Lunch with George Karl

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Had lunch Monday with George at Domo, the Japanese restaurant on Osage Street between downtown and the Colfax viaduct. George used to take his staff there when he was coaching the Nuggets because it’s near the Pepsi Center and has big tables. Diners at other tables recognized him and greeted him warmly as we wound our way to a corner table. I don’t know anything about Japanese food, but lunch was very good. Here’s the conversation:

So how’s the year been for you, your season off?

This is the time of year that I can’t deny I miss the gym more now. The excitement of playoff basketball and the last two or three weeks of the season always having some type of big game every night is fun. ESPN has been a good way for me to kind of stay connected to a lot of basketball people, so that’s been good. That’s been a positive. And I can’t deny I’ve enjoyed my freedom to be a parent and be a dad. I didn’t have that luxury in season. I’m going to go to Germany here in a couple weeks, go see Coby.

Last time we talked you were getting ready to go see him play in Italy.

Yeah, he went from Italy to Germany. He got cut in Italy and got picked up. He’s actually playing with Michael Stockton, John Stockton’s son. So it’ll be fun. They’re in a big playoff race.

Do you have playoff duties at ESPN?

I think in May I have five or six days in Bristol. I have no assignments as of yet and I don’t think I’ll get ‘em because I haven’t requested ‘em.

So you have to be back from Europe for that.

Yeah, I’ll miss the first, probably, two or three games of the first round. You have everything over there except DirecTV. They will have a game every night, but it’s usually a day behind.

I see where ESPN has given you a new name.

Swaggy G?

Swaggy G. Gucci Mane? Really? Isn’t he in jail?

Yeah. I know nothing. I mean, I read some stuff about it. I knew more about some of the guys who got killed — Tupac and Biggie. But it was totally an April Fool’s thing, which people didn’t even figure out. And what’s funny is ESPN absolutely loved it. I got compliments from guys on top.

Yeah, the YouTube clip is all over the place.

So, how close did you come, if at all, to talking to anybody about getting back into coaching?

There were a couple of rumblings around January, but the teams cleaned their acts up and started playing better.

So you never had any serious conversations of any kind?

No. And I’m not sure . . . what’s funny is, I want to coach. I’m excited and I’m healthy, probably healthier than I’ve ever been to coach in a long time. There’s a little urgency that says I’m not going to go crazy. In the last six weeks, I’ve gotten sad about what’s going on in Denver. I mean, I feel bad for the players.

Obviously, there’ve been injuries, but when you look at the way they’re playing versus the way they played a year ago, what do you think happened?

The only thing I can say is losing is a bad coach. I’ve said that a lot. It’s like last night [Sunday night in Houston, a 130-125 overtime loss that dropped the Nuggets to 33-44]. They found a way to lose that game. Good teams find a way to win and bad teams find a way to lose. I mean, they had to work hard to find that road last night and they did it. You know, some nights they didn’t play the right way. They didn’t play hard enough. I still don’t know what their personality is. I’m not sure they do. The injuries can cause that. If you use injuries as a crutch, it’ll kill you. It’ll destroy you. And they had enough talent to be good. They had enough talent to be successful. But they could never get over . . . they never could get to that switch of commitment.

Are we seeing everything Wilson Chandler has? When I look at his talent level, I think, this guy could be a big-time player.

I think Wilson’s a starter in the NBA. I think he has another step to make that he didn’t make this year. I think the thing that hurt them more than anything is [losing Andre] Iguodala. I think Iguodala was a rock that you could put pieces around, that you could make it work. And I think when you took that rock out, this team kind of flushed it — bad karma and bad luck.

What did you make of the Andre Miller thing?

I felt bad. I thought Andre deserved better.

Did you have any contact with Andre during that period?

He and I exchanged texts. That’s it. I think it hurt their team.

My understanding is it was the organization that said, basically, ‘You can’t come back,’ and forced that two-month limbo where he’s nowhere, he’s not being dealt, everybody’s just sort of stuck.

I have no idea. I wouldn’t be bragging about it because I think it was a mistake. To me, from the outside, and what I know, it seems you won a battle and lost the war. Maybe coach Shaw and the coaching staff felt they had to do that at that time.

Where should they go from here? Let’s say you were back in your old role in Milwaukee and you were in those front office personnel conversations. Where would you go from here with this roster?

I think the personnel is OK. I think if you fill in the holes that you need, and a coach should have input into that. It’s more what Brian thinks he wants than me. We felt we were a shooter away from being really, really good. I thought the mistake they made last year was they brought two shooters in. Their whole guard corps was offensive oriented.

You’re talking about [Randy] Foye and Nate [Robinson].

Yeah, you lost the best defender on your team and you addressed it with Nate and Foye. Early in the season, I thought everybody was getting in everybody’s way. The same with the bigs. You brought in [Darrell] Arthur and early in the season you mix in Arthur and [Kenneth] Faried and [J.J.] Hickson and [Timofey] Mozgov and everybody was bumping noses. I think there’s a lot of over-coverage, you know?

Too many small guards? 

There’s just too many people that don’t have an identity yet as to who they are. I mean, I think you have Ty [Lawson] and now I think Faried has got it back, but the first 60 games of the season, I thought he was somewhat lost out there.

What I was saying before was I think they have enough good players. Now, can they make them more than they are, which is what we did last year. But I definitely think they have enough . . . their face is different, but they still have skilled basketball players, as much as we probably had. I don’t think JaVale [McGee] is a legitimate excuse because Mozgov had a good year. And I don’t think they could have played a lot more together. I don’t think you want to play Mozgov and JaVale together.

Gallo is a legit excuse.

But if you didn’t know that was going to happen . . . you should have known that last year.

What do you make of the Mark Jackson situation?

This squid is very chewy.

It is.

I don’t know. It seemed to me it must have been some type of . . . from the outside, it seems like there’s a loyalty factor going on. There seems to be some kind of . . . to release people, that usually comes because as a coach, you don’t feel like they’re loyal to you.

But it’s two years in a row, right? You had a similar situation with [Mike] Malone last year.

I’m guessing. I don’t know.

Do players keep in touch with you?

I’ve talked to a couple guys. I’d say four or five reached out to me during the year. I saw Wilson Chandler about two weeks ago in a telephone store. We sat down and talked for a bit. I texted Ty a couple times. Sometimes he texted back, sometimes he didn’t. Haven’t heard much from Faried. Gallo and I have texted each other a couple times. Evan’s reached out. Jordan Hamilton reached out a couple times.

Those guys are on that list you were talking about, right? Guys who don’t yet have a real identity? Evan and Jordan and Quincy Miller?

When you brought Nate Robinson and Foye in, you killed Fournier. Your decision to bring those players in slowed his development. The coaches want to play Nate because he’s won games. Evan is learning how to win games.

But don’t you think they were in a position when Iguodala leaves, they’re not really expecting that, [GM Tim] Connelly is walking in the door, you’ve just lost 40 minutes a night, they’re just taking whoever’s out there. Foye is part of a sign-and-trade after Iguodala’s made a deal with Golden State that’s like, cover your ass, and Nate is just a free agent who’s out there. You’ve got to fill up your roster. You’ve got to get some points. I mean, it didn’t seem to me there was any grand plan. They’re just scrambling.

The only thing about all the changes is why didn’t someone hire a older guy? What doesn’t the coaching staff hire an older guy? Why doesn’t personnel hire an older guy, an experienced guy, to walk you through some of the nightmares these younger guys haven’t experienced? That goes off in my head because I’m an older guy and I like an older guy next to me. I want some guy that’s going to say, ‘George, you’re off base here. You’re wrong.’ And I just think if you had maybe an older guy there, the Andre Miller thing might not happen.

Might have been able to defuse it in some way?

When an incident like that happens, sometimes the coach goes a little crazy. He’s angry. And you have to hold his hand. You’ve got to walk him through it. It’s sad because I think both of them suffered. I think Andre suffered and I think Brian [Shaw] suffered because of it.

It was so strange because nothing like that had ever happened to Andre before, as far as I know. He was always considered a good locker room guy, I thought. Was I wrong?

He’s a great locker room guy. The thing that’s going to live with us is what happened. Whatever, 15, 16 years of being a great teammate and a great locker room guy is going to go by the wayside. There’ll be a cloud. I mean, I think Andre will get through it, but there’s a cloud.

By the same token, Brian Shaw was always known as a good locker room guy, a strong locker room guy. A guy who could bring together disparate personalities. The Shaq/Kobe stories. Stuff like that.

I don’t know. I mean, the only thing, I thought he took some shots at some guys that were really good competitors. I thought that was unfair because those guys competed for me like they were warriors, and they believed and they trusted that they could beat anybody. In six months, they’re different? I mean, I thought that was a cheap shot a little bit.

At?

