Last night, as I left the Pepsi Center after the Colorado Avalanche beat the Washington Capitals, the chant went up. It wasn’t “Let’s go, Avalanche,” which follows just about every victory. It’s wasn’t “Capitals suck!” No, it’s something that we tend to hear every weekend in Colorado these days.
“Tebow! Tebow! Tebow!”
They were dressed in Broncos orange and blue, and they were having fun. But it wasn’t the fight and the goal from Cody McLeod, or the goaltending of J.S. Giguere, or even the better than usual play of the defense that got them going. It was Tim Tebow. It was an invasion.
And this wasn’t the first time I hear the chant at the home of the Avalanche. At the LA Kings game on October 30th, a drunk man behind me, who seemed to know a bit about hockey, started chanting “Tebow! Tebow!” during the game. I couldn’t figure out why.
Outside the Pepsi Center, mere steps from the exit, there were men selling “It’s Tebow Time” shirts, surely unlicensed merchandise with his number 15 on the back. They were making a killing. The guy across the street selling his Grateful Dead inspired Avalanche shirts must have been drooling with envy.
The Canadian hockey fan tends to laugh at this kind of thing, and at the fans in a market like Denver, but often don’t understand the culture of the local sports fan in America. Even in a market like Toronto, where there are four major sports represented (and I am counting the CFL as a major sport, because it is in Canada), and a few minor ones, hockey is still king. This year, when the Toronto Rock of the National Lacrosse League won their championship, no one noticed. Sorry boys, the NHL playoffs are on.
Head west to cities like Vancouver or even Calgary and Edmonton, and you have two major sports and one or two smaller ones, as well as plenty of junior hockey. Fans of the CFL are fairly passionate about their teams, but when the Calgary Stampede practice in a field (and I mean field as in expanse of grass, not football field) just outside their stadium, you know where the sports dollars are going.
In places like Colorado, where there is an over-saturated sports market, you have to pick your poison. All four major sports are represented, along with indoor and outdoor lacrosse and soccer. There was arena football, but thankfully that no longer exists here. Minor league hockey exists to the north (the popular Colorado Eagles of the ECHL), and the Colorado Springs Sky Sox (minor league affiliate of the Colorado Rockies) are to the south.
The sports culture in Denver is a constant rotation from one team to the next, one season to the next. It creates the local sports fan, the fan who doesn’t care what the sport is, who the team is, so long as they play in Colorado. They can survive a heartbreak from one team because right around the corner, there is another team ready to spark more hope.
Denver also has a complex. When you think of Denver, what do you think of? Exactly, not much. There isn’t a scene here of any sort, not something culturally to hang our hats on. When you think of cities like Dallas, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, LA, and even Minneapolis, Salt Lake, Detroit, and other larger cities, you get an impression, or a clearer picture of what that city is about, good or bad.
Denver has none of that. It’s the quiet city that sits on the edge of the mountains. It’s big enough to warrant attention, but rarely gets it. It’s the MLS soccer of the United States. It’s great when attention is paid to it, but quickly fades from memory.
And keep in mind, I love it here. I love my city, and think the world of it. But exciting it is not.
The nation’s attention is captured by Tim Tebow. I still can’t figure out why, but it’s there. And here in Colorado, he is the most divisive of people. There are controversial political figures that don’t garner as much of a love / hate relationship as Tim Tebow. He currently owns this city. More people could rattle off his stats than tell you who the current mayor is.
And when the nation’s attention is turned towards Denver, the citizens take it as their own. The hype has captured the attention of the fans, and when they see the highlights night after night on every sports show, from ESPN to whatever Versus is doing, they get excited.
ESPN dedicated most of a SportsCenter to Tebow recently. It was laughed at for the most part, but John Buccigross made the point that would ultimately matter to ESPN:
Denver Broncos fans have a similar complex to the one Avs fans have had the last few years. It’s born of anticipated defeat. Warranted or not, the loser complex exists, and watching players leave for greater success elsewhere has turned Broncos fans into shells of themselves. The same thing happens with the Colorado Rockies. That’s just the business of sports, of course. But being a fan isn’t a business from the fan’s perspective. It’s love.
So why does the love flow for Tim Tebow? I wish I could put my finger on it. I’m a hockey fan. I do not care for the NFL, baseball can’t hold my attention, and I do not care at all for the NBA. I love is firmly with the Avalanche. And while they have a few great young players, it’s still very much a team sport that doesn’t hinge on one person as much as football hinges on a quarterback. The man at the center is going to garner that attention.
But the attention of a nation? How does this happen? And why does it invade the rest of the sports here?
I’ve groused in the past of the hype that Sidney Crosby gets, and how overblown the coverage of him is. But while Crosby is the face of the NHL, Tim Tebow is just another player. The NFL doesn’t need a face like the NHL does. They may have lost Payton Manning (and by extension the Indianapolis Colts), but the business of the NFL doesn’t depend on a single character the way the NHL currently does.
Colorado isn’t unfamiliar with it’s evangelical sports figures, either. Bill McCartney, former head coach of the University of Colorado Buffaloes, was also the founder of the Promise Keepers, a Christian organization for men that garnered a lot of attention in the state. At the time, the Buffaloes were playing better than they are now, and as with the sport, so goes the state.
If there’s one thing the Broncos have going for them, it’s who they put out in front of the fans. When you look to the management side of the organization, the man who is front and center is former Broncos quarterback John Elway. Even while some question what his job is with the organization, he is certainly out front and making fans happy. Turn that around to the Avalanche, and in a similar role you have Joe Sakic. But if you have seen him lately in connection to an Avs game, buy a lottery ticket, because it’s your lucky day.
The Avalanche have always been lauded for their marketing efforts, and the relative silence of the management team. This week, some of that silence was broken when the Denver Post sat down with Josh Kroenke, owner or co-owner (depending on how you look at it) of the Avs. It’s unusual to see this kind of communication from the organization, but perhaps a new era is starting to open up? Wait and see, but don’t hold your breath.
What does all of this mean for the sports scene in Colorado, and more important to my own self-interests, what does it mean to the Colorado Avalanche and their business, as well as the culture of the fans? It’s hard to tell. If I knew, I would be a marketing super genius. If Tim Tebow is a flash in the pan, then we could be back to the status quo soon. But if the national hype machine continues to roll, there could be plenty more to come.
What I do know is that, as a fan of a sport competing for the attention of the local sports fans (and currently losing), I’m ready for it to no longer be Tebow time. Perhaps when the Broncos start losing again, that time will have passed.