Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Rick Upchurch at the Bronco QB Club


New Denver Broncos Ring of Famer Rick Upchurch inspired a crowd of long time fans at the dinner meeting of the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club on Wednesday night.

In introducing Rick I told of my first memory of his outstanding career.  On September 21, 1975 I was a 19 year old sitting in the South Stands at the old Mile Hi Stadium watching Rick's first game in the NFL.  And oh what a game he had!  Three receptions for 153 yards, including a 90 yard touchdown pass from Charlie Johnson.  A 13 yard TD run off of a reverse, 88 yards in kickoff returns, 30 yards in punt returns, for 284 total yards.  A Bronco rookie record that still stands to this day.

This was only a hint of the great career Rick would have.  A four time Pro Bowler, a five time Associated Press All Pro, named to the 1970's All Decade Team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and more - Rick's induction into the Broncos Ring of Fame earlier this season was long overdue.

Rick told us of his growing up years in Ohio.  Chicago Bears great Gayle Sayers was his hero, and he would imitate Gayle's moves while playing with his dog in the backyard of his family's Toledo, Ohio home.  In high school he played baseball and ran track.  Baseball was in Rick's roots - his grandfather played in the Negro Leagues.  "Baseball is a sissy sport," his track coach told him at the time. This coach encouraged Rick to try out for the football team. 

"You are never going to be anything," Rick's aunt would tell him.  Rather than becoming discouraged, Rick used his aunt's words to prove her wrong, to motivate him towards bigger goals.  "Any negative can be a positive," Rick says he tells kids today.  "Every bad play means we can get better."

After a stellar college career at the University of Minnesota, Rick was drafted by the Broncos in the fourth round of the 1975 draft.  Rick relates, "John Ralston didn't want me."  The Broncos head coach was encouraged to draft Rick from assistant coach Doc Urich, the team's Big 10 scout.  "Doc said if I wasn't rookie of the year, he'd buy the coaching staff a steak dinner," Rick said Urich told him years later.  "John Ralston told Doc 'if Upchurch isn't rookie of the year - you're fired!'"  Rick was to prove Urich right with his amazing first game and impressive rookie season.

A deeply spiritual man, throughout his stories Rick would tell what his faith meant to him.  "God has a plan for us," Rick says.  "He will point you in the right direction when you pray.  God carries me on my journey - He's had me in His hands all the time."

Rick recalled the miracle 1977 team that defeated the mighty Oakland Raiders to earn a spot in Super Bowl XII.  Earlier that year the Broncos had upset the Raiders in Oakland.  "It's all over fat man!" linebacker Tom Jackson yelled at Raiders coach John Madden.  "Keep it down, Tom! We have to play these guys again!" Rick recalls telling Jackson.  Sure enough, the Raiders easily defeated the Broncos in Denver two weeks after this upset, but the Broncos were to have the last laugh with their AFC Championship win.  "We thought we'd beat Dallas in the Super Bowl," Rick remembers. "I thought we were evenly matched, but we had the edge in special teams."  While the Broncos did lose to the Cowboys that day, Rick had an 86 yard kickoff return that led to the Broncos only touchdown, and got Denver back in the game in the second half.  That return was the Super Bowl record for longest non-scoring kickoff return for many years.

Rick has fond memories of the Broncos fans, and now that he is back in Denver (having recently moved here with his wife Donna) he wants to reconnect with his many supporters.  "It was you fans that helped this man grow," he told the QB Club crowd.  "When times look like they are bad, you cheer the team on."

Today Rick is battling leukemia.  Though in remission the past two years, Rick still undergoes chemo therapy every day.  "My white blood cell count was 130,000 when I was first diagnosed," Rick said.  "Being inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame came at just the right time," his wife Donna said.  

I've been attending Denver Bronco Qb Club meetings for over 10 years, and this was one of the best.  Rick Upchurch was gracious in signing many autographs and telling stories of his playing days.  Donna had told me this was not one of Rick's best days health wise, but he did not want to let the fans down and he kept his Bronco QB club commitment.  You would have never known Rick was having health issues as he was positive, smiling, and engaging the whole evening with every fan he met. 



Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hockey excitement is back in Denver, but did the Avs overachieve last year?


Between periods of last night's Colorado Avalanche home opener the team picked a lucky fan who would win a car if the Avs scored in the first 30 seconds after the intermission.  The fan never had a chance!  The Avalanche not only failed to score in the first 30 seconds for this fan, they haven't scored a goal in their opening two games.

