Monday, September 20, 2021

How to Be a Jet Fan In Denver -- 2021 Edition

This coming Sunday, the New York Jets travel to play the Denver Broncos. As if they haven't got enough problems traveling, and playing at altitude, against a 2-0 team, which has already beaten the Giants.

Before You Go. Check the website of the Denver Post for the weather. Denver weather is unpredictable, as it sits with the Rocky Mountains to the north, south and west, and the open prairie to the east. They can get snow early. In 1984, Monday Night Football broadcast a game in which the Broncos hosted the Green Bay Packers: It was October and there was a blizzard. The Packers and their fans probably thought they were getting away from winter weather by leaving Green Bay!

Anyway, the daytime temperature on Sunday is expected to be in the high 80s -- but the nighttime temperature could drop into the low 50s. That's some range.

Denver is in the Mountain Time Zone, so you'll be 2 hours behind New York time. And there's a reason it's called the Mile High City: The elevation means the air will be thinner. Although the Rocky Mountain region is renowned for outdoor recreation, if you're not used to it, try not to exert yourself too much. Cheering at a sporting event shouldn't bother you too much, but even if the weather is good, don't go rock-climbing or any other such activity unless you've done it before and know what you're doing.

Tickets. Contrary to popular belief, Broncomania did not begin with their run to the AFC Championship in 1977. Indeed, they haven't played to an unsold seat since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 -- 47 straight seasons. They averaged 75,937 fans per game last season, a sellout, despite going 7-9. Tickets will be hard to come by.

On the Field Level, the 100 sections, tickets are $286 on the sidelines and $175 in the end zones. The Plaza Level, the 300 sections, is bought out by club seats. On the Upper Level, the 500 sections, it's $108 on the sidelines, $93 in the corners and $73 in the north end zone, with the south end zone being open and having no seats at that level.

Getting There. It's 1,779 miles from Times Square in New York to the Denver plaza that contains the State House and the City-County complex, and 1,772 miles from MetLife Stadium to Sports Authority Field. You're probably thinking that you should be flying.

Flying to Denver, considering how far it is, is usually relatively cheap. You can get a nonstop round-trip flight for a Saturday, going in for a Sunday game, and returning on Monday, for a little under $400. Stapleton International Airport (named for 1923-47 Mayor Benjamin F. Stapleton) was replaced by the new Denver International Airport in 1995. Like its predecessor, it is a major change-planes-here place for flights between the coasts.

Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited leaves Penn Station at 3:40 PM Friday, arrives at Union Station in Chicago at 9:50 AM Saturday (that's Central Time). The California Zephyr leaves Chicago at 2:00 PM Saturday and arrives at Denver's Union Station at 7:15 AM (Mountain Time) Sunday. The return trip would leave Denver at 7:10 PM Sunday (so this would only work for a Sunday afternoon game, not a Sunday, Monday or Thursday night game), arrive in Chicago at 2:50 PM Monday, leave Chicago at 9:30 PM Monday, and get back to New York at 6:47 PM Tuesday. The round-trip fare is $569.

Conveniently, Union Station is at 1700 Wynkoop Street at 17th Street, just 3 blocks from Coors Field. The front of the building is topped by a clock, framed by an old sign saying UNION STATION on top and TRAVEL by TRAIN on the bottom.
Greyhound allows you to leave Port Authority Bus Terminal at 9:45 AM Friday, and arrive at Denver at 6:30 AM on Sunday, a trip of just under 45 hours, without having to change buses. That time does, however, include a change of buses in Pittsburgh, and another in Indianapolis taking over 4 hours. Round-trip fare is $580, but you can get it for $393 on advanced-purchase. You can get a bus back at 7:10 PM Sunday and be back in New York at 3:50 PM Tuesday. The Denver Bus Center is at 1055 19th Street.

If you actually think it's worth it to drive, get someone to go with you, so you'll have someone to talk to, and one of you can drive while the other sleeps. You'll be taking Interstate 80 most of the way, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, before taking Interstate 76 from Nebraska to Colorado, and then Interstate 25 into Denver. (An alternate route: Take the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes to Interstate 70 and then I-70 through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado into downtown Denver. It won't save you an appreciable amount of time over the I-80 route, though.)

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 hours and 30 minutes in Indiana, 2 hours and 45 minutes in Illinois, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Iowa, 6 hours in Nebraska, and 3 hours and 15 minutes in Colorado. Including rest stops, and accounting for traffic (you'll be bypassing Cleveland and Chicago, unless that's where you want to make rest stops), we're talking about a 40-hour trip.

Even if you're only going for one game, no matter how you got there, get a hotel and spend a night. You'll be exhausted otherwise. Trust me, I know: Trains and buses are not good ways to get sleep.

Once In the City. Founded in 1858 as a gold rush city, and named for James W. Denver, then Governor of the Kansas Territory, from which Colorado was separated, Denver is a State capital and city of 716,000 people, in a metro area of 3.4 million -- roughly the population of Brooklyn and Staten Island combined. It's easily the biggest city in, and thus the unofficial cultural capital of, the Rocky Mountain region. The city is about 54 percent white, 32 percent Hispanic (nearly all of that Mexican, as opposed to Puerto Rican or other Caribbean), 10 percent black, 3 percent Asian, and 1 percent Native American.
The State House

Broadway is the main north-south drag, separating East addresses from West. But the northwestern quadrant of the street grid is at roughly a 45-degree angle from the rest of the city, and this area includes the central business district, Union Station, and the ballpark, Coors Field.

The sales tax in the State of Colorado is 2.9 percent, however, the City of Denver adds a 3.62 percent sales tax, for a total of 6.52 percent. ZIP Codes in Colorado start with the digits 80 and 81, with the Denver area running from 800 to 810. The Area Code for Denver is 303, with 720 overlaid. Xcel Energy runs the electricity for the Denver area. 

The Denver Post is a good paper, but don't bother looking for the Rocky Mountain News: It went out of business in 2009. State Route 470 serves as Denver's "beltway." Bus and light rail service in Denver is run by the Regional Transportation District (RTD), and goes for $2.25 for a single ride, and $6.75 for a DayPass. Denver switched from tokens to farecards in 2013.
Don't worry, the weather isn't forecast to look like this during your visit.

Going In. Although it's the Jets who are the Broncos' fellow original AFL team, it is the Giants that have a connection with the Broncos' new stadium. The Giants were the opposing team when the Broncos opened it on Monday Night Football, with John Elway carrying the game ball onto the field, with several other Bronco greats escorting him. The Broncos won. The date was September 10, 2001. Less than 9 hours after the game ended, New York and the world changed forever.
Originally named Invesco Field at Mile High, for an Atlanta-based investment management firm, it was renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High in 2011, for the sporting goods chain based in the Denver suburb of Englewood. (Not to be confused with the Bergen County, New Jersey town of the same name.)

Sports Authority has now gone out of business, and the Broncos have announced that they will have the name taken off the stadium before the 2018 season. In 2019, it was renamed Empower Field at Mile High. Empower is a locally-based retirement-fund company.

Most people usually just call it "Mile High Stadium," which the old one was named from 1966 until it closed in 2000. Before that, it was Bears Stadium, named for the old minor-league baseball team that played there from its opening in 1948 until 1992.
The new stadium, and the site of the old stadium and arena, are at Mile High Station on the light rail C-Line and E-Line. The official address is 1701 Mile High Stadium Circle, and it is 2 miles west of downtown Denver. If you're driving in, parking is $15 or $20. Tailgating is encouraged.

Like its predecessor, Mile High Stadium, Sports Authority Field is a horseshoe with the south end as the open end, and the field is laid out north-to-south. It is natural grass: The Broncos have never played a home game on artificial turf.
The original Mile High Stadium.
It did seem, at times, like it was a mile tall.

In addition to the Broncos, the new stadium hosted the final day of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, including the acceptance speech that helped launch Senator Barack Obama to the Presidency.

It was built on the site of the McNichols Sports Arena, home of the Nuggets from 1975 to 1999, the NHL version of the Colorado Rockies from 1976 to 1982 (when they moved to become the New Jersey Devils), and the Avalanche from 1995 to 1999, which was built across from the south end zone of the old Mile High Stadium.

McNichols It hosted the NCAA Final Four in 1990, with UNLV (the University of Nevada at Las Vegas) clobbering Duke. (The University of Colorado made the Final Four in 1942 and 1955, although it wasn't yet called the Final Four. No other Colorado-based school has made it, and none has won a National Championship -- not in basketball, anyway.)

