Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
The only thing that sucks about going to the mountains for the weekend is coming home in Sunday-night traffic. Giant SUVs struggle along like lumbering mammoths, and at the slightest trace of snow or ice, traffic often snarls to a halt. Frustration sets in fast: People want to be out of their cars, into their homes. A small ray of hope appears just pass the turnoff for Golden, where a third lane opens on the left side of eastbound I-70, giving savvy drivers a chance to pick up speed. It's an uphill stretch, but anyone who anticipates the break and has enough horsepower under the hood can stomp on the gas pedal and leave at least a dozen grommit cars behind. You may not go as fast as you did on the slopes, but it'll feel like you're flying.
Denver is one of America's great sports cities, in large part because the majority of the fans here are much less abusive than their peers in other towns. As evidence, consider the incident that took place at the February 8 game between the Denver Nuggets and the Chicago Bulls: High-priced forward Kenyon Martin was sitting out yet another game with a sore knee, and when a man yelled something at him, he sent a pal into the stands to express his displeasure. But as it turned out, the offending remark -- "Suit up, you chump!" -- had to be one of the mildest insults in NBA history. Not only did the line make K-Mart's over-the-top response look even more idiotic, but it captured the polite restraint of Denver fans. And if you don't agree, you're a chump!
The Montbello Warriors may have fallen to the mighty East High Angels when the two basketball powerhouses clashed this winter, but when it came to school spirit, Montbello blew East right out of the arena. East's meager handful of cheerleaders were no match for the all-out battalion of Warriors at the opposite end of the floor: all eighteen of the school's silver-clad cheerleaders, various horn-playing troubadours from the marching band and, of course, the knockout-punch line of drummers, who flipped their sticks and danced in the bleachers with more zeal than that of any Nick Cannon flick. "This is my first full year at Montbello High School," explained cheerleading coach Andrea Mathes-Dynes. "The cheerleaders and the spirit club, they don't just represent the high school, they represent the community itself. Our hope is that the region can look at us and say, 'Hey, they're not just Mont-ghetto, they're a real school.' It's about getting that old Montbello spirit back." By bringing the whole crew out for every home football and basketball game and as many away games as possible, Mathes-Dynes, the cheerleaders and the spirit club might do just that.
The most nimble, most entertaining mascot in professional sports, Rocky the Mountain Lion has won this award so often that we might have to retire the trophy -- or at least provide the high-leaping, slam-dunking feline with the lightning-bolt tail a lifetime supply of Meow Mix. Even NBA refs love Rocky, as evidenced by their tolerance of his comic hectoring and anti-authoritarian hijinks. A Western Conference title would suit this all-time all-star just fine; he'd be sure to drain a couple of rainbows from half-court.
When versatile, multi-sport broadcaster Drew Goodman -- now in his sixth year with the Rockies -- calls a baseball game, you don't get flash or fulmination or partisan outbursts. You get good, solid reporting, well-grounded in fresh facts and delivered in the modulated, New York-accented tones of an old pro. After all, this is a man who used to double as the TV voice of the Denver Nuggets, working more than 190 games per year between hoops and baseball. The young Rox may lose ninety-plus games again this year, but Goodman's a clear winner -- not least when he greets with diplomatic silence the cackling inanities of his "color man," ex-relief pitcher George Frazier.
That Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets' third-year shooting star, was left off the 2006 All-Star roster was a travesty commented upon even by NBA commish David Stern. The seventh-leading scorer and sixth-best foul shooter in the league, 21-year-old Melo may still toil in the shadow of his even more famous 2003 draft-mate, Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James, but for the Nuggets, the 6'8" forward out of Syracuse is the one essential building block for a solid future.
For a while there, the controversial trade that sent Broncos running back Clinton Portis to the Washington Redskins for cornerback Champ Bailey looked like Shanahan's Folly. But the six-time All-Pro certainly lived up to his rep this season. Despite a painful shoulder injury that kept him out of two games, Bailey racked up eight interceptions and a slew of tackles in the regular season, and his dramatic, 100-yard return of a Tom Brady pass in the Broncos' playoff victory against New England sealed the deal. Never mind that heartbreaking near-miss of an errant Ben Roethlisberger throw early in the AFC title game with the Steelers: Look for Bailey to lead a beefed-up Broncos secondary again next season.
A first-ever trip to the disabled list and a mysterious, self-acknowledged mental funk compromised Todd Helton's ninth season in purple pinstripes, but by the end of 2005, the steady first baseman wound up the fifth-best hitter in the National League at .320. This year he remains the rock of the Rockies, the foundation on which Clint Hurdle's inexperienced club is built. Helton has enjoyed just one winning season (2000) since joining the club, but at 32, the .337 career hitter sees happier times ahead for the league's youngest team. "If we don't get in the way of ourselves," he predicts, "we have a chance." Just call the team Todd and the Toddlers.
In mid-March, Quebec-born Alex Tanguay was leading the post-Peter Forsberg Colorado Avalanche in goals, assists and points. A left-handed stick with quick moves and a powerful slapshot, the sixth-year winger is also blessed with good size (6'1", 190 pounds) and unshakable will -- appealing assets as the NHL tries to skate back into the public's heart after a near-fatal work stoppage last sea
For the second straight season, Colorado Rapids coaches and players named their 6'2" goalie, Joe Cannon, as most valuable player. Along with his penchant for acrobatic saves -- he sported a 1.25 goals-against average last year -- Cannon was lauded for his leadership on and off the field. Major League Soccer's 2004 Goalkeeper of the Year returns for this third season in a Rapids jersey and, at age thirty, looms a top choice to be the starting goalie for the U.S. National Team in the World Cup.
In the high-scoring Arena Football League, gaudy offensive statistics come as no shock, but try these on for size: 122 catches, 1,486 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. Those are the 2005 numbers for Colorado Crush offensive specialist Damian Harrell -- enough to earn him the league's Offensive Player of the Year award as the Crush won its first Arena Bowl title. The 6'3" former Florida State wideout has been on the Crush roster since the beginning, back in 2003; in tandem with quarterback John Dutton, he's running up the yardage again.