another year to
enter the draft pool and sign, as did the Nuggets' Jamal Murray, right. It's silly.
Five Nuggets on the current extended
roster played one season of college basketball -- just one -- and moved on to the NBA. The roll call: Malik Beasley (Florida
State); Trey Lyles, Jamal Murray and Jarred Vanderbilt (all of Kentucky); and Michael Porter Jr. (Missouri).
Denver draft choices didn't play college ball at all, and Nikola Jokic joined the Nuggets when he was 20, and Juan Hernangomez
when he was 21.
Of the remaining players listed on the Nuggets' current roster, the college stays were two seasons
for Will Barton (Memphis), Gary Harris (Michigan State) and Tyler Lydon (Syracuse); three for Paul Millsap (Lousiana Tech)
and Isaiah Thomas (Washington); and four for Torrey Craig (South Carolina Upstate), Monte Morris (Iowa State) and Thomas Welsh
So why am I bringing that up today?
RJ Hampton, a Dallas-area high school star and considered one of the top prospects
in the country, Tuesday announced (on ESPN) that he's foregoing college basketball to sign with the New Zealand Breakers of
the Australia-based National Basketball League -- which essentially means he'll do his one-and-done NBA prep year as an out-and-out
pro rather than as a collegian.
There's no outrage, and there shouldn't be. The only problem is the half-(baked) nature of the
NBA system, which could benefit from borrowing elements of the MLB draft and the NHL system.
The Avalanche has
two of its own NCAA one-and-dones -- Erik Johnson (Minnesota) and Tyson Jost (North Dakota). The difference is both played
their freshman seasons after they were drafted, Johnson at No. 1 overall by the St. Louis Blues in 2006 and Jost
by the Avalanche at No. 10 in 2016.
Colorado's other former collegians and their stays are two seasons for Colin Wilson (Boston University)
and Cale Makar (UMass); three for J.T. Compher (Michigan), Matt Nieto (BU), and Ian Cole (Notre Dame); and four for Alexander
Kerfoot (Harvard). All were drafted as part of the league's annual class based on birthdates, which works out to choices being
17 (occasionally, as with Nathan MacKinnon) or (mostly) 18.
Comparisons aren't apples to apples, primarily because
NCAA hockey is only one of the NHL's feeders, mostly along with major junior -- the three leagues under the Canadian Hockey
League umbrella -- and Europe. But both MacKinnon and Gabe Landeskog stepped right into the NHL from major junior (and with
major junior eligibility remaining), and nobody -- as far as I know -- found that objectionable. Landeskog came over from
his native Sweden to play major junior, was named the Avalanche captain at age 19 and is the eloquent spokesman in his second
language. They're part of the roughly two-thirds of the Avalanche roster that didn't attend college at all.
The NHL's largely
draft-and-watch system works. When they're ready, or deemed ready, whether in NCAA hockey, major junior or Europe, they sign.
Major junior's stipends (with a few exceptions) make its players ineligible for NCAA hockey, so those who prefer at least
sampling college and the NCAA game stick to Junior A leagues. Jost, for example, had been playing in the British Canadian
Hockey League, Makar in the Alberta Junior Hockey League when they were drafted. They would not have been ready to immediately
jump to the NHL. No, not even Makar, who was so impressive after joining the Avalanche during the playoffs -- immediately
after playing in the NCAA Frozen Four championship game.
If it involves college hockey, it can be a bit of
a joke in this sense: The NCAA players who already have been drafted almost always already have "advisers" who --
amazingly -- also happen to be accredited player agents. NHL teams watch and monitor their progress, and representatives --
such as the Avalanche's Brett Clark -- attend games and touch base in hallways ouside the locker rooms. But the option is
there to sign at any time during the college career, and players who stay all four seasons, as did Kerfoot, who was a New
Jersey draft choice, can become unrestricted free agents the summer after their senior years.
drafts players out of high school, but if they don't sign then and instead head off to the college game, they can't sign until
after they go back in the pool in three years. (That's oversimplification, but good enough...) Also, the extensive minor league
system also makes direct comparisons difficult. Many who sign coming out of high school are destined to be stuck in the minors
and then regret the choice to bypass college and NCAA baseball, if they had that option, whether with a scholarship or otherwise.
Avalanche has what amounts to one full farm club (the AHL Colorado Eagles) and an ECHL affiliation for a few trickle-down
players on the Utah Grizzlies.
The draft-and-watch system would work in NCAA basketball. NCAA hockey lives with it.
In a perfect world, I'd do this for both basketball and hockey, merging the systems: The draft pool initially is 18 year olds.
Draft rights last three years, then they're free agents. Drafts are five rounds. Nobody has to "declare" for the
draft. If they're taken, they're taken. If they're not, they go back in the pool the next year. If they haven't been drafted,
they can sign any time after their initial draft eligibility. The issue of possibly adjusted rookie contracts, then timetables
for restricted free agency and then unrestricted free agency, as well as the evolving relationship with the developmental
league, would have to be addressed.
There should be an above-board way to enable NBA and NHL teams to make open payments,
perhaps through agents, perhaps not, to their draft choices playing college hockey or basketball. The problem, of course,
is how much. Again, perhaps this is being too idealistic, but maybe it could lessen the advantage for programs willing to
look the other way or even directly participate as money is funneled to prospects and their "representatives" as
they make their college choices and then during their stays.
But good for Hampton.
He's working the system.
The current system.
May 25, 2019
Dick Monfort named after
uncle. Here's why.
Colorado Freedom Memorial
At Greeley's sprawling Linn Grove Cemetery a year ago, after a visit to the main office to get a map and directions
from Jackie at the reception desk, I pulled up to Block 14, Lot 50 and got out of the car.
Among the graves of other Monfort family members, the white marble, U.S. military-style
WORLD WAR II
JANUARY 11, 1923
JANUARY 29, 1944
A single bouquet of flowers already was at the foot of the
* * *
Richard Lee "Dick" Monfort was the son of Greeley cattle feedlot innovator
Warren Monfort and Edith Monfort. Dick's sister, Margery, was two years older. His brother, Kenneth ("Kenny"), was
nearly six years younger.
After graduating from Greeley High in 1939, Dick was a junior
at Colorado State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, or what now is Colorado State University, when he entered the
Army Air Forces in 1942.
While in training, he married Viola Swanson of Greeley.
In late 1943, Monfort was deployed to Deenethorpe, England,
with the 8th Air Force's 401st Bomb Group, 615th Squadron, joining the fight against Germany. He was the navigator on Capt.
Lee Van Syckle's B-17 "Flying Fortress" bomber crew.
A massive 800-bomber
daylight raid over Frankfurt was the 10-man crew's third mission. It also was the first U.S. bombing foray to the central
German city following many earlier British raids.
The date was JANUARY 29, 1944.
Denver radio personality Rick Crandall tirelessly champions veterans causes. His efforts led to
the opening of the Colorado Freedom Memorial in May 2013 in Aurora. Before its dedication, Crandall alerted me Richard L.
Monfort's name was on the memorial, among those of nearly 6,000 Coloradans killed or missing in action while serving their
Crandall also obtained and forwarded to me the "Missing Air Crew Report,"
opened after the mission and supplemented over the next 18 months. It was declassified in 1973, and as is the case with most
reports of that era based on interviews with survivors, it is remarkable in its narrative detail, especially given the staggering
number of similar reports that had to be done.
That day, Monfort was in the nose of the B-17 with bombardier
Stanley Groski. Van Syckle's plane dropped its bombs and turned away. Soon, a group of German pilots in Messerschmitt fighters
attacked the B-17 and others in the lower box of the American wing. The Germans' planes were equipped with machine guns and
cannons firing 20mm rockets.
Rockets struck Van Syckle's Flying Fortress in the wing
tanks, which caught fire, and the tail. Tail gunner Charles Duke yelled, "I'm hit!" And then, "I'm done for!"
In the nose, Groski, having completed his role as bombardier,
was firing the chin turret gun when the plane was hit. The impact knocked him back into Monfort.
The bailout order came amid the chaos. Groski later said he believed Monfort was hit
before they jumped. Also, as Groski and Monfort left the front of the plane, the German pilots in the Messerschmitts still
were firing on the B-17.
After other crew members jumped from their areas of
the bomber, ball turret gunner Donald Lamb was horrified to see radio operator Joseph Glonek speed past him on the way down.
The lines of Glonek's chute were deployed, but the canopy was unopened.
Duke, the tail gunner who had cried out, likely still
was in the plane when it exploded during its free fall.
On the ground, seven of Van Syckle's crew members - or all except Monfort, Glonek and Duke - were captured
alive. The Germans took co-pilot Mitchell Woods to a village and told him two dead members of the B-17 crew had landed there.
He was shown their escape kits and watches and a navigator's map. Woods concluded the dead Americans were Monfort and Glonek.
The Germans refused to let him see the bodies.
co-pilot also was told the chute of one American, which he assumed was Glonek, hadn't opened enough to save him, even if he
was alive when he reached the ground; and the chute of the other American, presumably Monfort, was unopened.
The next day, Stars and Stripes, the U.S. military
newspaper, reported 15 bombers - or fewer than 2 percent of the 800 on the mission - were lost. The story noted: "Preliminary
reports of the Frankfurt raid gave no indication last night of the opposition encountered or the damage done, but some returning
crews said they were 'puzzled' by the lack of German resistance on the way in. Neither fighter nor flak opposition was heavy,
they said, until the Forts had made their bombing run and were headed for the coast - a further indication of the success
of the recent concerted assault on Nazi fighter factories and airfields."
Regardless of how many lost planes there were, Monfort was in one of them. And he didn't survive.
Two weeks later, he was reported to be among those Missing in Action. Then his death was confirmed. Other crew members became
prisoners of war.
Dick had just turned 21. Kenny was 15. Walt Barnhart later wrote in his 2008 book,
"Kenny's Shoes," that Kenny was fine with Dick being ticketed to head the family business and was hoping to become
a journalist. In 1948, Kenny and his Colorado A&M fraternity buddy, future Colorado Governor Roy Romer, visited Dick's
grave in the military cemetery at Nancy, France, near the German border. The remains were brought back to Greeley.