The old stadium also hosted the Denver Gold of the United States Football League, the 1983 USFL Championship Game, the Colorado Caribous of the original North American Soccer League, and the Rapids from their 1996 inception until 2001 -- in fact, they played the stadium's last event, before playing at the new stadium from 2002 to 2006. The U.S. national soccer team played a pair of games at Mile High Stadium in the 1990s, and beat Mexico at the new stadium in 2002 (the only game they've played there so far).

The Red Lion Hotel Denver and the Skybox Grill & Sports Bar are now on the site of the old stadium.

At McNichols, the Nuggets reached the ABA Finals in 1976, and the Avalanche won the 1996 Stanley Cup (albeit clinching in Miami). The Denver Dynamite won the 1st ArenaBowl in 1987, and again in 1989, 1990 and 1991, before finances forced them to fold anyway.

The complex that included Mile High Stadium and the McNichols Arena was supposed to be the centerpiece of the 1976 Winter Olympics. But in a 1972 referendum, Colorado voters rejected funding that would have built more facilities, and, in what remains the only example of this ever happening, Winter or Summer, a city withdrew as host for an Olympic Games. They were awarded, instead, to Innsbruck, Austria, which already had the facilities in place from hosting them in 1964.

Elvis Presley sang at McNichols on April 23, 1976. When the time came to play the final concert at McNichols, the act that played the first concert there was brought back: ZZ Top. This fact was mentioned on a Monday Night Football broadcast, leading Dan Dierdorf to note the alphabetic distinction of the long red-bearded men, and say, "The first one should have been ABBA." Which would have been possible, as they were nearly big in the U.S. at the time.

However, the fact that the arena only lasted 24 years, making it not that hard for the act that played the first concert there to also play the last, says something about America's disposable culture.

2755 W. 17th Avenue was the mailing address of Mile High Stadium. It was built in 1948 as Bears Stadium, an 18,000-seat ballpark. When the American Football League was founded in 1960, it was expanded to 34,000 seats with the addition of outfield seating. The name was changed to Mile High Stadium in 1966, and by 1968 much of the stadium was triple-decked and seated 51,706.

In 1977 – just in time for the Broncos to make their first Super Bowl run and start "Broncomania" – the former baseball park was transformed into a 76,273-seat horseshoe, whose east stands could be moved in to conform to the shape of a football field, or out to allow enough room for a regulation baseball field. The old-time ballpark had become, by the standards of the time, a modern football stadium.

The biggest complaint when the baseball version of the Colorado Rockies debuted in 1993 wasn't the thin air, or the condition of the stadium (despite its age, it was not falling apart), but the positioning of the lights: Great for football fans, but terrible for outfielders tracking fly balls. But it was only meant to be a temporary ballpark for the Rockies, as a condition for Denver getting a team was a baseball-only stadium. What really led to the replacement of Mile High Stadium, and its demolition in 2002, was greed: The Broncos' desire for luxury-box revenue.

At Bears/Mile High Stadium, the Broncos won AFC Championships in 1977, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1997 and 1998, winning the Super Bowl in the last 2 years after losing the first 4 in blowouts.  (They've now won an AFC title at the new stadium, but not a Super Bowl.) The Denver Bears won Pennants while playing there in 1957 (as a Yankee farm team), 1971, 1976, 1977, 1981, 1983 and 1991 (winning the last one under the Denver Zephyrs name).

MLS' Colorado Rapids played home games at the old stadium from 1996 to 2001, and actually played the last event there. They played at the new stadium from 2002 to 2006, when their new soccer-specific stadium opened in the suburbs.

The U.S. national soccer team played a pair of games at Mile High Stadium in the 1990s, and beat Mexico at the new stadium in 2002 (the only game they've played there so far). It's hosted 2 games of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2013, again in 2017, and again in 2019. It has been selected by the U.S. Soccer Federation as a finalist to be one of the host venues for the 2026 World Cup.

The Red Lion Hotel Denver and the Skybox Grill & Sports Bar are now on the site of the old stadium.

Last month, Thrillist had an article ranking all 31 NFL stadiums. The Broncos' stadium came in 18th, just into the bottom half:

The original Mile High stadium was gritty and ramshackle, but it had a lot of character. The current iteration has all the trappings you could hope for -- suites, craft beers and, well, a good football team -- but its corporate slickness lacks in defining aesthetics. What you can’t ever change in Denver is a rabid, every-seat-has-a-butt-in-it fanbase, and the sight of visiting players huffing oxygen on the sidelines when they breathe our sweet, thin air. 

Food. Being a "Wild West" city, you might expect Denver to have Western-themed stands with "real American food" at its arena. Being in a State with a Spanish name, in a land that used to belong to Mexico, you might also expect to have Mexican food. And you would be right on both counts. Here are some of the options available:

Bud-N-Brats: Locally sourced from Denver's own Rome's and Continental sausage companies, these half-pound sausages will be available at new portable locations throughout general hospitality areas.  Options include: Southwestern Buffalo, Elk and Cheddar, Jalapeno Beer Brats and the fan favorite Bronco Brat.  All sausages will be grilled to order and served with a choice of toppings, including Budweiser Sauerkraut and Amber Bock onions and peppers.
Bud-N-Burgers: Locally sourced beef from Aspen Ridge Meats, these 1/3-pound all-natural burgers will be available at new portable locations.
Italian Nacho Supreme: Lightly fried pasta topped with sliced pepperonis, green onions, Alfredo and marinara sauce, black olives, banana peppers and shredded mozzarella cheese.
Fried Chicken Cones: Breaded boneless chicken served with sweet chili hot sauce, green onions and fried rice sticks or classic fried chicken, mashed potatoes, chicken gravy and green onions.  Both options are served in a savory bread cone.
Jalapeno Cheddar Brat Burger: Another new twist on a stadium classic takes the Bratwurst that everyone knows and loves and morphs it into a jaw-dropping burger.  It features a locally-made sausage patty from Rome's Sausage Company of Denver, stacks them two high on a soft artisan pretzel bun and tops with Budweiser Sauerkraut and mustard aioli.
Hot Ham & Cheese Pretzel Bun: Thin slices of hot Smithfield Ham piled high on a soft artisan pretzel bun and topped with savory Swiss cheese sauce, this item will be served exclusively at the Cover 2 Carvery, which will now be expanding to the fifth stadium level.
Spicy Chicken Sandwich: For those who like things a little spicy, Centerplate is introducing a perfectly breaded spicy chicken breast with sliced cheddar cheese and spicy Sriracha Aioli for an extra kick.
Team History Displays. The Broncos have won the AFC Western Division 15 times: 1977, '78, '84, '86, 87, '89, '91, '96, '98, 2005, '11, '12, '13, '14 and '15. They have won the AFC Championship 8 times: 1977, '86, '87, '89, '97, '98, 2013 and '15. And they won Super Bowls XXXII, XXXIII and 50 (the Roman numeral was not used that time), in the 1997-98, 1998-99 and 2015-16 seasons. Displays for these titles are in the south end zone.

The Broncos have retired 3 uniform numbers: 7 for John Elway, 18 for Frank Tripucka and Peyton Manning, and 44 for Floyd Little. The Broncos' display for these numbers is at the sound end of the stadium, to the east of the Jumbotron.
The Broncos have a Ring of Fame on display at the stadium, honoring 31 men:

* From the 1960s: Owner Gerald Phipps, quarterback Frank Tripucka, running back and kicker Gene Mingo, receiver Lionel Taylor, defensive end Rich "Tombstone" Jackson and safety Goose Gonsoulin.

* From the 1970s, but before the Broncomania season: Quarterback Charley Johnson and running back Floyd Little.

* From the 1977 AFC Championship season that began Broncomania and the Orange Crush nickname: Phipps, quarterback Craig Morton, receivers Haven Moses and Rick Upchurch, defensive end Paul Smith, linebackers Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson, safety Billy Thompson, kicker Jim Turner, and coach Robert "Red" Miller.

* From the 1986, 1987 and 1989 AFC Championships: Tom Jackson, Wright (both holdovers into 1986 only), owner Pat Bowlen, head coach Dan Reeves, quarterback John Elway, defensive end Jason Fletcher, linebackers Karl Mecklenburg and Simon Fletcher, and safeties Dennis Smith and Steve Atwater (who arrived in 1989).

* From the 1997 and 1998 World Champions: Bowlen, Elway, Atwater, head coach Mike Shanahan, running back Terrell Davis, receiver Rod Smith, tight end Shannon Sharpe, center Tom Nalen, offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman (left after 1997), safety John Lynch and kicker Jason Elam. As yet, they have not had the guts to induct dirty linebacker Bill Romanowski.

