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Timeline 25: Remembering the biggest Colorado sports stories of 2007

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 one of the most-unforgettable years in Colorado sports history – 2007:

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Rocktober

When the Rockies awoke on Sunday, September 16, they found themselves with a rather mediocre 76-72 record. They were 6.5 games out of first place in the National League West, mired in fourth place, and staring up at several teams in both the division and wild card standings.

As a result, there were no delusions that the team was going to make a postseason run. Colorado had improved from the year before and was showing some positive signs, with a group of young players that were starting to blossom. But that was the extent of the optimism.

What transpired after that date was one of the most-amazing runs in sports history. In the next month, the Rockies would only lose one more game, they’d claw into the playoffs, beat the Phillies and Diamondbacks, and advance to the World Series.

It all started with a 13-0 win over the Marlins on that fateful Sunday. That was followed by a four-game sweep of the Dodgers, three-straight wins over the Diamondbacks and three in a row over Los Angeles.

A 4-2 loss to Arizona to start the final series of the season eliminated Colorado from the NL West race, but two wins to close out the season, coupled with two-consecutive losses by San Diego to closer their season, set up a winner-take-all, play-in game for the wild card spot.

On October 1, the two teams squared off at Coors Field in what would become a classic. The Rockies jumped ahead early, but fell behind when they surrendered five runs in the third inning. Colorado regained the lead in the sixth, only to see San Diego tie things up in the eighth.

Extra innings were needed, with the game eventually stretching to a 13th frame. There, the Padres scored two when Scott Hairston homered off of Jorge Julio to take an 8-6 lead. With Trevor Hoffman, arguably the greatest closer in MLB history, coming in to slam the door shut, things looked bleak for the Rockies.

Back-to-back doubles by Kaz Matsui and Troy Tulowitzki, followed by a triple from Matt Holliday, tied the game at 8-8, however. Hoffman then intentionally walked Todd Helton, bringing Jamey Carroll to the plate with nobody out.

The utility infielder hit a shallow fly ball to right field, allowing Holliday to tag up. He arrived home about the same time as Brian Giles’ throw, but was called safe when Josh Bard dropped the ball. Whether or not Holliday actually touched the plate remains a debate to this day.

After that thrilling walk-off victory, the Rockies remained on a roll. They swept the Phillies in three games and then broomed the Diamondbacks in four straight. From September 16 to October 15, Colorado won 21 out of 22 games and advanced to the World Series.

Waiting a week for the start of the Fall Classic killed their momentum, however. Ultimately, the dream season came to a disappointing end, as the Rockies were swept by the Red Sox.

But for four weeks, baseball was the only thing that mattered in the Centennial State. In the heart of Broncos season, the Rockies were able to dominate the headlines and airwaves, thanks to a magical run unlike anything seen before.

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Tragedy Strikes

Hours after the Broncos lost to the 49ers in their season finale, a defeat that eliminated Denver from the playoffs, several members of the team were celebrating Kenyon Martin’s birthday at Safari, a nightclub on Broadway. An altercation between wide receiver Brandon Marshall and several members of the Crips brought the evening to a close, however, as he and his teammates left the party.

Moments later, at the corner of 11th and Speer, a car pulled alongside the Hummer limousine that was carrying two Broncos – wide receiver Javon Walker and cornerback Darrent Williams – and two other passengers. Gunshots were fired, sending the car off the road.

In the shooting, which took place at 2:10 a.m. on January 1, Williams was shot in the neck. It killed him instantly; the cornerback was just 24 years old.

More than a year later, Willie D. Clark, a member of the Crips gang, was convicted of murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In just two seasons with the Broncos, Williams had made a tremendous impression. Not only was he a dynamic player – recording one sack, two forced fumbles, six interceptions and two touchdowns during his short career – but he was a bright spot in the locker room, a fun-loving person who was loved by his teammates.

His life, and his promising career, were cut short when a New Year’s Eve party led to tragedy.

