2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Broncos: While he’s away, Demaryius Thomas shows his value

    Sun, July 27, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Broncos.Mile

    Today, over 21,000 fans showed up at Sports Authority Field… for a practice.

    And so it was confirmed: There will be another Broncos season, after all. The Super Bowl shellacking wasn’t end times for the Broncos. 

    If there was a bright spot for the Broncos in Seattle’s 43-8 triumph, it was Demaryius Thomas, who established a Super Bowl record with 13 receptions. Imagine how bad it would have been if DT wasn’t in the game.

    After four practices in training camp, it is again clear the Broncos need DT. The 26-year-old wide receiver has been absent as he tends to a funeral for a family member. John Fox said today he expects Thomas in practice Monday.

    They miss him. Without DT, the Broncos offense still looks good. Julius Thomas was a dominant pass-catcher in today’s open practice, scoring a touchdown over Kayvon Webster. Denver has big plans for Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker says he’s healthy, Cody Latimer is better than I expected, and Bubba Caldwell wrestled a deep ball away from Aqib Talib. The receiving corps is solid.

    But with DT, the Broncos offense again can be record-setting. Peyton Manning turns average wide receivers into millionaires, but he turns DT into one of football’s top-five receivers. With DT, the Broncos have a threat to break an 80-yard touchdown at any time, a guy who demands coverage from the top cornerback on the opposing team.

    “I’m looking forward to going against him, making each other better,” Talib said.

    DT makes the Broncos much, much better. That’s been clear while he’s been away.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Broncos: Bigger stars, footballers or futbol…ers?

    Fri, July 25, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Broncos.futbol     Broncos.futbol.2

    Dove Valley, where football meets futbol.

    On Day 2 of this Broncos training camp, some of the world’s better futbol players met some of the world’s better football players. AS Roma stopped by practice to rap with the Broncos. It offered quite a scene. More on that later.

    AS Roma and Manchester United play at Sports Authority Field on Saturday.

    Manchester United legend Denis Irwin (above right, and what an excellent gentleman, by the way) exchanged jerseys with Broncos VP John Elway. Then the fun started. When AS Roma showed up, its players were as wide-eyed as schoolkids. From the end zone, they pointed at various members of the Broncos (one seemed to be particularly infatuated with Julius Thomas) and posed for photos with some of the Broncos.

    If not for the uniforms that identified them as players in Serie A, they could have been Joe Bronco Fan running into Peyton Manning at Safeway.

    What’s bigger, the NFL or European soccer? Soccer heads like to say their game is the biggest game in the world. In terms of the sheer number of fans, it is.

    But if the reaction from the futbol players who attended today’s football practice is any indication, those soccer players look up to NFL players, both literally and figuratively. On a field trip to Broncos camp, AS Roma appeared as starstruck as little kids meeting their heroes.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Broncos: Training camp: Who’s missing?

    Thu, July 24, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Broncos.Building     Broncos.Ware

    Broncos.Construction     Broncos.PFM.Field

    It’s the first day of football school, aka Broncos training camp. Time for roll call: Who’s missing? 

    You guys are missing. Where’d you go? The Broncos are here, on the practice field, thumping sleds and not thumping Peyton Manning. But the diehard, devoted, dedicated fans of the Broncos… nowhere to be seen.

    OK, there’s a reason for that. As you can see above (bottom left), the Dove Valley headquarters are a wild-west construction zone. Hard hats outnumber football helmets. The new indoor practice facility is going up, the renovated offices are going up, parking is all out of whack, and the would-be dangers for fans are many. All for the bargain-basement price of $35 million.

    The bad news: only three training-camp practices are open to fans (July 27, July 30, Aug. 2). Those will be held at Mile High.

    The good news: next season, when training camp again is open to the masses, the seating area will be much improved. The construction crew put in the sod on the big hill to the west. You guys will sit/stand/holler at DeMarcus Ware (top right) from the hill, just like old times, but with a better view.

    But it was certainly a different feeling this morning when the players took the field. Virgil Green, the tight end, was the first player on the field, and he arrived to the sounds of jackhammers, instead of applause. The Broncos had record-breaking crowds at training camp last season. They have Seattle-decibel construction noise this season.

    Here’s to having the fans back at camp… next year.

    Who else is missing? Champ Bailey. That’s still weird. Among the current guys, Chris Harris is the only player not in uniform, at least that I noticed this morning. Demaryius Thomas was excused to attend a funeral.