* Since 2000: Quarterback Peyton Manning and cornerback Champ Bailey.

Bowlen died on June 13, 2019, after 35 years as Broncos owner. Elway is now the general manager, having built the Super Bowl 50 Champions. In 2014, a statue of Bowlen was dedicated outside the stadium.
The stadium also includes the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, which has inducted the following Broncos: The aforementioned Atwater, Bowlen, Davis, Elam, Elway Gonsoulin, Gradishar, Rich and Tom Jackson (no relation), Little, Mecklenburg, Miller, Morton, Moses, Phipps, Reeves, Sharpe, Dennis and Rod Smith (no relation), Taylor, Thompson, Upchurch, Wright, Manning tight as ; plus the following individuals not yet in the Ring of Fame: Team founder Bob Howsam, original quarterback Frank Tripucka, early 1970s running back Bobby Anderson (mainly in for what he did at the University of Colorado), 1977 running back Otis Armstrong, 1997-98 head coach Mike Shanahan, 1997-98 linebacker Alfred Williams, and longtime assistant coach Joe Collier.

Gonsoulin, Brown, Rich Jackson (not the much-later Tom Jackson) and Bob Scarpitto were named to the AFL's All-Time Team. Brown and Elway were named to The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999. They and Peyton Manning were named to the NFL Network's 100 Greatest Players in 2010.

The Broncos have had 3 Heisman Trophy winners, not including Gavin Grey, the fictional player played by Dennis Quaid in the film Everybody's All-American. Tony Dorsett, 1976 University of Pittsburgh running back, played his last season in Denver in 1988. Ron Dayne, 1999 Wisconsin running back, played for the Broncos in 2005. And Tim Tebow, 2007 Florida quarterback, played for the Broncos in 2010 and 2011.

The Broncos have deep rivalries with former AFL Western Division, now AFC West, opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders. The Broncos trail the Chiefs 59-55, and trail the Raiders 62-52-2. 

Stuff. The Denver Bronco Stadium Store is on the ground floor at the stadium's open south end. They may sell cowboy hats with team logos on them, to tie in with the State's Western heritage.

Denver Post columnist Terry Frei wrote '77: Denver, The Broncos, and a Coming of Age. Although it's about a city and its football team, as opposed to a city and its baseball team, it parallels, and may even have been inspired by, Jonathan Mahler's book about 1977 New York, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning.

Elway and former Bronco executive Jim Saccomano -- not to be confused with the never-seen but oft-mentioned Seinfeld character Bob Saccomano -- collaborated on Denver Broncos: The Complete Illustrated History, published in 2013, before Peyton Manning took them to Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands. Mike Klis published Mile High Magic - The 25 Greatest Moments in Denver Broncos History this past fall. And the NFL produced the DVD Denver Broncos: The Complete History in 2006. (Obviously, it is no longer complete.)

During the Game. A recent Thrillist article on "The Most Obnoxious Fans In the NFL" ranked Broncos fans 17th, right in the middle:

It was pretty impressive that this John Elway-constructed team was able to win a Super Bowl with a knock-off version of Peyton Manning assembled from fused vertebrae and a spaghetti noodle for an arm. And while it was annoying enough to watch Peyton and the Papa hug it out in a synergistic branded orgy, the fanbase is actually pretty solid. The only people who really believe we're letting Broncos fans off easy at 17 root for the Raiders and Chiefs. 

Coloradans love their sports, but they're not known as antagonistic. Although the Jets came within a half of derailing a Bronco Super Bowl in 1999 (1998 season), and the Devils came within a game of short-circuiting their Stanley Cup run in 2001, the people of the Centennial State don't have an ingrained hatred of New Yorkers. As long as you don't wear Kansas City Chiefs or Las Vegas Raiders gear, you'll probably be completely safe. (But, as always, watch out for obnoxious drunks, who know no State Lines.)

From September 1 to 7, 2017, during the NFL National Anthem protest controversy,
FiveThirtyEight.com polled fans of the 32 NFL teams, to see where they leaned politically. Colorado is basically two States: "The People's Republic of Boudler," and the far more conservative "East Utah." With the State's Western libertarianism now leaning more toward civil rights and pot activism than gun nuttery and "Get off my land" action, Bronco fans were rated 2.9 percent more liberal than conservative. 

The Broncos sometimes bring back their blue helmets and orange jerseys that they wore from 1968 to 1996. They wore an even less attractive blue and orange combination from 1962 to 1967. But their original 1960-61 uniforms may have been the worst uniforms in major league sports history. You think brown and yellow looked bad on the late 1970s San Diego Padres? At least they didn't wear socks with vertical stripes.
I tried to find a color photo of the original Bronco uniforms.
I couldn't. You'll have to settle for this recent "throwback."

The Broncos hold auditions for singing the National Anthem, instead of having a regular singer. They still use their original 1960 fight song, "The Mighty Broncos March," which calls them "The Pride of the West." This title was perhaps a bit premature, and did not take into account the already-popular Los Angeles Rams or the later greatness of the San Francisco 49ers. But no Colorado, Utah or Arizona team will ever replace the Broncos as the most popular team in the Mountain Time Zone.

Sometimes, the Broncos will wear purple jerseys at home, as they usually have since the 1997 season. Sometimes, they'll wear orange, as they did before that. Rarely will they wear white, as the Giants and Jets sometimes do, and other teams sometimes choose (including Philadelphia, Washington and Dallas).

A home game tradition is the "Incomplete Chant." When the opposing team throws an incomplete pass, the stadium announcer will state, "Pass thrown by (the opposing quarterback), intended for (the intended receiver) is..." at which time the fans complete the chant by saying "IN-COM-PLETE!!" This is followed by the "sad trombone" sound effect.

Another tradition carried over from Mile High Stadium, is during halftime or towards the end of the game, the stadium's public-address announcer will announce the actual attendance for the game as well as how many people didn't show up for the game, and if that number is generally over a thousand, Broncos fans chant a loud "boo" towards those empty seats.

Especially in the upper two decks, the usually cold fans create their own "Mile High Thunder" (and warm themselves up) by stamping their feet on the stadium's floors. The old Mile High Stadium was built with bare metal, and the "Thunder" reverberated readily. The new stadium also took steps via the addition of steel floors to preserve this unique acoustic.

The Broncos' man-in-a-costume mascot is Miles, a white horse wearing a Bronco jersey, Number 00. Obviously, he was named for the Mile High City. They also have a live mascot, Thunder, ridden onto the field before every game by Ann Judge-Wegener, leading the team on behind them.
Ann and Thunder, with Miles behind them

The most famous Bronco fan of them all was Tim McKernan, a United Airlines mechanic who attended every Bronco game, home and away, regular season and Playoff (including the Super Bowls), from 1967 to 2007. At home games, he would wear a cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and a barrel painted in Bronco colors, held up by suspenders, like a rodeo clown. You'll notice I didn't say that he wore anything under the barrel -- because he didn't.

"Barrel Man" became one of the most famous NFL fans of all, until health issues forced him to give it up. He died in 2009, at age 69. No new Barrel Man has taken his place, although his son Todd honored him by "suiting up" at the Broncos' 1st home game after his death, and the nearby University of Colorado now has a Barrel Man as well.
Okay, he also wore a stadium pass given to him by the organization,
and sometimes also sunglasses.

After the Game. Denver has had crime issues, and just 3 blocks from Coors Field is Larimer Street, immortalized as a dingy, bohemian-tinged, hobo-strewn street in Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road. But that scene was written in 1947. The new Mile High Stadium is, essentially, an island in a sea of parking. So you'll probably be safe.

To the west of the stadium, between Mile High Stadium Circle and Federal Blvd., there's a Burger King, a Kentucky Fried Chicken, a Pizza Hut and a Denny's.

LoDo (Lower Downtown) is loaded with bars that will be open after the game, including Scruffy Murphy's at Larimer & 20th. Behind home plate of Coors Field, at 1930 Blake Street, is The Sports Column, hailed by a recent Thrillist article as the best sports bar in the State of Colorado.

Perhaps the most famous sports-themed restaurant near Denver is Elway's Cherry Creek, a steakhouse at 2500 E. 1st Avenue in the southern suburb of Cherry Creek. Bus 83L. It's owned by the same guy who owns John Elway Chevrolet in another southern suburb, Englewood.

