Saturday, May 27, 2017

Denver Sports Memories: Billy Martin and the Denver Bears


Legendary New York Yankees manager Billy Martin got his first managing job in Denver - taking over for the Triple A Denver Bears midseason in 1968.  The Bears had a record of 7 wins, 22 losses when Martin took the helm, and under Martin’s fiery leadership the team had a complete turn around, winning 66 games and losing 50 in their remaining games. 

The success with the Bears led to Martin being promoted as manager to the American League Minnesota Twins the next season.  Martin would never manage in the minors again, serving as manager for the Twins, Tigers, Rangers, A's, and of course the Yankees over his career.

One of the stars of that Bears team, third baseman Graig Nettles, would later star for Martin’s New York Yankee teams.  Art Fowler was Martin's pitching coach for the Bears - Fowler also followed Martin to serve as pitching coach in New York.

And Denver came calling again to Billy Martin when the Colorado Rockies were awarded a National League franchise in 1993.  “The Colorado people were going to let Billy run the whole show," said Billy's wife Jill (1).   Had Martin accepted that offer, the Rockies of the 1990's would have looked very different I'm sure!

During that 1968 season the Denver Bears hosted a “kids day” at the stadium for area youth baseball teams.  I played second base for my team and I was in attendance that day.  Billy Martin was always very personable with the fans, and he was on this day, too, giving a small group of young second basemen (including me) personal attention in showing us the finer points of playing the infield. 

As a baseball fan all my life, I always remember the job Billy Martin did to turn around that 1968 Denver Bears team.  It impressed on me that a good manager in baseball can have a positive effect on a team more than a head coach in any other sport.  The Colorado Rockies of today are proof of that too, with new manager Bud Black leading the team to the best record in the National League as of May 27th.

(1) from the book Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius by Bill Pennington, page 475.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Denver Sports Memories: Broncos Defeat Hot Dogs??

Broncos defeat the Hot Dogs???  In a 1969 game against San Diego the Broncos were shutting out the Chargers when suddenly the score read “Denver 13 Hot Dogs 0”!  “Bush league!” were the cries from the San Diego team and fans - you don’t mess with the scoreboard in a pro football game!    I was sitting in the South Stands at the old Mile High Stadium for that game.  As we all laughed at the scoreboard we later found out it wasn’t the Broncos who changed the score - turns out a fan had snuck into the scoreboard and changed the lettering of “San Diego” to “Hot Dogs”. 

This game also had significance in that it was the first time the Broncos had shut out an opponent, as the final score did turn out to be Denver 13 San Diego (Hot Dogs) 0.

As we walked out of the stadium that day my friend who sat by me that day said, “They could have spelled something a lot worse than Hot Dogs!”

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Denver Sports Memories: Lou Saban's Broncos

The Denver Broncos were one of the worst teams in pro football under Lou Saban’s coaching in the late 1960’s/early 70’s - or were they?  Saban’s won/loss record was bad during his Broncos coaching tenure (20 wins, 42 losses, 3 ties over 4 1/2 seasons).  But during those years the Broncos beat the defending Super Bowl champions TWICE in early season home games.  In 1969 the Broncos upset the New York Jets 21-19, and the following year the Broncos defeated the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs 26-13.  As a young Bronco fan I was in attendance at both these games, and it gave Denver fans false hope that the Broncos would be contenders in those years.  While Denver went on to have losing records in 1969 and 1970, those games were the start of an impressive home field advantage for the Broncos.  In their history the Broncos have a remarkable winning record at their Mile High Stadium home, highlighted by 24 consecutive home wins from 1996-1998, and defeating Tom Brady's Patriots 3 times in playoff games at Mile High.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Denver Sports Memories: Spencer Haywood's Amazing Season

(this is the first in a series of posts about my Denver Sports Memories)

The pro basketball team in our town once had a player who averaged 30 points and 19.1 rebounds for the entire season! And that player changed the face of basketball forever.  Spencer Haywood put up those gaudy numbers for the American Basketball Association Rockets during his only season in Denver (1969-1970).

Back in the 1960’s the NBA had a rule that college players could not enter their league until the player completed his college eligibility.  Haywood was the first to break the mold - jumping from college to the ABA Rockets after his sophomore year.  After his one year in Denver Haywood challenged the NBA’s college eligibility rule, and was allowed to play for the Seattle Supersonics, opening the door for college players to leave their ncaa teams early.

Today “one and done” college players, entering the NBA after one year of ncaa baskerball, are common place (ask the University of Kentucky!)  But Haywood’s one year was the best I have ever seen by a pro basketball player in Denver - even better than later more well known Denver stars like David Thompson and Alex English.  I remember watching a Rockets game with a friend where Haywood hit a 15 foot turnaround jumper over a defender from an impossible angle.  “Whoa!!” my friend and I said as we looked in each other in amazement.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ryan Harris at the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club

Super Bowl 50 Champion Ryan Harris is a 10 year veteran of the NFL.  Ryan was drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2007 where he played offensive tackle. Ryan also played for  the Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs, and most recently with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ryan played college football at the University of Notre Dame, where he graduated two degrees in Economics and policy, and Political Science. Ryan is originally from Minnesota and currently resides with his family in Denver, CO.

Off the field, Ryan believes that together we can change the world. He believes that "It is your right to be extraordinary."  that when we embrace that right, we will create positive change in the world. Through our commitment to educate ourselves, invest in our communities and act on our passions, real change happens.

We hosted Ryan at our April 2017 meeting of the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club.  And oh what a meeting it was!  Ryan gave an awesome speech.  He skillfully weaved in stories from his NFL playing days (especially his experiences on the Super Bowl 50 Broncos championship team) and turned those into life lessons that inspired us all.   After his speech he took questions from our group of longtime Bronco fans.  I paraphrase some of his comments below.