Kenny had four children, including sons Dick and Charlie,
plus daughters Kay and Kyle. When he served two terms in the Colorado Legislature in the tumultuous 1960s, Kenny - who had
been so affected by his brother's death - was known as an anti-war Democrat. In 1980, he switched parties. He died in February
Kenny's son Dick needs no introduction in Colorado,
and it goes beyond Dick's long-time linkage to the Monfort family business, including after its 1987 sale, until his retirement
from ConAgra in 1995. He's involved in other business pursuits and is active in charity and civic ventures, currently serving
as chairman of UNC's board of trustees.
Dick and Karen Monfort singing "Go Bless America"
the Rockies' home opener against the Dodgers
Outside of Greeley, he and Charlie are best known as the primary owners of the
Colorado Rockies. Dick is the team's co-owner, managing general partner, chairman and chief executive officer. Charlie is
listed as an owner/general partner.
was born in 1954. His birth name is Richard Lee Monfort.
Dick told me that when he was "7 or 8," Kenny sat down with Dick and Kyle, two years older,
and told the kids about their uncle. Dick came away honored to have been named Richard Lee Monfort, and that feeling lingers.
"He told us how (my uncle) died in the war and how my dad really looked to him," Dick
told me. "And how my uncle was going to be the one who was going to run the business and my dad was going to do something
else. He said that he and his sister (Margery) had both agreed they'd call their first male child Richard."
Margery's son, or Dick's cousin, was Richard "Ricky"
Wilson. He died of leukemia at age 19.
a day like (Memorial Day), I feel for anybody that died in any type of war that we've had," Dick said. "God bless
them for doing all they did so we could have our freedom."
* * *
At the Colorado Freedom Memorial, the glass panels on the sweeping memorial in Aurora variously angle forward or backward.
I came to Panel 15 near the center of the memorial.
This was on the second column, sixth row of names, against
a backdrop of puffy clouds visible through the glass.
"RICHARD L MONFORT"
name among the many.
Here, he represents all those we salute on another Memorial
* * *
Some of my other stories about World War II, including a few we honor
on Memorial Day.
May 21, 2019
All Otis Armstrong did
was win NFL rushing title.
alone is Ring-worthy
It happened again. Otis
Armstrong was snubbed.
The word came Monday that cornerback Champ Bailey, who
played 10 seasons for Denver, will be the lone inductee in the Broncos' Ring of Fame in the upcoming 2019 season. It comes
after there were no inductees at all in 2018 and only one -- the highly deserving Red Miller -- in 2017. The Broncos' curiously
high standards at this point aren't the issue because even under stringent standards, Armstrong belongs on the Ring.
Over the past decade, the Broncos have corrected injustices, getting around to inducting
players who were long overdue to be included in the Ring. They hadn't been for reasons that at least seemed to involve internal
don't claim to be the only one arguing that the exclusions of Rick Upchurch, Simon Fletcher and Armstrong were impossible
to justify, but I pretty much was relentless in saying they should be among the next choices.
Yes, I profiled Upchurch and Armstrong in '77: Denver, the Broncos and a Coming of Age and also in the newspaper, but this is more about common sense
than my familiarity with the players' intriguing backgrounds. And I enjoyed getting to know Fletcher better when I profiled
him at the time he owned and ran a barbeque restaurant in Greeley, walking distance from the Broncos' Smiling Moose hangout
during their training camp years at UNC.
Upchurch finally joined the Ring in 2014.
Fletcher, the Broncos' all-time sack leader until Von Miller surpassed him last season, finally
joined the Ring in 2016.
Now, the earliest Armstrong will join them is 2020.
I don't get it.
Armstrong led the NFL in rushing in 1974, his second
season in the league. It was far from his only accomplishment, but that alone should be good enough to be chosen for the Ring.
Otis was raised on Chicago's South side, in the Lawndale area. His stepfather, Oliver
McCall, was a Baptist minister. A kid named Darryl Stingley lived down the street. They repeatedly raced down the street,
vying to be the fastest kid on the block. The picked out a crack on the sidewalk as their starting line, and Darryl always
won. Until one day, Otis pulled off the upset.
"How'd you do that?" Darryl asked.
Otis smiled, pulled up his pant leg and pointed down. "New shoes," he said.
He had talked his
motheer into buying him a pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars.
Darryl and Otis remained friends ... for life. Through Darryl's battle after Jack Tatum's
hit in 1978 left him paralyzed. And until Darryl's 2007 death.
That was after they both went to Purdue and Otis gained
3,315 yards in three seasons and as a senior won the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football as the league’s most valuable
player in 1972. (Otis was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.)
Armstrong was the Broncos’ first round draft choice in 1973, befuddling many
because future Hall of Famer Floyd Little was entrenched at running back. But the Armstrong pick proved to be another savvy
decision made by GM-coach John Ralston during the franchise’s buildup to respectability. The Broncos also had "experts"
scratching their heads when, under Ralston, they waved off ridiculously exaggerated concerns about Randy Gradishar's knee,
taking the word of Woody Hayes that he wasn't damaged goods, and claimed him in the first round.
Otis opened the 1974 season at fullback. He didn't really belong there, but with the
Broncos using the traditional two-running back approach, it was a way of getting Little and Armstrong on the field at the
“Halfway through the season, I was the leading
fullback in the league in rushing — and in headaches,” Armstrong told me in interviews for the book.
Then Little was injured and Armstrong moved to tailback
and Jon “Make Those Miracles Happen” Keyworth stepped in at fullback.
Armstrong finished the 14-game season with an NFL-high 1,407 yards on an economical
263 carries, for a 5.3 average per rush.
and Little were on the roster together for only three seasons, and only one season after Little’s injury-plagued 1974.
Armstrong's numbers might have been even more impressive if he had been the featured tailback for more of his career.
He went on to an eight-year career with the Broncos
before he was just too banged up and pain-ridden to keep playing.
He finished with 4,453 rushing yards and 123 receptions for 1,302 yards.
Armstrong received injury and contract settlements from the Broncos and went through
a long fight to obtain NFL disability benefits because of neck, spine and back issues from 1987 until he turned 55 in 2005
and was eligible for the NFL pension.
the life of a running back,” he told me. “I don’t know a running back who doesn’t feel that way in
the morning. Floyd and I have talked about it. But if we had it to do over again, we’d go right back out there.”
In 1984, he pleaded guilty to one count of illegally
obtaining the powerful painkiller Percodan — a charge he insisted was unjust, but decided not to fight — but that
was wiped off his record after a year.
malpractice suit against team doctors, alleging he was misdiagnosed, was dismissed, also in 1984.
I've said this before, I'll say it now and I'll say it again.
time for everybody to put all of that behind them ... and to put Otis on the Ring.
May 14, 2019
Who's closer? Avs or Nuggets?
Answer requires nuance,
Joe Sakic at Tuesday's post-mortem news conference.
the second after the Nuggets lost Game 7 to the Trail Blazers Sunday, the comparisons between Stan Kroenke's NBA and NHL teams
It was a fun run for Coloradans, watching both
the Avalanche and Nuggets reaching Game 7s in the second rounds and having it play out on what amounted to a take-turns, every-night
exposure in both the local and international spotlight. (Hyberbole? Check out those rosters and the fan bases, from Finland,
to Serbia, to Russia, to Germany, to Sweden, to Switzerland, to Spain ...)
Then came the post-mortems.
I've discussed all along -- including in archived commentaries below -- the major complicatation is that it requires conceding
that the differences in the two leagues make comparisons asterisk-laden.
Those reaching for that simple desk-pounding simple answer are either contriving or ignorant ... or both. A lot of
the answers seemed to be based on saying one team is better than the other, therefore, that's the team closest to winning
Those aren't the same questions.
So here are my
The Nuggets had the better season and the Nuggets
right now are "better."
The No. 2 seed in
the Western Conference, the breakout of Nikola Jokic as one of the best players in the NBA and the best passing big man since
Bill Walton, the emergence of Jamal Murray as a difference-maker, and even the presence of Michael Porter Jr. in street clothes
on the bench as this franchise's Cale Makar (oops, prematurely sneaked in a hockey reference), all of that ... it was a blast
Part of the fun was realizing that the little
things that could drive you crazy -- Jokic's persecution complex with the officials, Murray's immaturity, the bench's inconsistency
-- underscored how this team could get even better. And soon.
It might help if whining about the officiating is discouraged or banned at every level of the Kroenke/Altitude infrastructure,
because it's infectious when it plays out on the floor, and goes beyond the expected lobbying, it's both aggravating and counterproductive.
is FAR closer to winning a championship.
because Joe Sakic is more brilliant than Tim Connelly or that Jared Bednar is a better coach than Michael Malone.
It's the way the leagues work, and it's where the
NHL has it all over the NBA.
And, again, before anyone
writes that off as the delusional propaganda from a "hockey writer," I never have been a "hockey writer."
I'm a writer who enjoys writing about hockey, dating back to being a beat writer fresh out of college and covering another
incarnation of the Colorado Rockies.
covered the NBA as a beat writer and columnist in both Denver and Portland.
The ups and downs since
Sakic took over as GM in 2013 are monumental, with two turnaround seasons. The first season in the reunion of the band --
with Patrick Roy behind the bench and Sakic stepping up to take over leadership of the hockey operation -- was a 112-point
success that to this day is underappreciated because of the first-round playoff collapse against Minnesota. Roy was, and is,
a terrific coach. He hasn't returned to the NHL because of his (deserved) strong-willed reputation, and his summer 2016 exit
goes back to his disagreement with the franchise's fascination with undersized, "scooter" defensemen -- and the
Avalanche's passing on a chance to land his former major junior star at Quebec, Alexander Radulov.
That was Roy thinking as a former goaltender, and while having the undersized
and offensive-minded Makar, Samuel Girard and Tyson Barrie as half of the six-man corps on the blueline -- was eye-poppingly
succesful in the playoffs after Makar's arrival, the issue is whether that can work over an 82-game regular season.