It was good to see excitement about hockey and the Avs back in the Mile Hi city.  I took the above picture at the opening faceoff.  As you can see the game featured a sell out crowd with everyone in their seats for the drop of the first puck.  The Avalanche' excellent video department had another good pregame production last night:



Unfortunately the game did not match the pregame hype.  The Wild again outplayed the Avalanche, winning 3-0.  While I don't consider myself as knowledgeable about hockey as I am about football, here's what I noticed last night:

  •  If Tyson Barrie doesn't get hurt in last season's first round matchup against the Wild , the Avs win the series.  I thought Barrie was the best player on the ice for the Avs.  For a franchise who has had trouble finding a good "offensive" defenseman in the past, the Avs now have a good one in Barrie.
  • The new additions didn't impress me.  jarome iginla seemed a step slow.  At one power play he was playing the point - what's up with that?  He needs to be in front of the net on power plays.  Iginla is a notorious slow starter so there's still hope he can return to the 30 goal level he was at last year with the Boston Bruins.
  • Minnesota had a power play in the first period where they had 9 shots on goal and the puck never left the zone.  It was the most dominant power play I've ever seen without a team scoring.  The Wild are very good and if they continue to get good goaltending, like they did last night from Darcy Kuemper, they will be tough to beat.
  • Goalie Sergei Varlamov was solid in net, showing the same form as last season when he was a Vezina trophy finalist (given to the NHL's top goalie)
The Avalanche now go on the road for four games, including matchups with eastern powerhouses Boston and Montreal.  A key to the surprise season last year was the Avs fast start (winning their first 6 games and 12 out of their first 13).  This year could be the opposite, as I see the Avs could be 1-5 or worse after this tough road trip.

It's too early to give up on this team yet.  The Avs still have a good base of young talent (MacKinnon, Landeskog, Duchene, and more).  But I think they are more of a borderline playoff team this season, which was the expectation going into last season before the team's surprise division title.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Good Year, but the Broncos won't get as far as they did in 2013

Every year I post my prediction on this blog before the first game for the Denver Broncos season. Here are my thoughts for 2014:

The Broncos will again have a successful season, winning the AFC West with a record of 11-5.  They will not make it to the Super Bowl, however,  losing on the road in the playoffs at New England.  Reasons?:

1.  The Broncos have a difficult schedule this year, being matched with the NFC West for their out of conference games.  Playing the defending Super Bowl champ Seahawks on the road in addition to the 49'ers and Cardinals are tougher matchups than the NFC East teams the Broncos played last season.

2.  The Broncos again draw New England on the road in the regular season, where they have lost the past two seasons.  New England figures to be stronger this year with Rob Gronkowski back at tight end and a full off season to address their depleted defense (adding Darrelle Revis at cornerback).  While Denver overcame the Patriot loss to still claim the AFC West #1 seed in each of the past two seasons, I don't see that happening in 2014.  The home field advantage will be key in the playoffs, allowing the Patriots to beat the Broncos on their home turf in the AFC Championship game.

3.  The Broncos ARE improved in 2014, provided they stay healthy.  The defensive additions of Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, and TJ Ward will give the team a better defense.  However Ware and Talib have been injury prone the last two seasons and I wonder if they can stay on the field for the full 16 game schedule.

4.  Peyton Manning will again have a stellar season.  The Broncos will miss Knowshon Moreno, though, with Montee Ball not matching Knowshon's 2013 production.

5.  Seattle looks awesome.  They remind me of the young 1993 Dallas Cowboy team that won their first Super Bowl the previous season, and were even better the next year in winning the championship again.  Having Percy Harvin for a full season, the continued maturation of quarterback Russell Wilson, and the best defense in the NFL will lead the Seahawks to a second straight Super Bowl title.

Playing Seattle on the road in game 4 will be the litmus test for this 2014 Broncos team.  Will the improvements on defense, a beefed up offensive line (with Ryan Clady back), and a full offseason for offensive mastermind Adam Gase to figure out how to attack the Seahawks D lead to a different result than Super XLVIII?  The Broncos don't have to win this game, but if they can play the Seattle close and neutralize Seahawk's pass rush, that'll be a good sign that Denver can exceed my predictions above.  That's what I'm hoping for.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

PGA Tour Comes To Denver


This Wednesday I had the opportunity to attend a practice round for the BMW Championship at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver - the first PGA tour event in the Denver area since the International at nearby Castle Pines closed shop in 2006.  Cherry Hills is a storied course that has hosted three US Opens, including the 1960 US Open - considered by golf historians one of the greatest tournaments ever.  That championship featured Arnold Palmer coming back from seven strokes behind on the final day to win, edging out golf legend Ben Hogan and a young Jack Nicklaus.


Arnold Palmer's 1960 victory is still remembered fondly around the course, including this plaque at tee box #1.  Palmer was to drive the green and make a birdie on this 345 yard par 4 hole.  Could today's golfers perform the same feat?


