Best Of :: Sports & Recreation
We come not to bury the Denver Broncos, but to praise them. True, the team followed up its humiliating Super Bowl defeat by getting bounced out of the playoffs the next year after one game. But since Peyton Manning came to town, Denver has been among the most exciting franchises in any league, generating terrific story lines week in and week out — and with Manning returning to the fold for what's likely to be his final season and prodigal son Gary Kubiak coming back with a mandate for returning to glory, the drama could ratchet even higher in 2015-2016.
Readers' choice: Denver Broncos
This is it, folks: the Broncos' last best chance to make it to the Super Bowl with Peyton Manning. It's 2016 or bust. Once PFM is gone, it's going to be a while before the team gets close again (can you say "rebuilding?"). So let's leave it all on the field this year.
Readers' choice: 2016
The list of Broncos who played worse last season than they did in the season before that is long, and there are a lot more names on it than just Peyton Manning's. Running back C.J. Anderson is a clear exception. At the start of the 2014-2015 campaign, the undrafted free agent from 2013 was an afterthought. But when neither Ronnie Hillman nor Montee Ball took control of the position, Anderson showed he belonged with a 51-yard touchdown catch-and-run versus the Raiders that may have been the single best Broncos play of the season, and more solid performances followed. With new coach Gary Kubiak expected to institute his venerated zone-blocking scheme, we can't wait to see Anderson take the next step to stardom.
Readers' choice: Peyton Manning
Justin Morneau has been around. He made his major-league debut in 2003 and followed up a long and successful stint with the Minnesota Twins with a brief stop in Pittsburgh before inking with Colorado — and in his first season with the Rockies, he batted a brawny .319 by way of 160 hits, seventeen of them home runs. And unlike more vaunted names, he was a relative paragon of health, playing in 135 games. He even earned a couple of MVP votes — evidence that his value to the Rockies shouldn't be underrated.
Readers' choice: Troy Tulowitzki
The Denver Nuggets have been a team in turmoil this season, losing their coach, several big names and plenty of games. But while other players started to phone it in, Kenneth Faried continued to work hard, which is why he remains a fan favorite. Although he's sometimes asked to do too much, he's also a freakish athlete whose energy and enthusiasm should be infectious for teammates. Under the next regime, we hope they will be.
Readers' choice: Kenneth Faried and Ty Lawson (tie)
The Avs are loaded with young talents (including Matt Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan O'Reilly) who overachieved in 2013-2014 before coming back down to earth this season. But Jarome Iginla, one of the oldsters on the squad, just kept going and going and going. He's had a storied career since the mid-'90s, mostly for the Calgary Flames, and he's not done yet. Throughout the season, he's been among the team leaders in goals, points and plus/minus, all the while offering a steadying influence to a youthful roster in desperate need of one.
Readers' choice: Matt Duchene
Although Deshorn Brown has only been a Rapid for a couple of years, he hasn't been shy about taking charge. In 2014, as in his first season with the club, he absolutely dominated from an offensive standpoint, leading the team in most categories by a lot; for example, he took 121 shots, with the next closest player (Dillon Serna) coming in at 39. It would have been nice if a few more had gone in, especially since the Rapids finished eighth in the nine-team MLS Western Conference. But Brown is definitely doing all he can to make the number of victories rise.
Readers' choice: Dillon Serna
Although he's not the team's number-one star — that's still John Grant Jr. — Adam Jones is giving the spot a run for its money. His point total rivals Grant's, and when he's on, he can provide instant offense, even under difficult conditions. During a game against New England, for example, he scored three goals in under six minutes using a borrowed stick — a necessity, because the team's bags had been waylaid. No, professional lacrosse isn't always glamorous. Still, Jones has what it takes for the long haul.
Readers' choice: John Gallant
Attackman Eric Law is a hometown boy — a native Coloradan and graduate of Arapahoe High School who played his college lacrosse at DU. But he isn't an Outlaw for sentimental reasons. He followed up a scorching rookie season with an equally impressive sophomore stint, during which he earned all-star honors for leading the team in goals, points, shots on goal and shooting percentage, not to mention recording four hat tricks through the first six games of the season. Unlike most other professional franchises in Denver, which experienced down years, the Outlaws finished 2014 as MLL champs, and Law was a big reason why.
Readers' choice: Eric Law
It's been a rough year for pro coaches of the big four teams in Denver: John Fox jumped from the Broncos before he could be pushed, Brian Shaw was unceremoniously dismissed by the Nuggets, and Walt Weiss managed to survive as Rockies skipper only because general manager Dan O'Dowd was the designated (and belated) sacrifice. That leaves Patrick Roy, whose team didn't manage to hit the heights of his first year in charge. Yet he still struck a fine balance between positivity and hard-assed realism, figuratively skating over some often-thin ice with the sort of confidence that makes us believe better things are ahead.
Readers' choice: Patrick Roy
For coaches at colleges outside the power conferences, validation for a job well done comes when bigger universities come calling, and that's what happened for Jim McElwain, who was hired by Florida after the end of the regular season. When he took the CSU gig following several strong years as offensive coordinator at Alabama, observers knew he might be looking at Fort Collins as a way station. But this sort of plan only works if a coach wins, and McElwain did, quickly turning around a moribund program and registering a 10-2 record en route to becoming Mountain West Conference coach of the year. He earned the promotion, and CSU is in a better place moving forward because he did.
Readers' choice: Jim McElwain
KOA longtimer Alan Roach has manned the public-address system at a slew of Super Bowls, but not at the 2014 edition, because of the theory that hearing him would have given the Broncos an unfair advantage over the Seattle Seahawks. In general, this is an absurd notion, and not only because even the voice of God couldn't have helped Denver enough to win. Then again, Roach's bottomless tone is the next best thing to divinity, at least as far as most local fans are concerned. To people in Colorado, Roach simply sounds like sports, and for someone in his line of work, there's no greater compliment.
Readers' choice: Dave Logan