Denver is and always will be a top-notch sports town. Our population is active and fit to begin with, and we’ve long been faithful to and enthusiastic about our professional football, baseball, basketball, and hockey teams, despite being the smallest of the dozen American cities that have franchises in the “four major” sports.
Lately, though, our favorite teams have suffered setbacks and disappointments that have to be trying local fans’ patience and devotion. Consider that, in just the past few weeks, we’ve learned that the Nuggets’ best player (and recurring headache), Ty Lawson, may want out of Denver. We’ve watched the Nuggets make no obvious progress in their search for a head coach who might reverse the abject failures of the past few years; a recent article evaluated the apparent top candidates without assessing whether any of the men actually want this uninspiring job. We watched the Avalanche whimper their way out of the NHL playoff picture after a promising 2013-14 season. And we’re perpetually trying to unsee the utter debacle that is the Colorado Rockies, currently riding a nine-game losing streak, their fifth stretch of seven or more consecutive losses in the past calendar year, a span of just 137 games.
Even the Broncos, perennial kings of the Denver sports scene, have been bitten by the bad news: Last week, rookie TE Jeff Heuerman, the Broncos’ recent third-round pick, tore his ACL and will miss the 2015 season. This loss doesn’t qualify as tragic, but third-round rookies are expected to be significant contributors, the Broncos already lost the productive Julius Thomas to free agency, and few QBs leverage their TEs better than Peyton Manning. Now it’s back to the drawing board.
The Broncos remain Denver’s lone bright spot, and the team is still ranked among the top five in the NFL by most preseason pundits. But in what’s widely expected to be Manning’s swan song, there’s almost no margin for error. Win or lose this year, everyone expects the Broncos to look radically different in 2016.
Of course, one Super Bowl win can carry a city and its fan base for a good five years, and John Elway’s legendary competitiveness will keep him striving for greatness as a front office executive, a claim that no one would make about our other teams’ brass. But if the Broncos fall short again this year, it might be a long time indeed before Denver fans see a true contender in any sport.
Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.