For a quarter-century, Shawn Drotar has covered Denver sports — everything from the Colorado Avalanche to the Colorado Rockies to the 1998 NFL Draft featuring Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf.
Nowadays, the dulcet tones of the once-bass singer of the University of Colorado a cappella group CU Buffoons drive you home from the game late night on Sports Radio 104.3 The Fan.
The Fan sat down with its newest host to get his perspective on how the Denver sports landscape has been shaped in the past 25 years.
1043TheFan.com’s Johnny Hart: You’ve covered sports in Denver for 25 years and have been a fan for longer, I assume. What’s the most memorable moment both on a spectator level and a journalistic level?
“The Fan Late Night” host Shawn Drotar: Spectator level is easy. That was being at the final CU Buffs home game in the 1990 season, in the student section. My father would hate to hear it, but, yes, I did charge the field like a whole bunch of other people did. And that was a lot of fun. I was a student there at the time. Going and charging the field there at that final game as you knew that they were on their way to a potential national championship was easily the most exciting spectator moment for me.
The biggest moment as a journalist? It was probably being asked to preview the 1998 draft with Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf and correctly saying if anyone were to pass on Manning for Leaf, not only are they making a mistake … I had it right. Manning has all the hallmarks of a Hall of Famer, and Leaf looks like a guy, to me, that won’t be able to succeed at the NFL level. And I think at that point I was still pretty new in my career. So, maybe that’s the biggest journalistic moment for me because I knew that I could do this, that I could break down players and pick it out and get those things right. And the confidence that, OK, this is something that I actually can do for my career.
Hart: You’ve worked in print, radio and television. What challenges and benefits do you perceive for each medium?
Drotar: That’s a good one. Television has an immediacy that no other sort of format has. When I used to do “The Pulse” on ESPN News — we used to shoot that down at the 16th Street Mall. They had the ESPN Zone down there. That was a lot of fun but also really stressful. it’s live, but then you’re focusing on so much of your appearance and everything else. But, you also know that what you’re saying comes with video that’s accompanying it, stuff that actually takes what you’re saying and expounds upon it in a medium that you can’t otherwise do. So, I think that’s the excitement and the benefit of doing television.
The drawback of doing television, at least in the format that I did it, is that you never know exactly how it’s going to work. I remember being scheduled for X amount of time and then be shuffled sometimes 30 minutes early because two other people canceled last second and you’re not quite ready to go. All that tends to happen. That doesn’t generally happen as often in radio.
In radio, what I like is instead of the immediacy, there’s an intimacy. These people who are listening let you into their car, let you into their garage when they’re working on their car, let you into their life and do so on a regular basis. Every day for two, three hours a day. If you do it right, they feel like they know you. And whenever you get to meet any of your listeners, it’s always a little bit … The one drawback I say that’s really bad about it is that they’ll meet you and they feel like they know you, and you’ve maybe never met them before. And so, you feel like an idiot because they know all sorts of things about you. And I’m like, “I’m sorry. We’re just meeting. Nice to meet you.” That’s part of it. But the intimacy of radio, I think, can’t be duplicated in anything else.
When it comes to print, obviously print, especially long-form print, is something that radio or television doesn’t deal in very well. So, the idea that you can really lay out an argument, for whatever you would like to lay out, is something that simply can’t be duplicated in the same fashion.
The drawback of print is, boy, you better get it right because print is forever. So, you have to make sure … If you mess up, you’ll find out 10 years later, 20 years later, and you have to wear it. Forever. So, that’s the biggest drawback.
But the opportunity to really dig into a topic and lay it out in a way that you can be clinical, you can be analytical or you can be personal. And you can do all of those things in separate pieces or sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you can find a way to weave them all into one.
Hart: Denver’s building a sports Mount Rushmore. You can add players, coaches, executives, owners — whoever you want. But there can only be four. Who are your choices?
Drotar: John Elway is first and foremost, obviously. When you picture Elway coming into the Broncos in ’83, even though it was ’83, Denver was still being perceived as kind of a cowtown that was growing. It hasn’t entirely shed that, but during the time with Elway’s Broncos you watch the city sort of grow at the same time with the Broncos. And as they became a team, getting out of the ’70s when, by-and-large with except a couple of blips, they were really an afterthought, to becoming one of the forces in all of football, I think that that’s hard to ignore.
Obviously, with his passing, Pat Bowlen comes to mind. But I’m of the belief that, I guess, players win games. Players are what people make fans of. So, I guess I’m going to stick with players with this on the whole. Even passing coaches. Although if I were to put a coach in there, Doug Moe springs to mind just because I don’t know if there has been anyone quite as unique.
I think you have to go with Todd Helton just because he’s if not the best player the Rockies have ever had — and I don’t think he was; I think that’s Larry Walker — certainly the longest-tenured, probably the face of the franchise all-time. And bringing baseball to Denver is such a big deal, I think that Helton probably has to be on there.
And I guess I think of a Mount Rushmore … You can probably put multiple Broncos. You can put whatever. But this is a city with four major sports, so I’d want to go with one of each.
Picking it from the Nuggets is very difficult. But at weird as it sounds, I’m going Dikembe Mutombo. Because I think Mutombo, you’re talking about a hyper-literate guy who speaks four languages. (He did) phenomenal charitable work. Couldn’t have been a better ambassador for the team. The way he departed was unfortunate. But I don’t know if any Nugget player has ever won the city over the way people loved Dikembe Mutombo, and there have been few athletes who deserve that kind of love. And he’s one of them. So, I’ll put him there.
For the Avalanche, how do you pick? There’s a three-headed monster there. Boy, that is tough. Peter Forsberg’s the most talented player I’ve ever seen. Joe Sakic has been nothing but class. But I’m going to pick Patrick Roy because Patrick Roy’s swagger the day he walked into Denver and that trade from Montreal, which was also brought on by his swagger. Telling his own coach off. I think that as good as the talent around him was, you’re talking about a guy who was one of the elite goalies of all time, top two or three goalies of all time. His force of personality, I think, defined those Avalanche championship teams. So, I guess I’ll pick Roy.
So, Elway, Roy, Helton, and Mutombo.
Hart: What’s something in your background that people might not know or find surprising or interesting?
Drotar: I had a presidential appointment to the Air Force Academy coming out of Ponderosa High School in Parker. After a lot of thought, I turned it down because it’s sometimes difficult to tell a 17-year-old kid who had his heart set on being a pilot that his eyes aren’t quite good enough for him to fly.
Yeah, I was very proud of that appointment, and I will, honestly, for my entire life, wonder if I made the right choice. Because, obviously, that was a tremendous honor. It was something I wanted since I was a child. And in the end, I think I just had my heart set on flying. And when I couldn’t fly, I chose another direction.
Hart: Pardon any appearance of humble bragging, but our profession allows for many unique opportunities that you don’t often get in a typical 9-to-5 job. Often times we travel to interesting places and rub elbows with well-known people. What one moment, location, person, etc. left you truly in awe or starstruck?
Drotar: Snoop Dogg? That would be up there. Snoop would be up there. That was an interesting … Yeah. I’ll say that.
I had an opportunity to interview Snoop Dogg at the NBA All-Star Game, one-on-one, late-night at … There are a lot of parties at the All-Star Weekend. I had an opportunity to go interview Snoop backstage where he was going to perform later in the evening. And it was an extraordinarily casual interview. And I think for most of it, I was sitting there going like, “I am sure I’m not the right person to do this interview. But it’s awesome that I’m doing it.”
Probably that. That would be the one.
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