At the team. He never mentioned names, but he constantly called them out for not being good competitors, they don’t know what championship basketball’s about. All I’m saying is there’s an experience about winning championships that should be on your roster if you’re trying to win a championship. I’ve been on a path to a championship every year of my career. Haven’t gotten there. But that means I don’t know the path to a championship? Or is it, you have to win the championship to know the path? I think too much is now predicated on Brian Shaw being a championship player or coach, and he knows the path. Well, he’s never guided that truck down that path. He’s always been in the back seat. And I think that was offensive to the players that had such a great year last year. To discount it in that way bothered them a great deal.

So, who wins it all this year?

I’m hoping San Antonio. I think the West is going to win.

Who’s going to come out of the East? Is it either Miami or Indiana? Is there any other possibility?

I think it’s Miami. I like what Brooklyn has done with their team, but I think in the playoffs that’s going to turn on them a little bit. They’re playing so small. They’re playing [Paul] Pierce at four and getting away with it, which I think was a great move. I think Jason [Kidd] did a great job of kind of helping their offense out that way.

And who’s the biggest threat to San Antonio in the West, do you think?

I think it’s the Clippers.

Really. Why them more than OKC?

I think right now they have better distribution of their skills and talents. They can come at you a lot of different ways. OKC, [Kevin] Durant and [Russell] Westbrook are big time, but I just like Chris Paul and Doc [Rivers] and Blake Griffin. Their defense hasn’t gotten to where I thought it would get but I think they still could win a game with their defense in a playoff situation. They’ve got shooters all over the place. (Jamal) Crawford can win you a game. (J.J.) Redick can win you a game. (Jared) Dudley can probably win you a game. And Blake and Chris Paul, I mean, we’re talking about guys that if you’re MVPing it, don’t they get two guys in the top seven or eight?

I don’t know if people take Blake that seriously yet.

When they played without Chris Paul, he was unbelievable.

All right, now let’s really test your skill because this won’t come out until after, but I’m asking you now, who wins the NCAA championship tonight?

I think Kentucky’s going to win, but I want Connecticut to win so bad.

Really, why? Because of Kevin [Ollie]?

I coached Kevin.

How long did you have him?

Two years in Milwaukee.

What was he like as a player for you?

Incredible integrity. Just a no-nonsense competitor. Made his career basically working hard.

Why do you think Kentucky’s going to win?

[John] Calipari has this karma. But I think Connecticut can win because of their guards. The best players on the court are going to be their guards. They’ve done a great job of negating size because their guard play is so much higher level. I think college basketball, even though we need big guys, the best guard is really important. If he’s the best player on the court, it’s a really important part of college basketball.

All the college coaches are saying again, for about the 90th time, that the one-and-done rule has got to be changed. Obviously, that’s up to the NBA. Do you see that happening?

Yeah. I think management wants it. The organizations want it to happen. I don’t know if the players are going to fight it. I think they’ll get two years. I think they want more than that. They kind of want the baseball rule, which I think would be great. I’d like three years. And then the high school kid that’s good enough to do it, you let him go. Cause I don’t think we’re going to overload our rosters with project high school kids. If a kid is good enough to play, we’ll take him in the top 15 or 20.

Will the D-league ever get to the point where it’s an actual minor league, like in baseball, where if you don’t want to go to college but you’re not ready for the show, you can come out after high school and go play in the D-league a couple years and hone your skills?

I don’t think it gets there until every team has its own [D-league] team. This hybrid stuff and owners not putting in the money . . . why don’t we have a team in Broomfield? ‘We.’ Why don’t the Denver Nuggets have a team in Broomfield?

Ha. You can’t shake it. Still like New Orleans? You were excited about their roster the last time we talked.

I’d say yes, but I think they’ve underachieved and they’ve underperformed to the point that it made me a little nervous. They’ve been hit with injuries too. [Ryan] Anderson, the shooter, was out the whole year almost, and [Jrue] Holiday. Seemed like they had chemistry issues a little bit.

Does this sabbatical remind you of the last sabbatical, the one before the Nuggets?

It reminds me a little bit. But I think my whole thing is, when I went through that one, I wanted to get back really fast. Now I want to get back, but there’s a window in my thought process of, what else can I do? I don’t think I want a job other than coaching, but are there adventures or an entrepreneur mentality of, for three months I’ve got to do this? I’m open to filling up my time in a good way.

Have you had any inspiration as to what sort of activities they might be?

Cancer-related stuff is always a possibility. Getting involved more in my foundation and more with some cancer situations. I think the American Cancer Society is doing a great deal for navigation for patients right now. Livestrong has always been very good in that area. I have a bunch of people who are talking about maybe trying to do some things on obesity for children. I think so much of our cancer now is being caused by obesity and what we eat. So let’s go to the problem. And there’s always the possibility of doing a book.

If I may ask you, what do you weigh now?

I weigh about 245.

What was the most you ever weighed?

290, 295.

A lot of that loss was right around your last cancer battle, no?

Yeah, I went down to probably 235, maybe 230.

When you came out of that, did you change your habits completely in terms of what you ate, what you drank?

I don’t think I did completely, but I did a good job, I think, in the mornings and the afternoons of eating right. And then if I want to goof around at nighttime, I could. Basically the rule I kind of live by is eat real food. Just don’t eat junk. Don’t eat processed, don’t eat fried, don’t eat sugar. If you don’t have cancer, eating sugar’s OK, but it’s not the best thing in the world. For a cancer person, you should never eat sugar because it feeds the cells. So my mornings and lunch, I’m trying to get my six servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit. However I do that, with a green drink or having a smart breakfast. I know we’ve been saying that for 50 years, but it still hasn’t gotten through to our people, to our kids.

Seems like there are a lot of people out there now who think this is a big part of the problem — that a lot of Americans don’t eat real food. Have you come around to that position?

I’ve come around to the position that over 25 percent of our cancers are caused by what we feed our bodies.

Where does that come from?

I think the American Cancer Society has actually published that figure.

And that’s because of fast food, fried food, processed food, all of the above?

Yeah, if we feed our immune system correctly, it’s a hell of a piece of equipment. But if what we eat has to be interpreted by our immune system, it sometimes forgets about the cancers that are growing over here or the infection that’s growing over here or a virus over here. There are switches that switch off, and that’s what causes cancers. There’s some genetic makeup to it, too.

But I think the world of health care is so crazy right now because there’s tremendous knowledge, tremendous information. The internet is feeding it every day. But we don’t have a health care system that we trust. No one trusts it. The doctors don’t trust it. The patients don’t trust it. The pharmaceuticals don’t trust the insurance companies. The insurance companies don’t trust the hospitals.

And it’s billions of dollars, so it’s capitalistically driven. It kind of drives me crazy a little bit, and the government drives me crazy a little bit, too, because we’re still hung up on spending trillions of dollars on military institutions that, to me, is . . . who are we afraid of? Terrorists? Yes, but we don’t need atomic bombs for terrorists. We don’t need new bombers for terrorists. We don’t need a billion dollars spent on a new fighter jet. We’ve already got the best fighter jets. Our educational system, our infrastructure, and the world is changing so fast. I mean, it’s moving actually too fast for me. I want it to slow down and it’s not slowing down.

Do you have any interest in running for office?

I have at times, but government is so slow-moving.

It sounds like you’re really passionate about some of these subjects, though.

Colorado is a great state and I would love to see Colorado be a kind of a leading voice in environment, a leading voice in cooperation, a leading voice in finding these health care answers. I’m a big believer that if all these institutions — there’s billions of dollars here — if they could come together and work as a team, there would be more money there. It’ll work better and everybody will benefit.

It’s like a team system. Putting five guys who are really talented together and telling them, ‘Hey, if you win, you’ll make more money than if you just do your thing by yourself,’ I think the same thing applies to the health care system. If they would just say, ‘Listen, I’ll help you there and you help me here,’ then I think it would run smoother and you wouldn’t need all the bureaucratic processes where we spend billions and billions of dollars covering each other’s butts.

I think there’s a small undercurrent of a revolution in our country that wants it done the right way. And politics and capitalism have kind of confused it all. I mean, do you understand the housing failure, the mortgage crisis? Have you ever read a book on that? I can’t figure it out. It sounds like a Ponzi scheme. It sounds like something that if a criminal got caught in, they’d be thrown in jail.

When you talk about spending priorities you don’t agree with, I understand how that money could be reallocated to infrastructure or education. But health care, we already spend more money than anybody else in the world. So why would we need more money? Would more money solve the health care problem?

One, the idea of everybody having health insurance is not a bad idea. But if it bankrupts our country, it’s a bad idea. But it’s because of some other things in the budget too. We’ve got to worry about taking care of our country. What I know about economics, and I’m not good with it, it’s about not spending our money wisely. I mean, we’re going into Saks over here and Nordstrom’s over here is having a sale selling the same things that Saks is selling, but we go into Saks and still spend the money at Saks.

The worldwide competition now . . . I mean, you have to understand there are more doctorates in China than we have people.

More doctorates than we have people?

So I’ve been told. Two hundred million people in China have a doctorate.