But here's the bottom line in the comparison: The Avalanche beat Calgary, the
No. 1 Western Conference seed, in the first round. In five games. Nathan MacKinnon, in his sixth season but younger than either
Jokic or Phillip Lindsay, showed that he now is one of the top three players in the NHL. That win over Calgary was surprising,
but not a shock. Then the Avalanche took the Sharks, the West's No. 2 team in terms of regular-season points, to seven games.
The Nuggets went just as far.
But here's the major difference: The Nuggets had zero chance -- zero -- of knocking
off Golden State and then going on to beat Toronto or Milwaukee in the NBA Finals.
If the Avalanche had managed to get a goal in those frantic final seconds at San
Jose, then won it in overtime, Colorado had a bona fide chance to win the Stanley Cup.
The Avs could have beaten St. Louis, the No. 5 Western Conference team in terms
of points, in the conference finals.
Avs could have beaten either Boston or Carolina, No. 2 and No. 7 in the East, respectively, in the Stanley Cup Finals
just the way it is. The best team wins in the NBA. Getting through four rounds confirms a champion's legitimacy, even if you
knew it was coming.
The most deserving
team, regardless of where it comes from in the standings, wins in the NHL. The physical and mental grind on the way to 16
wins is the acid test, far more so than the other Big Four leagues. Goaltending is the "x" factor, no question,
and it would be in the NBA, too -- if goaltending hadn't been banned in the 1940s.
The Avalanche has the fourth and 16th picks in the upcoming draft. In a process that
beyond the first three picks is usually draft and watch (see Makar, Kale; Rantanen, Mikko; and Jost, Tyson), that's not immediate
fix territory. Yet the total haul will be five picks in the first three rounds. That will be part of an organizational pipeline
that adds to the encouragement.
The Nuggets were -- and are -- better.
The Avalanche has a far better chance of winning a championship in the next three years.
I'm not even saying the Avs will improve exponentially in that period. They are closer.
That is not contradictory.
"You've just got to keep building and getting
better," Sakic said at the wrapup news conference Tuesday. "As great as the end of the year was, we still didn't
accomplish the end goal. We have to find a way to get better and that starts here in the offseason. . . We've just got to
go to work and get ready for the draft and free agency and look at different options to get better."
Connelly could have said the same thing.
Or maybe he did.
May 10, 2019
Killers want(ed) fame.
To what extent should
we give it to them?
In his recent
book, "They Call Me 'Mr. De': The Story of Columbine's Heart, Resilience and Recovery," former Columbine principal
Frank DeAngelis wrestled with using the killers' names.
Incredibly, he had remained on the job at Columbine for 15 years after the tragic
events of April 20, 1999, and waited several years after that to finally tell his story in a book.
Frank repeatedly mentioned and honored the 13 murder victims -- but used the names
of the killers as sparingly as possible while addressing the issues he knew he had to discuss in a forthright memoir.
The book stands
as what the subtitle promises.
"It saddens me that while the killers’ names are mentioned often, those of the murder victims
are not, which is why I keep thinking I might cut this chapter before you have a chance to read it. If it remains, know
that I included it with great reluctance. Much—too much—has been written about the killers. They desired
attention, even in death. They succeeded in attaining it. In fact, years later, many in the media still are preoccupied with
the killers and their warped motives."
describes seeing the infamous "Basement Tapes," the killers' manifesto, along with the families of the dead and
wounded, at the Jefferson County Sheriff's office in late 1999.
"What we saw sickened us all ... Unfortunately, after limited viewings, the
tapes were ordered sealed and then destroyed," he wrote. "I understand the fear that, if they were public
record, they would be tools for imitators and copycats. But I wish psychologists and other professionals could have viewed
the tapes. As disturbing as they were, the recordings contained lessons about the killers that could potentially
prevent future attacks by others. The killers kept their evil, along with the arsenal of weapons and materials
for bombs, well hidden. They were intentional about maintaining their front, but they seemed prideful about their planning, noting
on the tapes that it was too bad nobody would see the tapes until it was too late."
Their rants on Basement Tapes made it clear: They
wanted fame. We gave it to them, both in 1999 and beyond. I use the generic "we," because it was across the board,
and it was in the fledgling days of internet coverage from new web sites of varying credibility (including some that did terrific
work) and also entrenched journalistic outlets feeling their way with 24/7 coverage. That 24/7 coverage occasionally
came with low standards for vetting and a tendency to throw anything against the newsroom or basement wall to see what stuck.
But in the 20
years since, the evolution has been noticeable. The comparison between the coverage of Columbine and of the Aurora Theater
shootings provided the most graphic contrast. The theater killer went on trial. The Columbine killers committed suicide in
the library. So there was that difference as the backdrop, but it also seemed apparent that we were getting the message. Enough
with the fixation on the killers. Media told the stories of the theater shooting victims and mentions of the killer
— at least compared to Columbine — were relatively minimal. It's a tightrope, obviously. Denial is counterproductive.
There are lessons to be learned, and the differences in the protocol in force now for school intrusions with how law enforcement
was allowed to respond on April 20, 1999 are stunning.
Also in his book, Frank describes his reaction when he appeared at a taping of
an Ophrah Winfrey Show as
the 10-year benchmark approached and was horrified to realize that, despite what he had been told by those arranging the show,
the focus to an alarming extent was on the killers, not the victims. He registered his objection, Winfrey called him and soon
spiked the show before it was shown.
The issues came up again as April 20, 2019 approached.
This came from KDVR/FOX31 anchor Jeremy Hubbard: "We're approaching the 20th anniversary a little differently. We won't be showing
any images from April 20, 1999, we won't be playing any 911 recordings and we won't be using the names or pictures of the
shooters. Instead, we're focusing on the stories of hope that have emerged from the heartbreak."
Here's the full online
listening and reading of the 20th commemoration coverage was more anecdotal than exhaustive, but my impression was that the
KDVR approach was not unique. At least in Colorado. KUSA/9News, which has had the most coverage of the Columbine recovery
over the years, including in DeAngelis' final stretch as principal before his 2014 retirement, essentially -- without fanfare
-- passed on mentioning the killers in connection with the 20-year commemoration.
Kendrick Castillo, hero
Then came the shootings at the STEM School Highlands Ranch, raising agonizingly familiar issues — plus
some new ones — as hero Kendrick Castillo was saluted and mourned.
In Colorado Springs, FOX21 news director Joe Cole announced on social media and
on the station web site: "After some deliberation, we here at FOX21 News are
taking a stance against showing pictures of the alleged shooters from Tuesday's shooting at the STEM school in Highlands Ranch. We will mention their names Wednesday in our broadcasts and online as part of our journalistic duty,
but going forward, we will simply refer to them as the accused shooters. We will
not show their pictures at any time either online or in our broadcast. Instead, our focus will be on the victims of this horrible
stations, both television and radio, are following similar approaches, also differentiating between the accused 18-year-old
shooter and the juvenile. It's all tricky because the argument could be made that stations don't need to announce what they're
doing -- just do it and let intelligent consumers draw their own inferences. But I also get that it can be interpreted and
trumpeted as taking a stand, too. And that's a stand that has been championed by the "No-Notoriety" movement led
by Tom and Caren Teves, whose son, Alex, was murdered in the Aurora Theater shootings.
Here's the extensive website explanation
of the No-Notoriety cause, in a Q&A format, from Tom and
Caren Teves. They're also at @nonotoriety on Twitter.
making progress. Sadly, we've had too much practice at it.
Remembering the victims:
May 8, 2019
to the season
In the previous column -- below this one -- I outlined the reasons the Avalanche had
a bona fide shot at beating San Jose Wednesday night in Game 7 and advancing. I don't pretend that there was anything revelatory
or earth-shaking in there. I know a lot of folks shared the same sentiments and many others advanced the same points.
That scenario came just short of playing out.
For me, without running through all the
details of the Avs' 3-2 loss -- the details you know -- it comes down to this: That was a dramatic finish. Nobody -- and I
mean nobody -- is saying they didn't show up or where overwhelmed by a Game 7 on the road against one of the top teams in
the league. They're earning almost as much praise as if they had won and moved on, extending the almost magical Nuggets-Avalanche
combination postseason homestand at the Pepsi Center.
Ah, the ""call," the waving off of the Colin Wilson goal that seemed
to have tied the game 2-2 in the second period.
couple of things were involved there. Without breaking down and blowing up the video/visual evidence and getting involved
in arguments involving millimeters, microseconds, Gabe Landeskog's skate, the blue line and the bench door, and the choice
between the Calamari steak sandwich or Calamari dinner at Original Joe's nearby, the problem I have with the decision is that
it's another case of the use of video review and the rationalization of "getting it right" takes us beyond common
sense and intuitive feel. The "correct" is not necessarily the right one, whether in the Kentucky Derby (where both
the technology and the equipment used were far beyond the basic angles of, say, 25 years ago) or in Game 7 in San Jose.
That's the negative of replay.
I feel a bit the same way about the end of the Virginia-Clemson Final Four semifinal:
The foul call wasn't reviewable, maybe it was "right," but nobody on the planet can justify it.
Of course, as this plays out, the NHL's 180-degree phenomenon is on full
display. By that, I mean that in such things as discussions of calls, cheap shots and the lack of accountability, it always
depends on which side of the equation you're on. When "their" guy delivers a cheap shot against "your"
guy, it's a second-degree felony and worthy of suspension, but when "your" guy does the same thing to "their"
guy, it's hard-nosed hockey and what, do you want to have them wear skirts?
I'm exaggerating, but in many years of covering the sport, that's been one of hte takeaways for me. The phenomenon is similar
in other sports -- especially football -- but more pronounced in hockey. That's a nice way of saying if the scenario had played
out with roles flipped, Sharks fans and team broadcasters would be screaming that the goal should have been allowed and Avalanche
fans and team broadcasters would be saying to stop whining, tough luck. The most mature reaction to all of this was from Landeskog,
who said, regardless, he should have been conscious of getting off the ice quicker. He didn't whine, moan, yell, complain.
