Life is rough for Colorado sports fans. Our most successful team is the Avalanche, with two Stanley Cups in almost twenty years of existence. That’s not exactly dominant. Then you have the Nuggets (nothing), all college teams in the entire state (next to nothing), and of course, our beloved Rockies (one pennant, no championships). And after tonight, a football team that was utterly embarrassed on the gridiron. This team has also gone 15 long years without being the best in the nation, and only has two titles in its history. Why are Colorado sports fans so diehard? We’ve had little to get excited about.
On the other hand, there’s really nowhere to go but up. The Rockies enter the 2014 season stepping into a sports void in this great state, if not this whole time zone. It wouldn’t take much for Denver to find itself United in Purple come September. And that’s the first thing the Rockies can take from this recent playoff campaign run by the Denver Broncos:
1. Bring people together. And the Rockies know how to do this. They did it back in 2007 during their World Series run. They definitely did it in their early seasons when they filled every single seat for hundreds of games. So what has been happening lately? I think it’s a combination of owners that appear too stingy to spend money, dramatic gaps between potential and performance, and a lot of excuse-making. When the guys at the top talk about how difficult it is to pitch at altitude, it feels like they’ve given up before they’ve even started. That’s not the way to get fans behind you. The Broncos’ defense pretty much fell apart this season, but instead of whining about it, Coach John Fox put the second string to work and made AFC Champions out of them. Yes, the weaknesses in their defensive game were crystal clear in tonight’s game, but look how far they got on hard work and faith. The city was willing to get behind that.
2. Hold your superstars accountable. It’s hard not to like Peyt0n Manning. I went to UGA, so I’m predisposed to dislike Mannings, but I like all of them. I lived in New York for a while and always rooted for Eli and the Giants. And Peyton has simply transformed the Broncos in the last two seasons. He runs his offense with so much confidence and authority. Yes, he and they fell apart tonight. I have a sneaking suspicion that the misplayed snap on the opening drive derailed Manning and he just never got it back. Regardless of why, I’m not blind to the fact that he was playing very un-Manning-like football tonight. Still, it’s the exception that proves the rule. It was so surprising because it was so different from what we were used to.
Despite this, we’ve yet to see a truly breakout season from the Rockies’ pillars, Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. The team has been building around them for several seasons now, and yet neither of them has produced the kind of offensive fireworks I think we can reasonably expect. Part of the problem is that they are so frequently injured. I think Tulo has finally started to understand that he can’t push himself to the brink constantly and then take a day off to recuperate and be fine. He needs regular time off well in advance of a season-ending injury in order to stay in tiptop shape. He is 29 years old. Manning is 37, and while he’s had his fair share of injuries, he seems to know how to maintain himself over the course of a season. What’s developed is a wisdom and command of the game that ultimately produced record-breaking offense for the Broncos this year. Why is Tulo broken all the time and Manning so strong? If the guys on whose shoulders the team is supposed to rest can’t pull their weight, the team can’t succeed.
3. Have a less distracting mascot. Did you know the Broncos had a mascot? I grew up in a family that rooted for them and I honestly couldn’t have said one way or the other. I noticed him just recently on the sideline and had to look him up to find out that his name was Thunder. Maybe I’m just out of it, or maybe Thunder just does a way better job than Dinger of staying out of the way. In any case, I much prefer him.
There was probably more to be learned from tonight’s game, but those were the few things that came to my mind. I’m a Colorado sports fan, so I hang in through thick and thin. Maybe, just maybe, that will pay off with a World Series win in this lifetime.