We’ve got over 300 million people here.

OK, well, maybe I’m a little short. But think about that. That scares me more than about the military that China’s going to have. Someone said that a computer company in China had 350 high-tech jobs. You had to know a lot to get these jobs. And they got 35,000 applications.

Why is that scary?

It’s kind of like, what are we the best at now? Let’s say in sports. What’s our best sport?

Football. Commercially, and nobody else plays it.

But are we the best at basketball still? We’re probably still the best at basketball. Are we the best golfers anymore?

No, probably not.

Are we the best tennis players?

No.

We’re not the best soccer players.

Never were.

We might not be the best baseball players.

That’s true. That’s very competitive.

You know, we grew up in the ’70s and ’80s where we were the best at all that.

We were never the best soccer players. We were only occasionally the best tennis players.

I don’t know. Jimmy Connors was pretty good.

He was. So was John McEnroe. But Bjorn Borg was the best player of that generation.

Yeah, but we were right there. Do we have a guy now even in the top 10?

No. In tennis we have really fallen off, no doubt. You’re getting very nationalistic in your old age.

I’ve got a lot of time on my hands. I think a lot.

How’s the foundation doing?

We do a very nice job in a very small way. We do a nice job in the four or five foundations that we work with. Haven’t figured out how to expand it. I don’t know if I have enough money or time to expand it. To expand it, you’d have to hire some people probably.

Do you have a staff there at all?

No. We have a board. We raise money and we give it to other foundations. We’re kind of a United Way. We maybe bring in a quarter of a million dollars and give each foundation a quarter of that.

Do you still feel as passionately about that, what is it, four years removed now from your most recent battle?

What I think our medical system needs to work on is helping the patient mentally understand his challenge and his journey. I think we’re getting better in that area, navigationally. When you’re told you have to go through 40 treatments of radiation and eight weeks of chemotherapy, they should be able to tell me what that’s going to do to me. And if I have questions I should have someone who can give me answers. I think I have the top notch of the insurance world and I’m not sure I got all the answers I should have gotten.

What surprised you? What were you not expecting to happen to you?

I had blood clots because of my inactivity. Don’t get me wrong, I was told not to be inactive. It’s on me that I got the blood clots. I think I could have been educated a little more stringently about that. An example in my treatment is I found out later that I had this gene that creates blood clots. Well, they found that after I got the blood clots. OK, cancer treatment has been known to create blood clots. Why don’t we test all patients for that gene and then put them on a higher alert? And I’m not blaming my treatment. This is all on me.

An example I’ve made quite frequently is in the middle of my treatment, Kim gets a bill for $85,000 saying that my treatment was experimental and was not OK’d by the insurance company and you will be held responsible for this $85,000. I just told Kim, ‘Don’t worry about it; we’re not paying that bill.’ I could have written a check. Just imagine if this is someone that made $80,000 a year. I got it taken care of, but it wasn’t easy.

How did you take care of it?

We had to go through some financial people at Swedish Hospital and explain to them that this was not experimental. You had to get the doctors to sign off. You had to go through a lot of b.s. and some people might not have had the confidence or intelligence to do that. And I felt I had great care. I’m just saying I’m not a guy in Topeka, Kansas who might not be getting the best care. I don’t know. We can do better. I think the whole thing comes down to, we can do better.

The health industry is very strange. Whatever you want to call it. I don’t think it’s chaos, it’s what I all chaortic. There’s an order to the chaos.

Great word. Chaortic.

It’s now become a leadership word. It’s in some leadership books. They don’t want too much structure. They want a leader to be versatile enough to handle mistakes, confusion and problems with an order. That’s what they call chaortic. It’s the action of bringing order to confusion or frustration. I think Mark Warkentien used that word when we had J.R. [Smith].

Do you stay in touch with Wark at all?

I talked to him just briefly when Phil [Jackson] got the [Knicks] job. I’ve heard from the rumblings that Phil’s going to want his people in there, but I don’t really know.

Who do you think gets that coaching job?

I think it’ll be an intellectually philosophical dude, and Steve Kerr fits that category a little bit.

They say that Golden State is interested in Kerr, too. That’s one of the rumors floating around Mark Jackson.

I don’t get that. Why would you hire Steve Kerr?

He’s a smart guy. He’s never coached, but he’s a smart guy. How many openings do you think there’ll be?

Last year there were so many, usually it goes the other way. Last year, there were, what, nine, 10, 11? I think it goes the other way. Under five, probably.

And is it a big deal to you to get one this summer, or is it sort of, if it happens, it happens.

It’s bigger than if it happens, it happens. I want to work. I want to coach. I’m ready. I’m pumped. What we did last year, I want to expand it. When you sit around all day, you have plenty of time to study the game and get the pulse of the game. I probably watch more games now than I watch when I’m coaching. I mean, I prepare, but very seldom do I sit there at 5 o’clock and watch games until 11 o’clock. I’m not saying I do that every night now, but I do it once or twice a week, probably. So you’re seeing three or four games and you’re scanning maybe another one or two games. So I’m excited about that possibility.

Would you ever coach at any other level?

I just wish Kaci was a little older. I would think about coaching in Europe.

Is that right?

I would, but I don’t know if Kim and Kaci would.

Don’t you? It did wonders for Kobe (Bryant), spending part of his childhood in Italy.

No question. Both my (older) kids, Coby and Kelci, say it was a building block in their lives. [Karl coached Real Madrid in the 1989-90 and 1991-92 seasons.] But it’s a little different over there now.

How old is Kaci now?

Kaci’s nine.

Are you so committed to that family stability that she would stay in school in Denver even if you took a job somewhere else in the country?

I think that’s a good possibility. I mean, we love Denver, and the school that she’s at is fantastic. Before I came here I wrote a letter trying to raise money for them. You never know, though. My gut says the first year probably would be an experiment.

You still think it will happen? If you were to lay odds on it, do you think it will happen or do you think you might be done?

I think I’ll get back in, but I’m not sure it’s going to be this summer.

But you think at some point it will happen.

I would just think after the year we had . . . So much of the stuff that we did I think we still are very good at. But I can’t deny that rolls around my head every once in a while.

Not getting back in?

[Nods]

Last time, you were out a whole year and then part of the next year, right?

Till January.

So you still got time.

I hope so!

You took a little heat after our last conversation.

About Iguodala?

About Iguodala.

[Shrugs] Hopefully you can write this time without me getting bombed.

Have you had any contact with him?

Iguodala?

Right.

No. In fact, I was going to text him today because he donated a big hunk of money to my foundation. I was going to give him a dinner. I’m going to make that available to him when he gets into town on the 15th, but I don’t know if he’ll be available.

Tell me something you’ve learned from all these NBA games you’ve watched this year.

The game of basketball is still about flow and rhythm and unity.


Shake, rattle and roll

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The day begins with a man bundled up like a polar explorer riding a lawn mower around an already-manicured outfield while another man pounds the dirt around home plate into submission and another carefully unwraps the pitcher’s mound

It ends with the man whose Twitter handle is @Chuck_Nazty putting himself in the baseball history books, the Rockies’ fifth starter of the year showing the first four how it’s done and the most beautiful swing in the game launching a ball so high and far it almost crashed the party in a string of drinking houses now occupying the previously uncharted third level in right field.

They shook, they rattled, they rolled. You could almost hear Big Joe Turner.

“Pretty much couldn’t have gone any better,” manager Walt Weiss said.

The Rockies lost three of their first four in Miami to a team not expected to do much this year. They hit adequately, but not in the clutch, and pitched poorly. It looked a lot like last year. Neither the batting order nor the pitching staff looked anywhere near as good as the spring previews of coming attractions.

So the traditional pilgrimage to 20th and Blake for the home opener carried a certain trepidation that all the offseason optimism was manufactured, a product of our pitiful wistfulness, sure to be dashed again. Then Charlie Blackmon, a.k.a. Nazty, doubled to lead off the first and scored on a Michael Cuddyer single to give the Rocks a 1-0 lead.

“I was just happy to get a hit,” he said afterward. “You go in there, you’re like, all right, first inning, you’re leading off, like, I’m just trying to jump-start the offense. Usually, I’m just trying to get a hit. And if I get one hit, come out and try and get two hits. And you just take it from there.”

He came out and got two hits in the third, singling and coming around to score, along with Cuddyer, on a triple down the right field line by Carlos Gonzalez.

Blackmon homered to right in the fourth, a no-doubter driving in D.J. LeMahieu as well. This made it 6-0 and Nazty got a little cocky.

The next time he came to bat, with the score 6-1, he doubled to the opposite field leading off the sixth, his fourth consecutive hit. On the first subsequent pitch, to Cuddyer, Blackmon took off for third. There are a number of reasons one might have advised him not to do this. One would be the old baseball rule, never make the first out of an inning at third base. You’re already in scoring position at second and the meat of your batting order is coming up. Another would be that the meat of your batting order consists of Cuddyer, CarGo and Troy Tulowitzki.

