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A thousand miles of highway from where I'd left Montana that morning, the blue Qwest signs welcomed me back to Denver.

From gazing at stars, I was now reduced to seeing stars over corporate Colorado's continued incursions on the skyline (a vision no doubt clouded by my inability to get a Qwest signal anywhere much beyond the reach of those signs). And just past the Qwest beacons -- which should have pulsed red rather than that alien blue, as the company last week hit its lowest stock price in a year -- another advertisement glowed over the city. "Vesco Field," it announced.

Light out, nobody home.

The future is already looking dim for Invesco Field at Mile High, the $400 million football stadium that was blowing fuses even before it officially opens on Saturday for an Eagles concert. (No spike heels on the new turf, please!) Those metro residents who can't afford a ticket to the concert, or to the Broncos' pre-season debut in their new home on August 25, can see Pat Bowlen's new pigskin palace at an August 19 open house.

The party isn't free, of course, but what's another $3.25 when taxpayers have already committed to pouring $320 million into the place?

Soaking up a week's worth of news in one sitting can be as unpleasant as standing by the Barrel Man for an entire quarter. During the first week of August, when sex offenders and cops' guns were both on the loose, Denver apparently had a chicken hawk in every pot and a police shooting in every garage. Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio was beaming as bright as his signs at the posh International sponsored by Qwest, a golf tournament that's one of the few "charitable" endeavors Qwest has continued to sponsor. (Not only has it slashed corporate donations, but soon after it absorbed US West last summer, Qwest ended US West's longstanding practice of allowing employees to donate work time for worthy causes.)

And taking space once devoted to Ramsey updates (news flash: former Boulder police detective Steve Thomas's July 31 court hearing was postponed until September 7) was all the big news being made at the new stadium: The horses that will soon gallop up to the gate, a million-dollar gift from Bowlen in thanks for our present to him that was several hundred times that; the $40 parking fees; the "Giant Flush" last Thursday, when the Metropolitan Football Stadium District commanded hundreds of plumbing fixtures to do their duty in a synchronized stunt.

You might think that Invesco Funds Group, which anted up $120 million to be split between naming rights to the outside of the stadium and assorted rights inside, would be somewhat sensitive to such a blatant display of its liquid assets. After all, Invesco was so perturbed by a July 1 Denver Post column by Woody Paige, which dared to report that a "key executive" at Invesco had confessed that he and some colleagues referred to the stadium as The Diaphragm, that the company threatened to sue not just Paige, but the Post ("Watch the Fireworks!" July 5). And in its chest-beating press release announcing this threat, Invesco went so far as to suggest that Paige had made up the conversation in the first place. Never mind that if Paige were into fiction, he would have come up with a much better nickname: Invesco hadn't paid big money in order to be mocked!

No, Invesco could do that all on its own. And after the blabbing executive stepped forward and confessed, the company grudgingly sent out another release on July 5, this one waving the white flag. "The firm has learned that an employee did have a social conversation with Mr Paige that subsequently formed the basis for his column," it acknowledged. "These comments from one individual do not reflect the views and sentiments of the company."

That employee has since left the company, taking any threat of a lawsuit with him.

In retrospect, much of Invesco's snit seemed inspired by the mere suggestion that a steel stadium devoted to that most manly of sports could be saddled with a name normally ascribed to an extremely feminine, if eminently useful, piece of equipment. To call the stadium a "diaphragm" was to use a "vulgarity," Invesco CEO Mark Williamson sniffed in his company's complaint. But then, even the mainstream media here is squeamish when referring to the roadshow of The Vagina Monologues. And when told that star Joan Van Ark, a Colorado native, had called this city "a good vagina town," PR pros at assorted booster groups that hype every two-bit award ever bestowed on Denver confessed that they'd be hard-pressed to fit vaginas into their mission statements. If they were willing to confess to anything at all.

In Denver, football -- and football stadiums -- are much more suitable topics for discussion.

"The mayor will always call it Mile High Stadium," says Andrew Hudson, spokesman for Wellington Webb -- who, just minutes before the Giant Flush, had announced that the roads around the new stadium would be named Mile High Stadium Circle.

Ring around the holler, Invesco!

And the Post, too, has been doing some thinking about the stadium. Incensed by Paige's column, a few dim bulbs at Invesco had made several outraged calls to the paper. But their protests didn't land Paige in hot water. ("It was the great PR gaffe of all time," says Paige, who does admit to winding up in his boss's pool at Dean Singleton's birthday party Saturday night.) Instead, they left key executives at the Post feeling plenty steamed.

And on August 7, the same day the paper reported publicly on all the glorious speechifying outside Invesco Field at Mile High, the Post issued a private memo on a certain sore subject. That day's coverage would be the last to refer to the "new silver outdoor arena" by the name of a certain whiny investment company, which brags of its 68-year history in Denver but is really a subsidiary of a British firm.

"The new football stadium will be referred to in copy as 'Mile High stadium' (with a lower-case s)," read the note from the copy desk to all sections of the paper.

"While both stadiums are still standing, they will be distinguished by a lower-case adjective i.e. 'new Mile High stadium' and 'old Mile High Stadium' or the 'new stadium' and the 'old stadium.' Once the old stadium is demolished, the new stadium becomes 'Mile High stadium' on most references. In headlines, we will temporarily use 'new Mile High,'' 'old Mile High, 'new stadium' and 'old stadium.'

"The use of Invesco Field will be limited to unavoidable instances such as 'the players posed next to the Invesco Field sign.'"

It was the sort of missive that gladdens the hearts of purists on copy desks everywhere and chills the blood of corporate marketeers anywhere. Also sure to celebrate are the folks behind The Drive for Mile High Stadium, whose lawsuit against the stadium board's selling of the naming rights is currently stalled in court. Earlier this year, the plaintiffs were the focus of a critical editorial in the Post urging them to "get a life" and give up on their quixotic quest to save the Mile High name. "We have minds of our own," Steve Van Sky responded for the group, "which we suspect is what concerns you -- someone who is willing to take on Corporate America."

Post publisher Dean Singleton swears that the decision about the stadium's official name -- in the Post, at least -- was "made by newsroom management," motivated by journalistic concerns.

But for Invesco, which worked so hard to get around the Mile High Stadium name, even The Diaphragm must be looking like a pretty good prophylactic against getting completely screwed by the media

What's that giant flushing sound you hear?

It's the noise that $120 million makes going down the drain.

Remember to leave the lights on.

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