We were fortunate to find a viewing balcony immediately behind the first tee.  The format this day was a "pro-am", with a PGA tour pro playing 18 holes with three amateur partners.  The amateurs paid $12,000 each for this privilege!  Here PGA Pro Henrik Stenson meets his playing companions.

What I liked best about our position behind the first tee was how close we could get to each golfer - we had an unobstructed view.


The best drive we saw this day was from Sergio Garcia, who hit a powerful shot to the green, 345 yards away.  "Best shot of the day," said a Cherry Hills official monitoring the first tee.

 

Sergio's Spanish heritage was evident from his choice of golf club covers on his bag!


The highlight of the day was the opportunity to follow the number one golfer in the World around the course for a few holes - Ireland's Rory Mcilroy!


 We could get very close to Rory during his round.  Though small in stature compared to some of the other players we saw, no one can hit a golf ball farther than Rory.


It was fun to see Rory's long tee shots from behind.


I also enjoyed seeing some of the legendary holes at Cherry Hills.  Here is the island green on hole 17.  Ben Hogan hit into the water on this hole ending his hopes of winning the 1960 Open.

I hope the BMW Tournament will lead to the PGA Tour returning to the Denver area for future tournaments.  I have a feeling Cherry Hills will host another US Open or PGA Championship some day, now that the course has been modified for today's big hitters.  
 



Sunday, April 27, 2014

Three incredible Avalanche home games (Minnesota series 2014)

Avalanche/Wild Game 5, 4/26/14

I've been to all the Avs home playoff games so far and they've been incredible.  Game 1 had the end of game drama (with the Avs avoiding a loss in the last seconds then winning in OT), Game 2 showed the amazing skills of Avs rookie Nate MacKinnon with some of the prettiest goals you'll ever see, Game 3 was a combination of games 1 and 2 (late game drama and Mackinnon stars again)

Watching Nate MacKinnon reminds me of the feelings I had as a Denver Broncos fan in 1983 during John Elway's rookie season.  I could tell Elway had the tools to be a future Hall of Famer, and I looked forward to many fun seasons of watching the Broncos with Elway under center.  MacKinnon's reign as one of the top players in the NHL has just started (he's only 18 years old!)  Barring injury Nate will give Avalanche fans many years of thrills ahead, just has he has done in the playoffs so far.








Friday, April 18, 2014

Playoff hockey is back!

The Pepsi Center was rockin last night! I took this picture from the cheap seats at the opening faceoff. I've been to most Av playoff games since the 90's (I was even at the only Colorado Rockies playoff game in 1978 vs the Flyers) - there is nothing like playoff hockey!

Last night's thrilling, come from behind 5-4 Avalanche win in overtime will go down as one of the best playoff games ever in Denver. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Rooftop At Coors Field


Wednesday afternoon my wife Anne and I took in an afternoon Rockies game at Coors Field - the first Rockies game we've attending in three years.  I have always been a Rockies fan, and once I had season tickets in the 90's, but in recent years I have found it more difficult to attend games in person.

On this sunny April day, though, I wanted to once again see the Rockies with my own eyes to check out this season's team and see the changes to Coors Field.  The most prominent change is the new Rooftop section (shown above) high above the right field wall.



The Rooftop draws quite a crowd, even for this game on a weekday afternoon where the overall attendance at 20,000 was less than what the Rockies typically draw on the weekends.  For most games rooftop tickets are $14 which includes a $6 concession credit.  Ticket buyers can choose to stand in the rooftop area or sit in the general admission section of Coors.  If you choose to stand, arrive early to get a spot on the rail for a view of the field!


Here's a picture I took before the game from the rail on the Rooftop.  As you can see, you are far from home plate, and balls hit to the wall in right field are not within view.  Still this section allows fans to be part of the action for a bargain price.


Also featured as part of the Rooftop are a variety of food and drink options.

Away from the action fans can relax on these comfy couches and watch the game on the hi-def monitors.

Not needed on this sunny day, but for those cold early season night games fans can warm up next to this fire pit behind the concession area.



Here's the view from the general admission section that rooftop ticket holders have access to.  Our seats were in another section, but after the second inning we chose to sit in general admission for the shade and cool breeze at the top of the stands.

Would I purchase Rooftop tickets for a future game?  Probably not, as I had trouble picking up the flight of the baseball from this far away.  I prefer the upper deck behind home plate, where I used to have my season tickets, if I don't want to pay the higher prices of the lower level or club level.

Still I think the Rooftop is a good addition to Coors Field.  It drew a younger crowd this day, most of whom seemed more interested in socializing than watching the game itself.  But that's OK - part of the beauty of baseball with its slower pace is enjoying the sunshine and the company of the people you are with.

For more information on the Rooftop check out this FAQ from the Rockies.