Anyway, he takes off on the first pitch from lefty Joe Thatcher. Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero fires the ball to third. Third baseman Martin Prado catches it and lays his glove, wrapped around the ball, in front of the bag. This allows Blackmon to tag himself out by sliding into it. Which he does, pinning Prado’s glove against the base with his spikes and forcing him from the game with a bleeding hand. That steal attempt is the only reason Blackmon wasn’t on base for CarGo’s 457-foot rocket to right. Otherwise, he would have scored five runs instead of four.

Of course, by then it was academic. The score was 8-1. It would become 10-1 in the seventh, when Blackmon’s single to right, his fifth hit, drove in pinch-hitter Brandon Barnes, one of the alleged contenders for the center field job Blackmon wants, who had just gotten his first hit in six tries on the young season, a triple to right-center.

It didn’t look as though Blackmon would get a sixth plate appearance. The Rocks had two out and nobody on in their half of the eighth. Two batters remained before the lineup got back up to Blackmon. But LeMahieu and Barnes both walked and here came Chuck Nazty one more time.

He lifted a slicing drive down the left-field line, where nobody plays a left-handed hitter. It dropped just inside the line and presto, hit No. 6 and double No. 3.

“I didn’t even know where it went when I hit it,” Blackmon said. “So you know you’re having a good day when you just kind of hit a ball and it ends up two inches inside the line. Just one of those days.”

That drove in the last two of the Rocks’ runs in a 12-2 romp that joined a list of memorable Colorado openers including EY’s leadoff homer in the inaugural, Dante’s walkoff in Coors Field’s debut and a Clint Barmes walkoff that briefly awoke Rockies fans in 2005.

“He’ll be in there tomorrow,” Weiss said when asked about a revolving door in center field that also includes Barnes, Drew Stubbs and Corey Dickerson in the season’s early going. “I talked about it a lot this spring. Charlie did a heck of a job for us last year — the last month of the season, played really well. Those guys are all going to play. All of them bring something to the party. But Charlie’s done a great job last year and he’s off to a great start already this year.”

Through five games, Blackmon is batting .563 with a slugging percentage of .938 and an OPS . . . oh, never mind. He staked a claim to that job, though. CarGo said twice he thought Blackmon has proved he deserves to be an everyday player.

“Baseball’s funny,” Blackmon said. “As good as today was, I could be just as bad tomorrow. So I’m not going to try and get too excited about it. That’s the beauty of baseball — good or bad, you’ve got to come out the next day, completely forget what you did the day before and try and win a baseball game. So that’s kind of where I’m at right now.”

While Blackmon was becoming the first (and only other) Rockies player to put up six hits in a game since Andres Galarraga in 1995, the fifth pitcher to start a game this season, Juan Nicasio, was correcting the first four. With Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood out with injuries, Nicasio isn’t really the fifth starter, but Weiss held him back for the home opener because he thought his familiarity with the ballpark would give him a better chance than a newcomer like Jordan Lyles to ignore the hoopla of Opening Day.

Nicasio became the first Rockies starter to see the seventh inning this season. He repeatedly threw strike one, a strategy several of his teammates had assiduously avoided in Miami. He came out after giving up one run and four hits in seven innings. He threw just 87 pitches, 64 of them strikes. In addition to his usual gas, he commanded a tough slider and even mixed in a changeup.

“Juan did a great job,” Weiss said. “It was pretty much what the doctor ordered. We needed a good start and Juan got us deep in the game. Swung the bats well, manufactured some runs early when we had to and then had some big shots. CarGo, of course, Charlie. Good day all around. Pretty much couldn’t have gone any better.”

CarGo was drilling shots into the second deck in batting practice before the game when Weiss told him he might be the first to launch a ball into the new party deck looking down on right field from high above. Gonzalez just missed, pounding a Thatcher slider off the facing of the third deck.

“Nice and easy swing, a slider hanging right down the middle, and, you know, I got all of it,” CarGo said with a smile.

“It was a tough road trip. We could have split, but that’s going to happen. It’s a long season. A lot of things are going to happen. But the one thing that you can control is just showing up the next day with the same enthusiasm. That’s what we did today, in front of a lot of people. I think there is a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, so that really helps us.”

More than 49,000 happy souls — well, most of them were happy — wandered out into LoDo afterward thinking these guys just might prove to be pretty good companions during the summer to come. This was less a contest than a party, a celebration of baseball’s return.

“I think it’s the first time I’ve seen 6-for-6,” CarGo said. “I was talking to the guys on the bench. I don’t think I ever hit 6-for-6 even in little leagues.”

It’s a long season, as someone is sure to remind you if you offer even a hint of enthusiasm over Friday’s lidlifter. Spring will turn to summer. The Broncos will get back together for another run and the Rocks will barely be half done. Anything can happen. But coming off two last-place seasons in a row, the opener was a baseball booster shot. In the bars of LoDo, the buzz was all about the Nazty.


Descending into the bizarre

Part of the charm of the Denver Nuggets throughout their history has been their fondness for departing the mundane world and exploring the strange and bizarre. Even the truly cuckoo at times.

Whether it was Paul Westhead encouraging opponents to score, LaPhonso Ellis inexplicably developing holes in his kneecaps or Bill Hanzlik’s team threatening to put up the worst win-loss record of all time, the Nuggets have found ways to mesmerize even when they were terrible, in the manner of a train wreck.

This year, they are back at it. In what is shaping up to be one of the most disappointing seasons in their history, going from a franchise NBA-record 57 wins last year to missing the playoffs this year, at least two developments qualify as bizarre.

The first was the decision to perform reconstructive surgery on forward Danilo Gallinari’s torn anterior cruciate knee ligament 10 months after he suffered the injury, which I wrote about here.

The second is ongoing. It began with point guard Andre Miller calling out first-year coach Brian Shaw in front of the bench nearly a month and a half ago in what turned into the first “Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision” of the 15-year veteran’s NBA career. It continued when the team suspended Miller for two games without pay, rescinded the suspension the next day and turned it into a personal leave with pay, which has dragged on ever since.

Set aside for the moment that this conversion turned punishment into reward, allowing Miller to continue receiving his $5 million salary for doing nothing as a consequence of acting out.

It went from strange to inexplicable when the other two point guards on the roster — first Nate Robinson, then Ty Lawson — went out with injuries. This series of events left the Nuggets with three point guards on the 15-man roster, none of them available for duty. Playing without a quarterback — shooting guard Randy Foye filled in, putting up 14 assists, 11 turnovers and a horrific plus/minus of minus 58 in two games as the starter at the point — the Nuggets were blown out by Indiana and Minnesota to close out a dreadful 0-4 road trip that brought a merciful end to the pre-All-Star break portion of their schedule.

On the bright side, no member of the organization was invited to take part in any of the five events scheduled in New Orleans this weekend, so they should have time to rest up.

With 31 games remaining in the season, the Nuggets are 24-27, six games out of the Western Conference playoff bracket. Earlier in the season, the club’s new brain trust, particularly Shaw, liked to mention how similar the record was to last year’s team at the same point because last year’s team started slowly owing to a heavy dose of early road games. They don’t talk about that so much anymore. Last year’s team was 33-18 at this point.

Of course, that was a very different group. It included Gallinari and Andre Iguodala, for example. It did not include Foye, Robinson, Darrell Arthur or J.J. Hickson. George Karl was the coach and Masai Ujiri the GM.

So we asked Ujiri’s replacement in the front office, Tim Connelly, to join me and Tom Green on the radio show to explain what he’s doing about all this. Connelly was good enough to call in from New Orleans yesterday. Here’s that conversation:

Me: Let’s start with the question that fans are asking, I think, mostly, which is: You’re out of point guards on your team and you’ve got a point guard under contract who’s been away from the team for about a month. What is the impediment to the logical solution to that problem, which would be to bring Andre Miller back to run the point for you for a little while?

Tim Connelly: Sure. Well, we’re still looking at all options. Certainly, what happened, there were no winners. Andre’s a pro and a great guy. I think emotions got the best of him. Having a first-year head coach, as an organization we thought it was important that our guys knew in the locker room that we would deal with it internally. And certainly, that’s an option. We’ve looked at a couple different things and that’s one of them.

Tom Green: That is a consideration, though? Is anyone with the organization talking with Andre about that?

Connelly: Yeah, I was with Andre yesterday in the gym. We worked out yesterday. Two days ago, I’m sorry. I talk to Andre all the time.

Me: So Tim, overall, there’s a sort of an inflection point here where the first half of the season or so your team looked to be at least in range of a playoff berth. As time goes on now, since you’ve lost both of your point guards, it just doesn’t seem like that’s in the cards, at least at the moment. You’re six games out of the playoff bracket. So how do you look at that? Are you rebuilding, are you looking for a good draft pick at this point? Are you still competing for the playoffs? What’s your view of that?

