I faced a dilemma of Colorado fanhood this past Sunday morning.
As I picked out my wardrobe for the day, two hats sat before me: fitted black Rockies, or leather white Broncos?
It was not a question of fashion, but one of public display of support.
The Rockies, barely clinging to their Wild Card lead, were playing a crucial game against the NL Central-champion Cardinals. But it was Sunday, game day, and the Broncos, after a strong 2-0 start, were playing the Raiders at Oakland.
Which team would I throw the top of my noggin behind? Which team needed (and deserved) it more?
I decided to rock the Rocks cap, and left for a sports bar to watch the Broncos.
Now, I’d like to take this time to address something that’s come up in some of your comments about last week’s column.
I am a Broncos fan, true orange and blue through and through. But I acknowledge that this off-season frustrated me. A lot.
I felt betrayed by my team. I saw my head coach who had been leading my team for almost my entire life, and through the entirety of my fanhood, lose his job. I saw the franchise quarterback whom I had been impatiently waiting for since the end of the ’98 season, get sent to Chicago for a quarterback who had previously spent his career as half a quarterback, sharing snaps with Rex Grossman.
What bothered me most about this off-season was that it felt like the Broncos that I knew and grew up with were gone. And as I said in my first column, I supported the McDaniels-hire at first; my sense of betrayal is not because McDaniels took Mike Shannahan’s job, but the way McDaniels took over.
It feels like the only thing connecting the 2009 Broncos to the 1998 Broncos is the jersey.
It is possible, very possible, to maintain a franchise’s identity through a coaching change. We need look no further than Blake Street. Clint Hurdle helped establish the Colorado Rockies’ identity during their 2007 World Series run.
Forty-six games into this season, the Rocks were 18-28. On May 28 Jim Tracy took over and has since led the same Rockies team to the top of the wild card race, and 20 games over .500.
No big trades, no feuds, only a late-season addition of Jason Giambi. Tracy simply showed faith in the team he had. (For a great ESPN piece about the Tracy Turnaround, click here.)
On May 20, eight days before Hurdle was fired, Troy Tulowitzki, who had some early-season struggles at the plate, was benched for a game for swinging at a first pitch.
“I don’t want to be a Little League manager,” Hurdle said after the game. “[Benching Tulowitzki] makes a better statement than anything else I thought I could continue to do.”
Does this type of authoritarian kindergarten teacher/coach seem familiar, Brandon Marshall?
Hurdle lost faith in his players, and they theirs in him.
Many have speculated that this was Hurdle’s last straw, and eights days later he was gone. But the Rockies remained and by showing his unrelenting support of his players, Tracy has guided a season turnaround.
Tulo’s been in the clean-up spot almost every game since Tracy took over. Carlos Gonzalez and Ian Stewart have solidified starting roles. On Sunday against the Cardinals, Clint Barmes, who’s had his own struggles at the plate this season, made a game and potentially season-saving catch.
Tracy after the game: “I kept playing him through times when there were some offensive shortcomings. I will never ever give up on Clint Barmes.”
Tracy believes in his players, the result: his players respect him, and so far, it’s worked. McDaniels waltzed into Denver demanding that respect, the result: he lost a franchise quarterback and alienated a pro bowl receiver, but so far, it’s worked.
The Broncos are now 3-0, the defense has given up one touchdown in those three games, Orton is yet to throw an interception, Correll Buckhalter and Knowshon Moren look like they could develop into a dangerous and dynamic running duo, the Chargers look overrated (again), and AFC West could be the weakest division in the NFL. These are all things for a Broncos fan to be optimistic about.
As I said last week, winning makes it much easier to forget feelings of betrayal; a bright future can always outshine nostalgia.
Just how bright the Broncos future actually is remains to be seen. 3-0 is indeed a perfect start, but anything less at this point in their schedule would have been disastrous. The tough part starts next week in Denver against the 2-1 Cowboys.
Now comes the part where people jump on me for being a bandwagon-hopping, fair-weather fan.
Say what you want, but I think that as a true fan, it is part of your duty to criticize the bad and celebrate the good.
Sometimes you gotta boo and sometimes you get to cheer, but to complacently pretend that everything’s OK, or to accept mediocrity because it’s your team, that is not being a true fan.
I’ve been critical so far this season, but that is only because I care so much about the Broncos. It’s why I write these columns. When you stop caring, that’s when you’re no longer a fan.
Last Sunday I may have rocked the Rocks hat on game day, but I have never stopped caring about the Broncos.
And by the way, I stashed my Broncos hat in my backpack to whip out for game time.