Monthly Archives: March 2012

Are you kidding? Of course the Broncos should make a play for Peyton Manning

Darnell Dockett wasted no time launching his campaign to get Peyton Manning to join the Arizona Cardinals.

“Peyton to AZ!!!!!!” Dockett tweeted Tuesday as word circulated that Manning would be released by the Colts, which he was this morning.

As Dockett made clear in subsequent appearances on the NFL Network and ESPN, this was not intended to disparage Kevin Kolb, the quarterback the Cardinals signed to a five-year, $63.5 million contract, $21 million of it guaranteed, less than a year ago.

“I don’t have anything against our quarterback we have now,” Dockett said. “I feel confident in him. Who wouldn’t want to play with Peyton Manning?”

Seriously. The Broncos should feel the same way.

The Jets have Mark Sanchez, the fifth overall draft pick in 2009, and they’re reportedly ready to make a play to make New York a two-Manning market.

In short, there is no good reason for the Broncos not to join the party. All Manning can say is no.

A Broncos spokesman said Wednesday the team will have no comment on the matter until next week.

It is no knock on Tim Tebow, in whom the Broncos have a smaller financial investment than the Cardinals have in Kolb or the Jets have in Sanchez, to suggest that he could learn a thing or two from a four-time NFL most valuable player. Nor is it an exaggeration to say that adding Manning would add a rocket booster to the Broncos’ plan to return to contention.

Based on eyewitness reports and a brief video of a Manning throwing session last week at Duke University, he is much closer to being ready to play again than many observers expected after multiple surgeries to repair a neck injury. While he said Wednesday he still has some progress to make in his throwing, he is a well-known perfectionist, and the video from Duke showed him throwing both long and short distances with no apparent trouble.

Manning will turn 36 later this month. Assuming he can stay healthy, he should have several productive years left in him.

The difficulty for the Broncos, of course, would be persuading him that Denver is the best spot for him. The Dolphins, Redskins, Jets, Cardinals and Seahawks are all expected to make plays, and there could be others. Of those teams, only the Jets could argue they are significantly closer to competing for a championship than the Broncos, and even that’s debatable after the Broncos beat them last season.

It’s possible that Manning, who has played his home games indoors throughout his tenure in Indianapolis, will prefer a warm-weather climate. The Broncos can’t do anything about that, but it can’t do any harm to make  pitch. They’ll never know unless they try.

One factor in their favor is they have as much room under the NFL salary cap as any team in the league. How much of it they would be willing to devote to a veteran quarterback is another matter, but unless Pat Bowlen has more financial troubles than we know, money should not be an obstacle.

Bottom line, there is no reason not to make a pitch. Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. He’s available. He still wants to play. He will dramatically improve some NFL team. Why not the Broncos?

Time for Avalanche to return to relevance

Saturday night at the Pepsi Center, after the Avalanche lost its second game in a row and dropped three points out of the NHL playoff bracket, I asked coach Joe Sacco how his newest charges, recently-acquired forwards Steve Downie and Jamie McGinn, were fitting in.

“I think with Jamie it’s starting to come,” he said. “He didn’t come in and put up four, five points in two games like Downie did, but he’s also not that type of player. I thought tonight he was more noticeable, though. He was involved in the game. He had an impact on the game. He was physical. He was in their face a little bit. I think he drew a penalty. So I liked his game tonight. I think it’s starting to come. He’s getting more comfortable.”


Twenty-four hours later, McGinn scored both goals in the Avs’ 2-0 victory over the Wild in St. Paul, Minn. Neither was the sort of pretty skill play the club so often requires. Both were rebounds in tight spaces amid the scrum of bodies around the goaltender’s crease, the sort of play hockey folks call gritty.

“First opportunities are good in this league, but you need second and third looks around the net in this league, especially with good goaltenders,” Sacco said Saturday night. “So I’d like to see us have a little better net presence like we did in the stretch when we were winning some games. We’ve gotten away from that lately.”

Following Sunday’s win in Minnesota, the Avs are within one point of eighth place in the West. These battles they’ve been fighting over the past several years to sneak into the bottom of the playoff bracket are not particularly inspiring to fans once accustomed to true Stanley Cup contention, but they are better than being completely out of it, as the Avalanche was in two of the past three seasons.