Connelly: Certainly, we’re disappointed. I don’t think any of us expected to be here. And it’s easy to blame injuries, but in this league there’s no one to blame but yourselves, obviously. So every day I think we have to be realistic with where we are, and right now we’re not where we want to be. We’re too late in the season to talk about posturing for draft picks. I think what we have to do now is determine of the guys who are healthy who can we rely upon moving forward, both this season and next.

Green: So when you guys hit the road, before the All-Star break, you’re above .500, but this road trip obviously has been a terrible one. It’s been four games when you guys have really been blown out.

Connelly: It’s been awful. Awful.

Green: Yeah, so how do you look at that as a GM? Obviously, you’re taking a big-picture look at things as a general manager, but do those games reflect on the organization, the players, the coaches, in a way that you need to be concerned about?

Connelly: Well, certainly, like I mentioned earlier, no one’s feeling sorry for us. A lot of teams deal with injuries, maybe not to the extent that we are, but it is what it is. And I can take losses. What I struggle with is a lack of effort. Moving forward, I think it’s important for any guy that’s going to wear the Nuggets uniform, we’re going to make sure that he’s a guy that’s going to leave it on the court. With all the injuries, I understand we’re kind of behind the 8-ball a bit, and I think the coaching staff’s done a great job. But I think as a front office guy and as fans, we all expect more.

Me: Let me get back, Tim, if I can, to the point guard question, because, putting Andre Miller and that situation aside, it would seem that when you run out of point guards, you’d go get one, even if it’s just a D-league guy, if it’s a street free agent, you know, somebody who could run the point. Instead, you’re playing these games with non-point guards running the point, whether it’s Randy Foye or one of your wing guys, and I just wonder why haven’t you brought in at least somebody who fits the job description.

Connelly: Well, we have 15 roster spots. You can’t just call somebody up. The only way we could bring someone in would be a trade or release a player. If we had an empty roster spot, that would be an easy answer and a short-term solution, but we don’t have a roster spot right now.

Me: So have you considered making a transaction in order to create room for a point guard?

Connelly: At the end of the game last night [Wednesday night's 117-90 loss at Minnesota], I considered everything, including walking down to the corner bar.

Green: What about fans? Obviously, the fans are watching and you know what it feels like as a fan to watch your team play like that. So what is your message right now to your fans? Hang in there, the second half’s going to get better? What can you tell people to give them something to hold onto?

Connelly: Well, I think certainly, first of all, apologies over this last road trip. I mean, it’s unacceptable. I like our team when healthy. I don’t know how we would look, but theoretically I think we have a lot of good pieces. We’re not where we want to be. We need to add another piece here or there to be a team that’s going to win meaningful games in the playoffs. But at this moment, apologies, stick with us. Certainly, we’re not happy and we’re not going to stand pat and let this thing devolve any further.

Me: So we’re about a week away from the trade deadline. When you say you’re not going to stand pat, is that a pretty clear signal that you do intend to make a move, or more than one move, between now and a week from now?

Connelly: Sure, I’m certainly hopeful. We’ve been trying for weeks and months. I think we’ll be as aggressive as anybody and certainly we’re aware of the needs that we have. We’re trying to address them prior to the deadline and then after that, through free agency and the draft.

Me: What do you see the needs as being?

Connelly: Clearly, we need to improve our team defense. Certainly, right now, it’s tough playing all these young guys in the sense that deficiencies are expected, not to the degree that we’ve seen recently, I don’t think that’s something that we want to accept and act like it’s the norm. And I think we need one more impact player, regardless of position. Another guy we can count on on a night-to-night basis like we can right now with a guy like Ty or Wilson [Chandler].

Green: The NBA all-star game can be a convention for the league, a chance for GMs, coaches, at times, to get together, or many, just take a break. What’s going to happen for you and what’s going to happen for this team over the next few days? What are you guys going to be doing? Is there going to be some management activities?

Connelly: Well, you know, not specifically. I’m in New Orleans right now. I spent the last three and a half years here. I’m partially down here to check on a condo. But I’m going to meet with several of my buddies and colleagues who hold similar jobs with different teams, but the conversations are always ongoing. It’s good sometimes, though, to be able to look a guy in the eye and see where their interest is and hold their feet to the fire. So I’ll certainly do that over the next couple days prior to coming back to Denver on Saturday.

Me: Obviously, this is a more difficult subject for a general manager to talk about than for fans to talk about, but as fans of the Nuggets look at the 2014 NBA draft, it looks to have a number of at least potential impact players at the top. And you mentioned the need for an impact player, another impact player. You’re in this strange situation where one of the two picks that you’re going to have, yours or the Knicks’, is going to go to Orlando, and even though the Knicks have the worse record, they may have a better chance to end up in the playoffs because of the weakness of the Eastern Conference. So is there any part of you that you permit to consider that from a strategic standpoint — how you get into the lottery and give yourself a chance at one of those impact players?

Connelly: You know, I think if you’re going to take that approach, that’s an approach that probably has to be initiated on draft night. I think when we were somewhat healthy, missing JaVale [McGee] and Gallo, we proved to be a decent team, probably a playoff team. So I think we’re too advanced into the season to really look at that with any chance of it coming to fruition. Despite our recent struggles, we’re still only a couple games under .500. It doesn’t seem sensible at this point. The numbers that you have to get to reach that top six — I think there’s probably a drop-off in the draft — it would be very difficult to get to, so internally it’s not a discussion that makes much sense for us.

Green: I think a lot of people feel bad for coach Shaw. And you say nobody feels sorry for anybody, and I understand that, but Brian Shaw has come in here and it’s been a bit of a mix as far as how this roster has worked out and who’s healthy and who can play in his first year as a head coach. What are the conversations like between you and Brian going forward as far as what he needs for this second part of the season?

Connelly: Sure. Well, we actually laughed about it the other night. We’ve seen everything that you’re going to see in the first five, six months on the job — injuries, the in-house issues we’ve had. I think what he’s going to do is the same thing as we’re going to do, is see who we can rely upon. Out of the players that are healthy presently, and if we make any additions, who are guys that we can count on to kind of get it to where we want to go? Certainly, when he got here, he was very outspoken, as was I. This team has a really proud history of regular season success. For whatever reason, we’ve had trouble once we get to the playoffs. We’d like to be a team that not only gets to the playoffs but is a tough out in the playoffs once we’re there.

Me: Tim, before we let you go, I’ve got to ask you the Gallo question, because I’ve never seen a situation like that, where a guy tore his ACL and had reconstructive surgery 10 months later and starts the clock all over again.

Connelly: Neither have I.

Me: So can you give us any insight into the decision-making process that allowed that to happen, or did that all happen before you got here?

Connelly: It happened before I got here. Certainly, I think, the only insight I can give you is that whatever decision was made by Gallo and the doctor, Gallo’s focus was to return to the court as quickly as possible. Certainly, that didn’t happen. The most recent surgery was fantastic and we expect a fully healthy Gallo for next season. But it’s definitely bizarre, and it’s unfortunate not just for Gallo but kind of having that uncertainty surrounding his return or lack thereof this season. But I don’t know what happened at the time. It was right before I got here.

Me: What is the general rule in terms of who gets to decide that, the player or the team?

Connelly: One hundred percent the player.

Me: So if he says, ‘I’m going this way,’ you have no way to change his mind?

Connelly: No, the only real authority the team has is obviously they can choose to pay or not pay for specific operations or treatments, but ultimately it’s the guy’s body, so he’s going to have final say.

We have talked before about the big decisions that led the Nuggets to this point — the failure to compete financially to keep Ujiri, the firing of Karl, the miscalculation on Iguodala. Collectively, these represented the major fork in the road. Team president Josh Kroenke, son of owner E. Stanley Kroenke, decided to put his stamp on the team by clearing the decks and asserting his authority over the basketball operation. Over time, we will see how that works out.

The more recent issues suggest a lack of backbone in the young front office. In the case of Gallo’s surgery, I’m told the Nuggets’ medical and training staff opposed the decision to let the ACL heal itself through “healing response” therapy. I’m also told Nuggets brass — which would have been chiefly Kroenke at the time, in the transition between Ujiri and Connelly — didn’t want to alienate Gallo’s agent, the powerful Arn Tellem, by challenging him on this. The result was a disastrous 10-month delay in the surgery.

In the case of Miller, it’s hard to imagine why the Nuggets don’t put it to him very simply: “You’re under contract. We need a point guard. You come back and play, right now, or you’re suspended without pay. End of story.”

I don’t know if the impediment to Miller’s return is Miller or Miller’s agent or Shaw or Kroenke, but from an old-school perspective it’s inconceivable that a GM would work out privately with a player who is under contract and desperately needed who for one reason or another won’t play. Who’s in charge here? Trade him for another point guard, which the Nuggets have evidently been trying to do without success, or demand that he fulfill the obligations of his contract.

But hey, if it weren’t for the bizarre, these Nuggets would just be bad. For the moment, the Miller mystery is the most interesting thing about them.


