By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
Above all, 1996 was the year Denver wore the Scarlet Letter--that big red "A" at once symbolizing the city's first professional sports championship and its shameless dalliance with the new kid in town. All hail immediate gratification: Marc Crawford's beautifully coached, deeply talented Colorado Avalanche had scarcely forgotten the taste of onion soup back home in Quebec when it handed the Mile High City a Stanley Cup in its debut year on local ice. The key to the mint in the Avs' 4-0 sweep of the Florida Panthers? L'homme with two first names (Patrick and Whaaaa) but only one identity (impenetrable).
So guess what? Two minutes after the club hoisted the storied trophy aloft, local yuppie hockey experts who only last year didn't know a puck from a duck started shouting "dynasty." Reportedly, 400,000 souls (some of them still baffled at the speed of it all) turned out to cheer at the Avs' downtown victory parade.
No such comic ironies attend the city's other run at destiny. For 37 seasons, the Denver Broncos have been a work in progress, and as the calendar year ends, they remain one: Their season record is 13-3, but only a long-overdue Super Bowl win in New Orleans come January 26 would cast off the old burdens borne by the team and its brilliant, tough, aging quarterback, John Elway. After absorbing four losses in the Big Game over two decades--and jokes you also hear in chilly Buffalo--Denver would, with justification, be even happier to drape itself in winning orange and blue on Super Bowl night than it was to wear the "A" last spring.
Besides, the cops are getting pretty good at working parades.
If there's another one in early February, Pat Bowlen will probably get better at working his constituents. The Broncos' owner insists that Mile High Stadium is outdated and decrepit (translation: not enough lucrative luxury boxes) and will take his plea for a new ballpark to the people in a fall 1997 referendum. What'll you bet it passes if Elway passes his mates to a win in New Orleans? Ascent Entertainment, which owns both the Avalanche and--let's see here, what is the name of that local basketball team?--also wants new digs. But plans for the Pepsi Center keep going awry despite the owners' rare pledge to pay for the thing themselves. Will Denver's hockey and basketball teams suddenly find themselves banished to the suburbs? Who knows?
In the meantime, NBA evaluators have found the toilets in the locker rooms at McNichols Arena to be substandard. That's probably because they're all clogged up with current Nuggets players. After unloading Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (who was suspended last season for refusing to stand during the national anthem), everyone named Williams and center Dikembe Mutombo (who speaks more languages than he scores points), Bernie Bickerstaff hasn't been able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. So here's the gluepot, Mr. Motta. Knock yourself out.
Now let's get out of town for a minute, shall we?
The 1996 sports year got under way with the resignation of Dolphins coach Don Shula after 43 years on the sidelines; later in the season, his son David was canned by Cincinnati after 43 minutes on the sidelines. The Dallas Cowboys beat Pittsburgh 27-17 in the Super Bowl, then started to self-destruct with free-agent trades and a drug scandal involving star wideout Michael Irvin. Still, don't count the 'Boys out as the Broncs' possible opponent in the Big Easy.
Slugger Dave Winfield (465 home runs, 3,110 hits) retired at 44, before he could play even one game in homer-happy Coors Field, and 49er legend Ronnie Lott hung 'em up. Because of heart problems, Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda had to quit, but antsy second-sacker Ryne Sandberg unretired and returned to the Cubs. For a brief spell there at the end of January, tedious Magic Johnson rejoined the Lakers. Again. Put a thirty on it, willya, pal?
In the wonderful world of boxing, veteran tomato can Tommy Morrison, age 27, tested positive for HIV--sending his last opponent, Lennox Lewis, scurrying to the doctor's office. While leading on points, Andrew Golota was disqualified for low blows in his summer bout with Riddick Bowe, prompting a cold-cocking, chair-throwing melee inside Madison Square Garden that ended with seventeen arrests, forty injuries and the purse being held up. In December, the two fighters met in a rematch. Once again, Golota was leading when he was DQ'd for low blows. Right here in Denver, Peter McNeeley, who once fought Mike Tyson, was knocked cold by a Denver martial-arts practitioner. For his part, Leg-Iron Mike lost his title to lightly regarded ex-champ Evander Holyfield, whose long-shot odds dropped mysteriously from 25-1 to 5-1 the day before the fight. And only last week, fat George Foreman signed to fight ancient Larry Holmes--together they are 94 years old.
Absurdity and tragedy afflicted some other sports, too. Baseball Hall of Fame voters saw fit to induct no one in 1996--leaving worthies Don Sutton, Tony Perez and Phil Niekro on the doorstep for another year, probably forever. Baltimore's Robby Alomar spit in the face of umpire John Hirshbeck. Billionaire lunatic John E. DuPont killed wrestling champion Dave Schultz, throwing the future of American Olympic wrestling into doubt, and on Opening Day in Cincinnati, 325-pound National League umpire John McSherry dropped dead of a heart attack, prompting postponement of the game. Responded meddlesome Reds owner Marge Schott: "I feel cheated." Later in the year, Schott was suspended after her dazzling historical observation that Hitler wasn't really such a bad guy after all.