That's deserving of respect. So is the general Avalanche post-game reaction, which didn't get into that silly persecution
complex so prevalent in sports today.
The other issue
is the folly of always assuming that if something had happened differently, what actually happened after would have remained
the same. That's a pet peeve of baseball broadcaster Jon Miller, and I'm aboard that bandwagon. A baseball example: With a
game tied 2-2, a hitter for the New York Mammoths gets thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double. The next hitter
doubles deep to the gap, and someone says: If the previous hitter hadn't tried to stretch that into a double, the Mammoths
would have the lead. No. We don't know that. Among other variables, the pitcher would have been delivering from the stretch,
not winding up. And from there, the circumstances would have been different.
Wilson's goal had counted, we don't know what would have happened. Down a goal, the Avs played gutty and, yes, desperate hockey
in the third, and deserve the widespread praise they're getting. The post-mortems are even more "positive" about
the Avs, their recovery down the stretch to make the postseason, their playoff showing and their future than I outlined the
other day. It's all deserved.
The most agonizing point for the Avalanche is this: They knocked off the conference's No. 1 seed.
They not only hung in against the conference's No. 2 team (in points) in the regular season, they came close to winning the
series. And if ...
The Avs might have -- or maybe even probably would have -- beaten the Blues.
May 6, 2019
You know what they
about Game 7s ...
No, what do they say?
Anything can happen. Anything.
That's the scenario the Avalanche set up Monday night, rolling with the punches and
ultimately getting a Gabe Landeskog goal at 2:32 of overtime to beat the San Jose Sharks 4-3 and extend the Western Conference
semifinal series to a Game 7 Wednesday night at San Jose.
"It's going to be a lot of fun," said J.T. Compher, the Chicago-area native and former
Michigan Wolverine who had two of the Avalanche's goals in regulation in Game 6. "It's a great opportunity for us to
go to the Western Conference finals. We've been counted out many times this year. This says a lot. We're very resilient and
we're going to be ready to go."
thing about Monday wasn't that the Avalanche won, but that the Avalanche won on a night when the top line was on the ice for
all three of the Sharks' goals and was pointless until Landeskog ended it in overtime.
I clumsily worded a question to Compher, nothing that he and linemate Tyson Jost, who scored the
first Colorado goal, had pitched in on a night when the first line hadn't been productive -- at least not until overtime.
"You say they didn't do anything," Compher said, "but those guys still
are playing 25 minutes a night, they'e playing hard, they're creating scoring chances, and they just weren't able to get one
in tonight. Luckily, we were able to pick up the slack a little bit."
So it's on to Game 7.
"It's a huge step for our team, it's a great opportunity for us," Landeskog
said. "Sixty minutes away from the Western Conference final. Who would have thought before the season, who would have
thought before the series, or whatever. For us, we keep believing.The last thing they to do is wanted to play another one
at home in San Jose. We accomplished that, we won this one, now we have to regroup. It was nice to get this one tonight and
hopefully build off of it. . . That Compher line stepped up and had a good game when we needed them. People keep talking about
depth and how important that is in the playoffs and they sure showed it."
Here's why the Avs have a shot in Game 7:
They've proven to themselves they can win in San Jose, breaking through with a 4-3 win in Game
This will be the second consecutive Game 7 for
the Sharks after their comeback against Vegas in the first round, and that's added to the toll taken in pro sports' most relentless
and testing postseason. The Avalanche, in contrast, had six days off after its five-game win over Calgary.
And the longer a Game 7 is scoreless or close, the more pressure there is on the Sharks,
who finished second in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference in the regular season.
Remember Avalanche Game 7s at home against Minnesota in 2003 -- Patrick Roy's final
game -- and 2014? Andrew Brunette and Nino
Niederreiter ended them in overtime and the Wild advanced. Both times the Avs played nervous and tight -- and lost.
"No doubt, it's a big
one," Landeskog said. "It's also a 60-minute hockey game that needs to be won. Yeah, you have to give it the credit,
it deserves to be a Game 7, but you don't want to blow it out of proportion and all of a sudden, it becomes a big monster,
a big mountain that you have to climb. For us, I like where our team is at. This was a big victory for us. Hopefully, this
momentum can carry into Wednesday night. It'll be a fun one."
Of course, it's entirely possible the Sharks score early and often Wednesday night,
diluting the tension, and then romp, but going in, the Avalanche is under little pressure.
If the Avs lose Game 7 on the road, it will not be followed by scorching post-mortems,
since they were a longshot to even make the postseason in February before awakening, largely thanks to Philipp Grubauer finally
providing top-flight goaltending.
Plus, the Avs are
only two years removed from the worst NHL season in nearly 20 years and the worst on the bang-for-the buck basis of all time,
considering they were scraping the salary cap ceiling while finishing with only 48 points.
Yes, they dipped from 95 to 90 points this season, but again sneaked into the playoffs
in the No. 8 spot in the West, and has progressed from an orange slices six-game loss to Nashville a year ago in the first
round to the win over Calgary. Now, regardless, this will go down as at least a gutty, resilient effort against the Sharks
as part of the exciting and overlapping Nuggets and Avalanche appearances in the second round.
For much of this season, it seemed
as if the rebuilding project had hit a speed bump. Now, though, only the curmudgeonly won't agree that with Nathan MacKinnon
is developing into a "generational" No. 1 overall pick, after all. Around him, and not just on the top line with
him, there is considerable promise.
Yes, Joe Sakic knew what he was doing, and not just with the haul in the Matt Duchene trade, but
with so much else, including the 2015 trade that sent Ryan O'Reilly to Buffalo for Compher's rights, Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail
Grigorenko; plus the drafting of Tyson Jost at No. 10 overall and Cale Makar at No. 4.
And this season will last at
least one more game.
A Game 7.
May 5, 2019
I'm not a steward.
I don't play one on TV.
But my vote was no DQ.
I've covered horse racing over the years, mostly finding and profiling the characters
in and around the sport, including some Runyonesque guys telling me they had a horse right here, his name is Paul Revere.
The sport long has had problems, including sadly widespread cavalier treatment of horses
and increased competition from other former of sports gambling.
It is no sure thing to survive, whether at Aurora's Arapahoe Park or anywhere else.
That survival likely depends on being able to increasingly turn existing tracks into
"racinos," offering casino-style wagering and perhaps being able to be a site for states' legalized sports wagering
as the effects of the Supreme ruling take hold.
Arapahoe Park's 2019 live racing meeting, basically a loss-leader tradeoff with the state for being allowed to offer
satellite wagering on tracks around the country, runs from May 25 to August 11.
I'm rooting for horse racing, from along the rail.
Saturday didn't help. Amid the big hats, mint juleps
and celebrity sightings at Churchill Downs, and as a national television audience -- with many paying attention to horse racing
for the first and perhaps only time this year -- watched, the Kentucky Derby was a fiasco.
It didn't need to be.
During the tortuous wait for the Churchill Downs stewards' ruling Saturday afternoon, trainer Bill Mott made the
point that has been repeatedly cited in justifying the decision to disqualify Maximum Security, despite the fact that the
favored 3-year-old colt led wire to wire and seemingly remained undefeated.
Mott had a horse
in the hunt, of course -- 65-1 longshot Country House -- and his jockey, Flavien
Prat, was one of two riders to file objections after the race.
Noting Maximum Security's move outside on the final turn, Mott said: "There definitely was a foul
in the race. There were a couple of jocks that almost went down in there. If it was a maiden claimer on a week day, the winner
would come down. It's not supposed to matter that it was the Kentucky Derby."
There's only one problem with that. By taking 23 minutes to make the decision, the stewards affirmed this
was no maiden claimer on Tuesday. It was the Kentucky Derby. That mattered.
Then chief steward Barbara Borden appeared at a news conference, explaining the decision -- although
she didn't take questions. That doesn't happen for a maiden claimer, either. She said that the other jockey to object was
Jon Court, on Long Range Toddy, and that Maximum Security's move outside had affected War of Will, Long Range Toddy and Country
House. She also said the decision was unanimous among the three stewards.
I'm not going to claim to have seen all the angles eventually available to the stewards. I'm also
going to oversimplify this.
From what I saw, there
wasn't enough to justify taking down Maximum Security's number.
I keep hearing every football broadcast analyst feeling the need to remind us each time a play is under video review:
"Remember, there must be irrefutable evidence for this to be overturned ..." (YES, WE KNOW. YOU AND YOUR ILK
HAVE TOLD US THAT A GAZLILLION TIMES!)
puzzling and it's a compliment to the stewards. I thought they had their "out" -- Derby or no Derby. The "out"
was: It wasn't that bad. In my opinion, it wasn't bad enough. The stewards didn't take that out. Again, that can
be spun into a huge compliment to the stewards, an argument that they easily could have justified leaving the results intact
and they likely wouldn't have been vilified. The NBC broadcast crew, folks who know and love the sport and its standards,
seemed to be staking out that position. There was something there. But not enough.
The money at stake was staggering. That's directly to the participants in the race for owners,
trainers and jockeys, affecting everything from the allocation of the purse money to even such things as stud fees -- and
those who had wagered on the race. I can just imagine what the wait was like at major tracks taking off-site wagering on the
Derby or at Nevada sports books.
that re-emphasizes the need for scrupulous honesty, including from the stewards. Whether they'll eventually admit it or not,
I'm betting that the reason for the wait was about more than trying to view every possible angle. It also involved mulling
over not just the magnitude, but the effects, of the decision. What I'm trying to do is concede that they were thinking of
their mandate and even oaths to be scrupulously fair, in races big and small. I respect that.
But I'll keep coming back to this: While I don't claim to be anything but a casual
fan of the sport, and no expert, I didn't see enough to warrant the decision to disqualify Maximum Security. If it was egregious,
yes, it had to be done. It wasn't and it didn't need to be. And I unapologetically admit it was the Kentucky Derby.
Virtually every move made once the objection was noted was an outgrowth of that reality.
That's my vote.
get a second, I checked in with Jonathan Horowitz, the long-time track announcer, race caller and communications director
at Arapahoe Park. He has left that track and is about to begin traveling to broadcast Arabian horse racing at, yes, Churchill
Downs and Delaware Park, and also announce at and complete in Colorado event horse shows. He knows the sport inside out.