For years after their arrival from Quebec in 1995, the Avs could count on selling out every home game. Their average attendance was always 18,007, the building’s capacity for hockey.

Since the sellout streak was broken during the 2006-07 season, their average home attendance has slipped from 17,612 that season (13th in the league) to a low of 13,947 (27th) in 2009-10. This season, it has rebounded to an average of 15,455 (23rd) through 34 home games.

They have accumulated enough young skill players to climb back into hockey relevance. In Matt Duchene, Ryan O’Reilly, Paul Stastny and Jay McClement they have four legitimate centers around whom to rotate a group of wingers they’re still working on. In 19-year-old left winger Gabriel Landeskog, they have a candidate for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and an emerging star at power forward.

Young goaltender Semyon Varlamov has been up and down in his first season in Colorado, but he may be heating up at the right time. He has surrendered four goals in his last five starts, two of them shutouts, and is 4-1 over that span.

The defense, too, has been inconsistent, but former first overall draft pick Erik Johnson seems to have regained his confidence, and Ryan Wilson, now paired with Jan Hejda, has been arguably the team’s best blue-liner.

Avs fans are understandably tired of hearing about potential. In a league where 16 of 30 teams qualify for the playoffs, their team has failed to make the cut in three of the past five seasons. It is time for all the trades and all the high draft picks to start producing results on the ice.

The Avs have 15 games remaining. I asked Sacco how he sees his club’s prospects of climbing back into the playoff picture and staying there.

“I like our chances,” he said. “I like the group that we have in here. We’re resilient. We’ve had a couple of different scenarios during the course of this year where we looked like we might have been down and out, but we came back. This situation that we’re in right now is no different.

“It’s going to be hard, there’s no question. It’s going to be difficult. But I like the group that we have in there. We have a good mix of players. The locker room I feel is real strong right now, and so we’ll come through this.”

Adding the grit of Downie, now injured, and McGinn was not only an admission that the Avs were a little soft. It was also a suggestion that toughness was the final ingredient necessary after years of accumulating young talent. There’s a lot to like about the young Avs, but a fan base can live on promises only so long. Since moving to Colorado, this club has never missed the playoffs two years in a row. Now would not be a good time to start.

“We’re right there,” said Duchene, who returned to action eight games ago after missing two months with a left knee injury. “There’s no reason to panic or anything yet. We’ve obviously got to make up some ground now. Dallas is winning their games and a lot of other teams are winning their games and we’ve got to start doing the same.”

Before Saturday night’s game, the Avs held a ceremony honoring Rob Blake, who retired as a member of the San Jose Sharks at the end of last season. Blake came to Colorado in a trade from Los Angeles near the end of the 2000-01 season, just in time for the club’s run to its second Stanley Cup.

At the season opener last fall, they held a ceremony honoring Peter Forsberg, who finally gave up the ghost of a comeback last year. Joe Sakic is now in their front office. Milan Hejduk, the last remnant of the good old days, has slipped to the fourth line.

It’s time to stop looking backward. The glory days were great, but they’re long gone. The last Stanley Cup parade was more than a decade ago. It’s about time for these new Avs to show what they’ve got.

Fifty years ago today, Wilt dropped 100 on a different world

“Imagine,” Sports Illustrated mused, “Wilt Chamberlain scoring his NBA record 100 points today, in the Twitter age.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the breathless, contemporaneous tweets from Philadelphia Warriors beat writers as the total mounts. Instant photos from their iPhones. Trending hashtags like #bigdipper and #thestilt. Appearances later in the week on Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel.

But on March 2, 1962, there was no television coverage of the Knicks-Warriors game in Hershey, Pa., and hence, no sepia-toned video footage to replay today. Just 4,124 fans were in attendance. Legendary Philadelphia public relations man Harvey Pollack scrawled “100” on a piece of paper and had Chamberlain hold it up for the still photographer who made the iconic image that survives.

When Jeremy Lin put up 38 against the Lakers last month, he became the talk of the nation. His image graced consecutive SI covers. Wilt’s 100-point game, an individual scoring record that still stands half a century later, got four sentences in the magazine’s “For the Record” column.

