Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
Lark buntings, the Colorado state bird, are rare, but they're a little easier to see in the spring, when the so-called "troubadours of the plains" arrive in Colorado before flying south again at the beginning of fall. During the summer, they can be spotted feeding in large flocks along roadsides on the eastern plains and, in particular, in the Pawnee National Grassland in Weld County. Their coloring makes them easy to see: The males are black with a white patch on their wings, which makes them look like they're wearing tuxedos. Fancy.
We know, we know: Praising Peyton Manning after the team's most recent Super Bowl humiliation feels wrong somehow. But remember the season that preceded that blowout. Not only did Number 18 set a whole slew of Broncos records, but he shattered marks for touchdown passes and yardage through the air for the league as a whole en route to his unprecedented fifth Most Valuable Player award. And even though that loss to the Seahawks was agonizing, it provides some mighty big incentive for Peyton to get the Men in Orange back to the Promised Land — and win this time.
Michael Cuddyer is hardly the most charismatic member of the Rockies; he seems more like he should be selling insurance than playing Major League Baseball at the highest level. But quietly and without fanfare, he led the squad in a slew of key offensive statistics during 2013, including batting average (an impressive .331), RBIs (84) and hits (162). Moreover, he slugged twenty home runs — just six off the pace set by the much more high-profile Carlos Gonzalez — and played in the second-highest number of games of anyone on the roster. He may not look like a star, but he sure plays like one.
A good way to measure a player's importance is to track how his team performs without him. And by that measure, Ty Lawson is far and away the Nugs' main man. The Denver ballers have had a dispiriting season, but when Lawson is on the court doing what he does best — pushing the pace, passing the rock, and scoring buckets when everyone else has gone cold — they've been competitive, and sometimes better than that. And when he's been on the shelf with rib injuries and other issues? They could suck the cold off the North Pole. If any Nugget is indispensable, it's Ty.
Matt Duchene is the most highly touted addition to the Colorado Avalanche in recent years, and while he's hardly been a disappointment, he hasn't always hit the heights predicted for him. This year, however, has been his coming-out party. He's led the team in points for the majority of the season, but more than that, he's turned heads with his incredible speed on the ice — is he actually getting faster? — and growing knowledge of the game. No wonder he was added to the absolutely loaded Canadian Olympic hockey squad; that gold medal he brought back will no doubt whet his appetite for achieving similar glory in the NHL.