It's been a tough year for the furry crowd: Howler got bounced by the Avs; Rocky -- (or at least the human force inside him) -- ran into legal trouble; Dinger seems like the slow little brother of Barney; and the Broncos' Miles

appears to be spooked by the four-hooved equine that prances along the sidelines. But one of the hairiest mascots anywhere has lumbered into town and is making a big impression. Especially when he sits on fans' laps. Woolly, mascot for the pro lacrosse Colorado Mammoth, is a brown Mam-scot complete with tusks. And while some might believe he's headed for extinction, this most recent addition to the Pepsi zoo seems alive and well.


Since the retirement of John Elway and the untimely demise of Terrell Davis, the Denver Broncos have been an offensive shambles,

barely getting a sniff at the playoffs. Enter Clinton Portis, a super-quick rookie running back from the University of Miami who, after an early-season bout of fumbleitis, collected 1,508 yards (fourth best in the NFL), fifteen touchdowns and a lock on the Broncos' disputed starting spot. At 5-11 and 205 pounds, Portis has the size to be durable, and his moves are astonishing. His pairing in the backfield with new quarterback Jake Plummer should be good news: A dramatically improved passing game (keep your fingers crossed, Broncomaniacs) usually means fewer bloodthirsty linebackers in the face of a good ball carrier. As for the new QB, that $40 million contract probably dictates a change of nickname from "Jake the Snake" to "Liquid Plummer."

Since the retirement of John Elway and the untimely demise of Terrell Davis, the Denver Broncos have been an offensive shambles,

barely getting a sniff at the playoffs. Enter Clinton Portis, a super-quick rookie running back from the University of Miami who, after an early-season bout of fumbleitis, collected 1,508 yards (fourth best in the NFL), fifteen touchdowns and a lock on the Broncos' disputed starting spot. At 5-11 and 205 pounds, Portis has the size to be durable, and his moves are astonishing. His pairing in the backfield with new quarterback Jake Plummer should be good news: A dramatically improved passing game (keep your fingers crossed, Broncomaniacs) usually means fewer bloodthirsty linebackers in the face of a good ball carrier. As for the new QB, that $40 million contract probably dictates a change of nickname from "Jake the Snake" to "Liquid Plummer."

The brain trust at Coors Field changes players faster than pit crews swap tires at a NASCAR race. Their frenzy leaves only first baseman Todd Helton as the rock upon which Rockies hope is built. There couldn't be a better one: Helton's a three-time All-Star who won the National League batting crown in 2000 (with a .372 average), and he's turned into one of the best defensive first basemen in the game. Not only that, but his work ethic is unimpeachable, even when the Rox start another inevitable August slide toward the NL West cellar. If he doesn't inspire the newcomers, no one will. Now heading into his sixth big-league season, the former University of Tennessee quarterback has signed with Colorado through 2011, and that's a good thing: Every hapless team needs a pillar of stability.
The brain trust at Coors Field changes players faster than pit crews swap tires at a NASCAR race. Their frenzy leaves only first baseman Todd Helton as the rock upon which Rockies hope is built. There couldn't be a better one: Helton's a three-time All-Star who won the National League batting crown in 2000 (with a .372 average), and he's turned into one of the best defensive first basemen in the game. Not only that, but his work ethic is unimpeachable, even when the Rox start another inevitable August slide toward the NL West cellar. If he doesn't inspire the newcomers, no one will. Now heading into his sixth big-league season, the former University of Tennessee quarterback has signed with Colorado through 2011, and that's a good thing: Every hapless team needs a pillar of stability.


With or without a spleen, Örnsköldsvik, Sweden's gift to the Colorado Avalanche has been the team's most vital organ this year -- especially when captain Joe Sakic was shelved by injury. En route to another playoff appearance, eight-year veteran Peter Forsberg leads the team in points and assists and was named NHL player of the month for February. More important, the Super Swede has taken emotional charge of an Avs club that struggled through the early season in disarray but has re-emerged as a dangerous Stanley Cup contender. And to think Forsberg's career looked to be over two years ago following that vicious hit he suffered in game seven against the Los Angeles Kings.
With or without a spleen, Örnsköldsvik, Sweden's gift to the Colorado Avalanche has been the team's most vital organ this year -- especially when captain Joe Sakic was shelved by injury. En route to another playoff appearance, eight-year veteran Peter Forsberg leads the team in points and assists and was named NHL player of the month for February. More important, the Super Swede has taken emotional charge of an Avs club that struggled through the early season in disarray but has re-emerged as a dangerous Stanley Cup contender. And to think Forsberg's career looked to be over two years ago following that vicious hit he suffered in game seven against the Los Angeles Kings.


Starting his second year with the Colorado Rapids, stop-minded midfielder Pablo Mastroeni is a true star -- not least because of his impressive play for the U.S. National Team that shocked soccer powers like Portugal and Mexico at last summer's World Cup before their heartbreaking loss to Germany. Born in Argentina, Mastroeni moved to Phoenix when he was four. He played college soccer at North Carolina State and was with the now-defunct Miami Fusion of Major League Soccer before the Rapids grabbed him in last year's dispersal draft. This season, look for the 26-year-old defensive specialist to attack more for the Rapids. And don't count him out of World Cup 2006.
Starting his second year with the Colorado Rapids, stop-minded midfielder Pablo Mastroeni is a true star -- not least because of his impressive play for the U.S. National Team that shocked soccer powers like Portugal and Mexico at last summer's World Cup before their heartbreaking loss to Germany. Born in Argentina, Mastroeni moved to Phoenix when he was four. He played college soccer at North Carolina State and was with the now-defunct Miami Fusion of Major League Soccer before the Rapids grabbed him in last year's dispersal draft. This season, look for the 26-year-old defensive specialist to attack more for the Rapids. And don't count him out of World Cup 2006.


We gotta pick somebody, don't we? The only sign of useful maturity in the chaotic kindergarten that is the Denver Nuggets locker room comes from long-suffering veteran Juwan Howard, late of the league-best Dallas Mavericks. At 6-9 and 260 pounds, the big forward has the beef to muscle up on opponents, and his personal numbers during this winter of discontent befit a winner, not a member of the NBA's second-worst team. Howard's averaging almost nineteen points per game, along with eight rebounds and three assists. As of mid-March, he'd led or co-led Jeff Bzdelik's offensively challenged club in scoring in 29 of its last 35 games and showed himself to be a solid professional, grinding out almost 38 minutes per night of losing basketball without complaint. Once he's done, there surely must be a place in hoops heaven for this intrepid warrior.

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