A stunning self-destruction

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A Broncos nightmare in New Jersey ended in a Seahawks celebration

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Super humbling of the highest-scoring team in NFL history began on the first play from scrimmage and continued pretty much unabated for the remainder of a deceptively warm and beautiful February evening just off Exit 16W of the Jersey Turnpike.

It was shocking in its suddenness and humiliating in its comprehensiveness. The Broncos played like a pickup squad that met for the first time an hour before kickoff.

The first outdoor Super Bowl in a northern climate turned out to be a travesty all right, but the environmental conditions were the one factor the Broncos couldn’t blame. The temperature at kickoff was 49, fully 10 degrees warmer than the coldest Super Bowl on record, back when they used to play outdoors in New Orleans.

If Mother Nature treated the Broncos well, she was alone. The Seattle Seahawks manhandled and dismantled them in every way imaginable on their way to a 43-8 blowout. Give them credit, as the Broncos kept saying afterward, but blame the Broncos, too. Their early wounds, the ones that set the doleful tone, were self-inflicted.

It began on the first play from scrimmage, when the Broncos’ first snap from their own 14-yard line sailed past Peyton Manning into the north end zone of MetLife Stadium. Somehow, the Broncos were lulled by the neutral site into believing they would be able to convey their signals verbally. Had the game been in Seattle, they would undoubtedly have used a silent snap count. Buried deep in their own end, enveloped by the boisterousness that always accompanies the beginning of a Super Bowl, Manning lined up in the shotgun and called for the ball.

Center Manny Ramirez failed to snap it. So Manning walked toward the line to reset the play. Ramirez, suddenly realizing he was late, chose that moment to snap the ball.

“That was on cadence, so it was about what he was saying,” a miserable Ramirez explained afterward. “It was really loud and I (thought) I heard him. Unfortunately, I was three seconds late.”

“A little bit of a cadence issue,” said head coach John Fox.

“I felt terrible for them,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. “We didn’t deserve that. They just gave it to us.”

Running back Knowshon Moreno hustled back to the ball, turning the faux pas into a safety rather than a touchdown. It was a screw-up, but the damage was minimal. Twelve seconds into the game, the score was 2-0. It was the fastest score in Super Bowl history.

“That’s the way the start of any Super Bowl is,” said receiver Wes Welker, a veteran of three. “It’s going to be loud. The fans are going to be yelling. They don’t really know why they’re yelling, it’s just the start of the Super Bowl. We didn’t prepare very well for that, and it showed.”

Imagine that. A team that prided itself on preparation all season was unprepared for something that seemed obvious to a player who had been there before.

Following the required free kick, the Seahawks’ lightly-regarded offense marched 51 yards on its first possession, converting two third downs along the way. The Broncos again managed to minimize the damage, stopping the Seahawks about six inches short of a first down inside the 10-yard line and forcing a field goal. When Manning & Co. got the ball back, it was still only 5-0.

Following a three-yard gain on a running play, Manning completed the first two passes he threw — for two yards to Demaryius Thomas and three yards to Julius Thomas. Two completions, five yards. They had to punt.

The Seahawks began another march, using up most of the remainder of the first quarter. The Broncos’ defense once again limited the damage near the goal line, forcing another field goal when linebacker Nate Irving knocked an apparent touchdown pass out of the hands of wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.

The first quarter wasn’t over yet and the Broncos had already prevented two touchdowns on hustle plays by Moreno and Irving. Despite a disastrous start, the score was a manageable 8-0.

For the third time, Manning took the controls. For the third time, the crowd waited for the precision passing game that produced a record 606 regular-season points. A five-yard completion to Welker. A three-yard run from Moreno.

But wait. When Moreno was stopped, he was still on his feet. Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons ripped the ball from his grasp. Guard Zane Beadles made the Broncos’ third fortuitous play of the quarter, falling on the loose ball and preventing a turnover. Instead of third-and-2, now it was third-and-7.

Manning tried to convert it by hitting Julius Thomas, his tight end, up the middle, but Seahawks pass rusher Cliff Avril came around right tackle Orlando Franklin on a speed rush and Manning was forced to step up in the pocket to avoid him. He let loose a throw that wasn’t even close to its mark — a duck, as Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman would call it, both too high and behind the intended receiver. It landed gently in the arms of Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor, a room service interception.

“A poor play on my part,” Manning admitted afterward.

When the first quarter ended, the Seahawks had the ball at the Broncos’ 17-yard line on their way to a 15-0 lead. The Broncos had possessed the ball only momentarily, it seemed, mostly because they were in such a hurry to give it away whenever they did.

Yet another self-inflicted wound contributed to that first Seahawks touchdown. The Broncos defense, again playing damage control near its goal line, forced a third-and-4 from their 5-yard line. It was looking to limit Seattle to another field goal when nickel back Tony Carter face-guarded Seahawks receiver Golden Tate in the end zone while gripping his jersey, possibly the most obvious pass interference call of the season. This resulted in a first down at the 1. It still took the Seahawks two running plays to punch it in.

Three minutes into the second quarter, the most prolific offense in NFL history didn’t have a first down. Credit the Seahawks’ hard hitting or pass rush if you like, but if this was tennis, both the bad snap and errant throw would be ruled unforced errors.

Moments later, the Seahawks lived up to their reputation for creating turnovers. Avril again beat Franklin, this time pushing past him and hitting Manning’s arm as he threw. The ball fluttered like . . . well . . . yes . . . a wounded duck, directly into the arms of Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith, whose 69-yard return for a touchdown would be the key to his Super Bowl MVP award a couple of hours later.

Now it was 22-0. Slightly more than three minutes remained in the first half. The Broncos desperately needed a score. Slowly, uncertainly, they began to matriculate down the field, in Hank Stram’s famous phrase from another era. They achieved a first down. Then another. Facing a manageable third-and-4 for yet another, Louis Vasquez, their best offensive lineman, was called for a false start. Yet another error. Maybe Seattle’s fearsome foursome made him do it, but still.

Moments later it was fourth-and-2. Fox decided to go for it.

“I’m thinking that three points wasn’t going to make a big difference in the game, and it proved to be true,” he explained.

At the snap, it looked like an uncovered Julius Thomas signaled to Manning for a simple pitch-and-catch that would move the chains. Instead, Manning looked the other way and threw the ball into the ground at the feet of Demaryius Thomas.

In the press box, in the stands, on social media and in living rooms all over Colorado, people who had watched this offense operate like a jet engine all season watched in astonishment as it sputtered like a lawn mower. Who were these guys?

It wasn’t just that the Broncos had switched hotels the night before the game, they appeared to have switched players, too. The replacements looked a lot like the guys they’d replaced. They even wore the same numbers. But they didn’t play anything like them.

The cherry on top came on the first play of the second half. Matt Prater, the Broncos’ Pro Bowl kicker who led the league with 81 touchbacks, inexplicably pooched the kickoff in an apparent attempt to keep it out of the hands of returner Percy Harvin. Kicking it out of the end zone, which Prater had done more often than any other kicker, would accomplish the same result.

Harvin had rushed twice in the first half for 45 yards. Rather than match strength with strength and let Prater try to boom the kickoff across the Hackensack River, the Broncos got cute. Harvin charged out of the end zone and the pooch bounced directly into his hands. Members of the Broncos’ coverage unit converged and knocked each other down as if playing electric football. Harvin took it all the way for a touchdown, 87 yards in all.

The Seahawks had again scored just 12 seconds into the half. This would converge with the narrative surrounding their 12th man — their fans, who arguably influenced the mistake that led to the first 12-second score — into a sort of mythic sense of numerological destiny.

More to the point, it was now 29-0 and the Broncos had shown themselves to be vulnerable in every phase of the game. No team had overcome a deficit greater than 10 points to win any of the previous 47 Super Bowls. At 2-0, 5-0, 8-0, 15-0, a Broncos comeback still seemed plausible, given their own precedents. Even at 22-0, a miraculous comeback from a team that averaged 37.9 points a game in the regular season seemed possible.

But the Harvin kickoff return dashed whatever hope remained. Not only was a 29-point deficit an insurmountable obstacle against the league’s best defense, the Broncos had shown little sign of even elementary competence. The more pertinent question seemed whether the Seahawks could impose the first shutout in Super Bowl history.

“We just weren’t real sharp executing our offense,” Manning said in perhaps the understatement of the season. “We got ourselves in a hole and we weren’t able to overcome it.”

Once the game was out of hand, the Broncos managed to roll up enough meaningless yards to make the final statistical comparisons look benign. In fact, of the six Super Bowl records set Sunday, four were by the Broncos. Of course, one of them was for most Super Bowl losses (five), which is not a record you want to hold. But Manning’s 34 pass completions were a record, as were Demaryius Thomas’ 13 catches. They were as hollow as any Super Bowl records ever set.

The Seahawks set records for fastest score to start a Super Bowl and most time playing with a lead (59 minutes, 48 seconds).