Jet fans gather at Chopper's Sports Grill, possibly named for Chopper Travaglini, at 80 S. Madison Street at Bayaud Avenue, 3 miles southeast of downtown, in the Pulaski Park neighborhood. Bus 83, then a mile's walk. The local New York Giants fan club meets at Occidental, at 1950 W. 32nd Avenue, about a mile and a half northeast of the stadium, and 2 miles northwest of downtown. Bus 44. (Their former hangout, the Tavern Uptown, about a mile southeast of Coors Field, at 538 E. 17th Avenue, went out of business due to COVID.)

If your visit to Denver is during the European soccer season (which is now in progress), your best bet for watching your favorite club is at Celtic On Market, 1400 Market Street, downtown. Bus 15. (Its predecessor, The Three Lions, named for the crest on the jerseys of the England national team, also went under due to COVID. 2239 E. Colfax Avenue, about 2 miles east of downtown. Number 15 bus.)

Sidelights. Denver is a fantastic city, and a good sports city, with much to look for. On February 3, 2017, Thrillist made a list ranking the 30 NFL cities (New York and Los Angeles each having 2 teams), and Denver came in 8th, in the top 1/3rd. They said:

Ah, Denver! Breathe in that fresh mountain air with just a hint of cannabis and green chile. Drink in the hoppy splendor of a craft beer scene that was bustling back when everyone still called them "microbreweries." Tolerate the alarmingly in-shape bro who stuck around after four years at Boulder to work as a part-time ski instructor and won't stop talking to you about fourteeners. Denver often gets championed for all the fantastic stuff to do right outside the city, what with the skiing and the hiking and the Red Rocks, but that does a disservice to all the good times to be had in Denver proper. The fact that said times can be had with herbal enhancement with nary a legal concern is just a bonus. 

On November 30, 2018, Thrillist published a list of "America's 25 Most Fun Cities," and Denver came in 13th. On February 12, 2019, they published an article calling Denver "America's Must-Visit City for 2019."

The Ball Arena, known as the Pepsi Center from its 1999 opening until last year, is across Cherry Creek from downtown, about 2 miles northwest of City Hall. The intersection is 11th Street & Auraria Parkway, but the mailing address is 1000 Chopper Circle, in honor of Robert "Chopper" Travaglini, the beloved former trainer (and amateur sports psychologist) of the NBA's Nuggets, who share the arena. Chopper Circle is an extension of Wewatta Street.

In 2008, the Pepsi Center hosted both the NCAA hockey "Frozen Four" and the Democratic National Convention. Ball Arena/Elitch Gardens station on the RTD light rail.

Coors Field has been home to the Rockies since it opened in 1995. In February 2016, Coors Field hosted 2 hockey games. The University of Denver beat arch-rival Colorado College 4-1 in a game billed as the Battle On Blake. And as part of the NHL Stadium Series, the Colorado Avalanche hosted the Detroit Red Wings, perhaps perversely celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the birth of their brief but nasty rivalry. The Wings won 5-3.

2001 Blake Street (hence the team's nickname, the Blake Street Bombers) at 20th Street, 3 blocks from Union Station, accessible by light rail.

The Nuggets, known as the Denver Rockets until 1974, played at the Denver Auditorium Arena, at 13th & Champa Streets, from their 1967 inception until McNichols opened in 1975. It was also the home of the original Nuggets, who played in various leagues from 1935 to 1948, and then in the NBA until 1950.

It opened in 1908, and its seating capacity of 12,500 made it the 2nd-largest in the country at the time, behind the version of Madison Square Garden then standing. It almost immediately hosted the Democratic National Convention that nominated William Jennings Bryan for President for the 3rd time – although it's probably just a coincidence that the Democrats waited exactly 100 years (give or take a few weeks) to go back (it's not like Obama didn't want to get it right the 1st time, as opposed 0-for-3 Bryan).

The Auditorium Arena hosted Led Zeppelin's 1st American concert on December 26, 1968. It was demolished in 1990 to make way for the Denver Performing Arts Complex, a.k.a. the Denver Center. Theatre District/Convention Center Station on the light rail's D-Line, F-Line and H-Line.

The Denver area's Major League Soccer team, the Colorado Rapids, plays at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, about 8 miles northeast of downtown. They'e won the MLS Cup since moving there, in 2010.

The U.S. national team has played there 3 times: A 2-0 win over Guatemala in a World Cup Qualifier on November 19, 2008; a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in a World Cup Qualifier on March 22, 2013 (the famous Snow Classico); and a 2-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago in a World Cup Qualifier on June 8, 2017. The women's team has played there twice: A 2008 win over Brazil, and a 2012 win over Australia. It's also hosted football, rugby, lacrosse and concerts.

6000 Victory Way. If you're going in by public transportation from downtown Denver, Number 48 bus to 60th Avenue & Dahlia Street, then Number 88 bus to 60th & Monaco. Then they make you walk 10 blocks on 60th to get to the stadium.

The Beatles played Red Rocks Amphitheatre in suburban Morrison on August 26, 1964. It is still in business, and a Colorado Music Hall of Fame is a short walk away. 18300 W. Alameda Parkway, 10 miles west of downtown. Sorry, no public transportation.

Elvis played 2 shows at the Denver Coliseum on April 8, 1956, and 1 each on November 17, 1970 and April 30, 1973. Built in 1951, it still stands, seating 10,500, and is best known for concerts and the National Western Stock Rodeo. 4600 Humbolt Street at E. 46th Avenue, off Interstate 70, 3 miles northeast of downtown. Apparently, no public transportation to there, either.

On June 5, 1897, the Heavyweight Championship of the World was contested in Colorado. The British-born Champion, Bob Fitzsimmons – supposedly, in response to being told he was too small to fight heavyweights, the originator of the saying, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall" – knocked Lew Joslin out in the 2nd round. The fight happened in Leadville, 100 miles southwest of Denver.

Theoretically, it is possible to get there via public transportation. You'd have to take Greyhound from Denver to Vail, and then a local bus for over an hour to Leadville. And I can't find a source that lists the name of the fight's venue, or its address. So, unless you're a fanatic about boxing history and have to see the sites of every heavyweight title fight, I'd say skip this one.

Denver has some renowned museums, including the Denver Museum of Nature & Science (their version of the Museum of Natural History) at 2001 Colorado Blvd. at Montview Blvd. (in City Park, Number 20 bus), and the Denver Art Museum (their version of the Metropolitan Museum of Natural History), at 100 W. 14th Avenue Parkway at Colfax Avenue (across I-25 from Mile High Stadium, Auraria West station on the C-Line and E-Line).

Denver's history only goes back to a gold rush in 1859 – not to be confused with the 1849 one that turned San Francisco from a Spanish Catholic mission into the first modern city in the American West. The city isn't exactly loaded with history.

There's no Presidential Library – although Mamie Doud, the eventual Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower, grew up there, and her house is now a historic site. Mamie and "Ike" were married there, their son John (a future General, Ambassador and military historian) was born there, and the Eisenhowers were staying there when Ike had his heart attack in 1955. The house is still in private ownership, and is not open to the public. However, if you're a history buff, or if you just like Ike, and want to see it, it's at 750 Lafayette Street, at 8th Avenue. The Number 6 bus will get you to 6th & Lafayette.

After his heart attack, Ike was treated at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center in nearby Aurora, 12 years after Senator John Kerry, nearly elected President in 2004 and now Secretary of State, was born there. It's not a Presidential Birthplace, because Kerry narrowly lost. It is now the University of Colorado Hospital. The Fitzsimmons Golf Course is across Montview Boulevard – it figures that Ike would be hospitalized next to a golf course! 16th Avenue & Quentin Street. Number 20 bus from downtown.

The University of Denver's Newman Center for the Performing Arts hosted a 2012 Presidential Debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. 2344 East Iliff Avenue, about 5 miles south of downtown. The University's Magness Arena hosted the Frozen Four in 1961, 1964 and 1976. 2250 E. Jewell Avenue. Both can be reached via H Line light rail to University of Denver Station.

Byron "Whizzer" White was a star football and basketball player at the University of Colorado in the late 1930s, a Rhodes scholar, a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Lions, a Bronze Star-winning Navy officer in World War II, one of Colorado's finest lawyers, the chairman of John F. Kennedy's Presidential campaign in the State, and one of the longest-serving Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. He is buried at the Cathedral of St. John in the Wilderness, 1350 N. Washington Street at 14th Avenue. Bus 6.

