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Timeline 25: Remembering the biggest Colorado sports stories of 2011

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 – 2011:

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Tebow Time!

The Broncos headed into their bye week with a 1-4 record and a disgruntled fan base. Coming on the heels of a 4-12 season, as well as a 2-8 collapse at the end of the 2009 campaign, Denver had posted a pitiful 7-24 record during their last 31 games, nearly the equivalent of two full seasons. So there was good reason for Broncos Country to be restless.

Making matters worse was the fact that the team’s quarterback during this stretch was still being put on the field every week. Despite having a former first-round pick on the bench behind him, Kyle Orton kept getting start after start, as new head coach John Fox proclaimed that the veteran gave Denver the “best chance to win.”

But at 1-4, even Fox couldn’t make that argument with a straight face anymore. So during the bye week, the Broncos made the switch to Tim Tebow. What followed was one of the most-remarkable three months in NFL history.

Things didn’t get off to a great beginning. During Tebow’s first start of the season, Denver trailed 15-0 with less than three minutes to play in Miami. But then, the magic began to happen.

Tebow threw a touchdown to Demaryius Thomas with 2:44 left in the game to cut the deficit to 15-7. The Broncos then recovered an onside kick, scored again on another Tebow touchdown pass and tied the game when the quarterback ran in the two-point conversion. After D.J. Williams forced a fumble in overtime, Denver won the game on a 52-yard field goal by Matt Prater.

The Mile High City was suddenly going crazy for Tebow. But the celebration would have to wait a bit.

The next week, the Broncos hosted the Lions and things got ugly. Playing their traditional offense, Denver was pounded by Detroit, as Tebow looked like a fish out of water in a 45-10 blowout loss.

That’s when Fox made the decision to create a system built around the quarterback’s strengths. The next week, the Broncos unveiled a college-style offense and never looked back.

Denver won at the Raiders and at the Chiefs to move to 4-5. Then, they beat the Jets at home thanks to more late-game heroics by Tebow to get to .500. That was followed by road wins at the Chargers and Vikings, and then another improbable rally at home against the Bears.

Suddenly, the Broncos were 8-5 and the talk of the sports world. Everyone was talking Tebow, as the quarterback had turned around Denver’s season, pulled off miracle wins, created a cult phenomenon known as “Tebowing” and became a media sensation.

The party died down a bit late in the season, however, as the Broncos lost their last three games. And after a season finale in which Orton, who had been released by Denver earlier in the season, and Kansas City beat Denver in a 7-3 yawner at Sports Authority Field, it looked like the clock had finally struck midnight.

Thanks to the Chargers upsetting the Raiders in Oakland, however, the Broncos won the AFC West with an 8-8 record. All three teams tied for the division lead, but Denver held the tiebreaker.

That set up one of the most-incredible games in Broncos history. In the AFC Wild Card Playoffs, Denver hosted Pittsburgh, a team that boasted the league’s top-rated defense. It seemed like a bad match-up for the Tebow-led offense that had been exposed late in the season.

Improbably, however, the quarterback shined in the game. He completed just 10 passes on the day, but they went for 316 yards and two touchdowns. The final score, coming on the first play of overtime, was an 80-yard game-winning touchdown to Demaryius Thomas, a play that will forever be remembered in Broncos Country.

The dream season came to an end the next week, as Denver was routed 45-10 in New England. And Tebow’s time with the team would end shortly thereafter, as he was replaced during the offseason by Peyton Manning.

But for a few incredible weeks, the Tim Tebow show was the best thing in sports. The quarterback created memories that will last a lifetime, while also reigniting the Mile High Magic that makes the Broncos special.

To listen to the Tebow edition of “Mile High Memories,” CLICK HERE

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Melo-Drama

Things had been brewing for months. Less than a season removed from taking the Lakers to six games in the Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets best player wanted to be traded.

It was a soap opera. There were connections to “The Decision,” as LeBron James changed the way NBA superstars looked at their careers. There was an infamous wedding toast with Stan Kroenke in attendance that didn’t go over well. There was a new bride that wanted to live in the big city. There was a Russian billionaire who was trying to make a name for himself in the states. And there was an emerging star who wanted to grow his brand.

It all added up to Carmelo Anthony being traded on February 21, 2011. After seven-plus years in Denver, the face of the franchise was on his way to New York as part of a three-team deal.

In the end, the Nuggets got a pretty good haul for their disgruntled superstar. Denver sent Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Shelden Williams and Corey Brewer to the Knicks, receiving Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufas, New York’s first-round pick in 2014 and the right to swap first-round picks with the Knicks in 2016. The Timberwolves received the Nuggets second-round pick in 2015, Eddy Curry and Anthony Randolph.

To his credit, Anthony didn’t dog it during his final months in Denver. He played 50 games with the Nuggets during the 2010-11 season, averaging 25.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per outing. In his final game with the team, Melo scored 38 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and led his team to a 94-87 win at Milwaukee.

