Those animal whimpers that fill the stricken city's boardrooms and bars this week come from believers who wagered Grandma Martha's silver that the vastly improved, playoff-bound Broncos would kick the visiting Oakland Raiders all over the place on a snowy Sunday night at Invesco Field -- or that they would rise up the next week to upset San Diego. Gleeful in their task, the Raiders and Chargers put those myths to rest, albeit by a total of just four points. As usual, the Broncos field the lightest offensive and defensive lines in the NFL -- a weight-for-speed theory that began working pretty well for them back in the Elway era. But now, the fans are compelled to ask, hasn't the entire team also grown a little light in the head, including its mastermind?
Speaking of coaches, Gary Barnett is apparently a man of many faces. He's the visionary who lifted Northwestern's embarrassing football program from the slough of despond and set the Mildcats down at the Rose Bowl. He's also the blind man who claimed to know nothing when a couple of Northwestern players got involved in a sports gambling scandal. Gary Barnett is the head coach who reinvigorated University of Colorado football after Slick Rick Neuheisel and his guitar set out for Seattle. Alternatively, he's an upright leader of young men who claimed to know nothing when a scandal (sex, booze, rape, hookers, misuse of funds) far more damaging than the mess in Evanston rocked the Buffaloes from horn to hoof. This is the Barnett who was temporarily relieved of his duties -- months before CU athletic director Dick Tharp was permanently relieved of his.
Couple of weeks ago, we met another Gary Barnett -- the inspirational force who coaxed his psychologically impaired team to a 7-4 regular season this year and, on the strength of that, was named Big 12 Conference coach of the year by a panel of twenty sportswriters. What happened on the field is what counted, the voters claimed, not what happened in any grand-jury room or, for that matter, in the dark hallways of Barnett's conscience. Big 12 coach of the year. As turnarounds go, this outranks Northwestern's 1995 miracle season by several multiples: Imagine Osama bin Laden, decked out in his best burnoose, sitting down to a state dinner at the White House.
Of course, it's always hard to keep up where Barnett is concerned: His latest incarnation is the helpless boob who looked on grimly as Oklahoma wasted his Buffs 42-3 Saturday night in the Big 12 title game. Take your pick among the various and sundry Barnetts. But you might do well to hurry here, too.