His vote cancels mine.
Yes, Horowitz said, Maximum Security should have been DQ'd.
He went on to say: "Plus, you also have to consider that only recently has the
technology been available to conduct such a thorough review with multiple HD replay angles. It fits the pattern of other sports
relying more heavily on replay to 'get the call right.' As far as the interference, the question is, 'Did the interference
by one horse cost the horse he interfered with a chance at a better placing?' If so, the horse that did the interfering is
disqualified and placed behind the horse he interfered with. In this case, when Maximum Security drifted out, he caused War
of Will to cross legs with him and caused bumping with the horses outside him. It’s the right call, although it’s
tough to make in that setting."
If you're reading this, you now have the third tie-breaking vote.
What say you?
Horse racing tales:
Temple RushtonStetson Rushton
May 2, 2019
The biggest compliment
can give Grubauer:
If he plays like that...
Jared Bednar after the Avalanche's 3-0 win in Game 4
Grubauer was spent. Putting away his equipment added to his exhaustion. Then he sat down and put his head in his hands, gathering
himself ... and the energy to talk.
Finally -- and nobody was complaining about the wait -- came the signal. He was ready. Fire away.
The questions are a lot easier to face than the shots.
Opening the scrum (that's official journalism talk), I asked him if he was extraordinarily
spent after this one -- his 32-save shutout in the Avalanche's 3-0, series-evening win over the Sharks Thursday night in Game
4 of the Western Conference semifinals at the Pepsi Center.
Grubauer preferred to talk about the team, at least initially.
"It's a huge game, a huge
win," the Avalanche goalie said. "I think we did the right things today. After my performance last game wasn't too
great ... we had to bounce back, but I think we did good things today."
This was his first shutout of the postseason. After
his terrific play down the stretch was so crucial in getting the Avalanche in the playoffs in the first place, he had made
eye-popping key saves during the five-game win over Calgary and been merely mortal through the first three games against the
Sharks. The Game 3 loss Tuesday was a stinker, and he wasn't the problem. But that needed to be erased, and he was much better,
"All we needed was the win," he said. "The longer we can keep the zero up there,
the better it is, the better chance we had to win ... We learned from last game. That was horrible. We were really good on
the forecheck today, didn't give them any time to get the puck into their zone, and the PK was really good today. Compared
to the other games, they didn't have as many high-quality scoring chances as they had in the last couple of games. That means
we are doing a great job in the middle of the ice, and keeping them to the outside."
So now the series returns to
San Jose for Game 5 Saturday, and this also means there definitely will be a Game 6 Monday in Denver. The four-game, four-night
NBA/NHL playoff run this week ended up with the Nuggets and Avalanche splitting against the Trail Blazers and Sharks, respectively.
"We would have
dug ourselves a huge hole if we had lost that game," Grubauer said. "It was a huge win."
"I don't know, he's played
some good ones," saud Avalanche coach Jared Bednar. "He's had some really good ones. He was good tonight, though.
There were a couple of breakdowns there. We went brain dead at the end of the second period. We had a defenseman lose a stick,
he's going to the bench to change, we have an O-zone blue line turnover and everyne seems like we're joining he rush and we
give up a breakaway in right at the end of the second and hee makes a huge save. He made some big saves at key times for us.
It was big performance for him, no question."
That it was.
Virtually regardless of what happens from here, the young Avalanche will have put up
a fight in this series -- even if they lose -- after advancing to the second round for the first time in 10 years. More important,
the late-season rush to get back in the postseason for the second straight year now even more seems even more confirmed as
a sign that while this isn't yet a flashback to the glory years of the franchise from 1996-2004, it's at least a harbinger
of another run as at least a perennial playoff team. And, in the short term, if Grubauer plays like this most of the time
amid a solid team effort -- one of the charms of the playoffs, too, is that occasional bad games can be flushed if a goalie
has the ability to hit reset (see Roy, Patrick) and immediately revert to stingy -- virtually anything can happen.
excited to watch our team come to the rink and compete," Bednar said. "Some nights, we're better than others, but
I like what our guys' commitment. They're here to play and compete and win."
May 1, 2019
"Z" skating the line
Nikita Zadorov after Wednesday's practice
Zadorov's sly humor, and in his second language, long has cracked me up.
After Wednesday's Avalanche practice, the afternoon after San Jose's 4-2 win in Game 3 gave the
Sharks a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinals, I had just asked Zadorov if the Avalanche going with three undersized,
offensive-minded defensemen in its top six heightened the pressure on the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Russian to play a physical game.
After all, he had 11 hits and two blocked shots in Game 3 and continued to aggravate the Sharks. He addressed it as if the
question mainly was about the tandem of Cale Makar and Samuel Grard, not bringing his usual even-strength partner, Tyson Barrie,
"Yes and no,"
he said after practice . "What's physical mean? ... Like aggressive, hitting? That's my game. It doesn't matter how many
D is small, or big D, we're going to have, it's my style. It's my game. But when they're on the ice and I'm on the bench,
I can't do anything. It's their job to defend, right? I can't be physical. I'm just watching that and when it's my shift,
I go out there and do whatevr it takes to win the hockey game."
Through eight games in the playoffs,
Zadorov is averaging 19:32 of ice time, doesn't have a point, has a team-high 20 penalty minutes and is a minus 2.
He has gotten into some yapping with Sharks center Micheal Haley, who challenged him
at least twice in Game 3. He dismisses that. "He's playing five minutes a night," Zadorov said. "I'm playing
20. What's the point for me to challenge him? . . . I know him. I've skated with him in the summer, he's a nice dude. He's
playing hard. There's no friends on the ice, obviously. I'm having fun with it. When I piss all their team off, it's my job..
. I told him, 'You're playing five minutes a night, I'm playing 20, 'it's not a fair trade.'"
I asked him if he was still was
looking for or if he had found that line between being physical and going too far, including taking ill-advised penalties.
"Yeah, I think
I'm doing a good job of that," he said. "I had a few penalties, and I think it's just the referees, theye think
I'm too big." He said it was easy to focus on him, pointing to Game 1 in the series, when he drew a penalty for hitting
Timo Meier from behind. "I don't think it should be a penalty because he reversed and hit me right before that. I'm
just way bigger, I have 60 pounds on him and I crushed him to ut him in the boards. They're going to call it once in a while.
I think (the) coaches are OK with that. I focus on moving my feet, being in position and playing clean. I'm not a dirty player.
I don't look to kill guys in the head or something. I just finish my checks and sometimes it happens because I'm bigger than
April 30, 2019
Avs lose. The sky is falling.
Ah, the fluctuations of
It hit me Tuesday night. Every member of the press covering an NFL game seemingly is required by law to take
a picture of the pretty much empty stadium when they arrive and then Tweet it out for atmosphere, table-setting purposes --
and, of course, to prove how early they showed up. How come nobody does that in hockey? So here you go: The pom poms await
Nathan MacKinnon was perturbed, but trying
not to overreact after the Avalanche's 4-2 loss
to the Sharks Tuesday night in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals.
He knows how it works in the postseason. The Avalanche has a chance to even the series Thursday at home,
but what this did is put Colorado into the position of having to win one more game in San Jose -- while reasserting home ice
at the Pepsi Center.
it's a full series, it's not over and we're still confident we can beat these guys," MacKinnon said. "In the playoffs,
you're going to lose games. It's unfortunate."
MacKinnon's goal at 15:51 of the second period closed the Avalanche to 2-1, and then
Matt Nieto tied it up at 11:45 of the third.
crowd was back in it at that point -- pom poms and all -- but Logan Couture's second goal broke the tie only 65 seconds later
and his empty netter completed the hat trick with 30 seconds left.
"We had good energy after that," MacKinnon,
who now has a point in seven straight playoff games, said of his goal. "We battled hard and tied it up on that good goal
by 'Nietsy,' and we just threw it away after that."
Across the room, Cale Makar talked about his continuing introduction to the NHL after
his eighth playoff game since signing the day following the Frozen Four championship game.
"I don't think we're in a bad spot
at all," he said. "We didn't get the result tonight, but at the end of the day, we're still feeling up and we're
definitely going to come on strong."
With the Avalanche putting so much faith in the 20-year-olds, Makar and Sam Girard,
and continuing to rely on Tyson Barrie's offensive creativity from the back line, it comes back to also needing strong play
from the other three, more physical defensemen -- Erik Johnson, Ian Cole and Nikita Zadorov. They didn't get it in Game 3.
Johnson still is the Avalanche's top defenseman, challenged to be out against opposing top lines, and he struggled in Game
Makar, meanwhile, has jumped into the NHL in the
most testing postseason in pro sports.
when you don't expect it," he said. "But I think playing playoff hockey in college prepared me more for this. Thge
deeper it goes, the more physical it gets. . . The mental side of hockey is such a bit part of the game now. Everybody wants
to do their part and turn it up, but it's being able to turn the switch and turn it back on."
That's where Jared Bednar was hot and bothered -- about the Avalanache's mental game.
Well, that and the effort, something that never should be an issue in the postseason.
"To me, we didn't consistently work for the puck," he said. "We didn't
talk to the puck, In turn our execution was poor. We made some bonehead decisions with the puck, too, at times."
Philipp Grubauer had 27 saves while allowing the three goals. He still was giving
the Avalanche solid goaltending by the eyeball test, and his goals-against average in the postseason is 2.43 and his save
percentage .921. Playoff goaltending is more about aura than numbers, but he's down to sixth among No. 1 goaltenders in both
categories in the postseason. Those magic, uncanny saves, those that leave you shaking your head and saying he saved the Avalanche's
bacon, have to keep coming, too. That can make up for a lot, including teammates' bone-headed decisions with the puck. He
has to be more than good. He has to be amazing.
April 29, 2019
Girard & Makar tandem?
what a bad ...
What a great idea!