After the trade, which went down during the All-Star break, the Nuggets actually improved. They went 18-7 down the stretch, finishing the season with a 50-32 record and earning the No. 5 seed in the West. They’d get bounced by the Thunder in the first round, however, losing in five games.

Meanwhile, the Knicks went 14-14 after the trade, finishing the season with a 42-40 mark. They’d also lose in the first round, getting swept out of the playoffs by the Celtics in four games.

Two years later, the Nuggets would win a franchise-record 57 games in the regular season, largely due to the supporting cast they acquired in the Anthony trade. Another first-round exit, however, would spell the end of an era, as Denver fired George Karl despite him winning the NBA’s Coach of the Year award that season.

Melo would find some early success in New York. During his first two seasons with the Knicks, he helped the team back to the playoffs, ending a six-year postseason drought. And in 2012-13, a year in which he also won the NBA scoring title, Anthony led New York to a first-round victory over the Celtics, the only series the franchise has won in the past two decades.

Anthony spent six-plus seasons with the Knicks, earning All-Star honors every season. But he never found the team success that he enjoyed in Denver. During his final four years in New York, the franchise went through five different head coaches and failed to make the postseason.

In the end, the Nuggets were better off with Carmelo Anthony and Carmelo Anthony was better off with the Nuggets. But during the early months of 2011, when the “Melo-drama” was unfolding, neither side could see it that way.

To listen to the Melo trade edition of “Mile High Memories,” CLICK HERE

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A U-Turn

On Saturday, July 30, Ubaldo Jimenez was in the bullpen at Petco Park, warming up for his start that night against the Padres. After getting off to a slow start, beginning the year 0-5 and dipping to 1-7 at one point, the Rockies ace had righted the ship a bit, winning five of his last seven decisions.

Nonetheless, there were rumblings that Jimenez was on the trading block. The Rockies were mired in another wasted season, on their way to finishing 73-89 on the year, so they wanted to parlay their best assets into multiple players who could contribute in the future.

That’s how Jimenez found himself hearing that he had been traded to the Indians while he was warming up for a game with the Rockies. The season after he had won 19 games, started for the National League in the All-Star Game and pitched the only no-hitter in franchise history, Colorado had dealt him to Cleveland.

Unfortunately, there was a breakdown in communication. That news didn’t officially get to San Diego before the game started.

As a result, a clearly distracted Jimenez was forced to take the hill and face the Padres. He didn’t fare well, giving up two hits, walking four and surrendering four runs in an inning a work. Mercifully, the team finally figured out that they were using a player who had been traded and pulled Jimenez from the game before the bottom of the second.

The next day, the pitcher was on his way to Cleveland. Colorado received Joe Gardner, Matt McBride, Drew Pomeranz and Alex White in return.

Since leaving the Rockies, Jimenez has struggled. During three years with the Indians and four seasons with the Orioles, he posted a 58-72 record and a 4.90 ERA.

But he has fared better than what the Rockies got in return. Gardner never made it past double-A Tulsa, McBride hit .199 in 72 games with Colorado, White was 4-13 with a 6.20 ERA during his time with the Rockies and Pomeranz was 4-14 with a 5.20 ERA in purple pinstripes.

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The Duke to the Rescue

On January 5, 2011, the Broncos once again put their future in the hands of John Elway. As they had done for 16 years when he was the face of the franchise, Denver was turning to their former quarterback to save the day.

On the heels of a 4-12 season, one that saw former head coach Josh McDaniels embarrass the organization both on and off the field, new leadership was needed. Elway was tasked with the job, hired by Pat Bowlen to be the team’s general manager.

No. 7 went to work quickly. Eight days later, he hired John Fox to be the team’s new head coach, a man who would lead the Broncos to four-consecutive AFC West titles. And a little less than four months later, Elway would draft the greatest defensive player in team history, Von Miller.

In the years since, the Broncos have won five division championships, played in two Super Bowls and won one Lombardi Trophy. Once again, John Elway came to the rescue.

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A Tad Improvement

When Tad Boyle was hired to be the head coach of CU’s basketball team prior to the 2010-11 season, there wasn’t a lot of fanfare. Yes, he was coming off of a 25-win season at the University of Northern Colorado, but that was his only winning campaign during three years with the Bears. So it’s not as though his coaching résumé was littered with success.

In addition, the Buffaloes were an afterthought on the local sports scene. They were coming off a disastrous three-year stretch with former Nuggets head coach Jeff Bzdelik at the helm, having gone 36-58 during that time. The Coors Event Center wasn’t exactly a happening place.

That all changed under Boyle, however. And it happened immediately.

During the coach’s first season in Boulder, CU finished 24-14. They were snubbed for the NCAA Tournament, but they did get the No. 1 seed in the NIT. There, they advanced all the way to the semfinals, losing to Alabama at Madison Square Garden.

That season set the stage for what has become the best era in Colorado history. Under Boyle, the Buffs have won the Pac-12 tournament (2012), won 20-plus games on seven occasions and advanced to the Big Dance four times.

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