Jan 252005
 
Authors: Bob Fernandez

Colorado sports fans have seen better days.

Over the last 10 years, the Denver Broncos have won back-to-back Super Bowls (1998 and 1999), the Colorado Avalanche has won two NHL Stanley Cup Championships (1996 and 2001), and in 1994, the Denver Nuggets shocked the basketball world by advancing to the second round of the NBA Playoffs after defeating the Seattle Supersonics to become the first-ever eighth-seed team in NBA history to knock off a first-seeded team.

Even the Colorado Rockies got a taste of the postseason when they matched up against the eventual world champion Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series in 1995 (losing the series 3-1), just two years after the team made its debut in the Mile High City.

Colorado sports fans have had a lot to cheer about in the past, as Denver has often been touted as one of the country's top sports towns.

However, at least for the time being, the glory days of Colorado professional sports appears to be long gone. Three of the state's pro sports teams have fallen on hard times recently, and players from the fourth team, the Avalanche, have witnessed it all from the comfort of their own homes, thanks to the NHL lockout that has kept players off the ice this season and may keep them off the ice next season.

The state's beloved Broncos have qualified for the NFL Playoffs just three times since Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway retired in 1999 and have yet to advance past the first round. The Broncos have matched up against the Indianapolis Colts twice over the past two postseasons and have proceeded to embarrass themselves both times, being outscored by a combined 90-34 in the two meetings.

Despite being pummeled 49-24 earlier this month in their most recent debacle against the Colts, the Broncos head coach and executive vice president of football operations, Mike Shanahan, insists that the Broncos are only one or two players away from being a Super Bowl contender (which may be the case if those two players are league MVP Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Philadelphia Eagles all-pro receiver Terrell Owens).

At least no one within the Rockies management has been bold enough to claim the team is a player or two from contending. The last time the organization tried to build a contender around a handful of players was when they handed huge multi-year contracts to pitches Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle in 2000.

Despite the high-profile acquisitions, the Rockies never even sniffed a National League pennant, and the team's management decided to rebuild the team around youth after eagerly getting rid of Hampton, Neagle and high-priced and oft-injured fan favorite Larry Walker.

So now Rockies General Manager Dan O'Dowd has a built a team full of young prospects who may be ready to compete in 2010, just in time for their best player, 31-year-old all-star first baseman Todd Helton, to begin contemplating retirement.

Unlike the Rockies, the Nuggets have a team comprised of young players who should be ready to compete right now, which is what makes the Nuggets' disappointing first half of this NBA season such a tough pill to swallow.

Seven of the Nuggets' 12 players were lottery picks (players chosen with one of the first 13 picks of their respective drafts). During the offseason, Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe traded for New Jersey all-star forward Kenyon Martin (the first overall pick in the 2000 draft) and signed him to a 7-year contract worth $92.5 million.

Martin was suppose to be the final piece that the Nuggets needed to compete for an NBA Championship or at least get past the first round of the playoffs after making the playoffs, as an eighth seed, for the first time in nine seasons last year.

However, the Nuggets have been battered by injuries and plagued by a lack of team chemistry and by poor play from star forward Carmelo Anthony. The team's struggles cost former head coach Jeff Bzdelik his job last month.

Even with a losing 17-23 record going into Tuesday night, the Nuggets may be the only hope fans have for restoring what was once a hotbed for professional sports.

If the Nuggets can build a winning streak going into all-star weekend, viewers from throughout the country may get to see the passion and enthusiasm that used to be so apparent among Colorado sports fans. If not, then a nationwide audience may be witness to the remnants of a state that was once home to a proud fan base that cheered for its local teams perhaps louder than fans in any other part of the country, only to be silenced by a year of disappointment and heartache caused by sports teams that have lost the will and ability to win.

Bobby Fernandez is a junior technical journalism major. He is a sports reporter for the Collegian.

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