Cyclists from across the United States and abroad widely recognize Colorado as a premier cycling destination, because of its natural beauty, variety of terrain, notable bike rides and races and soaring elevation. From world-class bike races like the Colorado Classic and the Breck Epic to a cruiser ride along the Fruit & Wine Byway in Palisade or mountain biking the downhill trails at Winter Park (“Mountain Bike Capital, USA”), Colorado offers a variety of cycling offerings for all types of riders. For more information on cycling in Colorado, please visit http://www.colorado.com/articles/6-ways-colorado-biking-best.
What’s NEW for Cycling in Colorado:
At Your Pace Cycling Tours in Loveland. Tap into Colorado’s epic cycling opportunities and taste the flavor of local craft brews on the new Loveland Bike & Brews Guided Day Tour with At Your Pace Cycling. This 3.5 hour long tour will give participants a taste of some of Loveland’s finest craft breweries and cycling offerings.
Boulder Bike Tours’ New Organic Farm Tours. Riders will learn about organic farming and take in sweeping views of the Front Range on the new, weekly Thursday and Sunday Organic Farm Tours. Thursday’s ‘Sunset Tour’ includes a wood-fired pizza dinner featuring veggies picked that day. The Sunday ‘Brunch Tour’ features a four-course farm brunch. These scenic bike rides wind along easy trails, paths and country roads while riders learn about organic farming and lifestyle from local growers.
The Colorado Classic (August 10 – 13). Pro-bicycle racing returns to Colorado with the 2017 Colorado Classic, a four-stage race sanctioned by UCI that will have some of the best men and women’s teams and racers in the world competing. The race begins in Colorado Springs, and heads through Breckenridge before finishing the final two stages in Denver. Denver will host a new companion music, food and crafts festival dubbed “Velorama” to include headliner music, cycling events, craft beer, local food, and a unique marketplace.
Colorado Trail Explorer. As part of his Colorado the Beautiful initiative to get Coloradans outdoors, Colorado’s Governor John Hickenlooper hatched the idea for a comprehensive online statewide trail map of hiking, biking and motorized trails. The Colorado Trail Explorer launched June 3 and includes more than 39,000 miles of trails managed by more than 225 jurisdictions across the state.
Gunnison County’s TrailQuest Bike Challenge. Gunnison County has designed a new app to track mountain bikers’ unique explored trails and enter users into the ultimate trail biking competition. The CBG Trails App by GoMaps, available for free in iTunes and Google Play, will now track and record rides in the competition: TrailQuest. Each new mile of trail ridden will add up in a race to 75. Prizes will be awarded to those who place on the leader board, though the best prize is trying new trails–exploration.
Outerbike Comes to Crested Butte Mountain Resort (August 18 – 20). “The BEST bike demo in the universe” comes to Crested Butte this August. Featuring some of the most popular brands in mountain biking, including Specialized, Scott and Yeti among many more. Outerbike will offer participants the opportunity to demo as many bikes as the time, and their legs, will allow. This is the first time Outerbike will take advantage of Crested Butte’s world-class mountain biking and gorgeous summer weather.
14erfest in Buena Vista (September 29 – October 1). 14erfest is a new, free, three-day mountain festival happening in Buena Vista this September. The event encompasses a range of trail activities including, but not limited to mountain biking. There will be demos, clinics, bike polo and group rides. In the evening, participants will enjoy live music and libations from Colorado craft breweries and distilleries.
Colorado’s Variety of Bike Experiences:
Bike-friendly Fort Collins. Cycling opportunities prevail in and around Fort Collins, and getting to know the area atop two wheels offers a bounty of benefits. Road cyclists will appreciate the 285+ miles of relatively flat, wide bike lanes, trails and paths, including three main bike trails offering 19 miles of paved surface: the Poudre trail that follows the Cache La Poudre River; Spring Creek trail following the creek; and Fossil Creek trail covering miles of open prairie.
Blue River Trail in Silverthorne. The Blue River Trail is Silverthorne’s link to the county-wide paved trail system. The 3.5-mile, hard surface paved trail begins at the top of the Dillon Dam and ends at North Pond Park. The Blue River Trail offers a meandering, family-friendly paved trail with spectacular views.
