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.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Cure for the Super Bowl Blues - Listen to Cecil Lammey!

Last night I attended a talk by ESPN's Cecil Lammey, one of my favorite NFL analysts, at a Denver Broncos Quarterback Club meeting.  Bronco fans have been in a general state of depression after the blowout Super Bowl loss to Seattle in February.  Not to worry, according to Cecil, the future looks bright.  "John Elway has always turned negatives into positives," Cecil says.

Cecil reviewed John Elway's history, going back to when Elway was originally drafted by Baltimore.  The Elways did not want John to play for the Colts owner, Robert Irsay, or the Baltimore coach, Frank Kush.  John worked his way out of this by forcing a trade to the Broncos.  Turning a negative into a positive.

Then once with the Broncos, Elway played for a coach who stunted Elway's growth with very conservative game plans.   Run-Run-Pass was a common 1st-2nd-3rd down play strategy under Reeves.  Did John get depressed?  No!  Instead he used his time under Reeves to work on his touch passing, a skill that served Elway and the Broncos well with the Bronco Super Bowl teams later in his career.  Again John turned a negative to a positive.

Cecil mentioned other disappointments in Elway's career as a player and GM.  The Jacksonville playoff loss in 1996, the Baltimore playoff game in 2012, losing Mike McCoy as offensive coordinator last year - with each negative Elway turned the situation to a positive.  Fans can have hope he'll do it again after the Seattle Super Bowl loss this year.

Cecil had other "insider" nuggets he shared with the 60+ club members in attendance:

1.  In the 2012 draft the Broncos liked 3 quarterbacks: Russell Wilson, Brock Osweiler, and Nick Foles.  Wilson and Foles have already had success early in their NFL careers, and according to Cecil Osweiler will, too, when he gets his shot after Manning retires.  Osweiler has improved his footwork and throwing motion greatly while serving as Manning's backup the last two years, and Peyton's mentoring has helped, too.  "Don't believe xxx who says Osweiler won't be the next Bronco quarterback after Peyton retires," said Cecil.  "Brock can be the starter.  He would have been the first qb taken in the 2013 draft had he stayed in school."

2.  The Broncos would have drafted Russell Wilson had Peyton Manning not signed with the Broncos, according to Cecil.  When Cecil asked Wilson how he'd like being a backup to Tebow at the 2012 NFL Combine, Wilson was confident he'd be the starter.  "I want to be known as a passer, not a runner," Wilson told Cecil at the time.

3.  The Broncos have their own tradition of success to build on.  They are not trying to be a copycat of Seattle.  New free agent signee TJ Ward is a strong safety in the Steve Atwater mode - a hitter and trash talker.  He could provide a swagger to the defense that has been missing since Al Wilson retired.  Champ Bailey was a great player, but he didn't talk much.  Ward is different; he can be a vocal inspiring leader for the team.  Free agent cornerback signee Aqib Talib has a great attitude now, according to Cecil's sources, after having some discipline problems in his younger years.  Talib adds toughness to the secondary - a quality the player he replaces, Dominique Rodgers Cromartie, did not have. The 3rd free agent signee, Demarcus Ware, was so excited to be a Bronco he was shaking the podium at his initial press conference.  Cecil thinks Ware, in addition to his pass rush skills, will be a good mentor to Von Miller, filling the leadership role Elvis Dumervil had two seasons ago with the team.  Ware was playing out of position with a bad elbow last year.  In watching film Cecil thinks Ware still has it and can get double digit sacks next season.  Ware is an upgrade over Shawn Phillips.

4.  The Broncos still need a middle linebacker.  The best in this draft class is CJ Mosely of Alabama, a MLB who can cover and thus can play all three downs.  The Chicago Bears, though, love Mosely so the Broncos would have to move up 17 spots in the first round to have a shot at Mosely.  Unlikely?  Probably, but Elway has a way of getting things done. 

