Let's Get Ready to R-r-r-rollerblade!
Hey, Pat. Pat Bowlen. Why not save yourself some trouble? Before the bunco squad picks you up for extortion on this stadium thing, take some advice, willya? You're not the only game in town anymore, fella, and there are quite a few of us who won't give a rat's eyeball if you pack up your sorry excuse for a football team and move it to Bismark or Cleveland or Des Moines or wherever you have in mind. As a matter of fact, Mr. Profitmonger, some of us will be happy to back the van up to the door for you and help throw Shanahan, Shannon Sharpe and all the shoulder pads into the back. The way your bogus club has looked the last four years, you belong in Salt Lake City. Or Winnemucca. We'll even chip in for gas.
Like we said, Pat, you no longer have a monopoly in this town.
Why, only last week we attended a press conference announcing the arrival of "the newest, most exciting sport in Denver"--professional roller hockey. In the form of the Denver Daredevils. That stunning news was preceded, only days earlier, by word that our fair city has been chosen as one of eight team sites for the ABL, the new women's pro basketball league scheduled to begin play this fall. And how about this flash! The Colorado Rapids, a franchise of Major League Soccer, which is billed as "the first Division I soccer league in the United States in over a decade," has completed its inaugural draft and will begin play on April 6. Better get in line now before all the good seats are gone. Because the Rapids have drafted--get this--Dominic Kinnear and Roy Wegerle. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Pat!
What a town! Three new pro sports franchises in a single month. And you want us to pay for a new football stadium. Hey, Patrick. Feel that hot breath on the back of your neck? That's not Dante Bichette, it's a sixteen-year-old wearing Rollerblades bearing down on you fast, and because he's got his Walkman turned up to about 12,000 decibels, he'll barely notice that he's steamrolled the entire Broncos tradition in one sweep through the parking lot. See that tall woman over there? That's Sheryl Swoopes, the basketball player. We don't know who she's going to suit up for yet, but she plays a lot more defense than anybody on the Broncos. Before you know it she'll be a bigger sports star than Elway or Mutombo or Michael Jordan. You can quote us on this, Pat: Denver will always remember the historic moment that it landed its ABL franchise.
And what can you say about soccer that hasn't already been said? The world's favorite game is so popular here in the Mile High City that we've had ten or twelve different pro teams in the last twenty years--playing indoors and out, some of the players doing both on the same day. None of the teams survived, but so what? Now we have two clubs at once--the Foxes and the Rapids. Kind of like the Cubs and the White Sox. Guess that's one way to accommodate those overflow crowds. Meanwhile, pay a visit to Denver's crowded sports franchise graveyard and you'll find the ghosts of assorted Caribous and Comets and What-have-yous, all kicking that funny spotted ball into a net at an absolutely frightening rate--sometimes two or three times a year.
Remember the Denver Stars, who competed in pro team rodeo? Those brave cowpokes are buried out in the franchise grayeyard, too, with their lariats and their Tony Lama boots. Surely you recall the Denver Gold, of the defunct United States Football League, but how about cable TV king Bill Daniels's Denver Rocks, the pro boxing team? Ron Lyle is making a comeback at age 54, but you can bet that if any of his old Rocks teammates are still around, they get into the movies for three bucks.
Speaking of hockey, Patrick Roy and Peter Forsberg may be the big names on the ice these days, but how about that mausoleum full of old Spurs, Pucks, Grizzlies and, yes, even Colorado Rockies. Little matter that these last transformed themselves into the 1995 Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils.
In other words, Denver is not just fertile soil for the cultivation of legitimate pro teams, it's also a dumping ground for every trash sport the flimflam men can dream up. Ever see the Denver Dynamite play? Arena football. That's the mutant game in which missed field goals carom back onto the field off a trampoline net and most of the teams have the life span of fruit flies. Remember the Denver Racquets? Team tennis in the Seventies. Wooden racquet era. Cheering and jeering encouraged. Led by Tony Roche and Françoise Durr, the Racquets won the championship during their one year in the league. You'd win, too, if you were playing against something called the Boston Lobsters, whose major crisis involved the shower room arrangements for male and female players.
Will life be any sweeter for the average Denver Daredevil? That remains to be seen, but the club owners know they have their work cut out for them. The newest franchise of Roller Hockey International will open the season June 1 and play 28 games in 10 weeks at McNichols Arena--but none of the home games are scheduled for nights when the Colorado Rockies are in town. The new sport is designed to be fan-friendly--team members will come to pregame public barbecues in the parking lot, where the club will also loan out in-line skates; goalkeepers will let fans shoot pucks at them, and the Daredevil uniforms will have what one principal called "that Darth Vader look."
But the players won't be getting rich. League commissioner Ralph Backstrom, who helped the Montreal Canadiens win six Stanley Cups and later coached Denver University's Pioneers, said RHI players don't work for salaries, they compete for prize money--and there isn't much of that. Members of the worst team in the league--the Minnesota Arctic Blast? the Anaheim Bullfrogs?--will earn $4,000 apiece for the season; the league champions--perhaps those fierce Sacramento River Rats?--will get just $14,000 per head. Fourteen thousand. That's what Wayne Gretzky earns during a nap between periods.
Like many of the minor sport leagues that have come and gone in Denver, the RHI has had its ups and downs in three years of existence. Last season 2.5 million fans showed up, but a quick check of the conference alignments reveals that four clubs went kaput: Detroit, Chicago, Phoenix and Buffalo (which won the championship in 1994). In fact, the Daredevils are coming into a league with just eighteen teams--one fewer than last year.
Meanwhile, players in the eight-team American Basketball League will earn more--$70,000 on the average--but whether Americans will pay $10 a ticket to watch the women's game is another question: Fans do it in Europe, but the ABL season, October through February, will compete directly with the college game and the NBA. Denver's team, as yet unnamed and unformed, will play most of its 20 home games in the 9,300-seat Denver Coliseum, but it will move up to McNichols Arena on a couple of conflict dates.
And the Rapids? Pro soccer? The game has its fierce adherents, but we've been down this stream before, I suspect.
So, then. Pat. You still here? Let's make something clear, Pat. We were only kidding. You are really a prince of a man. Every living soul in the Denver metropolitan area is devoted to you and your Denver Broncos, heart and soul. So when it comes to financing that new stadium you want so badly, we'll be happy to do it, even if it means closing down a couple of fire stations and cutting everybody back to one hot meal a day. In fact, how about two stadiums? One for practice, one for real games. That way, the Sunday afternoon grass won't get torn up in quite the same suspicious way it got torn up last season. Why did that look like window-dressing, Pat? Why did that look like a calculated plea for a new ballpark?
Never mind. Would you like four or five dozen more sky boxes? You got 'em, Pat. We certainly don't want to alienate the corporate fat cats feeding off their outrageous expense accounts. How about your fair share of the parking and concession profits? Absolutely. Hey, you deserve it, Pat. Because you really are still the only game in town--the real professional franchise at this altitude. At least until the Rockies come up from Tucson and the Avalanche starts kicking butt in the NHL playoffs, putting this town into a frenzy. Until then, though, live large in the confidence that we stand behind you.
After that, have a nice trip to Winnemucca.
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