Friday, July 10, 2009

We will miss you Joe...

No longer in denial, I am officially saddened by the retirement of Avalanche captain Joe Sakic. He was the model of consistency on the ice - and a model human being off of it. Joe was one of those athletes you wanted your kids to look up to, and you knew you could trust Joe with that type of responsibility. As Boston Globe columnist Jackie MacMullan said earlier this week, “Joe was one of the good guys.”

Which is why this loss is especially crushing. Sure, the Colorado Avalanche will have to endure this bereavement for a time, and replacing a leader like Joe will be particularly difficult. But what about sports fans? Who can parents tell their children to look up to now?

Fortunately, Denver places a great deal of importance on character, and our city has two possible heirs to Joe’s respected throne.

I suppose the obvious choice is Rockies’ first baseman Todd Helton, who has been the backbone of our MLB franchise for nearly a decade. Helton is a 5-time All-Star, a 3-time Gold Glove winner and boasts the third-highest career batting average of all active players. In a sport where nobody is clean, Todd has never tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug - even threatening to sue Wayne Hagin after the former Rockies sportscaster suggested otherwise. He also has spent his entire career with the Colorado franchise, much like Sakic.

We now can also consider Nuggets PG Chauncey Billups, who carried our deprived NBA franchise to just two wins from the Finals. Unlike Joe and Todd, Chauncey has called six different cities home during his illustrious career. Still, The Thrill from Park Hill has done more for Colorado sports than arguably any modern athlete. We all know his story: Homegrown basketball prodigy turns down NCAA powerhouses nationwide to play for the puny-house Buffaloes, a decision many questioned. Well, Chauncey answered. And ever since the Nuggets front office swapped The (wrong) Answer for the Smooth one in November, Denver fans finally have a respected leader in the locker room and model human outside of it. He also gets bonus points for being credited with the astonishing maturation of career-underachiever Carmelo Anthony.

Still, Chauncey is 32 years old. And Todd is 35. These two icons are capable of filling Joe’s right and left shoes, respectively, for maybe five more years. Then what?

John, Joe, Todd, Chauncey … and then who?

There is no clear standout, and a lot can change in five years. Will it be Broncos WR Eddie Royal who fills the void? Can Paul Stastny stay healthy enough to become The Man for the Avs? Will Rockies’ SS Troy Tulowitzki drop the ‘tude and become one of the good dudes in sports? Has Carmelo Anthony finally turned the corner and matured into something Denver fans can admire? Or have we even met Denver’s Next Top Model (of Human Decency)?

In an industry so bereft of role models, I’m proud to live in a town that can reasonably claim a handful of true quality human beings in sports.

Still, it sure won’t be the same without Super Joe Sakic. Grab a box of tissues, shut your office door and watch Joe say goodbye at his heartfelt press conference yesterday.

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