High-Desert Biking in Eagle. Eagle is a high-desert town, which means an extended biking season and trails that are open into mid-December. Over 100 miles of single-track mountain biking trails and paved recreational trails are accessible. Riders can start on beginner trails like Haymaker and Eagle Ranch Loop and then advance to the technical Mike’s Night Out. Eagle Ranch Loop is great for families and various skill levels.
Maroon Creek Road in Aspen. Few bike rides in the world can match the drama of this eight-mile road ride. Riders will round a bend and suddenly view the iconic Maroon Bells, two 14,000-foot peaks striped with snow year-round. The trek takes riders 22 miles round-trip through a moderately difficult ride with unparalleled views.
Mineral Belt Trail in Leadville. Biking is a favorite sport on Leadville’s famous Mineral Belt Trail, where riders can see the tops of the towering Sawatch Range and remnants of 1880s silver mines, all on a paved, 11.6-mile loop around town. Portions of the trail follow old railroad grades, making for a pleasant ride around North America’s highest incorporated city, set at 10,152 feet. The trail winds through Leadville’s historic East Side Mining District.
Monarch Crest Trail in Salida. Thanks to the diverse ecosystem in Salida, there’s always great singletrack to be ridden in the middle of winter or during the heat of summer. The Monarch Crest Trail should be included on the Colorado mountain bike bucket list. From the Monarch Crest trailhead at Monarch Pass, riders will encounter singletrack, doubletrack, fire road, smooth and packed trails, rocky and loose trails and great views of nature and wildlife.
Trailheads in Niwot. The town of Niwot in Boulder County is known throughout the cycling community as one of the best spots to begin or end a ride. Home to mammals, birds and amphibians, these trails are perfect for nature-lovers. The 6.4-mile Niwot trail system is composed of easy trails and provides breathtaking mountain views and shady cottonwood-lined paths along irrigation canals.
Winter Park, Aka “Mountain Bike Capital, USA”. With over 600 miles of cross-country trails and two downhill bike parks, Mountain Bike Capital USA™ has it all: mellow rides, heart-thumping singletrack adventures and gravity-fed adrenaline. Winter Park plays host to numerous bike races and events all summer long. For the novice, seasoned cross-country biker, downhill racer or the want-to-learn-more-skills casual biker, there are a variety of events and trails to choose from.
Fruit & Wine Byway in Palisade. Choose from three different loops from five to 25-miles-long through mapped points of interest for those who want to stop and experience the agriculture and industry of the area. Explore historic downtown Palisade, tour along the scenic Colorado River and enjoy some of the best vistas of the Grand Valley, all while savoring fresh fruit from the beautiful orchards, or enjoying the lavender gardens, world class vineyards, premium wineries and fresh farm market fruit stands along the way.
7-Eleven Olympic Velodrome in Colorado Springs. Built in 1983 in preparation for the 1984 Olympic Games, the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center Velodrome is the official training venue for U.S. Olympic and Paralympic track cycling and USA Roller Sports. The Velodrome features a 333.3-meter banked cement cycling track, which wraps around a 200-meter track for roller sports. The 1,000-seat facility is open to the public for community racing, and hosts local, national and international events throughout the year.
Upcoming Bike Races and Organized Rides:
The Breck Epic (August 13 – 18). Now in its ninth year, the six-day Breck Epic is North America’s premier mountain bike stage race, and is widely considered to be one of the best races in the world. It is distinctly Colorado and traverses the width and breadth of Summit County. This rapidly growing event attracts pro and amateurs alike to race approximately 40 miles each day for three or six consecutive days.
Moots Biking Opportunity in Steamboat (September 3 – 9). The Home Ranch has partnered with Moots Cycles in Steamboat to offer a unique experience at the Home Ranch. Home Ranch guests will have the opportunity to meet Moots team members, test ride their bikes and tour the Steamboat factory where the handcrafted bikes are manufactured. The visit also includes biking North Routt County on Moots recommended tours and on Moots demo bikes, one complimentary massage and scheduled rides throughout the week with a guide.
