Once in a lifetime

Mike Olson Avatar
May 7, 2021

“Give me one man from among ten thousand if he is the best.”

– Heraclitus

I well remember where I was at the night that Halley’s Comet passed by earth in 1986, as I was just starting to fall in love with astronomy and astrophysics at the deepest dumb-it-down for me level. The rarity of the Halley’s event combined with the way I was living my life in the moment gave me cause to doubt I’d see the next passing in 2061.In my case, it was quite probably a once-in-a-lifetime event, as many observable astronomical occurrences tend to be. Things are moving a bit more slowly out… everywhere.

Once in a lifetime events are not limited to the space beyond our skies, though. The pandemic of the last 18 months certainly qualifies. The first words you spoke do as well. But true once-in-a-lifetime sightings are actually exceedingly rare, by definition. They can apply to events as equally as human beings on the whole. Every now and again, a person comes along with a gift, ability, or intelligence that makes them a talent you’ll see once in a lifetime. Colorado has been fortunate to see a talent or two of that sort grace each of its major sports franchises over the years, and luckily for many of us, in our lifetimes. Here are a few of the most clear-cut amongst that very elite group.

Denver Broncos – John Elway

Who else could it have been? Arguably an all-time top-five quarterback, Elway impacted the  Broncos franchise incalculably. As the first quarterback to start in five Super Bowls, winning two, he brought a credibility and stability to the franchise that remains to this day. His back-to-back championship wins vaulted the franchise the respect it had craved for years, and the three Super Bowls the Broncos saw in his first seven seasons were literally carried on the shoulders of John playing Atlas for the entire team. While Denver has seen some incredible talent pass through their halls over the years, Elways literally stands head and shoulders above the rest.

To this day, if your team was down by less than a touchdown with a minute or two on the clock, there isn’t an NFL quarterback in history you’d take over peak-era Elway to bring a win home. It’s no wonder he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Colorado Avalanche – Joe Sakic

Super Joe is often listed amongst the 20 or 30 greatest players of all time, and no wonder. Over the course of 13 seasons in Colorado, and 20 in total with the franchise, Sakic had a finesse game that belied his toughness and overall skills. His shot, control, brains, mindset, and ability to turn it on in the most crucial moments defined a career that allowed the team Captain to bring as many championships to Colorado as Elway did the Broncos. While he was surrounded by all-time talent like Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy, Milan Hejduk, and Ray Bourque, Sakic was the straw that stirred the Avalanche cocktail.

Ninth all-time in points scored in NHL history, Sakic followed the path that Elway set for the Broncos, now starring the futures of the franchise. Now in the Hall of Fame himself, the pride of Burnaby, British Columbia has done all of the Centennial state proud.

Colorado Rockies – Nolan Arenado

I know, I know, fellow Rockies fans. This one still stings like hell. While Larry Walker was deservedly the first Rockies player to make it into the Hall of Fame, the Rox homegrown superstar is still haunting the halls of Coors Field after his recent departure to St. Louis. His abilities at the plate were without peer, as he could hit for both power and average, and somehow his defensive skills were even better. His strategy and knowledge of the game made a huge impact for the team. As one of a very few five-tool players that have ever passed through the Colorado franchise, Arenado’s tools were possibly the sharpest across the board. His ability to impact games immediately swung the fortunes of the franchise, something it’s rare to see a non-pitcher do at that magnitude.

While the Rockies didn’t always enjoy the success they’d hoped with Arenado in the fold, odds are remarkably good that Nolan will go down as the franchise’s best player in history. We’d all be lucky to see another player come down the pipe that could even make it a solid argument.

Denver Nuggets – Nikola Jokic

Though Jokic is not yet the all-time winshares leader for Denver, he’s headed that way with a bullet. His leap from All-Star to leading MVP candidate has been a sight to behold. While names like Issel, Thompson, English, and Anthony have all ruled eras of Nuggets hoops with iron fists, none of them impacted a game the way Jokic does. At his peak, he’s an enigma for opposing defenses. Whatever you take away from him, he punishes you for. Don’t want him spreading the ball around the floor? He’ll destroy you with scoring. Want to shut that down? His skills as a passer are unsurpassed with his height, vision, and imagination. He can stretch the floor, pick apart your breakdown from any spot, and lift the game of any four guys surrounding him.

Is he the best player in the league? Maybe. Maybe not. Is he the most unique player in the league? By a wide margin. Possibly one of the most unique of all time.

You’ll notice that only one of these four gents is still playing in Denver, Colorado, sports fans. Heck, only two of them are still playing at all. It’s fair to say you don’t get these opportunities very often. Even if you are not a baseball fan, or don’t care for them there Cardinals, it’s still worth tuning in to see Arenado play. And even if hoops isn’t really your thing, you owe it to yourself to catch at least a game or the highlights of Jokic and his incredible play. There’s a uniqueness to his game that are worth giving it a chance. When you start to understand that each of the guys described above is truly someone you’ll see once in a lifetime? You might want to stop and take a look. True stars only pass by every so often.

And once they have? It’s the same as it ever was.

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