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Timeline 25: Remembering the biggest Colorado sports stories of 2016

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 at a one of the craziest years in Colorado sports history – 2016.


“This One’s for Pat”

When the calendar turned to 2016, things got crazy for the Broncos. The first five weeks of the new year were a whirlwind of storylines and achievements.

On January 3, Peyton Manning came off the bench in the season finale against the Chargers to lead a come-from-behind victory. The win gave Denver their fifth-consecutive AFC West title, as well as the No. 1 seed in the conference, and put No. 18 back in charge of the team’s offense.

In their first playoff game, Manning led the Broncos to a comeback victory over the Steelers, as Denver outscored Pittsburgh 11-3 in the fourth quarter to capture a 23-16 victory. But it was really the defense that was the story of the game, as DeMarcus Ware recovered a key fumble that changed momentum and then sacked Ben Roethlisberger in the waning moments to clinch the win.

A week later, the Broncos defense stepped up big again. This time, it was in the AFC Championship Game against Tom Brady and the Patriots. Denver never trailed in the game, but things got tight down the stretch. When Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a four-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left, New England cut the score to 20-18. But Bradley Roby was able to pick off the future Hall of Fame quarterback’s attempt on the two-point conversion, sealing the victory and sending the Broncos to Super Bowl 50.

In the big game, it was once again all about the defense. Denver harassed Cam Newton, who had won the NFL’s MVP award that season, from start to finish, forcing two fumbles and recording an interception, while sacking the quarterback seven times. Both fumbles were forced by Von Miller, who also recorded 2.5 sacks en route to MVP honors. The first led to a Malik Jackson’s touchdown, which gave the Broncos a 10-0 lead. The second thwarted the Panthers comeback attempt and set up Denver’s final score.

When the clock struck 00:00, the Broncos were champions, thanks to a 24-10 win. Von Miller was the Super Bowl MVP, making him a national star. And Peyton Manning was able to ride off into the sunset, as the quarterback retired on March 7.

When the Broncos won their first Super Bowl, team owner Pat Bowlen famously said, “This one’s for John,” before handing the Lombardi Trophy to quarterback John Elway. This time around, No. 7 returned the favor, saying, “This one’s for Pat,” when raising the trophy.


QB Carousel

When it came time to defend their championship, the Broncos had a huge hole to fill. Yes, Peyton Manning had struggled statistically the season before, but he was still a dominant presence in the locker room and on the field. So when he retired on March 7, Denver had to transition to their next quarterback.

Most people, including John Elway, thought Brock Osweiler would be the heir apparent. After all, he’d spent four years apprenticing under Manning, getting ready for the job. But the young quarterback was a free agent, so he had a chance to explore other options.

Much to nearly everyone’s surprise, Osweiler decided to leave a Super Bowl-caliber team, one that he had guided to a 5-2 record down the stretch the year before. The QB signed a four-year, $72-million deal with the Texans on March 9.

That left the Broncos scrambling for answers. Elway’s first move was to acquire a veteran quarterback, trading for Mark Sanchez on March 11. Less than two months later, the Broncos also added a young quarterback, trading up to select Paxton Lynch in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

This led to a three-way battle during training camp and the preseason for the starting quarterback job. In the end, Trevor Siemian, a seventh-round pick in 2015, won the job, despite having the worst QB rating of the three candidates during the Broncos exhibition season.

Once he wasn’t declared the starter, Sanchez was released, saving the Broncos nearly $5 million against the salary cap. The team added Austin Davis to round out their quarterback room.

On opening night, Denver began their attempt to defend their championship with a quarterback who had taken one NFL snap and never thrown a pass in a game. Their backup was a rookie and the No. 3 QB was a player who hadn’t been with the team during the offseason or preseason.

Amazingly, Gary Kubiak was able to guide the team to a 9-7 record. Although that wouldn’t be good enough to earn a playoff berth, it was a masterful job by the head coach in his final season in Denver. After suffering another health scare on October 9, Kubiak retired at the end of the year.


A Grand Debut

In 2015, the Rockies traded Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays. That left a huge hole on the left side of their infield, as Jose Reyes, who they acquired in the deal, wasn’t seen as the long-term answer; Colorado was hoping to dump his contract, and other baggage, as quickly as possible.

Coming out of spring training, rookie Trevor Story had earned the starting job. He had big shoes to fill, which most people doubted he’d be able to do.

It didn’t take long for the shortstop to answer his critics. In the Rockies first game of the season, Story hit two home runs. During each of their next two games, he went yard again. And in Colorado’s home opener, the rookie proved it wasn’t a fluke, belting two more over the fence at Coors Field.

In his first six games, Story hit seven home runs and drove in 12. It was a smashing debut, one that caused everyone to quickly forget about Tulo.

It also allowed the Rockies to move on from Reyes. On June 23, Colorado released the veteran shortstop.

The job was Story’s. He’s been entrenched ever since, earning two All-Star nods during his first four seasons with the Rockies.


A Sudden Departure

Patrick Roy’s first season behind the bench in Colorado was a storybook campaign. He took over a last-place team, instilled them with his competitive fire and transformed the Avalanche into division champs.

The next two seasons, however, were a reality check. The Hollywood script ended, as Colorado missed the playoffs in back-to-back years.

That said, they had a young nucleus that was promising. And most expected Roy and former teammate Joe Sakic, who was now running the show in the front office, to build the Avs back into a perennial winner.

That’s why it came as such a shock on when Roy abruptly resigned on August 11, 2016. The news was a bombshell, due to both the gravity of the announcement and the timing.

Colorado was just weeks away from reporting to training camp, putting them in a tough spot for finding a replacement. And Roy had shown zero signs that he wouldn’t return.

Two weeks later, Jared Bednar was hired as the Avs head coach. The last two seasons, he’s guided them to the playoffs. And this year, Colorado is a legit title contender when the NHL returns to play at the end of July.


Return to Glory

Little was expected of the Buffaloes in 2016. And for good reason. CU hadn’t been to a bowl game in eight years, while also finishing dead last in the Pac-12 South in each of the past three seasons. They were a combined 5-40 in conference play since joining.

So it came as a huge shock when Mike MacIntyre found a little magic in Boulder. In his fourth season, the head coach was pushing all the right buttons, getting his team to overachieve from day one.

Back-to-back wins against Colorado State and Idaho State got the season off on the right foot, but a loss at Michigan really told the story. Yes, the Buffs fell 45-28, but the game was much closer than the score would indicate. CU had held its own in front of 110,000 fans at the Big House, which was reason for optimism.

The next week, however, the Buffaloes really got everyone’s attention. On September 24, they rolled into Oregon and beat the Ducks. The 41-38 win, behind backup quarterback Steven Montez, was the springboard to a special season.

Colorado would win eight of nine games, going 8-1 in the Pac-12. Their only loss came at USC, where they fell 21-17. It was a remarkable turnaround for a program that hadn’t been competitive during the previous five seasons.

By the end of the regular season, the Buffs were 10-2, atop the Pac-12 South, ranked No. 9 in the country and in the mix for a shot at the national championship, if everything fell their way during conference title games. Unfortunately, that’s when the clock struck midnight.

CU was blown out by No. 4 Washington in the Pac-12 title game, falling 41-10. Then in the Alamo Bowl, they were trounced by 13th-ranked Oklahoma State, losing 38-8. The back-to-back losses provided a bit of a reality check, as the Cinderella season ended with a thud.

Nonetheless, a 10-4 season was more than anyone could’ve hoped for in Boulder. And it provided some with reasons to believe that the Buffaloes were back on track.