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It was the f—ing Penguin that was screwing with me.
No, not the Penguins. Not the Pittsburgh Penguins. Not them. Not a rogue Denver Zoo runaway from the Aviary. No. THE Penguin. Batman’s second-worst arch enemy. That son of a bird had been f—ing with my eight-year old self all summer long.
Pepsi had put out a set of collector’s cups with most all of the great DC characters, and I had spent the summer drowning in cups of the far-less-superior cola just to try and collect them. I’d managed to get 13 of the 14 without too many duplicates, but the fahrfugnuggen Penguin was constantly eluding me. I didn’t even like the Penguin, but my who-knew-he-was-OCD self was pretty sure if I didn’t complete the set, I might die. Although if I had to drink much more crappy Pepsi, I might die as well.
Mid-August, right as the promotion was ending, I managed to trade four of my duplicates to a kid I knew for that coveted Penguin glass. I got it home, and got them all washed up. I may have made it a month before the first one broke, but for a glorious moment in time, I had the whole set.
My little sister was permitted to drink from Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or Batgirl, but god forbid I caught her with Green Lantern or the Flash. There was woe and whoa when she grabbed the wrong cup. I apologize to her about being such a dumb@ss to this day.
I was also a huge sports fan as a kid who was splitting parental time between Los Angeles and Fort Collins, trying to follow my home-state Broncos, Nuggets, and Rockies (hockey), which came to Denver that same year as the Pepsi collector’s cups. Denver was now a three-sport town, with very few four-sport towns outside the biggest cities. I was spending half of my year in a town with massive sports legacies, and I found I wanted all of my Colorado teams to be the best of the best. I wanted titles, and we had none. I wanted legacies, and we had… well, next to none. I wanted MVPs, at least, and we’d had…
Well, dangit. None.
It was another 11 years before Colorado saw their first MVP, and by then, Denver was back to a two-sport town, with the NHL Rockies leaving after six years. The Broncos had been in town for 29 seasons before John Elway became the first league MVP in Colorado’s history. Elway was transcendent for the Broncos, a megawatt star like the Mile High city had never seen. His talent and drive gave Denver The Drive, several Super Bowl appearances, and eventually a ring or two. The Broncos didn’t bring Colorado their first championship, but nearly 30 years into their pro sports history, Elway finally brought them a hands-down regular-season MVP.
The only other team in town at that point, the Denver Nuggets, had seen a couple of decades worth of stars pass by, but none worthy of a league MVP.
Four years later, the Rockies were back, but this time wearing pinstripes and cleats. Their baseball attitude at altitude brought a wealth of hitting talent making the Coors Field outfield often look like a Pachinko machine. Six years into their stay, the Rox came across their first, and possibly best, five-tool baseball player, with Larry Walker in right field. Walker’s ’97 season was a thing of glory, as he could field, throw, run, and hit in every way as well as anyone in baseball. Walker’s addition to the “Blake Street Bombers” showed the Rox what a solid defensive outfield presence could mean in the thin air as well. Ten years after Elway, Walker was named the NL MVP, and Colorado had another best-in-class someone to add to their history. An impressive feat for a franchise that had been in Denver all of six years.
Across the street, Denver’s Nuggets were not only still without an MVP in their 31st season, they were limping to their all-time worst record of 11-71.
The next year, Denver’s Broncos decided being tied with the Rockies was not good, and added another MVP trophy to their case. In the midst of back-to-back Super Bowl seasons, Terrell Davis ran roughshod over everyone and everything in his path in 1998, adding a second MVP to the Broncos regular season hardware. He’d been the Super Bowl MVP the year prior, a title he ceded to Elway at the end of the ’98 season as John departed. Until his injury, Davis was one of the most complete backs to take the field, a willing blocker, receiver, and decoy, on top of his prodigious running talents. TD was special.
Down the street, the Nuggets took their anemic win total of the previous season and tacked on a few more for good measure. 14. Out of 82. Whoo. Those of us who attended any of the 25 wins over those two seasons should form a support group.
By 2001, the Colorado Avalanche had been in town for six seasons, bringing Denver it’s very first championship in their first year in town, but neither of their dynamic duo of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg had brought home the individual hardware of the Hart trophy (the NHL’s regular-season MVP award) during their stay. The league finally caught up with both of their brilliance, awarding Super Joe the award in 2001, and Forsberg the title in 2003. Sakic won the award the year he helped bring the Avs their second title.
The MVP awards were also the first for the franchise, as the former Nordiques had never enjoyed a Hart winner while in Quebec, either. Now three of Colorado’s Big Four sports teams had had their league’s best player over the course of 16 years.
Forsberg was nothing short of spectacular two seasons later.
It would be 10 more years before Colorado would see another league MVP. But that one was for the Nuggets, right?
Well, no. The Denver Broncos followed a pattern, and didn’t seem to much care for sharing MVP and Championship counts with the upstart Avalanche, and went and got a rare jewel in Peyton Manning. Manning brought both an MVP and championship pedigree to a potent Broncos squad, and hoped to be both again in Denver. He added another MVP trophy in his 2013 season with the team. In 2014, he rode out of town just like Elway, with a championship victory lap as his farewell. Manning’s MVP season in Denver saw him helming one of the most terrifying and potent offenses the NFL has ever seen.
Okay, seriously. How much longer until a freaking Nuggets MVP?!?! Unless you’ve been sleeping through the last half of COVID, you actually probably know the answer to that question.
A couple days ago, finally, FINALLY, the Denver Nuggets have completed the MVP set for Colorado’s Big Four sports squads, bringing the title home over 50 seasons after Denver first joined the ABA. After seeing such talented players as Dan Issel, Alex English, David Thompson, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, and more cross their hardwood, none of them scored an MVP award in Denver. But Nikola Jokic, a second-round stab-in-the-dark out of Serbia has become one of the most unlikely MVPs in league history. Jokic is the first true second rounder, the lowest pick by an order of magnitude, the first Serbian, the first center in over two decades, and the FIRST DENVER NUGGETS player to ever win the title of “Most Valuable”, and to win it running away.
He’s not sexy, he’s not loud. He’s a great and decent human who would still bench himself tomorrow for the betterment of his team. He’s a powerhouse that turns everyone around him into a scorer. Most of the league’s best players are a plus. Jokic is a multiplier. He’s funny and weird, and makes the game he loves a beautiful thing to see. His team is now made in his image, and he fits well in Denver because it’s a place that embodies so many of his sensibilities as well. He is also well-opinioned that Coca-Cola is vastly superior to Pepsi, unless you get cool collector cups for it. It took 34 years since the first Denver MVP, and around 75 years of NBA basketball, but Denver has finally seen a best-of-the-best title across each of their “four-sport” set.
It’s been eight years since the last MVP was in Denver. While this hopefully isn’t Jokic’s last title, these moments are just that rare. Drink it in, Denver. In the 432 combined seasons of their respective leagues, Denver has had a league MVP seven times. Rare air, for sure. Rarer than a Penguin glass in the summer of ’76. Something to celebrate. Most Valuable to all of us, indeed.
To get in the spirit of things, I’ll put this in print now, so I cannot deny it later. Stacey, you can finally drink out of the stupid Green Lantern glass. Celebrate, Denver. You’ve got a great one.