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Best Of 2006

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Best Of :: Sports & Recreation

BEST SPORTS TEAM -- PROFESSIONAL

John Elway has long known the taste of pay dirt, but when the Arena Football League team he co-owns (with a couple of guys named Bowlen and Kroenke) won the Arena Bowl championship on June 27, 2005, in Las Vegas, the famous ex-quarterback took special satisfaction. The Colorado Crush had been a member of the league for just three seasons -- in 2003, the team's record was a dismal 2-14 -- and it wasn't until Elway replaced original head coach Bob Beers (a longtime Elway family friend) with AFL veteran Mike Dailey that the Crush's fortunes took a turn for the better, culminating with the 51-48 win over the Georgia Force in Arena Bowl XIX. Last year Elway explained the new pressures of being an owner: "When you get to the game, you feel helpless.... I'm used to touching the ball every down. When you're up in the box, you think about what could go wrong." On June 27, almost nothing did. And the team's 6-2 record so far this season bodes well for a shot at a championship repeat.

BEST PROOF THAT DENVER SPORTS FANS ARE PRETTY DAMN POLITE

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!

BEST SPIRIT CORPS

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.

BEST MASCOT

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.

BEST SPORTS ANNOUNCER

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.

BEST NUGGET

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.

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BEST SPORTS TEAM -- PROFESSIONAL: Colorado Crush

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