Lin was the talk of ESPN. There was no such thing as a 24-hour sports television network in Wilt’s day.

“When you take on history, nothing is more important than context,” explained Gary Pomerantz, author of WILT, 1962. “So when we consider the NBA in 1962, we have to put away our notions of today’s game, with the glamor and the glitz and the exploding lights, and see it for what it was.

“At that time, it was hardly even a national basketball association. There were only nine teams, only one west of St. Louis, and that was the Los Angeles Lakers, who had moved out there a year earlier. So it was a league in search of itself. The old joke was that NBA crowds were so small that before the game, the P.A. announcers would announce the players in the starting lineup and then they would introduce each fan: ‘There’s Paul from Hershey and Sam from Harrisburg!'”

Wilt today would be a phenomenon celebrated in a never-ending stream of video highlights the way Shaquille O’Neal was years later — as Gulliver among the Lilliputians.

“He is aesthetically and athletically just superior to everyone else out there,” Pomerantz said. “He’s 25 years old and he’s 7-foot-1 and 260 pounds and he’s lean. He’s got a massive back that slopes down to a 31-inch waist and he’s running the floor like a train. I interviewed a lot of guys who played against him in that early stage in his career and they spoke of him with this hushed reverence. It was almost as if, I would imagine, you were to interview the native Americans out on the plains about the first sighting of the locomotive. He was that unprecedented.”

Chamberlain had as many haters as admirers in those days. “Nobody roots for Goliath,” he often said. Critics pointed out that for all the scoring, his two NBA championships rings paled in comparison to rival Bill Russell’s eleven.

“I think some of it is a discrimination, and by that I don’t refer entirely to race,” Pomerantz said. “I’m referring to his height. If you go back and read what the leading lights of the sports media were writing at that time, they were calling him a pituitary goon and a circus freak. He enters a feet-on-the-floor game and transforms it. He takes it vertical above the rim and makes it his.

“In that 100-point game, there’s one foot dragging in the old days, and that’s with the set shooters and so forth who are still in the game, and one foot lunging into the modern day. That’s a more athletically luminous type of game, faster and higher, and that foot was Wilt’s.

“He was always the favorite. You don’t look at him and think underdog. He was bigger, stronger and faster than everyone. It’s kind of like those Rocky movies. Not many people are rooting for Apollo Creed. So this was Wilt’s cross to bear. He and Russell had some fantastic battles. In fact, this season ended for Wilt all too typically — in Game 7 of the NBA conference finals losing to Russell on a controversial shot that Sam Jones made with just a few seconds to play.

“In this year when Wilt averages 50 points a game and throws down the 100-point thunderbolt in Hershey, Russell was named the MVP. Think about that.”

Chamberlain’s numbers from that 1961-62 season are inconceivable today. He averaged 48.5 minutes a game. NBA games are 48 minutes long. The Warriors played ten overtime contests that year. In addition to his 50.4 points per game on 50.6 percent shooting, he averaged 25.7 rebounds a game. Of the top ten single-game scoring totals in NBA history, Chamberlain authored six.

The box score from Hershey shows he made 36 of 63 shots from the floor in the Warriors’ 169-147 victory. For a 51 percent career free-throw shooter, his most amazing accomplishment was hitting 28 of 32 foul shots.

“That’s the real miracle of Hershey, of course,” Pomerantz said. “Wilt was a terrible free throw shooter. He was kind of the pre-modern day Shaq. And years later, when there was talk that he was going to fight Muhammad Ali, Wilt’s father pulled him aside and said, ‘Wilt, don’t you think you might be a little better served practicing free throws?’

“But this was the year he shot them underhanded. So it’s his least athletic-looking move on the court, where he’s putting the ball between his legs, he’s dipping down low, his knees flare out wide. He kind of looks like an adult trying to sit in a kindergartner’s chair. But it worked. Eighty-seven percent, and he never replicated that, unless it was in his dreams.”

Today’s sports world would have reverberated for weeks. Fifty years ago, basketball fans got a couple of lines in the paper the next morning, maybe a box score if they were lucky. Chamberlain, who died in 1999 at age 63, drove Knicks forward Willie Naulls back to New York after the game and celebrated in his Harlem nightclub, Big Wilt’s Smalls Paradise.