Samuel Girard does an interview with reporter Francois Gagnon of Canada's French-language RDS at Family Sports Center
When I heard that Avalanche coach Jared Bednar let
it be known he was pairing Samuel Girard with Cale Makar for Sunday's Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals at San Jose,
my immediate reaction was: Is he nuts?
would be Girard's second game back in the lineup after missing the final three games of the first-round series against Calgary
with an injury, but that had little to do with it. To me, the point was that amid the giddiness over the Avalanche's signing
of Makar after UMass' Frozen Four championship game loss to Minnesota-Duluth was that too little attention was being paid
to this reality: If the Avalanche -- and there was no reason to think this wouldn't happen -- committed to having Tyson Barrie,
Girard and Makar in the lineup, Colorado would have three "undersized", highly skilled, offensive-minded, puck-moving
defensmen in its top six.
That's not a "bad"
thing, but it's risky. Their extraordinary offensive talent, which includes getting the puck up ice, would be an incredible
strength, facilitating the production of -- among others -- the Nathan MacKinnon-centered top line.
But it wasn't out of line to wonder if -- no kncok in Barrie and Girard, but stylistically
speaking -- the Avalanche was pressing its luck with have those two in the lineup. And you add Makar? That's three
of the six. Patrick Roy, whose exit had as much to do with the organization's penchant for drafting "scooter" defensemen
and its lack of developing physicaly defnsemen as anything else, would have been revulsed.
Barrie is listed at 5-10 and 190. He's at least stocky and thick.
Girard is listed (at least by the Avalanche) at 5-10 and 162. If he's 5-10, the Nuggets
Isaiah Thomas is 6-2. (He isn't ... and he isn't.)
is listed at 5-11 and 187, but Barrie actually seems "bigger."
The point, of course, is the possible peril at the defensive end of having three defensemen of that bent
among your top six. Regardless of how skilled they are. That' even before you get into the age issue, since Makar and Girard are both 20. And even before you get into the doubling-down
peril of playing two of them in the same pairing, rather than having a bigger defenseman -- Erik Johnson, Ian Cole or Nikita
Zadorov -- with each or the three. So they have to at least do decent work in the defensive end, even if it isn't of the clear-the-front-of-the-net
variety, and be so enabling, productive and generating offensively, the Avs come out ahead.
And Colorado sure did in the first game of the Makar-Girard pairing. They were poised,
smart, patient and productive.
In short, it worked.
On Monday at Family Sports, I asked Bednar -- the former physical defenseman -- if
he'd had to aadjust his thinking in dealing with having three undersized defensemen.
"Not much, to be honest with you," he said. "My goal as a coach
is to get them out in situations to succeed and to help us on the offensive side of things. But I don't worry very much about
those guys defensively because they're all elite players and playing at a level right now where defensively they're highly
committed and they're making plays on the defensive side of the puck and they're defending will in the zone, so that's a plus,
a luxury that we have with the shutdown guys, the big, heavy guys. Those guys are able to help us move pucks in and out of
our zone, which is a benefit. They're defending really well, which is the other side of it. You're starting to see what these
guys can do. They find room in the onnensive zone.
"If you look at that shift in the third period, I think it was Makar and Girard, they just controlled
the puck up top, not thowing it away and maiking smart plays. They got a few plays to the net and they wre covering pucks
and using their feet, and they're tough to check. So it's an element we're starting to develop as a team, and those guys are
helping drive that."
A bit later, I asked Girard
about dealing with both in the pair being you, offensive-minded and "undersized."
"I know what Cale and I are able to do," he said. "We jut need to play
our game. We need to bring some offense and be stable defensively as well."
The sample size is small. Two games in the lineup together and one as a pairing. Makar joined
the Avalanche for Game 3 of the Calgary series, and that was th first of the three games Girard missed. So Bednar didn't have
to decide then whether he could afford to or live with having three undersized defensemen in the lineup, with Johnson, Zadorov
and Cole. Another alternative now is to go with seven defensemen, mitigating that size disadvantage on defense and giving
Bednar more options.
But the initial returns on Girard
& Makar were promising.
April 28, 2019
Last time Nuggets, Avs
made it to second
round was ... never
Chauncey Billups, left, and Carmelo Anthony led the Nuggets into the 2009 Western Conference
finals against the Lakers, where they lost in six games. Joe Sakic, right, played only 15 games that season, his last one
in the NHL.
On Saturday night, as I watched the Nuggets take what seemed to be an insurmountable lead over
the Spurs in Game 7 of the first round series, it hit me that I wasn't sure when the last time both the Nuggets and Avalanche
had advanced to the second round. I couldn't think of another time off the top of my head, but I was pretty sure it must have
happened before. Right?
I'm sure someone -- perhaps even many -- had pointed out the correct answer, so I don't claim
to have discovered electricity here or invented the internet, but I hadn't heard it or had it sink in.
It didn't take
long to figure out, checking out the season-by-season listings for both franchises.
When the game ended -- and the Nuggets
had managed to hang on -- I tweeted this out:
"Playoff Fever. Just think, the last time the Nuggets and Avalanche both reached
the seond round of the playoffs in the same season was ... never."
Judging from the
reaction, many had been thinking like me. It had to have happened sometime, right?
details: Since the Avalanche arrived in Denver and won the Stanley Cup in 1996, at the end of their first season, the Nuggets
before last night had made it as far as the second round only once. That was in 2009, when they beat New Orleans and Dallas
and then lost to the Lakers in six games in the Western Conference finals. That season, the Avalanche was dreadful, finishing
last in the Western Conference (eventually earning the right to draft Matt Duchene at No. 3 overall). Joe Sakic played only
15 games because of injury and retired in the offseason. In the Avalanche's prime years -- I'll define that as the pre-lockout
seasons, 1995-96 through 2003-04 -- the Nuggets made the playoffs only in 2003-04, losing to Minnesota in the first round.
This was more
noticed and more noted: The last time the Nuggets and Avalanche both made the playoffs was in 2010, when both lost in the
first round -- the Nuggets to the Jazz and the Avalanche, despite heroic goaltending from Craig Anderson, to the Sharks. Since
then, there were three springs -- 2015 through 2017 -- with no Avalanche or Nuggets playoff games at the Pepsi Center at all.
The arena schedule was noticeably quiet, with the dates held and not used. Neil Diamond and Bette Mider were among the attractions
squeezed in among the playoff games not played, and Kroenke Sports wasn't able to get Garth Brooks to come in for one of those
12-night stands on short notice.
Now, Kroenke Sports is on a relative roll, with the Rams making the Super Bowl, and
the Nuggets and Avalanche both in the second round. Beyond that, the Rapids are -- oops -- 0-7-2 in Major League Soccer, slumping
Arsenal is fifth in the English Premier League, and the Mammoth finished 6-12 in the National Lacrosse League's regular season.
The point? I know this should be obvious,
but sometimes it doesn't seem to be part of the dynamic: Enjoy it!
Denver and Boston are the only two places where NHL and NBA occupants of the same arena still are
alive. (In the Bay Area, it depends on whether you consider the Warriors and Sharks, who play 40 miles apart, to be in the
Thgere's absolutely nothing wrong
with being bandwagon fans of either or both teams.
Bandwagons are All-American. They reward success. "Hamilton" is a bandwagon. "Game of Thrones"
is a bandwagon. The Keto Diet is a bandwagon.
Attendance for both the Avalanche and (especially) the Nuggets plummeted in the dark seasons. Actually, that said,
I'm still surprised home attendance even reaches five figures for rotten teams with home games on television.
Hockey fans been to stop asking those in the stands or at the watch parties if they
can name who the Wandering Latvian was, identify the best touch pass of Sakic's career and name the current Avalanche player
who first played roller hockey on the streets of that renowned hockey hotbed, Long Beach, before switching to ice -- and consider
them fraud fans if they can't do all three. (It is permissible, though, to make sure they have seen "Slap Shot.")
This team has won back fans, won new
fans, captured the imagination of the market and also stoked hopes for the future as a startlingly young team after the reconstruction
project that actually began in the final stages of the horrific 2016-17 season.
Trust me, I've covered the NHL as far back as when the Colorado Rockies were a hockey
team, and I know how deep-rooted the passion is for hockey here, but I'm also convinced the Avalanche's most underemphasized
achievement is the development of Colorado as a hockey hotbed -- and I mean for the development of hockey talent. See "Troy
Terry," et al, plus the many fans in the stands who grew up playing the sport in Colorado. I also have covered both the
NBA (Nuggets, Trail Blazers) and NHL (Rockies, Avalanche) as a beat writer/columnist, so I'm not a blinkered proponent or
propagandist for one league.
Look at what the Avalanche
players did on their off night last week. They went to the Nuggets' playoff game against the Spurs, hunkering down in the
front rows or in a box. The Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon has developed into one of the best three players in the NHL, yet
he's also a hoops junkie who regretted not being able to play basketball on the side when he was playing junior hockey.
Basketball-first fans tend to be less proprietary and less resentful of latecomers
jumping aboard, but there's some of that there, too.
I'm not being a cheerleader here, but I'm saying this is a rare phenomenon and there's absolutely nothing wrong with
reveling in it -- even if you're still learning the rosters.
Enjoy it while it lasts. Welcome bandwagon and/or crossover fans to both.
POSTCRIPT, SUNDAY NIGHT: Now
that the Avalanche beat the Sharks 4-3 at San Jose in Game 2, the series comes back to Denver tied 1-1 just as the Nuggers
are on the verge of opening the second-round series against the Trail Blazers. So it's going to be four playoff games on four
nights this week in Denver. That's a lot better than the ghost town that was the Pepsi Center during the playoffs in many
I just want to win a 50-50.
April 26, 2019
20 Years ago, at another
Avalanche-Sharks Game 1
in San Jose, we mourned
Avalanche president and general manager Pierre Lacroix and
his wife, Colombe, lived near Columbine High School. That really didn't matter, but it affected Pierre.
After the horrific events April 20 1999, he told the National Hockey League: Not here. Not now.