Salida Bike Fest (September 14 – 17). The town of Salida will be celebrating all things bikes at the 6th annual Salida Bike Fest. This four day festival will feature everything from free group rides, bike films, a chainless race, a bike parade, the Banana Belt Mountain Bike Race and more.
Pedal the Plains (September 15 – 17). Pedal the Plains is an annual cycling event that celebrates the agricultural roots and frontier heritage of the Eastern Plains of Colorado. The ride creates an opportunity for cyclists to learn about farming and ranching, while experiencing first-hand the culture, history and landscape of Colorado’s high plains. This year, Pedal the Plains brings riders on a tour through Weld and Morgan County, highlighting the towns of Kersey, Keenesbury and Brush– communities that still embody a raw pioneer spirit and a dedication to the land.
Bikes & Brews (September 23). The 5th annual Bikes & Brews festival in Cañon City offers three separate scenic bike races: The Royal Gorge Century (Total ascent 7,900 feet), Metric Mash (Total Ascent 5,300 feet) and the Red Canyon 50k (total ascent 2,400 feet). All races promise beautiful canyon views, and the Royal Gorge Bridge is open and will be a part of the Century and Metric Century Routes—a unique experience as the south entrance is usually closed to general traffic. The Metric Mash will also allow riders to cross the world famous, suspension Royal Gorge Bridge.
Tour of the Moon Grand Cycling Classic (September 30). This ride was made famous by the 1980s Coors Classic, and later in the cycling movie American Flyers. Today, it continues to be considered one of the premier recreational road rides in the western United States. Starting and ending in Grand Junction, this 61.5-mile road ride circles the Colorado National Monument and the town of Fruita, with riders climbing just over 2,873 feet and experiencing a maximum elevation of 6,725 feet.
The above article is courtesy of the Colorado Tourism Office
The Colorado Rockies are starting their season off with a bang on Opening Day against the Los Angeles Dodgers!
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BY ELLEN GRAY
JOSH KROENKE CHANGES THE FACE OF DENVER’S SPORTING SCENE.
At just 36 years of age, Josh Kroenke has garnered a reputation as a savvy businessman who understands what it takes to operate a fast-paced, highly successful sports franchise. With boundless enthusiasm he has learned on his feet what it takes to run a successful mix of four professional sports teams, juggle an incredible number of personalities, yet still maintain a humble, can-do outlook that enables him to keep it all together. Along the way, he has earned the respect of seasoned peers in a highly competitive industry.
As the son of Stan Kroenke, one of America’s most-recognized leaders in the professional sports world, Josh Kroenke was introduced to the industry as a kid of about 13 or 14, when his father became involved with the Rams. “This was my first exposure to high-level athletics and the business behind them,” he says. “Ever since then I always had aspirations to be involved in professional sports.” What he could never have imagined though was the turn this would take, propelling his family into the global sporting spotlight. From his early days playing competitive basketball on a full scholarship at the University of Missouri to an internship with the NBA league office, Kroenke learned all about the business and today is well equipped in his role as President and Governor of both the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche. In addition, he serves as an Alternate Governor for the Colorado Rapids (major league soccer) and serves on the Board of Directors for Arsenal Football Club in London.
Recently we sat down with Kroenke to learn a bit more about what makes this man, who arguably is one of sport’s most up-and-coming leaders … such an energetic force at so young an age.
CHM: What do you like most about your role with Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE?)
JK: I like meeting new people. Whether it’s a season ticket holder or an owner, a team president or a coach, a general manager or intern just starting a career, I have found a lot of enjoyment watching people grow personally and professionally to better themselves and their families. Each of them has taught me a lot over the years and hopefully I have taught them a few things as well.
Interacting with players across our teams is a lot of fun too because I get to meet a lot of people from very different walks of life. Gabriel Landeskog left home in Sweden as a teenager to pursue his NHL dream. Emmanuel Mudiay was born in a war-torn Congo and at age five fled with his two older brothers to meet their mother in Dallas to start a new life. These are exceptional young men and are examples of the perspective you gain when you have the privilege of being around them. They have learned and will continue to learn both as players and as people. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch our athletes represent themselves, their teams, and the City of Denver in a very positive way.
