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Timeline 25: Remembering the biggest Colorado sports stories of 2006

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 crazy year in Colorado sports history – 2006:

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QB Shuffle

Jake Plummer was great in 2005. The Broncos quarterback threw for 3,366 yards and 18 touchdowns, while only tossing seven interceptions. That lack of miscues was a big reason why Denver finished the season with a 13-3 record and the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

It seemed like something to build on. After three seasons with the Broncos, each of which ended with a trip to the playoffs, Plummer was starting to click in Mike Shanahan’s offense. Denver appeared to be a team that would remain in contention for quite some time.

But the head coach didn’t see it that way. For two reasons, Shanahan soured on the quarterback he had signed as a free agent prior to the 2003 campaign.

First, Plummer’s performance in the AFC Championship Game planted questions in the coach’s mind. That day, the Broncos were upset at home by the Steelers, thanks in part to a poor performance by their quarterback. Plummer finished the game 18 of 30 for 223 yards and a touchdown, but his two interceptions helped dig a 24-3 halftime deficit that Denver couldn’t overcome en route to a bitter 34-17 defeat.

That loss meant that Shanahan and his staff would coach the AFC team in the Pro Bowl a few weeks later. That’s where the second thing happened that turned the tide on Plummer’s tenure in Denver.

During the week in Hawaii prior to the game, Shanahan observed the way Peyton Manning, his quarterback in the Pro Bowl, handled himself. It was all football, all the time, as he discussed the game during practice, at the pool and seemingly during every waking moment. The Broncos head coach contrasted that with Plummer’s approach, as his QB in Denver had a more laissez-faire style.

Shanahan became convinced he couldn’t win a Super Bowl with Plummer. In fact, he thought the quarterback had already cost him a third Lombardi Trophy.

On April 29, the coach went about fixing what he saw as a problem. During the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, the Broncos traded the 15th and 68th overall picks to the Rams for the 11th overall pick. Denver used that selection to take Jay Cutler, a quarterback out of Vanderbilt.

Shanahan was enamored with Cutler’s physical abilities, as he boasted a big arm and could move well in the pocket, and the quarterback’s intelligence, highlighted by his college of choice. It was only a matter of time before the first-round pick was the Broncos starter.

Denver started the season on a roll, however. Heading into a Sunday night game at Invesco Field against the Chargers, the Broncos were 7-2 and well on their way to another playoff appearance.

That night, however, the wheels came off. Denver blew a 24-3 lead, getting outscored 28-3 in the final 20 minutes of the game. It was mostly a defensive collapse, but Plummer’s mediocre performance – 13 of 28 for 183 yards, no touchdowns and one interception – didn’t help.

The Broncos next game was on Thanksgiving night in Kansas City. Prior to kickoff, Adam Schefter reported that Cutler would make his debut in Week 13 against the Seahawks. Win or lose, Plummer was headed to the bench. Predictably, Denver didn’t play well, losing 19-10 and falling into a tie with the Chiefs at 7-4.

Cutler would start the final five games of the season, playing well at times. His 54-yard touchdown pass to Javon Walker during a 37-20 win at Arizona remains one of the prettiest throws in franchise history.

On New Year’s Eve, Denver squandered a 13-3 lead and lost to San Francisco in overtime. The Broncos needed a win or tie to make the playoffs and entered the game as an 11-point favorite at home.

The loss dropped Shanahan’s team to 9-7, as a once-promising season ended in bitter defeat. After the season, Plummer was traded to Tampa Bay, but he’d retire before ever reporting to the Buccaneers. Cutler would remain Denver’s starter in 2007 and 2008, but was traded to Chicago prior to the 2009 campaign without every getting the Broncos to the postseason.

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The Brawl at MSG

On December 16, the Nuggets were well on their way to improving their record to 14-9 on the season. With 1:15 to play in the game, they held a 119-100 lead over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. That’s when the season took a dramatic turn.

Denver’s J.R. Smith was heading for a fast-break layup when New York’s Mardy Collins clotheslined him. The Nuggets guard tumbled to the floor, which led to a scuffle.

Initially, the fracas just involved Smith and Collins. Soon, however, Nate Robinson entered the mix, as the Knicks guard started jawing with Smith. They tussled, falling into photographers and fans, before being separated.