Avalanche had been preparing to play host to Games 1 and 2 of a first-round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks. Amid
the shock, the NHL eventually mght have made that decision, but Lacroix's gesture early in the process to recommend moving
the first two games of the series to San Jose was praiseworthy. To talk about the hockey circumstances almost seems distasteful,
but the fact was, the Avalanche had shockingly lost in the first round in 1998 to Edmonton and was trying to reclaim a spot
among the league's elite.
The first two games of the series, on April 24 and April 26,
were switched to San Jose. Games 3, 4, 5 and 7 were slotted for Denver. The Avalanche didn't give up home ice if the series
went 7, but the reconfiguration to have the first two games in San Jose was significant.
Here's my column
from April 25, 1999:
JOSE - The banner, stretched across several tables on the communal eating area above the Grillworks concession stand, is 50
feet long and 6 feet high. The math works out to 300 square feet. But what it represents is immeasurable: a national outpouring
of grief and sympathy, of recognition that "it can't happen here" no longer applies. Anywhere.
By the end
of the first intermission in the San Jose Arena on Saturday night, fans who walked up the stairs and picked up one of the
blue Sharpie pens and hoped to add a personal message had to look hard for an open space on the banner.
It had begun with nothing
more than the black lettering: "To the Community of Littleton, Colorado, Our Hearts and Prayers Are With You. The San
Jose Sharks and Their Fans."
But by now, after one period of the delayed San Jose-Colorado playoff series,
the banner was almost covered with blue. With mostly messages of sorrow and encouragement. With some expressions of anger.
And, yes, with even a few - a very few - scribblings of morons.
*"Sometimes there aren't enough prayers. Terri Guest."
*(In a youthful
hand.) "I am sorry that your children died. Meaghan, age 7."
*"We hope that our hockey team wins, but
beyond that, where it really matters, our hearts go out to you. Tamara Mathews, Cupertino, Calif."
*"We can only just
imagine. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all! Ruth Seehof."
*"I hope those (expletives) rot in hell
for what they did. It's too bad they killed themselves because they deserve to be tortured for the pain they caused everybody.
My prayers and best wishes go out to you, the people of Littleton. Respectfully, Scott William Cameron."
no (sic) your (sic) the best. Go get Em Sharks."
The banner was in the arena where a Colorado team was playing, but it didn't
have to be. It could have been in Cleveland. Or Klamath Falls, Ore.
The banner had been displayed at the Sharks' rally outside the arena before
the game, then brought inside.
And as the time for the opening facoff approached, as fans filed into the arena and made their
trips to the concession stands and the food courts, many of them spotted the small table and the Tupperware container on the
One by one, they walked over, slipped dollar bills and fives and 10s into the opening on the lid. The man in the
blue cotton jeans shirt with the Sharks logo. The kid in the Jeff Friesen replica jersey. Even a young couple, both
wearing Avalanche sweaters. And they kept coming.
The bin was for contributions to the Mile High United Way Healing Fund.
The Bay area
is no different than anywhere else, even if the coincidence of a hockey matchup meant the Sharks were in Denver
when the horror at Columbine High School unfolded.
The hockey series had been pushed back three days, because of the cooperation
of the Avalanche and the the Sharks, plus the blessing of the NHL.
At Game 1, the Sharks' crowd, as usually
is the case in the city south of San Francisco that often yearns for a separate identity, was rabid. When Theo Fleury's picture
was flashed on the huge scoreboard during the announcement of the starting lineups, with the teams still in the dressing rooms,
the fans booed lustily. The Avs' Fleury, a pain for the Sharks when he was with the Calgary Flames, remains disdained
in San Jose. (The word "hated" just wouldn't sound right there. Not now.)
When the teams came on the ice, the
Avs were booed.
But then the lights went down.
The starters lined up on the blue lines. The Avs had Columbine patches on their
uniforms. The Sharks had little CHS decals on the back of their helmets. Referees Paul Devorksi and Paul Stewart,
plus coaches Bob Hartley of the Avs and Darryl Sutter of the Sharks, all wore Columbine ribbons.
Public address announcer
Joe Ike alluded to the Columbine tragedy. He told of the United Way contribution bins at various entrances and spots on the
concourse, and of the banner. And then he asked for silence.
For 10 seconds, with the exception of a couple of inexplicable shrill whistles,
the arena was silent.
Then after Dennis Leach sang the national anthem, we were back to the games.
Postscript: The Avalanche won both games in San Jose, 3-1 and then, when Milan Hejduk
got the game-winner, 2-1 in overtime. Curiously, the Sharks won the next two in Denver, 4-2 and 7-3, but the Avs took a 6-2
Game 5 win before closing out the series with a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 6, again ending it with a Hejduk goal. They went
on to beat the Red Wings in six games in the Western Conference semifinals before falling in seven games to the Dallas Stars
in the conference finals.
April 23, 2019,
For Avalanche's Grubauer,
6 days off before facing
is a good thing ...
unless it's a bad thing
The Avalanche hasn't played since closing out Calgary in Game
5 last Friday. After practicing Monday and Tuesday, the Avs won't be on the ice again Wednesday, when coach Jared Bednar will meet the media and discuss the upcoming Western Conference
semifinals matchup with San Jose. That pairing was locked in when the Sharks -- down 3-0 in the third period -- beat Vegas
5-4 in overtime in Game 7 Tuesday night. And Game 1 in that series will be Friday night in San Jose, meaning the Avs will
have had six days off between games.
That's a lot of time off in hockey, especially during the relentless grind of the postseason.
It can present challenges of maintaining momentum, especially for a hot goaltender -- which the Avalanche's Philipp Grubauer
Through five Colorado games, his .939
save percentage is third in the NHL, behind the Islanders' Robin Lehner (.956) and the Stars' Ben Bishop (.945). His 1.90
goals-against average is tied with Bishop for second, behind Lehner (1.47). Mostly a career backup, a week or more between
starts isn't unusual for Grubauer, of course, but this a case of trying to stay on a roll.
"It's good and bad," Grubauer told me of the idle time after practice Tuesday.
"Obviously, if you have a couple of days off it gives you time to work on some stuff that you don't work on during the
series because you don't have time. It can also hurt you because you're not in the rhythm anymore. But I think as a group
it's good to get a couple of days off for sure. . .
series was hard. The guys blocked shots, got bumped up, so it gives guys opportunities to get back to 100 percent."
Is this the best he's
played for a sustained stretch?
"Best I've seen
the puck, maybe ever," he said. "I feel good out there, the guys are making it easy on me, so it makes the job a
That's goalie-speak, of course, the politics of the position. The Avalanche has played well in
front of him, and kept the pressure on, averaging 41 shots against the Flames, allowing 33. But the goalie's challenge is
to make the mouth-dropping, difference making saves, and that was the case in overtime of Game 2 when Grubauer was larcenous
at one end before Nathan MacKinnon got the game-winner a few seconds later. That changed the complexion of the series.
The goal is to maintain that
swagger as a playoff goalie, keep the attitude of bring-it-on because you'll stop darned near anything. Accustomed to that
backup role, this is new for Grubauer -- and at least so far an antidote to his inability to remain the Capitals' No. 1 playoff
goalie a year ago, when Braden Holtby took over from Grubauer after a pair of losses to Columbus. This season, after a stretch in which Semyon Varlamov and Grubauer both were awful,
and it looked as if suspect goaltending was going to keep the Avalanche out of the postseason, Grubauer has awakened.
"I hadn't played in like 12 weeks for a bit, and then
I played three in a row," Grubauer said. "That was a little hard, but once you get into it a little bit, you're
playing in a row. You earn stuff with that group. I still was new to that group. You learn and you figure it out."
April 23, 2019
A visit to the
soon after release
After our Field of Dreams visit, Paul Buker, left, and I, center, covered the Trail Blazers in a playoff run under Rick Adelman, right, whose son, David, now is a Nuggets assistant.
Early in the
1989 football season, Oregon played Iowa at Iowa City. At the time, Paul Buker was the Oregonian's beat writer covering
the Ducks, I was the sports columnist. On the day before the game, we embarked on a mission to visit the Iowa farm that
was the setting for the popular movie released earlier that year, on April 21. And this column came from it. Thirty years
after the film's release, I'm going to admit this was not one of the better columns or stories of my career. But here, unmodified
other than rearranging some paragraph breaks, is the way it ran in the paper on the morning of the game. (By the way, the
Ducks beat the Hawkeyes 44-6 that day, with quarterback Bill Musgrave throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns.)
By Terry Frei of the
DYERSVILLE, Iowa -- Here's my windup and my pitch.
Ball one, a little outside.
Shoeless Joe -- the heavy hitter, not some lightweight actor
-- steps out of the box.
As he taps his spikes with his bat, ridding the sole of a tiny clump of red
clay and cinders, he peers out to me on the mound.
With his eyes and slightly upturned corners of his mouth, he is asking:
``Is that all you got, tourist?''
I talk back under my breath.
I say. This is your field, but this is my
dream. I signed the guestbook on the bench by the backstop. I bought a souvenir T-shirt at the trailer. I picked an ear of corn
from one of the left field stalks that are swaying in the wind over my right shoulder. So get back in there, Shoeless. Follow the script and strike out.
Those things can happen on a ``Field of Dreams.''
Novelist W.P. Kinsella created it. The producers built it. As promised, Kevin Costner
and Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones and a cast of Hollywood hundreds came, filmed and called it a wrap. And
now, five months after the movie ``Field of Dreams'' won over more than baseball fans, farmer Don Lansing allows
the curious -- including me and Paul Buker, my colleague and left-handed catcher -- to visit the diamond cut out of an
On Friday morning, we made the pilgrimage
from Cedar Rapids to Dyersville, in the northeast corner of Iowa. We parked the rental car in front of City
Hall, just down the street from the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier; across from the Plaza Theater; and a little
down from the office that holds the law office of Jenk, Jenk, Goen, McClean and Goodman, plus the Jenk Insurance
Agency. (The Jenks are big in this little town.)
one of the nice women in the city clerk's office, had a stack of hand-sketched, photocopied maps beside
her typewriter. It's two miles east of town, she said. Even sportswriters could find it, she assured us.
At the turn for Lansing Road, the huge blue sign looked as if it could have been supplied
by the Highway Department. FIELD OF DREAMS, it announced, then pointed to the right.