Our company and teams are full of phenomenal people and competitors, all of whom I have the pleasure of getting to know in my role, and for that I am extremely grateful.
CHM: What is your greatest accomplishment or what do you hope to accomplish in coming months?
JK: That’s a tough one since professionally I won’t feel we have accomplished anything of substance until our teams are consistently in “the conversation” of teams that can win a championship. That requires a lot of building, patience, and also a bit of luck to get there. There are little things we have accomplished and are currently doing that I feel will get us to where we aspire to be, but we can’t skip steps. We have won championships before in the NFL, NHL, and MLS and we won’t be satisfied until we are consistently at that championship level across the board.
CHM: Was being involved in the sports world an ambition of yours when you were growing up?
JK: I always had aspirations to be involved in professional sports. But if I said that I knew my family was going to wind up with the presence we now have in the global sporting community, I would be lying to you. Soccer was my first love but basketball was the sport I chose to play competitively. Through the basketball experience that continued all the way through college at the University of Missouri and an internship with the NBA league office, I learned a lot about high-level athletics and everything it entailed. So when I came into my role in 2010, I was about as prepared as I could have been.
CHM: Favorite spectator sport?
JK: My favorite sport to watch is golf. Skiing in the winter and playing golf in the summer have become my outlets to take my mind off of things when I’m stressed, and watching golf has become a very fun and relaxing thing for me. I guess with KSE being involved in so many different sports and paying such close attention at all times to different leagues, records, rankings, and standings, it’s nice just to be able to be a fan of something and enjoy the result no matter what happens. I have a favorite player or two and know a few guys on the PGA Tour, so it’s fun to just kick back and cheer for a couple different guys while admiring how dedicated they are to their craft. I wound up next to David Duval at our club driving range once and just listening to the sound his golf club makes during contact lets you know the pros are playing a completely different game than the rest of us amateurs!
CHM: What have you observed about Denver fans?
JK: Denver fans can be defined by one word … passion. Passion is a wonderful thing to have because without it, you simply have no one interested and a passive fan base is definitely not a strong fan base. Fans want to see our teams succeed, so for me, that passion can go both ways. When our teams are winning more games than they are losing, fans are much easier to interact with as they see the vision and can easily get behind a winning team. But when the teams are not as successful, let’s just say the interactions aren’t quite as much fun. I always joke with my family that when the teams are winning all of the focus will rightly be on the coaches, players, and management. But when the teams are losing, the focus and blame will come our way as people will expect changes to be made. It’s not the most fun of dynamics at times, but when we achieve success it’s a feeling that is hard to describe because you can feel the amazing city of Denver behind you everywhere you go.
CHM: What changes can we expect to see with regard to the upcoming season? How competitive do you feel the Nuggets and Avalanche will be this year?
JK: I think generally both teams will be young, very competitive, and should be competing for playoff spots. There are numerous highly talented young players throughout both rosters with a nice mix of veterans in each locker room to ensure strong cultures. Both coaches are very disciplined and very structured on a daily basis and are not afraid to hold each and every player accountable. However, with the accountability comes a personal touch that I think allows our players to understand we care about them as people as much as we do their contributions to our teams. I believe truly caring about them as human beings is incredibly important.
On the Avalanche side, we have a first-year head coach in Jared Bednar and we’re incredibly excited to have him join our organization. He has been successful at every level he’s coached, and we feel he can have a very positive impact on the roster. We have a very talented group of young players we have been drafting over the past several years and they are each going to be expected to step into larger roles going forward to have success as a group. We signed both Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie to multi-year contract extensions and are planning to have a few veteran defensemen around to help with some of the newer, younger faces along our blue line. We are near the limit of the salary cap and have been drafting well over the past several years, but as I joked with a group of fans a few weeks ago, we can’t make Nathan (who just turned 21) turn 25 years old tomorrow. Matt Duchene has been a huge part of our organization for quite some time now and just posted his first 30-goal season last year at age 25. People forget we’re drafting these kids at 18 years old and sometimes patience and discipline are needed in order to achieve success.