The cumulative record for losses in the big game might seem fastidious, conflating a 21st century result with games played in the 1970s and ’80s, but this one was eerily reminiscent of those losses in the ’80s, when the Broncos won the AFC in three out of four seasons and were blown out by successively larger margins in the ensuing Super Bowls — 39-20 by the Giants following the ’86 season, 42-10 by the Redskins following the ’87 season and 55-10, the worst blowout in Super Bowl history, by the 49ers following the ’89 season.

In each case, the result was disturbing and dispiriting. The Broncos had gone through a long season and postseason with the look of a champion, only to look utterly overmatched in the most important game of all. It’s hard to know how to react to such a dramatic reversal of fortune.

“I think we were playing a great football team,” Manning said. “I think we needed to play really well in order to win and we just didn’t come anywhere close to that . . . . Give Seattle credit. They’re an excellent football team and they caused a lot of our mistakes. But at the same time, we just didn’t play well tonight.”

Twenty-four hours after winning his record fifth Most Valuable Player award, Manning bristled when asked if the loss was embarrassing.

“It’s not embarrassing at all,” he said. “I would never use that word . . . The word embarrassing is an insulting word, to tell you the truth.”

Welker was not so reticent.

“To get this far and lose like this, it’s embarrassing,” he said.

“They dominated us across the board,” said fellow receiver Eric Decker.

The Seahawks were exuberant, of course, having won so much more powerfully and easily than even they expected. The Broncos needed to credit them to save face, and certainly they kept Manning unsettled in the pocket and hit hard in the secondary, as is their reputation.

Still, the number of self-inflicted wounds made the Broncos look amateurish and unqualified for the game. They finished with four turnovers — two lost fumbles and two interceptions — to Seattle’s none. The third turnover, by Demaryius Thomas following a 23-yard, third-quarter completion deep in Seahawks territory when a comeback was still theoretically possible, verged on slapstick.

Which was a terrible shame, considering how well the Broncos played all season. You could empathize with Manning’s sense of dignity without agreeing with him that this was not an embarrassment.

On any given Sunday, and all that. They just picked the most important game of all to pull out a true stinker.

“We had some chances to get back into it,” said John Elway, the quarterback in those losses of the ’80s and now the team’s executive vice president of football operations. “We just couldn’t get it done.”

“This team used last year’s playoff loss to fuel us; I think it made us a better team,” Manning said. “Hopefully we can use this loss to fuel us and make us better.”

Maybe they will. Elway’s Broncos were unable to bounce back from the Super Bowl blowouts of the ’80s until nearly a decade later, but Manning’s team was so uncharacteristically bad, maybe it can turn this one around much faster.

Asked if the loss reminded him of those blowouts a generation ago, Elway replied: “No. Those are separate.”

Still, for all the praise Manning gets when he’s dominating opponents, it is only fair to point out his mediocre play when opponents dominate him. The Broncos’ oft-maligned defense wasn’t great in this game, but it was required to perform a great deal of damage control for its far more famous offense.

Manning completed 34 of 49 passes for 280 yards, many of them in garbage time, with one touchdown, two interceptions and a passer rating of 73.5. His counterpart, second-year Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the former Rockies farmhand, was 18 of 25 for 206 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 123.1. Wilson was clearly the better quarterback in this championship game.

“Offensively, we were clicking on all cylinders,” Wilson said. “That’s what we wanted to be, especially the last game of the season, to finish that way in that fashion. That’s our mindset. We want to be champions every day and bring it every time.”

Credit the Seahawks for playing a very sharp game. They deserve congratulations on winning their first NFL championship in very convincing fashion.

“We ran into a buzz saw,” Fox said.

That’s a little too easy. The Seahawks played very well, but the Broncos took themselves out of the game early by playing very badly. From a vantage point high above the action on a beautiful night for football in the New Jersey Meadowlands, it looked like the highest-scoring offense in NFL history mostly self-destructed.


Broncos on a mission

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NEW YORK — Jennifer Garner joined us on Radio Row today. This was the highlight of my Super Bowl week. She’ll be at the game Sunday, rooting for the Broncos. She’s been a Peyton Manning fan since his days as a Tennessee Volunteer.

That’s the extent of her connection to this post. I just wanted her photo on the blog.

Now then. Remember the dastardly way last season ended? Sure you do. For about six months afterward, the Broncos pretended they didn’t. They dared not speak of the fall-from-ahead loss to Baltimore in their first playoff game after a 13-3 regular season.

They’d put it behind them. They were focused on the future. There was, as always, no use crying over spilt milk.

A funny thing happened on the way to this season’s Super Bowl. Last year’s ending became an inspiration. Now they talk about it all the time. It is a source of motivation, even inspiration. According to Jack Del Rio, the team’s defensive coordinator and interim head coach when John Fox was hospitalized, it fuels their current quest.

“We’ve really been on a mission since we got that stinging loss at home last year in the playoff game,” Del Rio said this week. “We’ve been on a mission. Very resolute, our guys. There have been a lot of well-documented things that have occurred in the last 12 months and we’ve just kind of kept grinding. Never stopped believing that we have the ability to be here if we worked hard, worked together and committed. That’s what these guys have done.”

Amid the millions of words written and spoken this week, here’s an aspect to this tale you might not have heard: Of the Broncos’ 11 starters on defense in Sunday’s Super Bowl, only two — cornerback Champ Bailey and safety Mike Adams — started that playoff game against Baltimore a year ago.

“We’re a different group of guys collectively,” Bailey said. “But I think when you go through something like that, it kind of wakes you up, and now you’re more focused. You definitely don’t want things like that to happen again, especially in big games like that, but we’re a different team. We’re refocused. A lot of guys that were on that team, we don’t talk about it much. We just keep looking forward and try to get better every week.”

Linebacker Wesley Woodyard was a starter in the loss to Baltimore a year ago. He’s a reserve this year.

“It was something that built us up to get to this point,” he said. “That loss last year helped us get through training camp. Once we got through training camp, it was to get to Baltimore (in the Sept. 5 season opener). Once we got past Baltimore, it was, ‘Let’s get to the playoffs and win the No. 1 seed.’ Now we’re at the Super Bowl, so it kind of gave us a little extra motivation to keep continuing to get better and better.”

According to Fox, it’s not just the motivation, it’s also the experience losing in last year’s frigid conditions. With all the talk about the weather forecast for Sunday’s first outdoor Super Bowl in a northern climate, the Broncos’ coach said his team is now all but weatherproof.

“We lost a game a year ago in the playoffs in the single digits,” he said. “We hadn’t had much practice in that. Our weather had been actually pretty darn good in Denver. I think it’s actually a pretty well-kept secret, Denver’s weather. But this year we’ve gotten a little more calloused. We have had wind. We’ve played in single digits. We’ve practiced in single digits. Like anything, the more you do it, the better you get. I think we’ve been exposed to it, so it won’t be foreign.”

A week ago, the long-term forecast called for cold, wind and a good chance of some combination of rain, sleet and snow. Now, just two days out, here’s the National Weather Service forecast for East Rutherford on Sunday:

“A chance of rain, mainly before 1 p.m. Cloudy, with a high near 48. Southwest wind 5 to 9 mph becoming west in the afternoon. Chance of precipitation is 30%.”

Since kickoff isn’t until 6:30 p.m. eastern, any precipitation seems likely to be long gone. Temperature and wind should be relatively mild. Not a bad forecast for the most prolific passing attack in NFL history.


The Melodrama is back

NEW YORK — Took time out from the riveting media sessions leading up to the Super Bowl — Broncos coach John Fox: “I’m happy about the Chinese new year, and I’m happy that the animal is a horse” — to check in on the latest chapter in Carmelo Anthony’s love/hate relationship with whatever team happens to be paying him gobs of cash at any given moment.

That’s right, the Melodrama is back. Did you miss it?

Stop me when this sounds familiar: Anthony can opt out of his contract with the Knicks at the end of the season and he’s trying to figure out if the hardwood would be shinier someplace else.

He engaged in a similar Hamlet-like wrestling match with himself in Denver three years ago before the Nuggets, convinced he would leave as a free agent, traded him to New York and the bright lights, big city he craved. Remember how some Nuggets fans blamed Anthony’s wife, La La, for his determination to flee Denver? Remember the theory that she needed a bigger stage for her burgeoning career as a professional celebrity?

Well, they might have had a point. Monday was release day for her literary debut, The Love Playbook, with book signings all over Manhattan, appearances on the national morning TV shows and everything. But back to our rerun.

“I definitely think he will stay,” La La said Sunday on Bravo TV’s Watch What Happens Live. “I know that he wants to stay, and I support him wherever he wants to go.”

Wait, what? I know that he wants to stay, and I support him wherever he wants to go.

Anyway, here’s the money quote:

“Listen, I used to live in Denver with him. If I can live in Denver, I can live anywhere. I just want him to be happy.”