We drove past Al and Rita Ameskamp's farm. Then we spotted the field on the
The setting is Lansing's farm. As one travels down the
driveway of gravel and dust, a two-story white farmhouse looms ahead on what passes for a hill in Iowa. The barns,
appropriately red, are to the right of the house; the diamond is to the left. A hand-lettered sign directs visitors
to park next to the trailer that was Don's home when Hollywood borrowed his house. Ruth Lansing, Don's cousin, is on duty
at the trailer, standing in front of a hanging selection of T-shirts and sweatshirts.
Indeed, there have been changes on the set.
The line between the Lansing and Ameskamp properties runs just behind the infield. Where Shoeless Joe's
spirited friends once chased down flies to left field, corn grows tall once more. Left field is Ameskamp's
territory and corn is his cash crop. With a sign of his own, Ameskamp invites visitors to pick an ear or two, but a locked
and slotted mailbox is primed for donations.
property, right field remains open space. In fact, the grass runs all the way to the horizon. The corn that was
the right field fence on celluloid has been plowed under. The government, you see, pays Lansing not to grow corn.
However, the government would not pay his electric bill. The lights are gone.
The infield grass is a little ragged, no longer pristine. The filmmakers manicured it; Lansing merely takes
care of it.
The infield dirt is the red cinder of old
Yet the diamond, for reasons that maybe only Hollywood
could explain, still sparkles.
Lansing, who was not home Friday,
leaves a tennis ball and a plastic bat near home plate for the adventuresome. When the truly ambitious (like us) bring their
own baseball and gloves, Ruth Lansing loans out a genuine wooden bat and advice. ``A lot of folks lost their balls
in the corn,'' Ruth said. She watches grown men and women act out their fantasies, hitting and throwing and catching on the
Others just watch and meditate. On Friday, Randall
Bush, a Chicago sales manager, was sitting in the seven-row grandstand with Susan Lowry, a teacher. ``This is closer than
Hollywood . . . and nicer, too,'' Bush said.
In the most recent
guestbook, there can be over a hundred names written in one day. They are followed by such hometowns as Lincoln, Mass., Whitefish
Bay, Wis., and, of course, Portland.
Shoeless Joe has
a lot of company.
And he doesn't always
Without being able to recall the space constraints I was operating under -- this
was before being able to go longer in an onine version -- I acknowlege I didn't do a very good job of giving the feel of being
there and didn't attempt to recreate scenes from the film.
I'm not among those who grouse about the movie as overrated, because I believe
the film toned down the worst melodramatic excesses of the novel. If you only saw the film and didn't read the book, you might
be scoffing about how the book could be any more melodramatic than Phil Alden Robinson's screenplay adaptation. But the book
was considerably "worse," and I should have brought that into play in the column.
Absolutely, there were
spots in the movie when I winced, and James Earl Jones' famous speech about the beauty of baseball was one of them. (Just
a bit too much ...) But that didn't ruin it for me, and I still consider it one of the rare examples when the movie was better
than the book source material. My favorite baseball movie remains "Bang the Drum Slowly," with Michael Moriarty,
Robert DeNiro and Vincent Guardenia, and I'm convinced that one reason it was so good was the Mark Harris, who wrote the novel,
also had a hand in the screenplay.
April 20, 2019
A man who showed
can go back to your
high school ... and make
Former Wheat Ridge star quarterback Dylan Orms has just uncovered
'the Farmers' baseball field's new name Saturday. He and his brother,
Parker Orms, were second-generation Farmers. Their mother, Kathy,
went to school with Chuck Griffith and the rest of us.
With Chuck's family in the bleachers temporarily set up on the field
before the game, Chuck and Barb Griffith's on, Tyler, whose appearance
and mannerisms are remarkably like Chuck's in young adulthood, speaks during
ceremony. Barb is in the blue
shirt at center. Those are recent vintage
players behind them, those who from 2003-16 benefited from Chuck's support of the
program under coach Adam Miller.
On Saturday, ex-Wheat
Ridge Farmers spanning generations gathered at Everitt Middle School for the dedication of the WRHS baseball park as Chuck
Griffith Jr. Field in advance of the Farmers' game against D'Evelyn. (This was a few hours before a different sort of
ceremony involving another Jefferson County high school, Columbine, and I can say with certainty that the audiences overlapped.)
Chuck's widow, Barb, and many other members of his family were at the dedication, and his son, Tyler, and nephew,
Cameron Brown (a former Farmers athlete, too) spoke on their behalf.
I've written many times about being the kid who moved in during
the middle of my junior year, when my father moved from Oregon to the Broncos, after we talked and decided that if I was going
to leave South Eugene High, a terrific school, I should do it right away so I could play baseball at my new school as a junior
and not be completely "The New Kid" as a senior. (That's the title of my young adult novel in progress.) I was lucky.
I went from one great school to another and made a lot of new friends. And one of them was football captain and student leader
Chuck Griffith, who ran track in the spring and eventually became my college roommate for two years at the University of Colorado.
Chuck died three
years ago, It was a shock to the entire Wheat Ridge community, and below the following pictures is a blog I wrote at the time,
when I was at The Denver Post.
I've adapted and touched it up here, but I hope it gives those of you who didn't know
Chuck a feeling of what a great man he was; and gives those of you who knew him a lot of remindful smiles.
Adam Miller, who became close to Chuck, addresses the
crowd. (You're right, I should have gotten on the other
side of the screen.)
is adapted from March 2016)
The Wheat Ridge High community, past and present, took a punch to the solar plexus — no, more accurately, to
the heart — last week.
Griffith, 61, passed away.
As CEO of several major companies, he was a successful businessman. He was wonderful family man who treasured his
wife and four children and wasn’t embarrassed to display emotion when talking about them. He was a terrific friend,
and a benefactor and mentor for Wheat Ridge High, its kids and its programs after he reconnected with his alma mater, starting
By that, I mean that whenever someone had stepped up and done something for Wheat Ridge kids, whether by making financial
contributions to programs and school causes, or by acting as a mentor, and that benefactor officially was “Anonymous,”
that almost always was Chuck.
Wheat Ridge’s demographics have changed since our days there. That was one of the attractions for Chuck, who
loved helping kids.
all can learn from that.
On Sunday, I was among the large gathering at the memorial ceremony at the school.
Chuck was my
Wheat Ridge classmate and fellow athlete, and then my roommate for our sophomore and junior years at the University of Colorado
we were never high school teammates because I moved to Wheat Ridge from Oregon in the middle of our junior year, played baseball
for the Farmers and then suffered a knee injury in American Legion baseball that summer. I didn’t play football as a
senior because of my second ACL surgery.
Chuck and Reid Gamberg were the football captains our senior year.
Chuck and I didn’t grow up together, as was
the case with Chuck and many of our Farmer classmates, and our friendship began later than his with many of the others in
the Wheat Ridge auditorium Sunday.
But I was proud to call him my friend. My buddy. My roomie. Our third roommate from our second year of
sharing a collegiate apartment, Chuck Bobershmidt, traveled up from New Mexico for the memorial, and it was great to see him.
As roommates at CU, Chuck and
I both were Oscar.
weren’t inseparable, but that was part of the friendship.
Chuck dived into business studies and the business school and made friends there and
on campus, eventually meeting his future wife, Barb Harvey. I was working part-time at the Rocky Mountain News on
the side and had my own circle. But we were friends, capable of such whimsy as setting up a strict schedule to study for finals
— and a short time into the studying, deciding we’d bolt and head to the greyhound races at Cloverleaf Kennel
Club in Loveland to lighten things up. It was a rare moment of complete irresponsibility for Chuck, and I took the blame,
along with the 3-4-6 quiniela box.
He made up for the break and I’m pretty sure he still aced his finals.
I gave them the college try.
When some early matches in
the Denver stop of the Virginia Slims tennis tour event were played in Boulder and I went to them for the News,
Chuck came along with me and marveled about what a great job I’d have after our graduation if I stuck with this. I “interviewed”
Chris Evert outside Balch Fieldhouse. Chuck was with me and as I finished official work he quickly with no ulterior motives
was in a conversation about the tennis tour with Evert — who was our age — as if they had known each other for
years. After several minutes of this and no promise of a letup, I had to gently remind Chuck that the News was
a morning paper and we needed to head back to the apartment so I could call in my material as notes.
After college, we stayed friends as he worked
elsewhere, including in Cleveland and New York, before he returned to the Denver area. He always had many closer friends than
me, but that didn’t diminish it, and we re-tightened the ties in the past few years.
Chuck had a touch, an aura, a sincerity that could
cause those he had just met to open up and then five minutes later feel as if he was an old friend. That could be as a student,
a businessman, or in later life a mentor to Wheat Ridge kids.
Chuck was determined, energetic, accomplished and successful without having any trace
of ego or selfishness, and that’s really hard to do.
When Chuck, Reid Gamberg, Keith Lening and I attended
Wheat Ridge baseball games last season, I was struck by how respectful the Farmers players were toward Chuck. To them, he
was “Mr. Griffith,” and they went out of their way to thank him. When baseball coach Adam Miller eloquently spoke
at the memorial, it was appropriate, including if he was considered a representative of all the coaches in recent years at
the school. Chuck had done so much for them, in so many ways, and I admit I was a bit embarrassed to realize I was the former
baseball player and that Chuck, a track runner, had adopted the program as I stayed detached.
In the summer of 2014, three Farmer alums
from our era — Chuck; Dave Logan, who was a year ahead of us, was my baseball batterymate, has remained close to Chuck
and also was at the Sunday memorial; and I — spoke to the Farmers’ athletes in that same auditorium at the start
of the school year.
charge was to speak about leadership, and Chuck and Dave, well, knocked it out of the park. To this day, I remember something
Chuck said vividly. He noted it had become fashionable to consider “multi-tasking” admirable. Hogwash, he said.
Whatever you are doing at the moment, it is the only thing you are doing, and do it right.
There are lot of laughable, wince-inducing, business
how-to and self-help books out there that make reasonabl