5.  Eric Decker did not want to leave the team.  Decker was one of the most upset players after the Super Bowl loss.  This was Decker's one shot to get big money in free agency.  Cecil thought he'd get a contract in the 5 years for 50 million range but Decker signed for less than that.  Cecil was surprised Decker signed for less than what the Dolphins Brian Hartline got - Decker is the better player.  Still the Broncos were not going to pay him that much - Denver never made an offer.

6.  He doesn't expect the broncos to sign an offensive lineman in free agency.  An unknown who is still on the team is 2013 6th round draft choice Vinston Painter, a tackle, who could help.  He doesn't think Orlando Franklin will be successful if he moves inside to play guard.

7.  Adam Gase is a future head coach - a rising young star.  Cecil likes John Fox but Gase could be the next great Bronco coach.  Gase and Manning yell at each other in practice, Gase as a young coach was not intimidated by Manning and got the best out of Peyton this season.

I asked Cecil what he would recommend for the Broncos to draft.  He threw out some names of his favorites:

Round 1: You never have enough pass rushers.  Dee Ford Auburn defensive end. "He has a great 1st step and loves the game."

Round 2: Very deep draft for wide receivers.  Broncos should be able to get a good one in this round -
Jordan Matthews Vanderbilt - a "decker clone".  Clutch, great hands.  Jerry Rice's cousin.
Jarvis Landry LSU - not an athletic freak but knows how to get open
Paul Richardson Colorado - in combine workouts Cecil couldn't tell much difference between Richardson and the clear #1 choice at wr this year (Sammy Watkins).  Richardson should be a top 15 pick based on ability, this year's Desean Jackson, but he'll slip due to his injury history and slight build.  Cecil thinks Richardson will be this year's Keenan Allen (the Chargers prize 2013 rookie who went in the 3rd round last year). 
Cecil hopes the Broncos do not draft Kelvin Benjamin of Florida State who Cecil thinks is overrated.

Round 3: Middle linebacker such as Chris Borland of Wisconsin or Stanford's Shayne Skov.  Skov plays with an attitude and could appeal to Elway who wants a tougher defense

Round 4: Chris Davis Auburn.  Can play nickel corner and be the return man to replace Trindon Holliday.  Davis was the hero of the Alabama/Auburn game with his missed field goal return to win the game.

Late round sleeper: Isaiah Crowell alabama state.  He was a freshman phenom, Adrian Peterson like.  He was kicked out of Georgia on a weapons charge.  He's a good kid according to the Alabama State coaches but will slip because of his checkered past.  "He could be the best back in the draft," says Cecil.  Will he be willing to accept a backup role and play special teams? That's a question mark with Crowell.

The running backs are better in this draft class than in 2013.  25 draftable backs.

Zac Dysert is not the answer as 3rd string Broncos QB, in Cecil's opinion.  The Broncos had a private workout with Wyoming's Brett Smith who the team likes.  Smith wasn't invited to the combine yet was better than most of the combine qb's.  Bryn Renner of North Carolina is another late round possibility - Renner has the endorsement of Peyton Manning.

=====

Overall it was a great evening of football talk from Cecil.  I could have listened to him for another hour.  It got this Bronco fan excited about the 2014 season, rather than thinking back to that disappointing Super Bowl loss.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Worst Bronco Super Bowl Loss Ever

Well, so much for my NFL prognostication skills.  My pick of the Broncos over the Seahawks "by 10 to 20 points" was way off as Seattle easily defeated Denver 43-8 in Super Bowl 48.  I think this was the worst Bronco Super Bowl loss ever.

Before I get to that, in my game prediction I was right about what to "fear" about the Seahawks:

"Why Seattle has a chance:
Turnovers.  Seattle's defense is opportunistic, and Peyton Manning has thrown crucial interceptions in playoff losses in the past (like his game clinching interception to Tracy Porter in Super Bowl 44, and his overtime interception in last year's Baltimore playoff game which led to the Ravens victory that day."

Turnovers really hurt the Broncos this game, starting with the first snap that sailed over Peyton Manning's head for a safety.  The biggest play of the game was when the Broncos, down 15-0, were driving for a score late in the first half only to give up a 69 yard interception return for a TD to Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith.  A 22-0 deficit at the half is a whole lot worse that 15-7.  The Broncos had four turnovers in the game to the Seahawks' none.