The Super Bowl Ring

As the picture above shows, Ryan was wearing his Super Bowl 50 ring - a ring with 212 diamonds.  "When I played for the Steelers last year, some of my new teammates said 'we should have beat you!' (in the AFC divisional round, a game where the Broncos came back in the 4th quarter to win 23-16).  In response I just showed them the final score embedded in the ring."

Key to the SB 50 Champions

"We had great leaders on that team.  DeMarcus Ware was the best leader I ever played with.  DeMarcus would give me tips during a game.  Peyton Manning would frequently quiz us to make sure we understood the game plan.  The veteran leadership on that team was so important to our success.  We had fun, too.  Peyton would sing after every win."

On Yoga

"I've done yoga for 15 years.  Other players would laugh at me.  Then in the past two years many of my teammates started doing yoga, too!"

On the SB 50 coaching staff

"Gary Kubiak was phenomenal.  He understood us since he once was an NFL player.  Rick Dennison (Rico) was amazing, too.  Rico believed in me - he recruited me to the Houston Texans and again to the Broncos when he came back to work on Kubiak's staff.  Rico changed my life."

Who was the toughest pass rusher you faced?

Von Miller
Tamba Hali KC Chiefs
Terrell Suggs Baltimore Ravens

"When I came back to the Broncos I was happy I wouldn't have to face Von twice a year, then I realized I had to go against him every day in practice!  Von would tell me 'you did your film work' if I stopped him on one play, then say 'are you ready for this?' before beating me with a new move.  Playing the offensive line is like being a pitcher in baseball.  You can't throw a fastball with every pitch.  I had to constantly come up with new strategies to stop the top pass rushers like Von."

Who will play left tackle for the Broncos?

"Donald Stephenson is capable.  Ty Sambrailo played well when he was healthy."

Should the Broncos take a tackle in the first round of the upcoming draft?

"No.  Cam Robinson of Alabama is projected to go in the first round.  Alabama does not play a pro style offense.  Ryan Ramcyzk of Wisconsin is another projected 1st rounder.  He only played one year at tackle in college.  I like Texas A&M's Avery Gennesy in the second round or Florida State's Roderick Johnson in a later round."

On who this year's starting quarterback will be:

"Both Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch are talented.  Trevor has started 14 NFL games and made some great throws last year.  John Elway wants to win games and Trevor's experience gives him the edge."

What's the loudest stadium you have played in?

"Any game in Seattle.

Playing at Kansas City in our Super Bowl 50 season.

But the loudest was the AFC Championship game against the Patriots when we stopped New England on the game clinching two point conversion.  That noise was filled with joy (of the Bronco fans)."

Ryan graciously stayed a few minutes to talk to QB Club members individually after his speech, signing many autographs. 

As a recently retired athlete, you can hear Ryan weekdays at 3PM on AM 950 Altitude Radio's the Kreckman and Harris. Tune in, subscribe to the shoes podcast, or come hear him as speaks around the nation and become a part of his mission to change the world.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cecil Lammey at the Denver Broncos Quarterback Club

For the seventh consecutive year 104.3 The Fan's NFL Insider Cecil Lammey spoke at the Denver Broncos Quarterback club's March meeting, giving us his opinions the Broncos offseason so far and a preview of the team's needs for the upcoming NFL draft. Listed below is a summary of some of Cecil's comments:

On the coaching change: Initially Cecil thought Kyle Shanahan would be a better choice as the next Broncos head coach. But now he thinks the team of head coach Vance Joseph, offense coordinator Mike McCoy, and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave is a stronger group than what Kyle Shanahan would have offered. "McCoy will get back to running the ball," Cecil said. "He'll have a versatile offense that'll be different every game." Coach Joseph will be "stern but fair" in dealing with the team's young quarterbacks. Cecil said Trevor Siemian was hurt last year but the team didn't have enough confidence in Paxton Lynch to start Lynch while Trevor was injured. "Trevor should have never played the Thursday night game against San Diego," Cecil said. Siemian was one of the hardest working players on the team. "In the Super Bowl year Trevor beat Peyton to the Broncos facility every day," Cecil noted. Paxton's work ethic was not near as strong but that can change under Joseph.  
On the Bronco free agent signings so far:
Guard Ronald Leary was a great acquisition in the area of the team's greatest need (offensive line) Defensive tackle Domata Peko will be a good replacement for Malik Jackson. Defensive tackle Zach Kerr, at 6'1" 330 pounds, will be more disruptive than the departed Sylvester Williams at nose tackle.  
On the upcoming NFL draft:
 This is a great class for defensive linemen, linebackers, cornerbacks, and safeties. This is one of the best tight end classes ever, like 1983 was for quarterbacks. "Every tight end I saw at the Senior Bowl is better than what the Broncos have now," Cecil said. The draft is weak at quarterback and offensive line. Christian McCaffery would be a great first round pick for the Broncos. Cecil is hearing the Raiders want Christian, but the Broncos pick ahead of the Raiders in the first round. The teams ahead of the Broncos in the draft order considering Christian are the Panthers at #8 and the Colts at # 15. "Take Christian in the first round and get a quality tight end a round or two later," Cecil says. If McCaffery is gone by the Broncos pick, Cecil likes Jabrill Peppers defensive back Michigan or Rueben Foster linebacker Alabama as possible Bronco first round selections. "Foster plays like a young Ray Lewis," Cecil said.

Cecil spoke for 30 minutes and then spent 30 minutes answering our club's many questions. It is always good to get the inside scoop on the Broncos and the NFL from Cecil's annual appearance at our club!