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The Streak Ends

On paper, the 2006-07 Avalanche look like a team that couldn’t live up to the standards established during the franchise’s first 10 seasons in Colorado. After all, they became the first group to miss the postseason since the organization relocated to Denver prior to the 1995-96 campaign.

Most of the blame fell on Francois Giguere, who had replaced Pierre Lacroix as the team’s general manager. Those are tough shoes to fill, as the predecessor built teams that won two Stanley Cups and nine-consecutive division titles.

But the Avalanche’s decline wasn’t all on Giguere. After all, the 2004 lockout led to a different NHL than what Lacroix had to navigate. With a salary cap in place, the free-spending days came to a crashing halt in Colorado.

Stars were departing, with Rob Blake and Alex Tanguay being the latest players to leave the organization. As a result, there was a talent void, something that was difficult to fill.

This hurt Colorado not only on the ice, but also at the box office. During that season, the team’s record-setting streak of 487 consecutive sellouts came to an end.

Through it all, however, the Avalanche remained in contention. Heading into the final week of the season, they still had a chance to keep their postseason streak alive.

A loss to the Predators on April 7, however, ended all hope. Colorado finished the season with 95 points, one behind the Flames for the eighth spot in the Western Conference.

At the time, it was the most points ever tallied by a non-playoff team in NHL history.

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Heading in Different Directions

On December 30, Colorado faced Alabama in a bowl game. It was a match-up of 6-6 teams, as both programs were trying to get back on track.

The Buffaloes were in year two under Dan Hawkins when they earned the invite to the Independence Bowl, a big step forward after the disastrous 2-10 season they posted in the head coach’s first season in Boulder. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide were looking to restore a winning tradition in their first year under Nick Saban.

The match-up with Alabama didn’t start off well, however. Just 20 minutes into the game, the Buffs were down 27-0. But Colorado would battle back, ultimately losing 30-24 when their comeback attempt fell short.

After the game, there were reasons for both teams to believe they were headed in the right direction. During the season, CU upset No. 3-ranked Oklahoma at Folsom Field and later in the season, they beat Nebraska in a wild 65-51 game at home. Meanwhile, Alabama had earned victories over two top-20 teams are were once again drawing 92,000-plus to Bryant-Denny Stadium for home games.

In the years since, the two programs couldn’t have gone in more opposite directions. The Crimson Tide have played in seven national championship games, winning five titles. The Buffs have been through three coaching changes and only played in one bowl game since that night in Shreveport, Louisiana.

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Frustrating Losses

The Broncos entered the 2007 season with heavy hearts. During the offseason, two of their teammates – cornerback Darrent Williams and running back Damian Nash – had passed away. Not surprisingly, it led to an up-and-down, unfocused season in Denver.

Mike Shanahan’s team finished the campaign with a 7-9 record, missing the playoffs for a second-consecutive year. Along the way, the team suffered some incredibly frustrating losses.

On October 7, the Broncos were blown out at Invesco Field, losing 41-3 to the Chargers. At the time, it was their worst home loss since the AFL-NFL merger.

Four weeks later, Denver was steamrolled in Detroit, losing 44-7 to the Lions. A late touchdown by Brandon Stokley is all that prevented a shutout.

That loss came on the heels of a heartbreaker at the hands of Brett Favre. On “Monday Night Football,” the future Hall of Fame quarterback silenced the Invesco Field crowd with an 82-year touchdown pass to Greg Jennings on the first play of overtime.

As disappointing as that defeat was, however, it paled in comparison to the one suffered on November 25 at Chicago. In a game where they played well enough to win, the Broncos gave away a victory because Shanahan refused to kick away from one of the greatest returners in NFL history. Devin Hester made Denver’s head coach pay for the decision, returning a punt 75 yards for a touchdown and a kickoff 88 yards for another score. It added up to a 37-34 loss in overtime.

On an off the field, 2007 was a year of terrible losses for the Broncos.

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