Denver doesn't have as many tall buildings as the nation's bigger cities, nor are they as interesting, architecturally. The tallest building in the State of Colorado is Republic Plaza, 714 feet high, at 17th Street & Tremont Place downtown. A 1,000-foot, 90-story residential/hotel tower, currently named Six Fifty 17 for its address (650 17th Street), has been proposed by Uruguay-born, New York-based architect Carlos Ott and local real estate firm Greenwich Realty Capital. They hope to break ground on it in Summer of 2018.

The University of Colorado is in Boulder, 30 miles to the northwest. At Market Street Station, 16th & Market, take the BV Bus to the Boulder Transit Center, which is on campus. The ride should take about an hour and 20 minutes. Colorado State University is in Fort Collins, 65 miles up Interstate 25 north, and forget about reaching it by public transportation.

The U.S. Air Force Academy is outside Colorado Springs, 60 miles down I-25.  As with Fort Collins, you'd need Greyhound. Unlike CSU, you might not be able to just go there: Some of the area is restricted.  It is, after all, a military base.

Their football facility, Falcon Stadium, hosted an NHL Stadium Series game on February 15, 2020, before COVID shut everything down. The Avalanche hosted, but lost to the Los Angeles Kings, 3-1.

Colorado Springs was also home to the Broadmoor Ice Palace, which hosted what's now called the Frozen Four every year from its inception in 1948 until 1957, and again in 1969. The 3,000-seat arena at The Broadmoor Resort & Spa was home ice to Colorado College from 1938 to 1994. 1 Lake Avenue, across Cheyenne Lake from the main hotel. Its 7,750-seat 1998 replacement, the Broadmoor World Arena, is 4 miles to the east, at 3185 Venetucci Blvd.

A few TV shows have been set in Denver, but you won't find their filming locations there. The old-time Western Whispering Smith and the more recent one Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman were set in old Colorado (Colorado Springs), but filmed in Southern California. And Greendale, the setting of Community, is fictional.

Probably the most famous show set in Colorado is South Park, and that's a cartoon, so forget seeing anything from that. Not quite as cartoonish was Mork & Mindy, set in Boulder. The McConnell house actually is in Boulder, at 1619 Pine Street. But don't try to copy the opening-sequence scene with Robin Williams and Pam Dawber on the goalposts at the University of Colorado's Folsom Field. You could fall, and end up saying, "Shazbot!"

The most famous show ever set in Colorado was Dynasty, ABC's Excessive Eighties counterpart to CBS' Dallas, starring John Forsythe as Blake Carrington, an oilman and a thinly-veiled version of Marvin Davis, who nearly bought the Oakland Athletics from Charlie Finley in 1978 with the idea of moving them to Mile High Stadium, but the deal fell through. Right, you don't care about Blake, all you care about is the catfights between the 2nd and 1st Mrs. Carrington's: Krystle (Linda Evans) and Alexis (Joan Collins). The Carrington mansion seen in the opening credits is in Beverly Hills, but the building that stood in for the headquarters of Denver Carrington is at 621 17th Street, while the one that stood in for Colbyco is at 1801 California Street.

Movies set in Denver or its suburbs include The Unsinkable Molly Brown, the original Red Dawn, and, of course, Things to Do In Denver When You're Dead

Films involving skiing often take place in Colorado towns such as Aspen or Vail. City Slickers, a film with loads of baseball references, has a cattle drive that ends in Colorado, but there's no indication of how close it is to Denver. Flashback takes place on the Pacific Coast, but Denver's Union Station stands in for a train station in San Francisco.

*

Denver sports has been defined by the Broncos, their 1st major league sports team, for over half a century. The Broncos have been an iconic sports franchise in America from the Autumn of '77 onward. They're usually at least good, sometimes great. A Bronco game can be a very loud, very exciting experience. 

Not Good, Fellas

The 2021 Yankees: I'm done with these bums. 

Just 48 hours after scoring a nice batch of runs, they followed up with 2 reverses, terrible losses against the same Cleveland Indians, at home.

Well, look at the bright side: At least they will never, ever lose to the Cleveland Indians again. But that's because they're changing their name to the Cleveland Guardians, effective next season. 

Even Gerrit Cole couldn't stop the decline. He had nothing yesterday. Someone called up stats that showed that it's not that sticky stuff that he may have been using, it's the difference in time of day. He's a lot more effective at night than he is in day games. 

But that shouldn't even be the issue. The yankees simply don't hit enough. 

There's only a few games left in the regular season. They've blown their shot at the American League Eastern Division title. Right now, it's 50-50 whether they're even going to get one of the 2 AL Wild Card card slots. And even if they do, they'll probably lose that game. And even if they win that, I have no confidence that they can win 3 out of 5 games in the AL Division Series.

And if it ends up being the Red Sox they play in that series, or in the wild card game, And it's still could be, that'll make it even worse. 

So I'm not even going to chart the games anymore. List the runs, the home runs, the winning and losing pitchers. Let somebody else do that in their own blog. 

As they say in English soccer, I can't be arsed. I'm done with these bums. Or, as they would say in England, these useless bastards. 

And the worst part about it is, nothing will change. Brian Cashman will still be the general manager going into the offseason, and going into the next season. And the manager will still be Aaron Boone, or some other yes-man who won't say, "To hell with what Cashman wants, I want to win this game, so I'm going to use my own mind."

The Yankees are doomed to a 12th straight year of failure. We are being buried beneath the avalanche of Cashman's inadequacies.

To paraphrase Henry Hill in Goodfellas, and there's nothing we can do about it. Cashman is a made man, and we're not. And we have to sit still and take it.

Maybe. But I don't have to blog about it. Let somebody else chart the rest of this season like a schnook.

The 2021 Yankees: Not good, fellas.

Scores On This Historic Day: September 20, 1973, Tennis' Battle of the Sexes

September 20, 1973: A made-for-TV spectacle is held at the Astrodome in Houston: A tennis match labeled "The Battle of the Sexes."

Bobby Riggs was a great tennis player once. The Los Angeles native wasn't big and strong, but he was quick, and relied on a speed game. He once won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and reached the Final of the French Open, all in the same year.

That year was 1939. In 1941, he won the U.S. Open again. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he won the U.S. Pro title in 1946, '47 and '49. (Professionals were barred from the "Grand Slam" tournaments -- Wimbledon and the U.S., French and Australian Opens -- until 1968.)

Bobby had to turn professional, because he was a compulsive gambler. He always needed money. He became known as a hustler, a man who would do anything for money, and, remarkably, could usually do it. Indeed, after what I'm about to talk about was all over, this was spoofed on an episode of the TV show The Odd Couple. He had a massive ego, but, like his contemporary Dizzy Dean and later baseball star Reggie Jackson, he could usually back it up.

As early as 1951, he challenged one of the top female tennis players, Pauline Betz -- an ex-girlfriend of his. She won the U.S. Open in 1942, 1943 and 1944, and both the U.S. Open and Wimbledon in 1946. They were on tour, and played each other in a series of matches, as the warmup act before a series of matches between pro stars Jack Cramer and Pancho Segura. In 1967, he was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

In 1973, he was 55 years old, well past the age where he could make money playing tennis -- or so it seemed. But the sport was as big as it has ever been. It was the high tide of feminism, and, in this sport as in few others, the women were stars as big as the men.

Whether he actually liked that, only he knew for sure. But he played the part of a proud male chauvinist pig. Bobby Riggs claimed that women's tennis was inferior, and that not even a top female player could beat him, not even at his age. Most tennis fans under the age of 40 said, "Who the hell is Bobby Riggs?"

He challenged the top female player of the time, Billie Jean King. In 1972, she had nearly won the Grand Slam: Winning Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the French Open. (British player Virginia Wade won the Australian Open, beating Australian player Evonne Goolagong in the Final.) More than that, she was an advocate for making tennis tournaments give their female players prize money equal to male players. It wasn't happening quickly, but it was happening, one by one.

Sports Illustrated recognized that she had a social value on top of her competitive achievements, and made her the 1st female "Sportsman of the Year" -- but made her share the award with UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, the 1st time the award had been split.
Like him, she was from Los Angeles -- or, more accurately, adjoining Long Beach, California. Like him, she was known for wearing horn-rim glasses. Unlike him, she did not look like the popular comedian Arte Johnson. But she did consider his challenge a joke, and rejected it.

So he challenged another major women's star, the Australian Margaret Court. They played each other on May 13 -- Mother's Day, and Court was then one of the few women to have returned to a star level in tennis after having children -- in the San Diego suburb of Ramona, California. He was 55, she was 30. It should have been a mismatch.

