Sports

Denver's Most Loved Championship Teams and Where This Year's Colorado Avs Rank

Joe Sakic hoisting the Stanley Cup at the Colorado Avalanche's 1996 victory celebration.
Joe Sakic hoisting the Stanley Cup at the Colorado Avalanche's 1996 victory celebration.
At 10 a.m. today, June 30, a victory parade for the Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche will start winding its way through downtown Denver en route to a celebration at Civic Center Park (click here for all the details). The Avs' 4-2 series defeat of the Tampa Bay Lightning marks the sixth professional-sports championship earned by teams based in the Mile High City since 1996 — three each for the Avalanche and the Denver Broncos.

All of these triumphs have been thrilling. But where does this one rank among Denver's sextet of conquests? Here's our highly subjective countdown, in descending order, accompanied by three videos courtesy of Denver7 showing victory parades from the past.

6. The 2000-2001 Colorado Avalanche
There was no shortage of storylines for the Avs during the 2000-2001 season — foremost among them the quest to win a Cup for Ray Bourque, who'd never been on a team that had won it all and was nearing the end of the line after one of the most storied playing careers of his generation. The finals were tremendously dramatic, with the New Jersey Devils taking the Avalanche to game seven before finally succumbing. But this was the second time the Avs had taken the trophy in half a decade, and the squad had been excellent during the intervening years — so good, in fact, that fans had gotten spoiled. The payback would be a bitch.

5. The 1998-1999 Denver Broncos

Like Avs loyalists, Broncos boosters (often the same folks) had grown accustomed to winning. Denver's 34-19 drubbing of the Atlanta Falcons, overseen by former Broncos head coach Dan Reeves, on January 31, 1999, marked the second consecutive season the Broncos had come out on top at the Super Bowl. Moreover, there was a shadow hanging over the proceedings — the likelihood that quarterback John Elway, the MVP of the big game, would be hanging up his cleats afterward (which he did). Elway's remarkable exit was valedictory, but also melancholy.

4. The 1995-1996 Colorado Avalanche

To continue the theme of championships seeming easy.... The Avalanche was originally the Quebec Nordiques, a unit founded in 1972 that relocated to Denver in 1995 — and Colorado sports fans have seldom gotten luckier. The team was already loaded with talented skaters, including Joe Sakic, and when general manager Pierre Lacroix obtained standout goaltender Patrick Roy a couple of months into the campaign, the Avs became all but unbeatable, as witnessed by their 4-0 sweep of the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup finals. Hockey lovers were in heaven, and more casual observers were excited, too — even those to whom the entire sport was still something of a mystery.

3. The 2015-2016 Denver Broncos
After Elway's retirement, the Broncos spent the next decade-plus wandering in the desert — a biblical reference that no doubt would please quarterback Tim Tebow, who may have been the Chosen One but still couldn't lead Denver back to the promised land. The person for that job was Peyton Manning, who turned the Broncos into an offensive juggernaut. However, Denver was dismantled in Super Bowl XLVIII, played in February 2014, by the Seattle Seahawks and future Colorado resident Russell Wilson — the final score was (eeesh) 43-8 — and by the time the Broncos got back to the big game on February 7, 2016, their path to another ring was blocked by Cam Newton and the 15-1 Carolina Panthers. But even though Manning's skill set had deteriorated by that point (he, too, retired soon thereafter), Von Miller and company helped secure a 24-10 win. And man, did it taste sweet.

2. The 2021-2022 Colorado Avalanche

Success feels even better when it follows failure. The Colorado Avs' playoff runs of the late 1990s and early 2000s led to a long period of rebuilding — or perhaps "bottoming out" is a better way to put it. Colorado was the worst team in the National Hockey League just a few short years ago before climbing back to relevance — although three consecutive second-round playoff exits made it clear that a few pieces were still missing. Sakic, now the Avalanche's general manager, found them this past season, and with big contributions from Nathan MacKinnon, Cole Makar and so many others, the team finally reached the top of the mountain again — and put Denver back into parade mode.

1. The 1997-1998 Denver Broncos
Talk about the agony of defeat: Despite becoming an elite team thanks to Elway, the Broncos couldn't seal the deal, losing Super Bowl XXI to the New York Giants 39-20, Super Bowl XXII to the Washington Redskins 42-10 and Super Bowl XXIV to the San Francisco 49ers 55-10 — the largest margin of victory since the game was created in the 1960s. As a result, Broncos devotees were understandably nervous on January 25, 1998, when recent champs the Green Bay Packers, helmed by Brett Favre, stood between the team and redemption. Nonetheless, Elway, with a big assist from Terrell Davis, the game's MVP, got back at the Pack, 31-24. The joy felt by sports fans in Denver that day may never be matched — but we can't wait for the next great Colorado team to try.