While the Avalanche are young, it’s possible the Nuggets are even younger. Michael Malone is entering his second season as head coach and while one would say we didn’t have a successful record last season (33-49), we did it with an eye on the future, with several first- and second-year players. We are expecting some internal growth from the young players and are hopeful that through continuity and hard work, the young talent will continue to improve and raise our ceiling for success, both now and in the future. Danilo Gallinari is a veteran who had a fabulous season in 2015-16, and I look for him to continue to build upon his individual success. Wilson Chandler was out the entire last season due to a hip injury in the preseason, and we almost look at him as a free agent signing because he will contribute heavily this year. We felt we drafted well, and with our incoming rookies combining with a group of youngsters who made the NBA All Rookie team in 2015-16 (Nikola Jokic and Emmanuel Mudiay), we are excited about the possibilities heading into the future.
CHM: Which of your players do you think have the most impact on the community?
JK: One of the things we are most proud of is the impact all our players have on the community. Each player does things throughout the community on their own initiatives through team and league-sponsored events. A lot of them have their own personal stories that will bring awareness to specific organizations or illnesses. I believe every player feels pride that this is not just a place they play, but also where they live and the effect they have in sharing in the Colorado community.
The Colorado Avalanche hockey club visits area hospitals annually and spends time with patients and their families during the holidays. Our Denver Nuggets organization puts on a clinic for Special Olympics Colorado, giving more than 100 Special Olympics athletes a day of fun in basketball each year. The Colorado Rapids and Colorado Mammoth teams create month-long events to help raise funds and support cancer patients. Our teams host numerous events and donate their time in appearances annually, making a positive impact in the city. One of our biggest events I am able to participate in alongside all four teams is the Mile High Dreams Gala. It highlights our players and coaches by providing a unique opportunity for the community to engage with each team directly while raising money for Kroenke Sports Charities. (Note: This year’s Mile High Dreams Gala will be held on November 14, 2016. For reservation information, please visit the community section of team website.)
CHM: What is fueling your enthusiasm right now?
JK: We are knee deep into the MLS season and I look forward to the playoff potential at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (DGSP). Soccer fans are some of the most passionate to watch and DSGP is a site to remember. The Colorado Rapids recently brought in Team USA goalkeeper Tim Howard this past offseason, and they have been at or near the top of the standings all season. We are incredibly excited about their playoff prospects. Tim has been a great addition to both the team and the community and we’re thrilled to have him join our club.
CHM: Favorite thing about living in Colorado?
JK: Where do I start? Between the friendly people and the great weather I think I have everything I need! Having lived in Denver since 2007 it has been incredible to watch the city change in such a short period of time. The growth around town is exciting to say the least. From my office at Pepsi Center I can see several high-rise cranes at work throughout downtown, and it has been astonishing to watch the Cherry Creek area change. I have a few friends who are working on projects over in the RiNo district of downtown and I think that area is going to be tremendous going forward as well. However, don’t lose sight of why I’m really here, which is the mountains. My parents have a duplex in Steamboat Springs and they put me on skis when I was two. My older sister was getting to do something I wasn’t, so they put me on skis to stop me from crying and ever since, I have had a love for Colorado.
CHM: Talk about family and what is important to you? What did you learn from your father?
JK: I am a very family-oriented guy and along with my family I have a love for dogs. Most people who know me or see me around Pepsi Center and the city know I love to be with my two bulldogs, Fletcher and Arnie. They come to the office with me most days and travel with me often. They create a calm atmosphere during the heavy work hours, long seasons, and I can’t imagine my life without them.
I think the main thing my father instilled in me at a young age was hard work. And not only just hard work, but when you fail, work harder. Whether it’s something business-related or in your personal life, there is no substitute for going out and working hard. I try to apply this in all aspects of my life and you need to understand that failure will happen at times, but by continuing to work hard through difficult times you will better prepare yourself for when a similar situation arises in the future and hopefully you’ll achieve success.
CHM: If you could be doing any other job, what would it be?
JK: I think I’d be a fishing guide on a river somewhere or a ski instructor. I would enjoy the daily outdoor aspect of the jobs and I would also enjoy meeting new people and teaching them a skill they didn’t already have. Fishing or skiing on a daily basis sounds like a lot of fun.
