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Timeline 25: Remembering the biggest Colorado sports stories of 2019

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 promising year in Colorado sports history – 2019.


The QB of the Future Emerges

For the better part of three months, the Broncos season was a disappointment. In their first year under Vic Fangio, Denver was struggling, well on their way to a third-consecutive losing season. And the losses were coming in frustrating fashion.

Late in games against the Bears, Jaguars and Colts, Fangio’s team had a chance to win it. But the defensive-minded head coach watched as his group, a star-studded defense, failed to seal the deal.

As a result of these three losses, plus an anemic offense led by new quarterback Joe Flacco, the Broncos sat at 3-8 heading into December. That’s when the head coach made a pivotal decision, choosing to go with rookie quarterback Drew Lock as the team’s starter.

The decision paid immediate dividends, as Denver looked like a different team with the young signal caller behind center. Their offense was more explosive, which helped their defense be more aggressive and opportunistic.

By the end of the season, which included a five-game audition by Lock, the results were pretty convincing. The rookie had compiled a 4-1 record, throwing for seven touchdowns and just three interceptions. His only loss was in a blizzard at Kansas City, against the eventual Super Bowl champs. Denver’s offense went from averaging 15.9 points per game with Flacco and Brandon Allen at the helm to 21.4 under Lock.

As a result, Lock has emerged as the potential QB of the future. He’ll be the Broncos starter entering the 2020 campaign.


Becoming a Contender

After five-straight seasons of missing the playoffs, the Nuggets returned the postseason in 2018-19. And they did so in convincing fashion.

During the regular season, Denver compiled a 54-28 record, tying for the second-most wins the franchise has posted since joining the NBA in 1976-77. They won the Northwest Division crown and earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.

Once the playoffs began, the Nuggets continued to provide their long-suffering fan base with memorable highlights. Despite losing Game 1 of their opening round series at Pepsi Center, Denver was able to bounce back and beat San Antonio in seven games. Then in the next round against Portland, things got even more dramatic.

Once again, the Nuggets squandered their home-court advantage early in the series, this time losing Game 2 at Pepsi Center. They followed up that disappointment with a heartbreaking 140-137 loss to the Blazers on the round, in a game that took four overtimes to determine a winner.

At that point, some teams would’ve folded. But Michael Malone’s squad showed resilience, winning Game 4 in Portland to even the series at 2-2. A blowout win in Game 5 had Denver feeling good, but the positive vibes wouldn’t last.

Ultimately, the Nuggets fell in Game 6 on the road, setting up a decisive game back in the Mile High City. This time around, Denver couldn’t ride their home crowd to victory, falling 100-96.

It was a disappointing conclusion, but the season was still a huge success for the Nuggets. The franchise took a major step forward, proving that they were a team on the rise in the West.


Falling Flat

After back-to-back playoff seasons, expectations were high for the Rockies in 2019. Some national writers went so far as to pick Colorado to win the World Series.

There were plenty of reasons for the optimism. The year before, Bud Black’s team had won 91 games, coming within a whisker of winning their first-ever National League West crown. They featured one of the best players in baseball, having inked Nolan Arenado to a new eight-year, $260 million contract. And they boasted a promising, young pitching staff, led by Kyle Freeland, who had emerged as a potential ace with his 17-win season in 2018.

Things didn’t start off too badly for Colorado. Despite not looking like a championship-caliber team at times, the Rockies were 44-40 at the end of June, squarely in the playoff hunt. And then the bottom fell out.

Black’s team would lose 16 out of 19 games, falling to 47-55 by July 24, 19.0 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West. They never recovered, finishing the season with a dismal 71-91 record, going 27-51 in their final 78 games.

What happened? Well, a number of things. But poor pitching performances were the big culprit.

Freeland struggled all season long, going just 3-11 on the year. By the end of the season, he was in Albuquerque, trying to regain his command.

And the bullpen was just as bad, led by Wade Davis. A year after setting a franchise record with 43 saves, the veteran posted a 1-6 record, an ERA of 8.65 and only 15 saves, getting replaced by season’s end as the team’s closer.

A year that started off so promising, with championship aspirations, ended in despair, creating questions about the future. The season was so bad that Arenado would begin questioning his decision to stay in Colorado, just one year after signing his mega-contract.


The Avalanche Start Rolling

The Nuggets weren’t the only team that emerged as a future contender during the 2018-19 season. Their fellow tenant at Pepsi Center, the Avalanche, also had a playoff run that provided promise for years to come.

Colorado wasn’t great in the regular season, earning the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference with a 38-30-14 campaign. But they made the most of their postseason trip once they got there.

A year after losing to Nashville in the first round, the Avs proved that they had learned from their previous playoff experience. This time around, they dominated the Flames out of the gate, beating the top team in the West four games to one.

That was followed by a showdown with the Sharks, a seven-game classic that would show that Colorado’s first-round upset wasn’t a fluke. Against the second-best team in the conference, the Avs more than held their own. They showed a ton of resolve, tying the series on three different occasions.

Ultimately, Colorado would lose a 3-2 heartbreaker in San Jose, a game that featured a controversial offsides call that wiped a goal off of the scoreboard for the Avalanche. But the hockey world was on notice; the Avs are a team to be reckoned with for years to come.


The Big Man on the Big Stage

Heading into the 2018-19 season, Nikola Jokic was considered a rising star in the NBA. By the end of the campaign, the Nuggets big man had arrived, living up to the five-year, $148-million contract that team signed him to prior to the year.

During the regular season, Jokic put up monster numbers. He opened the season with back-to-back triple-doubles, setting the stage for what was to come. By season’s end, Jokic was averaging 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists, posting 12 triple-doubles in the process.

As a result of this strong play, Jokic was honored by the NBA on two fronts. First, he was named to the All-Star team for a second-straight season. Then, he earned first-team All-NBA honors at the end of the campaign, the first Nuggets player since David Thompson in 1977-78 to receive those accolades.

But the tremendous play didn’t end there. In the postseason, Jokic continued to shine.

Against the Spurs, the center became just the fourth-player in NBA history to record a triple-double in his playoff debut. Later in the series, Jokic set a franchise record by scoring 43 points in a game. And in the decisive Game 7, “The Joker” was all business, leading the Nuggets to a win with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists.

Against the Blazers, he was arguably better. In Game 1, he led Denver to a victory with 37 points. In Game 3, he was heroic in a losing effort, scoring 33 points, grabbing 18 boards and passing out 14 assists in a quadruple-overtime loss. He posted a line of 21/12/11 to help Denver bounce back in Game 4 and 25/19 in a Game 5 win.

The Nuggets would ultimately lose the series to the Blazers, but Jokic established in the playoffs that he was a star. The center averaged 25.1 points, 13.0 rebounds and 8.4 assists in Denver’s 14 games, clearly showing that the big stage wasn’t too much for the big man.