"The preseason game.  The Seahawks beat the Broncos in this season's preseason matchup, winning 40-10.  The preseason doesn't mean much, you may ask?  Well that day Seattle physically dominated Denver, even when the starters for both teams saw action in the first half.  Over the years I've seen physical teams like the Seahawks beat finesse teams like the Broncos in playoff games more often than not."

I felt like I was watching a replay of the preseason game, in that Seattle physically dominated Denver in the Super Bowl.  The Seahawks punished the Bronco receivers and got more pressure on Peyton Manning than I expected.

"Percy Harvin.  Seattle wide receiver Percy Harvin has missed most of the season due to injuries.  He is reportedly healthy now and will be a key player for the Seahawks on Sunday.  The last time the Broncos faced Harvin, when he played for Minnesota, he had 156 receiving yards, 2 td's, and also carried the ball 5 times out of the backfield.  The multipurpose Harvin is also a threat on punt and kick returns. "

Percy Harvin was HUGE in the Super Bowl.  A factor in the first half in the rushing game (2 rushes for 45 yards), Harvin clinched the game for the Seahawks with a kickoff return for a TD to start the second half.

"Russell Wilson's mobility.  Bronco fans are sure to remember the scrambling ability of Tim Tebow from the quarterback position.  Seattle's Russell Wilson has that ability to make plays with his feet, too, and with a much more accurate arm than Tebow has"

Wilson was able to convert several key third downs with his scrambling ability - either running for the first down or avoiding the Bronco rush to complete a pass.  Wilson was not sacked in the game.

So why do I think this was the worst Bronco super bowl ever?  The Broncos have only been favored in two Super Bowls that they ended up losing - this one and the 42-10 loss to Washington in Super Bowl 22.  Most Bronco fans, including me, really thought they'd win both games.  The Washington game at least had a thrilling 1st quarter, where the Broncos scored on their first play from scrimmage (a long pass from John Elway to Ricky Nattiel).  Denver led 10-0 after the first quarter in that game before falling apart. This Seattle Super Bowl had no such redeeming moments.  The Broncos were out of it right from the very first play.

Still, it was a fun season, with Peyton Manning and the Broncos record setting passing game and with two very satisfying home playoff wins to reach the Super Bowl.  And as much as the loss stings this longtime Bronco fan, at least the franchise HAS won a couple of Super Bowls.  That makes this loss easier to take.  I think of the Buffalo and Minnesota NFL fans whose teams have never won the Vince Lombardi Trophy (in 8 attempts).  Many other teams, like Cleveland and Detroit, have never even reached the big game.

I predicted this Super Bowl would be the reverse of the 1977 Denver Dallas Super Bowl.  In reality it was very similar to that game.  The Cowboys Doomsday Defense dominated the Broncos back then (the Broncos had 8 turnovers in a 27-10 loss).  Seattle repeated the feat in this season's Super Bowl, winning the turnover battle and shutting down the vaunted Bronco offense.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Reverse of 77: I pick the Broncos over Seahawks in the Super Bowl

Turn the clock back to the Broncos first Super Bowl appearance at the end of the 1977 season.  Denver, led by the best defense in the league, a terrific home field advantage, and just enough offense to be dangerous beat two perennial power house teams at home in the playoffs (the Steelers and defending Super Bowl champ Raiders) before meeting Dallas in the Super Bowl.  That veteran Cowboy team handled the upstart Broncos easily, 27-10.

The Seattle Seahawks this year remind me of that 77 Broncos team.  With the best home field advantage in the NFL and the #1 defense, Seattle beat what I felt was a superior San Francisco team in the NFC title game in a highly emotional game.  Just like the Broncos beat a better Oakland team to win the AFC in 1977.  The clock struck midnight for the Cinderella Broncos in Super Bowl XII, just as I feel it will for the Seahawks in this year's Super Bowl.  I believe the Broncos will win.