CHM: Favorite Denver restaurant?
JK: My Brother’s Bar. My dad first took me there when I moved to Denver in 2007 and I immediately fell in love with the place. I enjoy restaurants and bars that have a lot of character, and I would say that My Brother’s Bar has as much character as any place I’ve been to in Denver. My usual order is a Double Ralphie (Bison Burger) with cheese and a side of fries/onion rings combo basket. They also have unbelievable chili that will tempt me when I’m feeling exceptionally hungry. It’s close to Pepsi Center, so it makes it an easy lunch spot and I love to drag anyone and everyone there with me. The Cherry Cricket is also a personal favorite. They both have options for people of all tastes and diets. I enjoy a good burger every now and then!
CHM: Favorite vacation spot?
JK: This is a tough one but I’d have to say Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I love the mountains and Jackson is rugged and just far enough away from Denver where I feel like I’m escaping somewhere more remote. As Coloradans know, the mountains are a special place and the Teton Range is one that I find to be incredibly inspiring. I really enjoy sneaking up there a few times during the winter as the people are wonderful and the skiing is truly world class … steep and deep!
By Brian Howell
Denver Broncos executive vice president John Elway and head coach Gary Kubiak shared a laugh and a hearty embrace as they stood on the podium and awaited the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy.
As they hugged, Kubiak said to his boss and long-time friend, “You can win it all kind of ways, baby! You can win it all kind of ways!”
On that night, Feb. 7, the Broncos came away from Super Bowl 50 with a 24-10 win against the Carolina Panthers, capping what was truly one of the most unusual championship seasons in NFL history.
With a new head coach, a banged-up quarterback writing his final chapter and an offensive line that struggled to block anybody, the Broncos somehow managed to ride their sensational defense and get just enough from the offense to come away with their third Super Bowl championship.
“I think that the credit goes to the players buying into what we were doing, understanding that we could get it done this way (and) that there’s not just one way to win,” Kubiak said after the Super Bowl. “You can win doing some of the things we’ve been doing. I think it’s just (to) their credit (and) hanging in there. Over the course of this past month, they’ve been committed to getting it done, and everyone has been all the way in.”
What made this such a unique championship was how the Broncos balanced an all-time great defense with an awkward mess at quarterback. They did it all while adjusting to a new coaching staff, as Kubiak became just the fourth head coach in history to win a Super Bowl in his first season with the team.
The Broncos figured to be in good shape at quarterback with future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. Arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Manning has more passing yards (71,940) and touchdowns (539) than anyone who has ever played the game.
The 2015 Manning was unrecognizable, however. Instead of carrying his teams to victories and slicing up defenses, the 39-year-old Manning was more of a liability. Through eight games, the Broncos were 7-1, but Manning had thrown just nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
Game 9, at home against Kansas City, was supposed to be a celebration for Manning, who picked up the last three yards he needed to become the NFL’s all-time leading passer. The rest of the game was a nightmare, though, as Manning threw four interceptions. After the fourth pick – his league-leading 17th – early in the third quarter, Manning was benched for the first time in his career.
Various injuries led to Manning’s poor performance and benching, Kubiak said, and the Broncos handed the keys to the offense to young Brock Osweiler.
“I’ve prepared for this moment, obviously, for a very long time,” said Osweiler, who had, to that point, spent his entire three-and-a-half-year career as Manning’s backup. “I never wasted a single day. It’s a dream come true. It really is.”
Over the next six weeks, Osweiler guided the offense and led the Broncos to a 4-2 record, including a win against the undefeated New England Patriots. While not spectacular, Osweiler was better than Manning.
Manning spent most of those six weeks working by himself as he nursed his injuries and prepared to play. Many people questioned whether Manning would ever play again, especially as Osweiler appeared to lock up the job.
Manning, however, wasn’t about to let that dreadful game against the Chiefs be the final image of him as a player.
For the Week 17 finale against San Diego, Manning was again in uniform, this time as a backup for the first time in his career. Osweiler and the offense sputtered that afternoon, and Kubiak added a bit more drama to the situation. Osweiler was benched in the third quarter, and Manning rallied the Broncos to a 27-20 victory.