Just as things appeared to be dying down, however, Carmelo Anthony confronted Collins. The Nuggets star punched the Knicks guard in the face, causing all heck to break loose.

Benches cleared. Players chased each other around the court. It was an ugly scene.

Ultimately, all 10 players who were on the court at the time of the incident were ejected. Eventually, seven players would be suspended by the league.

For his part in the altercation, Anthony received the harshest punishment. The Nuggets forward was suspended 15 games, the sixth-longest in NBA history, which cost him $640,097 in lost salary.

Many were upset that Knicks coach Isiah Thomas wasn’t suspended. It was reported that he instigated the incident by instructing his players to deliver a hard foul on any Nugget who drove to the basket, apparently as retaliation for Denver’s starters still being in the game, something his “Bad Boys” Pistons would’ve done in the 1980s.

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The Answer Comes to Denver

One day after the brawl in New York, the Nuggets added another star to their roster. Denver traded Andre Miller, Joe Smith and two first-round picks to the 76ers for a seven-time All-Star, four-time scoring champion and 2000-01 NBA MVP – Allen Iverson. Denver also received Ivan McFarlin, not that anyone cared.

It was a blockbuster move, as the Nuggets brought the league’s second-leading scorer at the time to the Mile High City, where he’d be paired with the NBA’s leading scorer, Carmelo Anthony. The duo would provide Denver with one of most-dynamic combinations in the Association, giving the Nuggets two legitimate superstars.

“I’m very happy about the trade,” Iverson said at the time. “Denver’s style of play fits my strengths. I’m looking forward to playing with Carmelo, the rest of the Denver Nuggets, and for George Karl, who is a proven winner.”

A snowstorm would delay Iverson’s debut, as he didn’t arrive in Denver in time for the Nuggets game against the Wizards. But he was in uniform on December 22 against the Kings, scoring 22 points and dishing out 10 assists in a 101-96 loss.

Iverson and Melo wouldn’t be on the court together until January 22 due to Anthony’s 15-game suspension for his role in a brawl with the Knicks. At the time, the Nuggets were 20-17; they’d finish the season 25-20 and earn the sixth seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.

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A Home Run Turns Into a Strikeout

When the University of Colorado hired Dan Hawkins to be their head coach, everyone in the football world thought it was a great move. The Sporting News gave the move an A+ grade and CU athletic director Mike Bohn called it a “home run.”

Soon, they’d all be singing a different tune. It quickly became apparent that the former Boise State head coach was in over his head with the Buffaloes, not ready to take over a program that had played in the Big XII championship game in four of the previous five seasons.

The Hawkins era got off to a bad start. In the season opener, Colorado hosted Montana State, a Division I-AA opponent. Shockingly, the Grizzlies handed the Buffaloes a 19-10 loss.

Things only got worse. Eventually, CU would start the season 0-6, managing to score just 49 total points in the first five games combined. The high-paced, multi-faceted offense that Hawkins brought from Boise State wasn’t translating well to Colorado.

Ultimately, the season was a total loss. Colorado would finish 2-10, just the third season in 117 years of playing football that the program posted double-digit losses.

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The End of an Era

One day after his team was swept out of the playoffs by the Sharks, Avalanche general manager Pierre Lacroix announced that he was stepping down. He’d remain as the team’s president, but the architect of two Stanley Cup winners would no longer be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the organization.

It marked the end of an amazing run, as Lacroix had built the Avs into one of the NHL’s premier franchises. During his tenure, they won a league-record nine consecutive division titles, advanced to the Western Conference Finals six times and won two championships.

Lacroix accomplished these feats by not being afraid to wheel and deal. He acquired Patrick Roy, Ray Bourque and Rob Blake via trades, while also signing the likes of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne.

But after the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, the NHL landscape had changed. A salary cap made it tougher for Colorado to acquire stars, something that didn’t seem to fit with Lacroix’s style.

Ultimately, the general manager was replaced by Francois Giguere, who had big shoes to fill. The Avalanche never missed the playoffs in 10 seasons under Lacroix; they’d failed to reach the postseason in two out of three under Giguere.

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