Why Elway, Bourque and Manning inspired me to live freely

“Stick to sports!”

We hear it a lot in 2018.

It’s directed, usually, at big-time media members – mostly on Twitter – when they offer an opinion about the hot-button issue of the day.

The world we live in is crazy.

The country we live in is crazy.

Neither of those are bad things. I love the United States of America and I consider myself a patriot but this place right now seems a little out of whack.

Democrats are too liberal.

Republicans are too conservative.

At least, that’s how I feel.

I’ve recently decided I’m an Independent. Ready to evaluate each issue on a case-by-case basis…

STICK TO SPORTS, CHUMP.

If you’ve gotten this far, congratulations, you passed test No. 1.

Let’s stick to sports — as I generally like to do — specifically, Denver sports. I was born here. I grew up with these teams. I’m a native of “The 303” and care way, way too much about winning championships.

When John Elway won back-to-back Lombardi trophies, I knew it was a big deal, but I didn’t know how big a deal it was. Being born in 1990, the late 90s haven’t been erased from my memory, but they’re not exactly razor sharp, either.

Then came Ray Bourque.

As an 11-year old lanky kid with braces and on the verge of puberty, I knew I was going to need people to idolize. I idolized my parents — even some of my friends who were better athletes than me — but boy did I idolize Ray Bourque.

I knew it was a big deal when the Colorado Avalanche acquired him. I knew it was an even bigger deal when they went to Game 7 of The Stanley Cup Finals in 2001 against the New Jersey Devils.

I didn’t know how big of a deal it was until I met Ray Bourque that morning.

By chance. Fate. Whatever you prefer.

Arapahoe Road and University Boulevard, roughly. Le Peep. Game 7.

The intersection is still there – Le Peep is long gone. At least from that location.

My mother and I were the only two people in the restaurant – a pleasant summer morning in June of 2001 – fewer than three months away from September 11.

No one knew it, but the world was about to change forever.

In that moment, though, everything was peaceful. Blissful. Innocent. Hell, I was innocent.

The door sprung open at Le Peep and a grown, grizzly and tough (but well-dressed) man walked in by himself. My mom didn’t recognize him right away. I’m not sure the handful of staff members on hand did, either.

But I did.

It was Ray Effin’ Bourque.

What are the odds?

At the urging of my mother I didn’t ask Bourque for an autograph (a picture wasn’t even an option – it was 2001), but instead did something else.

I did the boldest thing of my young life.

I marched up to him on my way out the door with confidence and swagger I didn’t even know I had.

“Good luck tonight, Mr. Bourque!” I piped up.

He looked up — stunned — but in a good way. A slight grin appeared. “Thank you,” he managed to get out in between bites of his breakfast.

This guy’s legacy was on the line, in a matter of hours, and some brash 11-year old wasted a precious moment of his time.

Bourque, of course, didn’t care.

I’d like to think for just an instant in time, he lightened up. He realized his life would still go on regardless of what happened in the hockey game that night, but that hockey game was a big fucking deal.

The Avalanche won, because they were supposed to win. Bourque deserved it. The city of Denver deserved it. Maybe even I deserved it. It was the first championship I truly appreciated.

It’s a good thing I cherished it.

Because it took 15 long years – 15 years growing up in a loving household, but a crazy world – until Super Bowl 50 rolled around and the Broncos delivered the second most important title of my lifetime.

There were chances in between, but none of them came through.

The 2005 AFC Championship Game.

Rocktober 2007.

Anthony Carter.

It took Peyton Manning. Peyton Freaking Manning, to get Denver back in the win column.

John Elway. Ray Bourque. Peyton Manning.

That’s pretty good company.

Hopefully this little trip down memory lane has been fun for you; it’s been fun for me.

*****

I don’t know what 2018 holds for Denver sports. I don’t know what 2028 holds. 2038. None of it. But I do know there will be more championships, more parades and more bold little kids who walk up to the next Ray Bourque and wish him good luck before the biggest game of his life.

That kid won’t be me. I work in media now. I plan on doing it for quite a while.

I have this platform at Mile High Sports – the place that gave me my start out of college.

I share a studio with Vic Lombardi and James Merilatt on Altitude 950 Monday through Friday from 7-10 each morning.

I have it made — or at least that’s what my friends tell me.

If your day consists of talking and writing about sports, and you get paid, how bad can it be?

Well I’ve had some bad days — dark days (and nights) — until about a month ago when I came out to family, friends and co-workers. As you can imagine, everyone was great. I haven’t received a single piece of negative feedback.

I was overweight, eating poorly and drinking a little too much all because I’m gay and didn’t want anyone to know.

Why? Give me another 50,000 words someday.

In the meantime, it’s 2018 and I’ve learned no one gives a shit. It’s been a long journey, but a tremendously worthwhile one.

Take care. – WP

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