Now I admit I am a Broncos homer, a lifetime fan and long time season ticket holder.  On this blog I correctly picked the Broncos playoff wins over San Diego and New England.  Super Bowl 48 won't be a slam dunk for the Broncos, I'll give some reasons to fear the Seahawks below, but I think in the end the Broncos experience in the big game at the quarterback position will win out.

Why I like the Broncos to win on Sunday:

Peyton Manning.  He's had the best season of his career, he's healthy, and he has one Super Bowl championship under his belt.  By contrast Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is only in his 2nd year making his first appearance in the Super Bowl.  Wilson struggled with his passing in his last four games, only passing over 200 yards once.  Manning is coming off a 400 yard passing game vs New England in the AFC Championship.

Other Super Bowl Experience.  Broncos head coach John Fox lost a Super Bowl when he was coaching Carolina, and he was New York's defensive coordinator for the Giants 2001 Super Bowl team.  In addition to Manning, the Broncos have Wes Welker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, and exec John Elway who have played in the big game before.  Seattle's head coach, Pete Carroll, has never been to a Super Bowl as a coach or a spectator, and little used receiver Ricardo Lockette is the only Seahawk with any Super Bowl experience.  The history of the Super Bowl is full of losing teams that made their first appearance in the game (like those 77 Broncos).

Denver's rushing defense.  Seattle's biggest threat is running back Marshawn Lynch, who has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the Seahawks two playoff wins.  The Broncos enter the Super Bowl playing their best rush defense of the season, holding the Chargers and Patriots to under 70 yards rushing in each game.


Today's NFL.  An old axiom is "good defense always beats good offense".  That no longer applies in today's pass happy NFL, where teams with good offenses have had success in the Super Bowl.  Three of the past four Super Bowl winners have scored over 30 points in the game.  

Why Seattle has a chance:


Turnovers.  Seattle's defense is opportunistic, and Peyton Manning has thrown crucial interceptions in playoff losses in the past (like his game clinching interception to Tracy Porter in Super Bowl 44, and his overtime interception in last year's Baltimore playoff game which led to the Ravens victory that day.

The preseason game.  The Seahawks beat the Broncos in this season's preseason matchup, winning 40-10.  The preseason doesn't mean much, you may ask?  Well that day Seattle physically dominated Denver, even when the starters for both teams saw action in the first half.  Over the years I've seen physical teams like the Seahawks beat finesse teams like the Broncos in playoff games more often than not.

Percy Harvin.  Seattle wide receiver Percy Harvin has missed most of the season due to injuries.  He is reportedly healthy now and will be a key player for the Seahawks on Sunday.  The last time the Broncos faced Harvin, when he played for Minnesota, he had 156 receiving yards, 2 td's, and also carried the ball 5 times out of the backfield.  The multipurpose Harvin is also a threat on punt and kick returns.  

Russell Wilson's mobility.  Bronco fans are sure to remember the scrambling ability of Tim Tebow from the quarterback position.  Seattle's Russell Wilson has that ability to make plays with his feet, too, and with a much more accurate arm than Tebow has.

Yes, the Seattle matchup won't be easy for Denver.  I expect Sunday's game to be close through three quarters, with the Broncos pulling away at the end to win by 10 to 20 points.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

My pick: Broncos over Patriots in AFC Championship game

This morning I have a feeling of excitement I've only had five other times in my life - the anticipation of attending an AFC Championship game in Denver.  I will get to my prediction on today's game in a bit.  First a brief look back at those other AFC Championship games:

January 1, 1978: Denver 20 Oakland 17
Whatever happens today, it will not top this game in terms of what it meant to the Broncos franchise and to the city.  A first time playoff team, the Broncos had beaten the powerhouse Pittsburgh Steelers the week before and faced another tall test in the defending Super Bowl champion Raiders.  "The Broncos are going to the Super Bowl!!!!" was long time Bronco announcer Bob Martin's call as the final seconds ticked off the clock.  This game was the best sporting event I ever attended in Denver.

