Joy of 6: Ranking Colorado’s Half-Dozen Major Pro Sports Champions

Written By Ken Pomponio on 06/27/2022
Ranking Colorado's 6 pro sports champions 062722

Ah, the joy of six.

With the Colorado Avalanche lifting the Stanley Cup on Sunday, that’s six major pro sports championships for Colorado teams.

It’s now three for the Avs. 

And three for the Denver Broncos.

All six have come in the last 27 years, starting with the Avalanche’s 1996 Cup win.

That 1995-96 campaign, of course, was the Avs’ first season in Denver. 

It was quickly followed by the Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowl titles in the 1997 and ’98 seasons. And then the Avs’ second championship in 2001.

The last two decades, though, have only brought two titles. 

The Broncos won Super Bowl 50 to cap the 2015 NFL season. And the Avalanche matched its gridiron neighbors with the franchise’s third crown Sunday.

Colorado’s dominant run through the 2021-22 NHL season wasn’t the best of outcomes for a number of Colorado online sportsbooks. 

And while the exploits of Cale Makar, Nathan McKinnon and Gabe Landeskog certainly have recency bias in their corner, the question must be asked: Was it the most dominant championship season in Centennial State major pro sports history?

Glad you asked.

We’re ranking the six, taking a number of factors into consideration. 

Those factors include each of the teams’ regular and postseason performances as well as the caliber of the opposition each vanquished en route to the top.

At the least, it will help pass the time while waiting for the Avs’ championship celebration Thursday in downtown Denver.

Here goes, beginning with the …

6. 2015 Broncos

Regular season: 12-4 (first in AFC; +59 point differential)

Postseason: 3-0 (+23 point differential)

The Orange and Blue’s most recent Lombardi Trophy came courtesy of Von Miller and one of the league’s all-time best defenses.

The No-Fly Zone limited quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton to a combined 44 points in the postseason.

It needed to, though, as QB Peyton Manning was on his last legs in his final season. And the Denver offense ranked among the league’s bottom half in number of key categories.

The ’15 Broncos won a remarkable 11 games by one score or fewer. 

But as dominant as that defense was, the 2015 Broncos fall well short of the top spot on our list of Colorado champs.

5. 1995-96 Avalanche

Regular season: 104 points (second in Western Conference; +86 goal differential)

Postseason: 16-6 (+29 goal differential)

Powered by 116-point-plus scorers Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg and bolstered by the in-season trade for goalie Patrick Roy, the Avs enjoyed a dazzling debut season in Denver.

The highlight came in the Western Conference Finals, when Colorado stunned the mighty Detroit Red Wings in six games. Detroit’s 131 points that regular season still rank as the second-highest total in NHL history.

Meanwhile, the Avs finished with a .634 points percentage that season — only the ninth-best mark in franchise history.

And the Stanley Cup Final opposition certainly wasn’t the greatest with the upstart Florida Panthers (fourth in the East that year) playing in only their third season.

4. 1997 Broncos

Regular season: 12-4 (fourth in AFC; +185 point differential)

Postseason: 4-0 (+39 point differential)

Here’s where ranking the Colorado champs becomes a much more difficult endeavor.

Even though, ’97 Broncos qualified for the postseason as a wild card, they finished with the second-best winning percentage in the AFC.

And after stomping the Jacksonville Jaguars in a wild-card game, Denver notched close wins in two of the league’s toughest locales in Kansas City and Pittsburgh.

In Super Bowl XXXII, the Broncos were a double-digit underdog against the defending champion Green Bay Packers.

But behind Super Bowl MVP Terrell Davis and a play-making defense, Denver thwarted QB Brett Favre — then on the tail end of a run of three straight NFL MVP awards — and snapped the NFC’s 13-game winning Super Bowl win streak.

3. 2000-01 Avalanche

Regular season: 118 points (best in NHL; +78 goal differential)

Postseason: 16-7 (+28 goal differential)

Sakic won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP that season. And he and Forsberg led Colorado to what was then a franchise-record 52 wins and 118 points.

In this Original Mission 16W, the postseason became all about getting 40-year-old defenseman Ray Bourque his first championship.

That the Avs did, rallying from a 3-2 Stanley Cup Final deficit to best the defending champion New Jersey Devils. 

The loaded Devils were the best in the East that season with 111 points.

2. 1998 Broncos

Regular season: 14-2 (first in AFC; +192 point differential)

Postseason: 3-0 (+63 point differential)

Powered by Davis, a 2,000-yard rusher and league MVP, these Broncos stampeded to the best regular season finish in franchise history.

They didn’t slow down in the postseason, winning each of their three playoff games by at least 13 points. 

In Super Bowl XXXIII, they jumped out to a 31-6 fourth quarter lead over the overmatched Atlanta Falcons en route to sending John Elway off into the sunset as a back-to-back champ and Super Bowl MVP.

The only real knock is the the competition the Broncos faced in the postseason. That consisted of teams quarterbacked by a past-his-prime 37-year-old Dan Marino, Vinny Testaverde and the not-so-immortal Chris Chandler.

A dream Big Game matchup between the 14-2 Broncos and the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings, featuring super rookie Randy Moss, never materialized as the Vikings were upset by the Dirty Bird Falcons in the NFC title game.

Hardly the Broncos’ fault, but it does constitute the difference between one and two on our list.

1. 2021-22 Avalanche

Regular season: 119 points (first in Western Conference; +78 goal differential)

Postseason: 16-4 (+31 goal differential)

These Avs broke the 2000-01 franchise records by winning 56 games and totaling 119 points.

This was a deep team, featuring eight 50-point-plus scorers. Makar was one of those eight, and the 23-year-old won the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman as well.

In the postseason, the Avs won 16 of 20 games and averaged a robust 4.25 goals per outing.

That .800 winning percentage tied for the second-best postseason run of all-time. Only Wayne Gretzky’s 1987-88 Edmonton Oilers were better at 16-2 (.889).

It wasn’t an easy playoff road, either.

The Avs’ only losses came against the three most recent Cup champs, the St. Louis Blues and the two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

Colorado, though, dispatched each in six games. 

And en route to the Cup, MacKinnon and Co. were a remarkable 9-1 on the road during the postseason.

In fact, the Avs clinched all four series away from Ball Arena.

Photo by AP / Phelan M. Ebenhack
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Ken Pomponio

Ken is a fourth-generation Coloradan and career sports journalist with more than 30 years covering the gamut from the preps to the pros. A lifelong Front Range resident and son of 1960s Denver Broncos season-ticket holders, he is a long-time sports betting enthusiast whose insight and passion shine through in his coverage at PlayColorado.

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