It was -- the other way. He got into her head, and won 6-2, 6-1. It was known as the Mother's Day Massacre. It got him on the cover of both Time and its sister publication Sports Illustrated, the latter carrying the headline, "NEVER BET AGAINST THIS MAN." And his insults to women's tennis, and to women in general, got bigger than ever. And male chauvinists loved it. (Shades of Donald Trump, but only nasty, not criminal in nature.)
Now, brimming with confidence, he challenged King again. Everyone told Billie Jean that she had to accept, for womankind, and for the sake of sportsmanship, because Bobby was a pig first, and a male chauvinist pig second.

The match would be held at the Astrodome in Houston, televised live on ABC -- meaning that it would be anchored by one of the few figures in sports more polarizing than Riggs: Howard Cosell. (Give Riggs credit for this: He had better hair than Cosell. Not better than too many others, but better than Cosell.) The prize was winner-take-all: $100,000. (About $616,000 in today's money.)

The opening ceremonies were a farce. No pair of boxers ever entered the ring like this. Professional wrestlers may have learned a thing or two from it. King entered first, carried in on a feather-adorned litter by four bare-chested bodybuilders, making her look like Cleopatra and them like her slaves. She had a look on her face suggesting, "I can't believe I agreed to this."
Did you think I was kidding?

Riggs was no less ridiculous: He came in seated in a rickshaw, drawn by busty models. He presented King with a giant lollipop -- a Sugar Daddy. She countered by giving him a piglet, pointing out that he was a "pig." The piglet was squealing, suggesting that at least one living thing less wanted to be in the Astrodome than she did. But she knew she had to do it.

Did Riggs really think he could win? One fact suggests that he didn't: Tootsie Roll, makers of the Sugar Daddy, gave him $50,000, half of what he stood to win upon winning the match, to wear a tracksuit jacket with the Sugar Daddy logo on it. He took it off midway through the 1st set.

Again, Bobby was 55. Billie Jean was 29. Still, knowing what he had done to Margaret Court, Las Vegas oddsmakers made him the favorite. Indeed, he jumped out to a 3-2 lead after breaking Billie Jean's serve in the 1st set.

But, now into the actual match and able to take things seriously, she came right back and broke his serve in the next game. He played his usual game (at this stage of his career), dropping lobs and making soft shots. She countered these effectively, and made him use his old legs. It was the tennis version of jujitsu: She turned his fighting style against him.

She won the 1st set 6-4. She won the 2nd set 6-3. Even today, women's tennis is best-2-out-of-3 sets, while the men's version is best-3-out-of-5. This was to be best-3-out-of-5, and that was another reason the oddsmakers favored Riggs: In spite of King's age advantage, they thought women couldn't handle 5 sets.

She didn't need to: She won the 3rd set 6-3. After match point, Riggs, quite spry for 55, jumped over the net as if he'd won, and shook her hand.

Rigg's relevancy was over. King's was just beginning. By the time she was done, she had won 12 women's singles titles at majors: Wimbledon 6 times, in 1966, '67, '68, '72, '73 and '75; the U.S. Open 4 times, in 1967, '71, '72 and '74; the Australian Open in 1968; and the French Open in 1972. Throw in 16 women's doubles titles from 1961 to 1979 -- 18 years apart -- and 11 mixed doubles titles from 1967 to 1976, and that's a total of 39 majors. An average of 2 a year.

But beyond the victories: Along with Babe Ruth, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali, she is 1 of the 5 most important athletes of the 20th Century, because of how she raised the profile, and the prize money, of women's sports. And, with Ali's death in 2016, she's the only one of those still alive.

To put it into a baseball perspective: She had Hank Aaron's talent, Curt Flood's drive to make the sport more fair, and Andy Messersmith's success at that endeavor, and took as much heat for it as all 3.

In 1975, Seventeen magazine polled its readers, and they named Billie Jean their most admired woman. Then again, these were the days when The Weekly Reader polled grade school kids, and the biggest "hero" of both genders was O.J., ahead of Moon lander Neil Armstrong.

The fact that she did all of this while staying in the closet until she no longer could, and then accepted her role as a gay rights icon as well as a feminist icon and a sports icon, makes her even more remarkable.

She is a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and the National Tennis Center at New York's Flushing Meadow-Corona Park is named for her. (The main stadium is named for Arthur Ashe, but the entire complex is named for Billie Jean.) In 2009, Barack Obama awarded her the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

To put her work in perspective: The men's and women's winners from Wimbledon in 2021 got $2.4 million each.

Today, Billie Jean King is 77 years old, and still promoting tennis, and women's sports in general, wherever she can. She and Riggs actually became friends, and when he died in 1995, she spoke at his funeral.

In 2017, it was alleged that he had bet heavily on King and then thrown the match, to pay off his gambling debts. This was denied by most people who knew him. It really was a ridiculous idea: Had he won, not only would he have taken home the $100,000 prize, but the endorsement deals he would have gotten would have more than paid off any debts he had.

The story has been filmed twice. In 2001, ABC aired a TV-movie, When Billie Beat Bobby, starring Holly Hunter and Ron Silver. In 2017, the feature film Battle of the Sexes was released, staring Emma Stone and Steve Carell. Unlike the ABC TV-movie, this film did look at King's struggle to hide being gay. (At the time, she was married to a man.) It was also made into a Broadway play, Balls, in 2018.
Billie Jean King, flanked by the stars of Balls:
Donald Corren and Ellen Tamaki

*

September 20, 1973 was a Thursday. It was early in the NFL season, but midweek, and no games were played that night. The NBA, the ABA, the NHL and the WHA were working their way up to starting new seasons. But there were Major League Baseball games played:

* The Houston Astros and the San Diego Padres, meant to play at the Astrodome on this day, instead had their game moved up as part of a doubleheader the day before, September 19 -- because the promoters of the Battle of the Sexes wanted the Dome for their event. The Astros won the 1st game 8-5, and the Padres won the 2nd game 6-3.

* The New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Cleveland Indians and the Milwaukee Brewers were not scheduled. I checked: There was no notation in any of the teams' remaining schedules saying that a game scheduled for this date was made up later, due to rain or any other reason.

* The New York Mets beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-3 at Shea Stadium, across Roosevelt Avenue from Flushing Meadow-Corona Park, where the U.S. Open would be moved from Forest Hills, also in Queens, in 1978.

This was "The Ball Off the Wall Game." There was a 5-way dogfight for the National League Eastern Division title. Going into the game, the Pirates were in 1st place, the Montreal Expos were 1 game back, the Mets and the St. Louis Cardinals both a game and a half back, and the Chicago Cubs 4 games back. Even so, the Pirates, winners of the 1971 World Series and the last 3 NL East titles, struggling all year after the death of Roberto Clemente in a plane crash the previous New Year's Eve, were the only team above .500, at 75-74. It seemed like no one wanted to win that Division.

But the Metropolitans and Buccos sure played this game like they both wanted to win it. The game's only home run was hit by Pirate (and future Met) Richie Hebner in the 7th inning, but the Mets tied it 2-2 in the 8th. Both teams scored in the 9th to make it 3-3 and send it to extra innings.

It went to the top of the 13th inning. With 1 out, Richie Zisk singled off Ray Sadecki. Manny Sanguillen flew to right for the 2nd out. Dave Augustine, a 23-year-old center fielder from West Virginia in only his 5th major league game, hit one deep to left. It looked like a home run.

Except it hit the top of the fence, and, instead of bouncing over for a homer, it bounced back, right into Cleon Jones' glove. That's a hit. But Jones pivoted, and fired to Wayne Garrett (playing shortstop instead of his usual 3rd base). Garrett saw that Zisk was trying to score, and threw home to catcher Ron Hodges. Zisk was out at the plate.

The bottom of the 13th began with walks drawn by John Milner and Ken Boswell. Don Hahn popped up to 1st base. But Hodges singled to left, scoring Milner with the winning run. The Mets went on to win the Division, by a game and a half over the Cardinals, 2 1/2 over the Pirates, 3 1/2 over the Expos and 5 over the Cubs. (Although he was on the Mets roster for this game, Willie Mays, soon to announce his retirement, did not play.)

* The Philadelphia Phillies beat the Cardinals, 6-5 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

* The Baltimore Orioles beat the Detroit Tigers, 9-0 at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. Jim Palmer pitched a 5-hit shutout.

* The Cubs beat the Expos, 5-4 at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

* A doubleheader was split at Arlington Stadium in the Dallas suburb of Arlington, Texas. The California Angels won the 1st game, 6-4. Richie Scheinblum won it with a single in the top of the 11th inning. The Texas Rangers won the 2nd game, 8-3. Closing in on a new record for strikeouts in a season, with 383, Nolan Ryan did not pitch in either game for the Angels.