January 17, 1988: Denver 38 Cleveland 33
A rematch of the historic "Drive" game of the year before, this high scoring affair had its own drama at the end when Cleveland's Earnest Byner fumbled as it appeared he was going in for the tying touchdown in the final seconds of the game.  I was in the South Stands and had a clear view of the fumble - the transition from impeding doom to exhileration among the bronco fans in the stadium was something I'll always remember.

January 14, 1990: Denver 37 Cleveland 21
The only easy victory of the AFC Championship games played in Denver, this game did not have the drama of the previous Broncos/Browns title matchups.

January 17, 1999 Denver 23 NY Jets 10
The Jets were ahead 10-0 in this game in the 3rd quarter before the Broncos stormed back with 23 straight points to win going away.  On a very windy day in the last playoff game played at the old Mile High Stadium, this one was tense for more than one half of the game before John Elway and Terrell Davis got it in gear in the second half.  Current Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was the Jets defensive coordinator that day.

January 22, 2006: Pittsburgh 34 Denver 17
The only AFC Championship loss at home for the Broncos, this game was the reverse of the 1990 game.  Pittsburgh raced out to a 24-3 lead in the first half and the Steelers were never challenged.  Many Bronco fans rate the 1996 season Jacksonville playoff loss as the worst home loss in franchise history.  I disagree - I think it was this game.  In 1996 I doubt the Broncos would have won the Super Bowl as they would have faced a Green Bay team at its peak under Brett Favre.  If the Broncos had beat Pittsburgh I am confident they would have won the Super Bowl against an overmatched Seattle team as the Steelers did two weeks later.

On to today's game.  I'm confident the Broncos will win.  The weather will be good (high in the 60's with little wind) - perfect for Peyton Manning and the Broncos pass oriented attack.  Manning has all his weapons for this game (they didn't have Julius Thomas for the first New England game, and Welker missed some games at the end of the season).  Losing Chris Harris is no doubt a blow to the Broncos defense but they've had all week to come up with a plan to compensate for that, not an in game decision like what happened against the Chargers.  Tom Brady historically has not played well in Denver.

I'd feel very differently if the game was in New England (before the season I predicted an AFC Championship game loss for the Broncos assuming the game would be at the Patriots' home field).  Of the previous 5 afc title games in Denver I was most confident the Broncos would beat the 6th seeded Steelers and their rookie quarterback in 2006, and least confident they'd beat the Raiders in 1978.  Both of those games did not turn out like I expected, so a Patriots win today would not be a total surprise to me.  But my gut tells me the Broncos are headed to the Super Bowl later this afternoon.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Expect Peyton's revenge on Sunday

Peyton Manning's team had the division title all but wrapped up when they faced another AFC playoff contender in a December regular season home game.  Manning's high powered offense was sure to beat this marginal AFC playoff hopeful right?  Wrong!  This AFC team upset Manning's team that day, in one of the biggest surprises of the NFL season.

The San Diego Chargers defeating Peyton Manning's Broncos last month in Denver?  No, the season I am referring to was 2003, when the Denver Broncos beat Manning's Colts in Indianapolis in the second to last game of the season.  The Broncos won that day with a strong running game (136 yards from Quintin Griffin and a defensive scheme that confused Manning, holding Peyton to 146 passing yards and no td's.

That 2003 Denver upset was very similar to this season's Chargers win in Denver.  San Diego kept the ball away from Manning with a strong running game, just like the 2003 Broncos did from Peyton's Colts.

Was the 2003 Bronco win a preview of what would happen when the two teams met in the playoffs two weeks later, again on Peyton's home field?  No!  Manning's Colts easily won the playoff rematch, 41-10.  Whatever Denver did on defense the first game did not work in the rematch.

I expect the same type of result tomorrow.  Peyton Manning, with two weeks to prepare for the Chargers, will have a much better day than he did in the regular season Charger game.  Fans seem to think that because San Diego played Denver so tough in the December regular season game, that they can duplicate the result in the playoffs.  I think Peyton gets his revenge against the Chargers and the Broncos win on Sunday, just like Peyton's Colts got their revenge against the 2003 Broncos in the playoffs.