As the drama at quarterback unfolded during the regular season, the defense was Denver’s saving grace. Led by charismatic linebacker Von Miller and veteran coordinator Wade Phillips, the Broncos had the best defense in the NFL in 2015. The Broncos led the league with 52 sacks and gave up fewer yards than anyone.
It was the defenses’ knack for making game-winning, game-changing and game-saving plays that was most remarkable.
Cornerback Aqib Talib had a 51-yard interception return for a touchdown that keyed a Week 1 win against Baltimore. In Week 2, Bradley Roby scooped up a Kansas City fumble in the final 30 seconds of the game and ran it back 21 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Interception returns for touchdowns keyed three other Broncos wins. Twice, the Broncos secured wins by forcing fumbles in the final minute of regulation or overtime. Seven times, they held the opposition to 15 points or less.
“We almost led the league in every category, so we’ve got to say this is a special, all-time defense,” Phillips said.
After a stellar regular season, the Broncos defense was eager for the postseason. So was Manning, who had been declared the starter once again.
“Any time something is taken away from you due to health, it does (mean more to get it back),” Manning said before the playoffs began. “When you’re not out there playing, it certainly does remind you how fortunate you are when you have the opportunity to be healthy and be ready to play.”
Manning wasn’t brilliant during the playoffs, but he did his part to help the Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 23-16, in the divisional round, and the Patriots, 20-18, in the AFC championship game.
The defense was exceptional in both games, forcing a pivotal fumble against the Steelers, and battering Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Somehow, the Broncos had cooked up a recipe to return to the Super Bowl for the eighth time in franchise history.
For Kubiak, it was his sixth Super Bowl with Denver. As Elway’s backup quarterback in the late 1980s, Kubiak got to three Super Bowls. In 1997 and 1998, Kubiak was the Broncos’ offensive coordinator. Those late ‘90s teams, led by Elway at quarterback, were exceptional on offense and defense and won both Super Bowls.
This Super Bowl, played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., proved to be a perfect microcosm of Denver’s season.
The Manning-led offense struggled – gaining just 194 yards, the fewest total ever by a Super Bowl champion – while the defense turned in a dominating performance.
Against the top-ranked Panthers’ offense, the Broncos registered a Super Bowl-record seven sacks, with Miller, who was named the game’s MVP, getting 2.5 of those. On Miller’s first sack, he stripped the ball from Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, and the Broncos’ Malik Jackson fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown. On Miller’s last sack, he again stripped the ball from Newton; the Broncos recovered and set up the offense for one last touchdown.
“It’s so surreal,” Jackson said of winning the championship. “I was here two years ago when we lost it (to Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII). Just to have that feeling from this to that, it’s just awesome. It’s truly a blessing just to be with these guys, be a part of this and be able to kind of go out there and dominate like we did today.”
Ultimately, it was Manning in the spotlight. After 14 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts – including a victory in Super Bowl XLI – he was released in 2012 because the Colts were unsure if he could recover from a neck injury that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. Manning knew he could still play, though, and he came to Denver in 2012.
For three years, from 2012-14, Manning put up insane, record-breaking numbers, but he and the Broncos always fell short of that championship goal. Finally, he and the Broncos completed their quest together in 2015.
No, Manning didn’t play well this past season, but his final moment as a player, clutching the Lombardi Trophy in his hands, was befitting a man who had been sensational for so long. One month after the Super Bowl, Manning announced his retirement from pro football.
“It was extremely gratifying to finish with a world championship,” Manning said. “There’s no question this was a unique season and it had plenty of ups and downs.”
For the Broncos and their fans, though, the season finished on an up, and for the first time in 17 years Denver celebrated a Super Bowl championship. And, boy, did the fans celebrate. Two days after the Super Bowl, an estimated 1 million Broncos fans flooded the streets of downtown Denver for a victory parade.
“In terms of raw emotions from fans and raw passion, there’s really nothing like it,” Broncos president and CEO Joe Ellis said. “We are very, very lucky to have the support of this entire region, this community and the best fans in the NFL.”
In 2015, the Broncos had not only the best fans, but the best team, as well.