* The Kansas City Royals beat the Chicago White Sox, 10-3 at the new Royals Stadium in Kansas City. (It was renamed Kauffman Stadium in 1993.)

* The Minnesota Twins swept a doubleheader from the Oakland Athletics at Metropolitan Stadium in the Minneapolis suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota. The Twins won the opener, 4-3. Steve Brye hit a walkoff single in the bottom of the 9th. The Twins also won the nightcap, 5-4. Reggie Jackson appeared only once in the twinbill, as a pinch-hitter in the 1st game, and did not get on base. The A's bounced back from this, and from a hundred other indignities, and won the World Series anyway.

* The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Atlanta Braves, 5-3 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Davey Lopes won it with a home run in the bottom of the 12th inning. Hank Aaron went 3-for-5 with 2 RBIs, but while he hit 2 doubles, he did not hit any home runs. With 5 games left in the season, he had 711 career home runs, 3 behind the record held by Babe Ruth.

* And the San Francisco Giants beat the Cincinnati Reds, 7-5 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Jimmy Greaves, 1940-2021

When I first got interested in English soccer, I wanted to learn everything. This was, literally, a whole world of stories I didn't know. When I realized that North London team Arsenal was the team I would support, I grabbed everything I could about them, including Nick Hornby's memoir Fever Pitch, and the film based on it.

About halfway through, the fictional analogue for Hornby, Paul Ashworth, played by Colin Firth, is watching TV in preparation for heading to that day's match, when the phone rings. He tells the caller, "I'm just watching... " and, between his English mouth and my American ears and brain, I can't figure out the title. On the screen was Ian St. John, a.k.a. "Saint," but that didn't help, because I had no idea who he was.

So, as I so often have to do when watching a British-made movie, I had to run it back, and read the subtitles. And the subtitles said, "I'm just watching Satan Greavsie."

Now, who was this "Greavsie" guy, and when I would an Arsenal fan call him "Satan"? Was he some media guy who trashed Arsenal so much, he was considered to be the Devil?

No. Not by a longshot. He was universally admired. But he did play for the other major team in North London, Arsenal's arch-rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, a.k.a. Spurs. His real name was Jimmy Greaves.

*

In full, it was James Peter Greaves, and he was born on February 20, 1940 in Manor Park, then in the historical County of Essex (I was born in New Jersey's County of Essex), but a governmental reorganization of 1963-65 brought it within the city limits of London (not to be confused with "The City of London"), in the Borough of Newham, in the East End.

He grew up in nearby Hainault. Part of the legend of The Beatles is that they grew up poor in Liverpool, because, like most of Europe but unlike the United States, the United Kingdom came out of World War II victorious but having expended so much of its resources that pretty much anybody who had been middle class was now poor.

And Jimmy Greaves was a few months older than the 2 older Beatles, John Lennon and Ringo Starr, so he was a part of that long struggle back to prosperity that, depending on who you talk to, England either needed years to reach again, or, to this day, still hasn't.

As with so many other boys in so many other places, sports provided a way out of a future in a father's profession that the son didn't want any part of: The farm, the mine, the mill, the factory. In 1955, Jimmy was playing in a schoolboy league, and was found by Jimmy Thompson, a scout for West London team Chelsea. He was signed by Ted Drake, who had just become the 1st former player on a League Champion (with Arsenal in 1935 and 1938) to also win the League as a manager (the only title Chelsea would win between its founding in 1905 and its Centennial season of 2005).

In response to the "Busby Babes" managed by Matt Busby at Manchester United, Drake assembled a group of young players that the press dubbed "Drake's Ducklings." (A later Man U manager, Alex Ferguson, would build his team around "Fergie's Fledglings.") Jimmy starred for Chelsea's youth team, enough that he was able to turn professional in 1957, though just 17 years old. On August 24, he scored on his debut, a 1-1 draw with Spurs at the latter's home, White Hart Lane. It was the 1st of 22 goals he scored for Chelsea the 1957-58 season.

Near the end of the season, just past his 18th birthday, he married Irene Barden. They had 5 children. A daughter named Lynn was followed by a son Jimmy Jr., who died as a toddler. Then came daughter Mitzi, and sons Danny and Andrew. Danny would also play professionally, for lower-division Essex team Southend United.

Despite keeping up his scoring touch, including becoming the youngest player in Football League history (the League was founded in 1888) to score 100 goals in League play, Jimmy couldn't lead the Blues to team glory. The cliche could have been used: "We're doing poorly with you, we can do poorly without you, and for less money." Jimmy had no problem with being sold, leaving a bad team for a good team.

Unfortunately for him, that good team was A.C. Milan. He wasn't the 1st British star to go to Italy -- Welshman John Charles had starred for Turin team Juventus -- but he set a standard that too many other British players followed in Italy, including Ian Rush and Paul Gascoigne.

He never fit in. He couldn't speak the language, he couldn't handle the media, and he didn't get along with his manager, Nereo Rocco. Rocco would lead Milan to the European Cup (the tournament now known as the UEFA Champions League) in 1963 and 1969, but that would be without Jimmy Greaves. And he didn't win the fans over, either, despite scoring a goal in a Milan derby against Internazionale.

*

Spurs had won the League and the FA Cup in 1961, the 1st English team to "do the Double" in the 20th Century. They had money to spend, and spent it to bring Jimmy back to London. In 1962, he helped them to a 2nd place finish and a 2nd straight FA Cup. In 1963, he led them to the European Cup Winners' Cup, a tournament for all the national cup winners of the European countries. It was the 1st European trophy won by a British team. "Greavsie" became beloved by Spurs fans.

After that, though, the team entered a period of transition. It became the same story that it was at Chelsea: He was doing well, but his team wasn't. In 1965-66, he missed 3 months due to hepatitis, and still turned out to be Spurs' leading scorer that season, with 16 goals.

Following that season, the World Cup was held in England -- for, so far, the only time. He had made his debut for the England team in 1959, and played in all 4 of their games at the 1962 World Cup, scoring in a Group Stage game against Argentina before they were defeated by Brazil in a Quarterfinal. In a match to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Football Association (the FA), on October 23, 1963, he scored the winning goal in the 90th minute for England against a "Rest of the World Team" at the national stadium, the original Wembley Stadium in West London.

So he was an easy choice for manager Alf Ramsey for the '66 World Cup. He started in all 3 games of the Group Stage: A 0-0 draw with Uruguay, a 2-0 win over Mexico, and a 2-0 win over France.

But in the France game, Joseph Bonnel cut Jimmy's shin with his studs (we would say, "cleats,") leaving him with a temporary injury and a permanent scar. He had to be held out of the Quarterfinal with Argentina, and his replacement, Geoff Hurst of East London team West Ham United, scored the only goal of the game.

That was all the superstitious Ramsey needed: He kept Hurst in the lineup for the Semifinal against Portugal, which England won 2-1. Jimmy told Ramsey he would be fit for the Final against West Germany -- which, like every game England played in the tournament, would be at Wembley. Ramsey wasn't having it: He started Hurst, who became the only man ever to score 3 goals in a World Cup Final, as England won 4-2 in extra time.

Only the 11 players who actually entered the game received winner's medals. It took until 2009 for Greaves and the other England players who didn't get into the game to be granted winner's medals.

He only played 3 more times for England, last in 1967. Ramsey called him up for Euro 1968, but never used him. His 44 goals made him England's all-time leader, but he was soon surpassed by Manchester United's Bobby Charlton, who has since been passed by another Man U figure, Wayne Rooney.

Jimmy helped Spurs win another FA Cup in 1967, although their title bid fell short, finishing 3rd, 4 points behind Man U. Spurs bought Martin Chivers from Southampton, but dreams of a great striker pairing didn't pan out. And it wasn't Chivers' fault: Jimmy was getting older, getting slower, getting less fit, and drinking more.

In 1968-69, he surpassed Bobby Smith to become the team's all-time scoring leader, and Steve Bloomer, the Derby County legend of the turn of the 20th Century, as the all-time scoring leader for the English top flight.

But the end was near: In March 1970, he was essentially traded to West Ham for his World Cup teammate, Martin Peters. Peters had something left, and paired with Chivers to help Spurs win the League Cup in 1971 and 1973, and the UEFA Cup (the tournament now known as the UEFA Europa League) in 1972.