    More updates coming from training camp later today. Here’s a blog on Pat Bowlen’s exit from yesterday.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette 

  • Broncos: Pat Bowlen, Colorado’s constant

    Wed, July 23, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Broncos.Bowlen

    This blog goes with the column I wrote from the AFC championship game in January.

    As a kid, you don’t always think about why things happen. We often just kind of accept them as facts of life.

    And so it goes for a kid growing up in Colorado. We didn’t wonder why the Broncos are almost always good; we just kind of figured those are the rules. Another NFL season, another good Broncos team. The same was true for me. Ten-year-old Paul didn’t wonder why the Broncos were almost always good. They just were.

    Coaches came and went. Players came and went. Steve Atwater, unfortunately, came and went. But now that we’ve been exposed to another few decades of the same, we are able to recognize the one constant.

    Pat Bowlen.

    With Bowlen as owner, the Broncos have more Super Bowl appearances (six) than they have losing seasons (five). Do you know what the Raiders, Chiefs or Chargers would give for that kind of record? Or the Bengals, Lions or Bills? Or the Seahawks? Or 90-something percent of the current NFL?

    That’s one reason why, as John Elway said, “This is a sad, sad day.” Colorado is losing one of its few remaining constants. With Bowlen resigning control of the Broncos due to his ongoing fight with Alzheimer’s, we are losing something we could always count on.

    You could always count on Bowlen’s Broncos. If not now, then next season.

    The news today wasn’t a surprise. Bowlen hasn’t been as visible in recent years, aside from a cameo at training camp or walking into Dove Valley with a family member. There was a basic understanding among a few every-day media that the news of his health would break when Bowlen and his family wanted it to break. Some things are bigger than getting the scoop, and a man’s privacy, in a case as severe as this, is one.

    I’m not an expert on Alzheimer’s, but my grandfather had some form of it, and it’s the worst. If there were one thing I could eradicate from the earth, it might be that. 

    “If you’ve had a relative afflicted by this disease,” Joe Ellis said this morning, “You know what that’s like.”

    It’s awful. When the news arrived with a thud, I thought about asking former Broncos for their thoughts on Bowlen’s legacy and their memories of playing for him.

    What he said to them. What he expected from them. What he meant to them.

    And I’m sure that will still happen. The 2014 season, in some way, shape or form, will be dedicated to Bowlen, whether than means a “Mr. B” patch on the jersey or a teary “This one’s for Pat” from Elway, if the Broncos win the Super Bowl. He will go in the Ring of Fame, sooner rather than later, and I’m told Bowlen will argue it, because he never wanted it to be about him. There will be other times to ask players for their thoughts on Bowlen.

    But right now those questions would be directed at the wrong people. With Bowlen, it has always been about someone else. It has always been about you, the fans.

    It has been about 16-year-old Mark Jansen struggling to play in a basketball game at Denver Christian High School the night the Broncos lost to the Jaguars in the playoffs. But Mark knew the Broncos would be really good again the next season, just because. They won the next two Super Bowls.

    It has been about Ryan Johnson watching the 2010 Broncos and wondering when the Josh McDaniels era would come to a merciful end. But Ryan knew it wouldn’t be long, just because. They fired McDaniels, and the next season began a streak of three consecutive playoff berths.

    It has been about Justin Neerhof leaving a Super Bowl party in February because watching a Broncos loss was too much to handle. But he knew the Broncos would be really good again next season, well, just because.

    By now we all know the just because. Just because they were Bowlen’s Broncos.

    “Pat Bowlen doesn’t hang banners for second,” Justin said.

    It’s true. If the Broncos weren’t in the Super Bowl hunt — not the playoff hunt, but the Super Bowl hunt — Bowlen wrote the necessary checks and made the necessary moves to put the Broncos back in that position.

    I don’t know Mr. Bowlen, other than a handshake in the locker room, or a head nod on the practice field. What I do know, what I lived as a Colorado kid and now as a Colorado writer, is what he stands for. So do you. He stands for the fans.

    It has always been about Mark and Ryan and Justin and you, more than anyone else. Bowlen always knew what the Broncos mean to Colorado and made certain that fans had what they wanted, whether it was a shiny new stadium, Peyton Manning at quarterback or a more comfortable setting to watch training camp. (The latter is happening now.) He made certain the right people are in charge as he exits, and Joe Ellis and John Elway are the right people to have in charge.

    Both men cried as they spoke about Bowlen today (above).

