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Timeline 25: Remembering the biggest Colorado sports stories of 2000

On March 6, 1995, The Fan was born. In the 25 years since, a lot has transpired on the fields, courts and ice in Colorado, giving the hosts and listeners who’ve been part of the station during that time plenty to talk about and debate.

During the course of the next few weeks, we’ll take a look back at that history, remembering the good times and the bad, the winners and the losers, the successes and the failures. It’s a series we’re calling “Timeline 25” and it continues today with a look back at a disappointing year in Colorado sports – 2000:

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The Big Trade

After losing to the Stars in the Western Conference Finals, the Avalanche got off to a slow start in the 1999-2000 season. Still stinging from the Game 7 loss, Colorado got out of the gates in sluggish fashion. And unlike the year before, they didn’t turn things around by the midway point.

In early March, the Avs were sitting at 30-26-10-1, a very pedestrian record. They certainly didn’t look like a team that was poised to make another deep playoff run.

As a result, Pierre LaCroix decided it was time to shake things up. For the second time, Colorado’s general manager decided to pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade.

Like with the Patrick Roy deal more than four years earlier, LaCroix brought in a future Hall of Famer. This time around, it was defenseman Ray Bourque.

At 39 years old, Bourque was in his 21st season with the Bruins. Despite being a legend in Boston, he was looking for the opportunity to make a run at the ever-elusive Stanley Cup. Having never hoisted the championship trophy, Bourque was willing to accept a trade.

On March 6, Colorado acquired the defenseman and Dave Andreychuk in exchange for Martin Grenier, Samuel Pahlsson, Brian Rolston and a first-round pick in the 2000 NHL Draft, which turned into Martin Samuelsson. It was a bold move, but one the Avs felt they had to make.

The acquisition paid immediate dividends. Colorado would finish 12-2-1-0 in their final 15 games, climbing to the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference.

And the hot play would continue in the postseason. The Avalanche dispatched of Phoenix and Detroit in five games, moving on to face the Stars again in the Western Conference Finals.

Once again, the season would end in heartbreak, however. Colorado lost another Game 7 in Dallas, this time falling by a 3-2 score at Reunion Arena.

The year wasn’t a total loss, however. Bourque would return for one more season, providing the Avalanche with a clearly defined goal in 2000-01: Win the Stanley Cup.

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Calling in the Marine

In 2000, the Broncos offense was going through a transition. Still reeling from the retirement of John Elway prior to the 1999 season, Denver also had to contend with losing two other future Hall of Famers.

Shannon Sharpe left prior to the season via free agency, signing with the Ravens. And Terrell Davis was struggling to return from the knee injury that ended his ’99 campaign after just four games.

The Broncos found a spark in an unusual place – rookie running back Mike Anderson. A sixth-round pick out of Utah, little was expected of Anderson, despite the fact that he averaged 102.4 yards per game during his two seasons with the Utes.

In part, that was because he was a 27-year-old rookie. After high school, Anderson had spent four years in the Marine Corps. That delayed his football career, making him a bit of a mystery when he got to the NFL. It didn’t take long, however, for him to show what he could do.

After not getting a single carry in the opener, Anderson burst onto the scene. In Week 2, the rookie had 131 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries. The next week, he was even better, carrying the ball 32 times for 187 yards.

By season’s end, Anderson had amassed 1,487 yards and 15 touchdowns, numbers that helped him cruise to the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. What was even more impressive was the fact that the rookie missed two games and only had one carry in another; essentially, he put up those gaudy stats in just 13 games.

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Mr. Big Shot is Dealt

During the 1999-2000 season, the new-look Nuggets got off to a better start than most people predicted. An offseason trade for Ron Mercer, signing George McCloud as a free agent and drafting James Posey gave them three new pieces to an already improving roster.

Raef LaFrentz, Antonio McDyess, Nick Van Exel, Chauncey Billups returned, combining with the newcomers to help Denver get off to a surprising 17-15 start. Dan Issel was back as the team’s head coach, providing a sense of stability.