If I can live in Denver, I can live anywhere.

Odd echoes of the Sinatra line about New York — If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere — but not quite the same meaning.

The backlash was swift, and so was the back-pedal.

“Let me clarify this REAL QUICK,” she tweeted the following day. “When I said last night, ‘if I can live in Denver, I can live anywhere’ I meant living in a place with no family and no friends. I meant moving my entire life to a place I had never even been to before. In no way was I trying to disrespect Denver. I enjoyed Denver tremendously & love the city. — La La”

Glad we got that straightened out.

Anthony’s problem, of course, is the usual. He’s second in the NBA in scoring at 27.1 points per game, but his team stinks. At the moment, the Knicks are 18-27. In the woeful Eastern Conference, this record puts them just a half-game out of the playoff bracket. This is not good news for the Nuggets, who are owed the Knicks’ first-round pick in the coming NBA draft as part of the trade that sent him east in 2011.

If the Knicks miss the playoffs, that pick ends up in the draft lottery and could prove invaluable in a draft with some elite talent at the top. Because the West is so much stronger than the East, the Nuggets have a better record than the Knicks (22-21) but a worse position in the standings (2 1/2 games out of the playoff bracket). The Nuggets have to send the inferior of their draft picks to Orlando as part of the trade that brought them Andre Iguodala — temporarily, as it turns out — in 2012.

It’s all rather complicated, but one lesson seems clear: The Knicks wish they had their draft pick back. The Nuggets wish they had their draft pick back. Maybe this trading future draft picks for big-name players isn’t such a hot idea. But that’s another column.

In any case, that blockbuster 2011 trade isn’t working out that well for either team. The Nuggets received Danilo Gallinari, who blew out his knee last spring; Wilson Chandler, a talent who does more tantalizing than producing; Raymond Felton, who was exchanged for Andre Miller, who is now on indefinite leave from the team; and Timofey Mozgov, a nice if uninspiring big man. Neither team looks any closer to a championship now than when they made the deal.

Anthony’s comments about his situation are similar to his comments in Denver back in 2010. All he wants to do is win. He wants to go wherever that can happen.

“Championship is the only thing that’s on my mind, is the only thing I want to accomplish, I want to achieve,” he told reporters this week. “I’m going to do what I got to do to get that.”

Actually, he’s not. To get that, he probably needs to become a better team player rather than the sensational, one-dimensional scorer he has been throughout his career. In 10 seasons before this one, he has never appeared in an NBA Finals and only one conference final. His friend and peer, LeBron James, has won two titles and has his sights set on catching Kobe Bryant (five) and Michael Jordan (six). Melo, meanwhile, seems doomed to the Dominique Wilkins career path — lots of points, zero titles — unless he can hitch his wagon to somebody else’s team of horses.

The only way to lose his tag as a scorer who doesn’t make anybody else better is to win a championship or two, a feat he seems further from today than three years ago when he fled the Nuggets.

“The important thing is winning a championship; that’s the only way to shake it,” Bryant said the other day. “That’s the only way Michael shook it. That’s the only way any top scorer will be able to shake it.”

The Lakers are one team likely to have the space under the salary cap to sign Anthony if he’s a free agent on the open market this summer, but it’s not at all clear that adding another ballhog to a team that features the aging Bryant would give Kobe his best chance at title No. 6.

This isn’t our problem in Denver anymore, except insofar as it would help the Nuggets if the Knicks stink it up as badly as possible this season.

But think of poor La La.

“I get blamed for everything,” she said on Bravo. “No matter what happens, it’s my fault . . . I’m somehow the mastermind behind if he stays or not.”

Cue the late Warren Zevon: Poor Poor Pitiful Me.

By all accounts, La La’s book publicity tour is going swimmingly. It’s all about love and sex.

“The love at my book signing in NY yesterday was amazing!” she tweeted today. “Come out today at 7pm 271 Livingston street, Northvale, NJ Can’t wait to see you!!!”


For Champ Bailey, it’s about time

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JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Until the Super Bowl’s official Crazy as a Loon Day — that’s Tuesday, otherwise known as Media Day — the most interesting angle not named Peyton Manning or Richard Sherman is almost certainly Champ Bailey’s first trip to the NFL’s showcase after 15 seasons of excellence.

He will no doubt be overshadowed Tuesday, when an international television station will deploy the latest comely provocation — or perhaps just bring back Ines Sainz or Marisol Gonzalez — to propose to or merely hypnotize players desperately trying to follow their coaches’ instructions and stick to the subject, which is still football, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

As most football fans know, Bailey is one of the best cornerbacks in league history, having earned 12 Pro Bowl invitations in 15 seasons. And yet, when we took a thoroughly unscientific poll on KOA earlier this season asking for the five greatest Broncos of all time, Bailey finished tied for 23rd with two votes.

His is the curse of the thoroughly accomplished cornerback who isn’t constantly flapping his gums. In another era, the Broncos’ Louis Wright faced a similar fate. By definition, a great cornerback is virtually invisible. He’s so good that opposing quarterbacks throw at receivers being covered by other people. The great cover corner not only takes his opponent’s best receiver out of the game, he takes himself out, too.

It doesn’t help that Bailey has toiled for Denver during a relative drought. Since he arrived in a rare NFL blockbuster trade, exchanged by Washington for running back Clinton Portis in 2004, the Broncos have made the postseason just four times in 10 seasons. They never made the Super Bowl during his tenure before this year, and they advanced to the AFC Championship Game only once.

“It’s been a long road, but I’m just taking it in stride,” Bailey said Sunday evening, shortly after the Broncos arrived in New Jersey to begin preparations for Super Bowl 48. “I’m not trying to hype it up more than it should be. It’s still football. You’ve got to go out there and perform, and you’ve got to prepare just like we always do. Just trying to let everything stay its course and not trying to get over-hyped about it.”

Now 35, Bailey willingly admitted he has never before attended a Super Bowl, even as a fan.

“I didn’t see any reason to go,” he said. “I’m not going to cheer for anybody, and if I have no special interests in the game, other than being a fan watching it at home, why go? That’s the way I’ve always been.”

Bailey missed most of his 15th season with a foot injury, but returned near the end to play in the nickel defense. When cornerback Chris Harris went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the divisional round of the playoffs, Bailey was drafted to return to his traditional left corner spot for the AFC Championship Game. Because of his effectiveness in the slot as a nickel back, he continued to move inside when the Broncos went to five defensive backs, with reserve Tony Carter coming in to take his place on the outside.

Bailey is likely to play the same role in the Super Bowl. While the Seattle secondary gets much more attention, the combination of Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie gives Denver an accomplished pair of cover corners. And Bailey thinks the Broncos defense is playing better lately than its mediocre season-long rankings.

“It is what it is,” he said. “They (the Seahawks) played great all year, so they’re number one in the league. Our offense did the same. I think the last few weeks we’ve become a better defense. That’s all we can focus on — what we have to do — not statistics or you going to the playoffs. We’ve just got to go forward and try to get better than what we were last week.”

Several reporters made attempts to get Bailey to comment on his more talkative counterpart — Sherman, the Seahawks cornerback who made a game-saving play at the end of the NFC Championship Game and then boasted about it, denigrating San Francisco receiver Michael Crabtree in the process. Bailey smiled but declined the bait.

“He’s a great corner, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I think most of you guys notice that now because you hear about how much he talks. That’s the way he is. I enjoy guys with some personality. That’s him. I have no bad words to say about him. He’s a good player.”

Does Sherman’s penchant for bravado make it more noticeable when a receiver beats him on a route?

“I guarantee you he’ll say he’ll never get beat again, but we all are going to get beat at some point, as long as we strap them up,” Bailey said. “I think the nature of the position exposes you anyway, so it doesn’t matter if you’re talking or not.”

For whatever it’s worth, the respect is mutual.

“I think Champ Bailey is a fantastic person and player, and I think he’s going to be a Hall of Famer once his career’s done,” Sherman said Sunday. “He’s kind of laid out the base work to be a lock-down corner in this league. He did it for a long time and he’s still doing it. For him to get to a Super Bowl is a great accomplishment for him, especially at 15 years in the game. That’s not easy to do. I think you’ve got to tip your hat to him.”

Calm, pleasant logic has been Bailey’s hallmark ever since he came into the league as the seventh pick of the 1999 draft. He is honest, though seldom inflammatory or provocative. If he never had to do another interview, you get the feeling that would be fine by him.

“This is probably the worst part — sitting here answering these questions I’m going to have to answer all week,” he said. “But I’m going to enjoy it as much as possible and just get ready to play this big game.”

As cool as he is, Bailey’s teammates seem more concerned about winning him a championship ring than he is.

“We’ve been thinking about that the whole season,” said linebacker Wesley Woodyard. “It’s kind of like, this is one guy that everybody wants to win for. You know Champ, he’s a great person and a great teammate to be around and we definitely want to get this victory for him. This is a great moment for him.”


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