    “Pat wants to be the best at everything, and he wants to be the best the right way,” Ellis said.

    “I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am today if it wasn’t for Pat Bowlen,” Elway said.

    Neither would the Broncos. We never asked why the Broncos were almost always good, but now we’re old enough to know. It was because of the one constant, Pat Bowlen.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Broncos: Shannon Sharpe on Julius Thomas

    Thu, July 17, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Broncos tight end Julius Thomas is nearing contract time. In light of Jimmy Graham’s $40-million deal, here’s what John Elway said about Thomas’ contract status.

    “Even though Julius has a tremendous year for us, he’s only (played) 23 games. We want Julius to be a Bronco for a long time and we think he has tremendous upside, but he’s not at that level,” Elway told my neighbor Lindsay Jones of USA Today.

    That’s what the best quarterback in Broncos history says about Thomas.

    What about the best tight end in Broncos history? I asked Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe.

    “I think he’s just scratching the surface. Once he really understands defenses and routes and combinations and setting up another play — not this play, but another play later in the game — he’s going to be OK,” Sharpe said in a phone conversation this week. “He’s new to this. He played basketball for all those years. Now he’s playing on the biggest stage and he’s playing with a lot of confidence.

    Sharpe’s advice to Julius Thomas: Roll with it. Let the numbers pile up, which they will in the Broncos offense, and worry about the contract later.

    “He has a guy in Peyton (Manning) that can get him the football,” Sharpe said. “You can’t double him. You’ve still got that big stud on the outside in DT (Demaryius Thomas). You’ve got (Emmanuel) Sanders in there. He’s got enough parts around him where a defense can’t say, ‘Today we’re going to take Julius Thomas out of the game.’”

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Buffs: Boyle’s Buffs, 11 p.m. tipoffs and Josh Scott

    Wed, July 16, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    This goes with the Josh Scott column from Sunday’s Gazette.

    I expect CU will be just outside the Top 25 when the college basketball poll is released in October. Probably somewhere in the 30-40, others-receiving-votes range. Considering the Buffs lost big in the NCAA tournament and lost their best player to the NBA draft, that would be a good place to be.

    Oh, who are we kidding. It’s CU basketball. No matter the resurgence we’ve seen in the Tad Boyle era, hovering around the Top 25 is always a very good place to be for CU.

    The Buffs also have an early opportunity to make an impression on voters. (Or a late opportunity, depending on your bedtime.) CU coach Tad Boyle said the Buffs will host Auburn in ESPN’s Tip-off Marathon on Nov. 17.

    Tipoff time: “11 p.m. local,” Boyle told me.

    When I suggested that’s plenty of time for CU students to get hydrated, Boyle only laughed. As if Boulder needed a reason to party, the basketball season opener will allow it.

    Truth is, Auburn won’t be very good. The Buffs should win. So why is it an important game for the Buffs to make a positive impression? CU-Auburn will be the first game for Tigers coach Bruce Pearl (who will some form of an orange blazer, I’m sure). His return will be covered prominently by his former employer, ESPN, and because Pearl has an ugly history in NCAA basketball and all of its petty rules.

    As an AP Top 25 voter for seven seasons, I can tell you: college basketball voters will be watching the Bruce Pearl return game, or they will at least see the highlights and read the stories that come out of it. 

    Regardless, the Buffs will open their regular season in a relatively high-profile game at Coors Events Center.

    That’s a good thing.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Broncos: Brazil, meet the Broncos

    Tue, July 8, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    Germany 7, Brazil 1.

    Seattle 43, Denver 8. 

    How do you explain it? Before dismissing the stages as too different, consider the parallels. Brazil was a power, missing several key players. The Broncos were a power, missing several key players. Their opponents arrived on the big stage with less acclaim: Germany as the visiting team, Seattle without the iconic quarterback.

    Brazil looked like it hadn’t held a practice in months.

    Denver looked like it hadn’t held a practice in months.

    Nothing could have prepared Broncos fans from what happened at MetLife Stadium in the Super Bowl. Nothing could have prepared Brazil’s supporters for what happened in a World Cup semifinal — at home! — this afternoon.

    “It was very strange to see Brazil play the way it played,” an ESPN commentator said.

    Sounds familiar. How do you explain it? 

    At the highest level of their respective sport, Brazil and the Broncos picked a bad day to have a bad day. Germany and the Seahawks picked a great day to be great.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • U.S. Soccer: Initial thoughts from Belgium 2, U.S. 1

    Tue, July 1, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    The U.S. men’s national team will be celebrated for its display in this World Cup. And that’s great. But when you nudge aside the patriotism and think clearly, this fact remains: The U.S. won one of four games. 

