Last week, SB Denver looked at the most popular current Denver athletes, with Troy Tulowitzki taking the prize. This week, we examine the all-time great Denver sports teams and pick five winners. Note that while success is a major factor, so is a team's place in history. Memorable players, games and moments count heavily in these rankings. Feel free to give your own opinion in the comments section below.
5. 2008-2009 Denver Nuggets "Chauncey's Homecoming"
The Denver Nuggets had been stuck in playoff mediocrity since drafting Carmelo Anthony in 2003, failing to advance past the first round of the playoffs for five straight years. Immediately after the season started, Denver traded future hall of fame guard Allen Iverson to the Detroit Pistons for hometown hero Chauncey Billups. Billups, raised in Park Hill who had done the impossible by leading the University of Colorado to a victory in the 1997 NCAA basketball tournament, made an immediate impact on the culture of the Nuggets. They tied a franchise record with 54 wins and a Northwest Division title, and made their longest playoff run in NBA franchise history, losing to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
The Moment: If there was a single moment in this playoff run, it would be Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks. Denver had taken the first two games of the series at home, but had fallen behind the Mavericks in game three. On the final possession of the game, and with Denver down 105-103, the ball was inbounded to Anthony. Dallas forward Antoine Wright attempted to quickly foul, but nothing was called. He fouled again to no avail. With one second on the clock, Anthony drained a long three point shot, giving Denver the win, a 3-0 series lead and a knockout blow.
The Players: Anthony, Billups and the emergence of Chris "Birdman" Anderson.
4. 1986 Denver Broncos "The Drive"
The 1986 Denver Broncos, led by quarterback John Elway and running back Sammy Winder, ran wild through the regular season with an 11-5 record and won their divisional playoff game against the Patriots setting up one of the greatest football comebacks of all time on their way to the first of five Elway-led AFC Championships.
The Moment: Cleveland hosted the AFC Championship game that year and held a 20-13 lead late in the fourth quarter, pinning the Broncos on their own 2-yard line with just over five minutes remaining. Elway led the offense down the field, at one time converting a third down and 18 to keep the drive going. With 37 seconds remaining, Elway connected a bullet to a diving Mark Jackson, tying the game at 20 apiece (on a Rich Karlis barefoot extra point) and forever breaking the hearts of Cleveland's Dawg Pound. The Broncos won the game on their first possession of overtime.
The Players: Memorable names include Elway, Winder, Jackson, Karl Mecklenburg, Dennis Smith, and Pat Bowlen's fur coat.
3. 2007 Colorado Rockies "Rocktober"
The Colorado Rockies entered the 2007 season armed with young talent but low expectations. The franchise had only made the playoffs once in 14 seasons, and was in the midst of a major rebuild. Using a record-setting defense and fantastic offensive seasons from MVP candidate Matt Holliday and Rookie of the Year candidate shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado found itself staying in contention throughout the season. On Sept. 16, the Rockies found themselves only five games over .500, a successful season by franchise standards. Then the inexplicable happened. They won 20 of 21 games, sweeping their way to the first ever National League Pennant, the best finish to a season in baseball history.
The Moment: There are many choices here, but one play in particular stands out and that is the ending of the tiebreaking Game 163 against the San Diego Padres. After giving up a two-run home run in the top of the 13th inning, the Rockies faced all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman and promptly tied the game on consecutive doubles by Matsui and Tulowitzki, and a two-run triple by Holliday. Jamey Carroll hit a sacrifice fly to short right field, causing a play at the plate. Holliday was called safe at home and the Rockies advanced to the playoffs for only the second time in their history.
The Players: Holliday, Helton, Tulowitzki, Garrett Atkins, Jeff Francis, Brad Hawpe.
2. 2000-2001 Colorado Avalanche "Mission 16W"
As soon as the Avalanche traded for long-suffering defenseman Ray Bourque from the Boston Bruins at the 2000 trade deadline, they had one goal in mind: Win the Stanley Cup for Ray. Loaded with all-time talent, the Colorado Avalanche ripped through the regular season winning the President's Trophy for most points in the league with 118. They finally reached their goal of 16 playoff wins at Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the New Jersey Devils, providing Denver with its second Stanley Cup championship in six years.
The Moment: Though it was a very tight Finals series, and the Avalanche had to come back from a 3-2 deficit, the real moment of the season (and the reason it ranks so highly on this list) is featured in the picture above. Sakic, the team captain, eschewed tradition by allowing Ray Bourque to lift the Stanley Cup first. After 22 seasons of despair in Boston, Bourque had finally found his redemption in Denver.
Honestly, take one more look at that picture. That is the definition of happiness.
The Players: Bourque, Sakic, Patrick Roy, Peter Forsberg, Chris Drury, Rob Blake.
1. 1997 Denver Broncos "This One's For John"
We have finally reached the end of our list. Could there really be any doubt what team would make the top? Although the Colorado Avalanche had brought the first ever world championship to Denver just over a year before, that franchise had just finished its first season. There was no history to enjoy. Denver's first love, the Broncos, changed all of that.
After going 12-4 in the regular season by riding the legs of running back Terrell Davis and the arm of quarterback John Elway, the Denver Broncos avenged their 1996 playoff loss by blowing out the Jacksonville Jaguars 42-17. They then avenged two of their regular season losses by beating the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers on the road and advancing to the franchise's fourth Super Bowl as heavy underdogs to the reigning champion Green Bay Packers, led by three time MVP quarterback Brett Favre. The Denver Broncos went on to beat the Packers in a thrilling game and earn their first ever World Championship.
The Moment: One of the defining plays in Denver sports history, known as "The Helicopter". With the game tied at 17 apiece and Denver driving, Elway scrambled towards the first down and dove for the marker. He was hit in the air by two separate Packers defenders, spinning him sideways and finally landing at the first down marker, keeping the drive alive. Terrell Davis punched the ball over the goal line for a 24-17 lead. While that score would not stand, the play became the defining moment of Elway's career and gave Denver fans everywhere hope they would finally win a football championship they had been waiting for all their lives.
The Players: Elway, Davis, Shannon Sharpe, Tom Nalen, Rod Smith, Ed McCaffrey, Neil Smith
1994 Colorado Buffaloes football team "Miracle in Michigan"
1995 Colorado Rockies "Coors Coronation"
1990 Colorado Buffaloes football team "5th Down Championship"
1993-1994 Denver Nuggets "Mutombo"