Then, the wheels came off. A six-game losing streak in January pushed the Nuggets down the standings and locker-room issues with Mercer threatened to fragment the team. By the time the trade deadline rolled around, Issel felt he had to shake things up. On February 1, he traded away a hometown hero.

Billups had been a star at George Washington High School and the University of Colorado, but he was struggling early in his NBA career. The former third-overall pick in the draft had flamed out in Boston and Toronto, but there was hope that a return to the Mile High City would rejuvenate his career. It didn’t work.

During his second season with the Nuggets, Billups was averaging just 8.6 points and 3.0 assists per game, while only playing 23.5 minutes per outing. That’s not what Denver was looking for when they packaged the No. 5 overall pick to acquire the guard.

Cutting their losses, the Nuggets sent Billups, Mercer and Johnny Taylor to Orlando in exchange for Tariq Abdul-Wahad, Chris Gatling and a future first-round pick. The trade sent Denver into a nosedive, as they finished the season with a 35-47 mark.

Billups would wind up in Minnesota, where he’d start to resurrect his career. He’d then go to Detroit, where he won a ring and was named NBA Finals MVP. And then he’d return to Denver, where he’d help the Nuggets reach the Western Conference Finals in 2009.

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QB Duo

After finishing 6-10 in 1999, the season after winning back-to-back Super Bowls, the Broncos returned to the playoffs in 2000. They’re journey to the postseason was anything but typical, however.

Not only did Denver have to rely on a 27-year-old rookie running back to power the ground game (see above), but they also had to lean on two quarterbacks that had all sorts of questions surrounding them. That odd recipe caused the Broncos to get off to a semi-slow start, as they were 4-4 at the midseason mark. But after they bye week, Denver got hot, finishing 7-1 down the stretch to earn a wild card berth.

Brian Griese started the season at quarterback, bouncing back from a rough first year as the starter. In 10 games, the third-year player threw for 2,688 yards, 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions. It was good enough to earn him a Pro Bowl nod.

When he was injured during a gutty performance in a win over the Raiders, Gus Frerotte stepped in. The journeyman quarterback was up and down, throwing nine touchdowns and eight interceptions, but he kept Denver on the winning side of the ledger. And in a 38-37 victory over the Chargers in Week, Frerotte threw for 462 yards and five touchdowns, the best passing day in franchise history at the time.

In the playoffs, the good fortune ran out, however. Facing a Ravens defense that would go down as one of the best in NFL history, Frerotte and the Broncos offense struggled mightily. By the end of the day, the quarterback had completed just 13 of 28 passes for 124 yards and an interception, before giving way to third-stringer Jarious Jackson. Denver fell 21-3 at Baltimore.

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Brent Mayne Gets a W

At the beginning of the game, it seemed like just a random Tuesday night at the ballpark. It was late August and the Rockies were a game under .500, starting to play out the string on the 2000 season.

A crowd of 41,707 was announced, but after a rain delay, that number dwindled greatly. And by the time the game went into extra innings, even few people remained in the stands.

Those who stuck around got to see history. And it was set up by some fun fireworks.

In the top of the 11th inning, Rockies reliever John Wasdin plunked Braves first baseman Andres Galarraga with a 3-2 pitch. For some reason, the former Colorado star took exception, glared at Wasdin as he walked to first base and then charged the mound. The benches cleared and both players were ejected.

That left the Rockies in a bind, however. After Brian Bohanon came in to finish the inning, they were out of pitchers. When Colorado failed to score in the bottom of the 11th, they had to call upon Brent Mayne to pitch the 12th.

The catcher had been out of the lineup in recent days due to an injury to his catching hand, but he was able to throw with no problem. He performed admirably on the mound, giving up one hit and walking a batter before getting Chipper Jones to ground into the third out of the inning.

In the bottom of the 12th, the Rockies scored to secure a walk-off win. In the process, they put Mayne’s name in the record books, as he became the first position player since Rocky Colavito in 1968 to be the winning pitcher in a MLB game.