    There’s a long, long way to go for U.S. soccer.

    Belgium 2, U.S. 1. The better team won, and that’s pretty much that. The support from all corners of our country truly was a sight to behold. The scarves were out, the bars were packed, and ESPN’s Brazilian theme song has a permanent place in our memories.

    But the games themselves were quite telling, too. This World Cup supports a theory a I’ve held for a long time: Without its long history of great goalkeepers, U.S. soccer is shockingly mediocre. Belgium appeared to be the superior team at every position except one: Tim Howard’s position. Like Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel before him, Howard gave the U.S. a chance where it didn’t deserve one.

    Howard had 16 saves against Belgium. He was spectacular, overwhelming, a soccer savior. If the U.S. had stolen a win against Belgium today, Howard should have been the frontrunner for S.I. Sportsman of the Year, or whichever national honor fits best. Maybe he should win those awards, anyway.

    At the very least, let’s shove Tim Howard into the U.S. government. He saved everything else.

    The guts of Jurgen Klinsmann, John Brooks’ goal against Ghana and Howard’s performance against Belgium will be my lasting takeaways from this World Cup. That, and the sizable gap that still exists between the U.S. and the heavyweights of international soccer.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • U.S. Soccer: “We cannot win this World Cup”

    Wed, June 25, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    “We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not on that level yet. For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament.” —Jurgen Klinsmann

    I appreciate almost everything about Jurgen Klinsmann, and that includes the head games he played with the U.S. men’s national team and its competition before the World Cup even started.

    Because that’s what his statement was about, head games. The savvy German was playing them with his own roster and its competition in the World Cup.

    I loved his statement. You probably hated it. I know my colleague David Ramsey hated it.  

    What was Klinsmann doing, anyway?

    “When you think about it, it’s eighth-grade psychology stuff,” Colorado Rapids coach Pablo Mastroeni told me. “By saying what he said, it puts all the pressure on him (Klinsmann). It takes all the pressure off the players. And the other teams are seeing that and saying, These guys don’t even believe in themselves! Let’s get ‘em!”

    This is why Klinsmann is smarter than media, smarter than America’s sudden soccer fans, smarter than the rest of us. Just as he unpredictably inserted John Brooks into the Ghana match (and Brooks scored the winning goal), just as he named Clint Dempsey the team captain (even though Dempsey is hardly a hard-working piano mover), just as Klinsmann railed against FIFA (to garner empathy from FIFA officials for the Germany match)….

    … he laid the groundwork for a successful tournament by claiming the U.S. can’t win it.

    The whole time, Klinsmann has been one step ahead  of the game. Yet the U.S. soccer community seems to believe any success will be in spite of Klinsmann, not because of him.

    Why is that?

    As I wrote today, it would be lovely for the U.S. to advance out of Group G. Not simply because it would allow for more American soccer in this World Cup. But so Jurgen Klinsmann can look into the camera and say: 

    How ya’ll like me now?

    Because to this point, after two matches, the U.S. has played above its heads, in large part because of its coach’s controversial decisions. Four points after two matches? Take it and run.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette

  • Rockies: Not fair, Clayton Kershaw

    Thu, June 19, 2014 by Paul Klee with no comments

    The Rockies have seen this before. Not to this extent, but to a similar extent.

    Clayton Kershaw was on the mound when Michael Cuddyer’s 27-game hitting streak came to a screeching halt last season. I wrote about it here; the best pitcher in baseball ended the longest hitting streak in baseball.

    So the Rockies know it’s a a problem when Kershaw is on his game. But the Cuddyer-hitting-streak game was merely a warmup for the left-hander’s masterpiece on Wednesday. He no-hit the Rockies.

    But he didn’t simply no-hit the Rockies. He struck them out 15 times. He walked none. He looked like my dad pitching to my Little League team, if my dad didn’t like kids, and he wanted to embarrass them.

    This seems like a decent time to remind everyone the Rockies selected Greg Reynolds with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 MLB draft. Of the next six pitchers off the board, three were Tim Lincecum, Max Scherzer and, yes, Kershaw.

    I wrote last season that Kershaw made the Rockies look like they were batting in the dark.

    On Wednesday, they were batting in the dark without a bat, or a hit.

    Twitter: @Klee_Gazette