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Timeline 25: Remembering the biggest Colorado sports stories of 2014

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 an up-and-down year in Colorado sports history – 2014:

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A Super Fail

The regular season had gone about as well as imaginable. Denver finished the season 13-3 and captured the No. 1 seed in the AFC, thanks mostly to a record-setting offense. Peyton Manning had the best season ever turned in by an NFL quarterback, propelling his team throughout the 2013 campaign.

In the postseason, the good times continued. Denver knocked off San Diego 24-17 in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and then beat New England 26-16 in the AFC Championship Game. The win over the Patriots sent the Broncos to Super Bowl XLVIII, their seventh trip to the league’s title game.

That’s where the dream season came to a screeching halt. And it was evident early.

Not anticipating the crowd noise that Seattle’s fans brought to MetLife Stadium, Denver was surprised on the opening play of the game. Unable to make their normal audibles at the line of scrimmage, the Broncos wound up finding trouble. Manny Ramirez snapped the ball over Peyton Manning’s head, leading to a safety. And it only got worse.

Trailing 15-0 in the first half, Manning was hit on a third-and-13 pass and intercepted by Malcolm Smith. The linebacker returned the pick 69 yards for a touchdown.

Even down 22-0 at halftime, the Broncos weren’t out of the game. They’d come back from bigger deficits during the Manning era. But any hope of a rally was extinguished on the opening play of the second half, when Percy Harvin returned the kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown.

At 29-0, the game was all but over. By the time the onslaught ended, the Seahawks were runaway victors, beating Denver 43-8.

The loss brought back painful memories for Broncos fans, who had endured three blowout losses in the Super Bowl during the 1980s. But there was a blessing in disguise. After the loss to the Seahawks, John Elway realized that he needed to retool his roster, building a speed-based defense that would propel the team to a championship just two years later.

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A Dream Becomes a Nightmare

A year after finishing with the worst record in the Western Conference, the Avalanche bounced back in a big way during the 2013-14 season. With Patrick Roy behind the bench, Colorado found their competitive swagger, becoming a contender once again.

At the end of the 2013-14 season, the Avs were 52-22-8, which put them atop the Central Division and gave them the second-best record in the conference. It also set them up for a first-round match-up with the Wild, a team that had been their nemesis in the past.

During the playoffs, Colorado was bested by the same team that ultimately ended Roy’s playing career. Once again, Minnesota played the role of spoiler.

It didn’t look like it would go that way, however. The Avalanche jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the series and led 3-2 after five games. But the Wild won Game 6 in Minnesota and then managed to pull out a victory in the finale at Pepsi Center, winning 5-4 in overtime.

Given that the Wild hadn’t led for a single second of Game 7, it was a tough pill to swallow. Colorado’s storybook season, one that looked like it would turn into a dream come true, ended in nightmare fashion.

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A Franchise-Changing Pick

When the 2014 NBA Draft rolled around, Nuggets fans weren’t terribly excited. The team was coming off of a disappointing 36-46 campaign, a far cry from the 57-win season they had posted the year before. In his first season, Brian Shaw had been an abject failure as the team’s head coach, proving to be a lousy replacement for George Karl.

That said, Denver wasn’t bad enough to earn the kind of draft pick that would generate excitement amongst the fan base. After failing to strike gold in the NBA Draft Lottery, the Nuggets sat with the 11th overall pick, no man’s land for trying to find an impact player.

But in the second round of the draft, when most people had stopped paying attention, the Nuggets struck gold. That’s when they found the player who would become the cornerstone of their future.

With the 41st overall pick in the draft, Denver selected Nikola Jokic. Not much was known about the Serbian big man, but he’d soon make his impact in the Mile High City.

The last two seasons, “The Joker” has earned a spot on the Western Conference All-Star team, averaging more than 20 points per game in each campaign. He was also named first-team All-NBA in 2018-19, an honor he could repeat this season.

Jokic has also helped the Nuggets improve as a team. He’s a tremendous passer, allowing Michael Malone to run his offense through his center, an oddity that makes Denver tough to defend.

Last season, this helped the team capture the No. 2 seed in the West and advance to the second round of the playoffs. This year, the Nuggets are currently the third seed in the conference, considered a legitimate championship contender when the NBA resumes play later this month in Orlando.

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A Sign of Things to Come

After losing in Super Bowl XLVIII (see above), the Broncos returned in 2014 ready to avenge their defeat. And early in the season, Denver was using a similar formula to win games.

During a 7-2 start to the season, Peyton Manning’s offense had posted more than 30 points in six games. They once again looked to be a high-octane attack.

But in Week 11, everything changed. That day, the Rams were able to harass the Broncos quarterback, while also forcing tight end Julius Thomas out of the game with an injury. As a result, Denver fell 22-7.

That anemic performance caused John Fox and the rest of the coaching staff to rethink their approach. During the rest of the season, the Broncos would be far less explosive, eclipsing the 30-point plateau only twice down the stretch.

Along the way, Manning was far less effective, as well. In the final four games of the season, the quarterback threw just four touchdowns, after tossing 36 during the first 12 games. And in the final seven games of the regular season, Manning threw for 300-plus yards just once.

The slowdown on offense didn’t hurt in the win-loss column, however, as Denver finished 12-4 and held the No. 2 seed in the AFC. But it signaled a shift in approach at Dove Valley, as the Broncos were no longer about posting Star Wars-type numbers.

The following season, Manning’s yardage and touchdown totals would again dip. But in the end, the change would turn out to be a good thing for the franchise, as 2015 was a special season in Denver.

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Getting on the Map

Prior to 2014, most people in the Centennial State probably didn’t know that CSU-Pueblo existed. If they did, they didn’t know much about the ThunderWolves football program.

But that year, head coach John Wristen forced everyone to take notice. His team became the best in Division-II.

Throughout the season, CSU-Pueblo hovered within the top-10. After a loss to Fort Lewis on October 11, however, many started to doubt the ThunderWolves. But that was a mistake.

Following that 23-22 defeat, Wristen’s squad went on a roll, winning five straight to close out the season. They entered the D-II playoffs as the No. 8 seed, a ranking that seemed like a slight to a team that had been ranked as high as No. 2 prior to a one-point loss.

In the postseason, however, CSU-Pueblo proved all the naysayers wrong. They beat Angelo State 52-14 in the opener, bested Ohio Dominican 31-28 in their second game and then knocked off West Georgia 10-7.

All of those games were played at the Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl, however. To cap off their historic run, the ThunderWolves would have to travel and win.

They did just that in the Division II championship game, knocking off top-ranked Minnesota State 13-0 at Sporting Park in Kansas City. It was a win that capped a 14-1 season, a year that was one-point away from perfection, and put CSU-Pueblo on the Colorado sports map.