Jimmy scored 2 goals on his debut, a 5-1 win away to Manchester City. But it was a last gasp, and he was released after the 1970-71 season, having scored just 13 goals for the Hammers. His final Division One tally: 357 goals, still a record. In spite of this achievement, he never won a league title -- oddly, coming the closest in 1961-62, when Milan sold him early in the season and went on to win Serie A.

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He got into the packing business with his brother-in-law, which was successful. In 1979, the conservative national newspaper The Sun offered him a columnist's post, which he held for 30 years. That got the attention of television network ITV, who hired him for their shows Star Soccer, The Saturday Show, World of Sport and On the Ball, and for their coverage of the 1982 World Cup.

It was with On the Ball that he became friends with fellow panelist Ian St. John, a Scotsman who had starred for Liverpool in the 1960s. From 1985 to 1992, they co-hosted Saint and Greavsie, a pregame show in the mold of American football's The NFL Today or College Gameday.
Saint and Greavsie, with their puppet counterparts
from another popular ITV show, Spitting Image

Actually, a better parallel might be to the later Fox NFL Sunday: Although it didn't have as many panelists as that show, Saint and Greavsie knew what to take seriously and what to take less seriously. The show came to an end when the Football League Division One was rebranded as the Premier League, and Jimmy was sure that the lighthearted style of Saint and himself was not what the networks wanted.

Because of the show, and because Spurs somehow got a national following despite winning just the one League title in that era (and Jimmy wasn't even with them when they won it), Jimmy became one of the most popular figures in British sport's lecture circuit.

But his alcoholism got out of control: By the time he famously went to rehab, his health had already been compromised. He went out of his way to help Paul Gascoigne, a later Spurs star with a serious drinking problem, getting him back on his feet and onto the lucrative lecture circuit. But Jimmy had a mild stroke in 2012, and a much more serious one in 2015, which left him wheelchair-bound. He also dealt with cancer. 

Ian St. John also dealt with cancer, and died on March 1, 2021, at the age of 82. Today, September 19, 2021, Jimmy Greaves died at his home in Danbury, Essex. He was 81 years old.

* Gary Lineker, who also starred for Spurs, before becoming the host of the BBC's Match of the DayQuite possibly the greatest striker this country has ever produced. A truly magnificent footballer who was at home both in the box and on the box. A charismatic, knowledgeable, witty and warm man. A giant of the sport. ("In the box" means in the penalty area, "on the box" means on television.)

* Gareth Soutgate, current England national team manager: "Jimmy Greaves was someone who was admired by all who love football, regardless of club allegiances."

With Jimmy's death, there are now:

* 3 players still living from Tottenham's 1962 FA Cup winners: Maurice Norman, Terry Medwin and Cliff Jones.

* 8 players from Tottenham's 1967 FA Cup winners: Jones, Pat Jennings, Joe Kinnear, Alan Mullery, Mike England, Jimmy Robertson, Terry Venables and Frank Saul.

* 7 players from the England team in the 1963 FA Centenary Game: Norman, Gordon Milne, Terry Paine, George Eastham, Bobby Charlton, Ron Flowers and Tony Kay.

* And 8 players from the England team that won the 1966 World Cup: Paine, Flowers, Bobby Charlton, George Cohen, Geoff Hurst, Roger Hunt, Ian Callaghan and George Eastham. (Charlton, Cohen, Hurst and Hunt are the last 4 who played in the Final.)

Today, the 2 teams for whom Jimmy Greaves spent most of his career played each other. A minute's applause was observed before the game, and both teams wore black armbands. Chelsea beat Spurs 3-0.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Scores On This Historic Day: September 18, 1994, Ken Burns' "Baseball" Premieres

September 18, 1994: Baseball, a documentary miniseries directed by Ken Burns, premieres on PBS. Over 9 nights, a 2-hour "inning" airs:

* Sunday, September 18: "First Inning: Our Game," running from the beginnings of the game, whenever you think that might be, to 1899.

* Monday, September 19: "Second Inning: Something Like a War," 1900 to 1909, the title taken from a quote by the top player to debut in the decade, Ty Cobb.

* Tuesday, September 20: "Third Inning: The Faith of Fifty Million People," 1910 to 1919, the title taken from F. Scott Fitzgerald's line in The Great Gatsby, about the fixing of the 1919 World Series.

* Wednesday, September 21: "Fourth Inning, A National Heirloom," 1920 to 1929. The heirloom in question is Babe Ruth, who changed the game irrevocably in "The Roaring Twenties," helping it bounce back from the Black Sox Scandal a lot sooner than it otherwise would have. The companion book to the series, written by Burns and historian Geoffrey C. Ward, titled its 4th chapter "That Big Son of a Bitch," one of Ruth's many nicknames, but that couldn't be used on television.

* Thursday, September 22: "Fifth Inning: Shadow Ball," 1930 to 1939. The title refers to a pregame ritual of Negro League players, whose league seemed to be at its peak, but, still, no one would let nonwhite players into what came to be known as Major League Baseball.

* Sunday, September 25: "Sixth Inning: The National Pastime," 1939 to 1948. This chapter showed how World War II paved the way for the desegregation of the game under Jackie Robinson.

* Monday, September 26: "Seventh Inning: The Capital of Baseball," 1949 to 1960. The capital, of course, was New York, not that Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley understood, or would have accepted if he had, because there was less money in it than in moving elsewhere.

* Tuesday, September 27: "Eighth Inning: A Whole New Ballgame," 1960 to 1969.

* Wednesday, September 28: "Ninth Inning: Home," 1970 to 1992.

The Strike of '94 was on, and, just 3 days before the premiere, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig canceled the rest of the 1994 regular season, and the postseason. This was a terrible time to be a baseball fan.

Ken Burns saved us. Sure, there were complaints: Too much focus on the Boston Red Sox and labor struggles, not enough on the Chicago teams, going through the 1970s and '80s too fast. But this was baseball history compressed into less than 2 weeks, understandable to all, including ancient film of things we knew had happened, but had never really seen or felt before.

We could actually see Christy Mathewson and Walter Johnson pitch. We could see Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb, both looking young, shaking hands before the 1909 World Series between their teams. We could see Grover Cleveland Alexander strike out Tony Lazzeri in the 1926 World Series. And we saw more footage of Babe Ruth than ever before. Some of the film that Burns showed hadn't been seen in decades.

Some of the interviewees had already died by the time the miniseries aired, including Babe Ruth’s sister, Mamie Ruth Moberly; former Commissioner Albert "Happy" Chandler, star 2nd baseman Billy Herman, and broadcaster Red Barber. But there were interviews with members of the Hall of Fame: Chandler, Herman, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Monte Irvin, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, broadcasters Barber and Vin Scully, and sportswriter Shirley Povich. Former Players' Association Director Marvin Miller was finally elected to the Hall of Fame after his death.

On September 28 and 29, 2010, Burns aired a sequel, The Tenth Inning, covering the years from 1992 to 2009. Some of the surviving interviewees from the early 1990s were interviewed again, and so were some new faces, including Joe Torre and Pedro Martinez.

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September 18, 1994, as I said, was a Sunday. There should have been MLB games, but there weren't. The NBA and the NHL were a few weeks away from starting up again. But there were NFL games: 

* The New York Giants beat the Washington Redskins, 31-23 at Giants Stadium.

* The New York Jets lost to the Miami Dolphins, 28-14 at Joe Robbie Stadium in the Miami suburb of Miami Gardens, Florida.

* The Philadelphia Eagles beat the Green Bay Packers, 13-7 at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

* The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Indianapolis Colts, 31-21 at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.

* The Cleveland Browns beat the Arizona Cardinals, 32-0 at Cleveland Municipal Stadium.

* The New England Patriots beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 31-28 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati.

* The Kansas City Chiefs beat the Atlanta Falcons, 30-10 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

* The New Orleans Saints beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 9-7 at Tampa Stadium.

* The Buffalo Bills beat the Houston Oilers, 15-7 at the Astrodome in Houston.

* The Minnesota Vikings beat the Chicago Bears, 42-14 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

* The Los Angeles Raiders beat the Denver Broncos, 48-16 at Mile High Stadium in Denver.

* The San Francisco 49ers beat their arch-rivals, the Los Angeles Rams, 34-19 at Anaheim Stadium in the Los Angeles suburb of Anaheim, California. It's now named Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

* The San Diego Chargers beat the Seattle Seahawks, 24-10 at Husky Stadium in Seattle. The Seahawks were playing at the University of Washington's stadium while repairs were being made to the Kingdome.

* The following night, on Monday Night Football, the Detroit Lions beat the Dallas Cowboys, 20-17 in overtime at Texas Stadium in the Dallas suburb of Irving, Texas.