It was a 33-year wait for the people of Naples, Italy, but they finally were rewarded on Thursday with a championship from my beloved soccer club, and the team of my ancestors, Napoli. And then the parties began across the city.
As a Denver sports fan, I wonder if our city will ever again experience something similar to the great emotional release evident as fireworks exploded in the night sky across Naples?
The Avalanche won a championship last year, ending their own 20-year drought, and they had a big crowd show up to see them hoist the Stanley Cup. But it did not have the same generational catharsis.
When the Rapids won the MLS Cup in 2010, Denver as a whole seemed surprised to find it had a professional(-ish) soccer team.
The Nuggets have never even made an NBA Final, though Nikola Jokic and company seem determined to end a half-century of futility with a ring on their fingers this year. For fans who have followed them from David “Skywalker” Thompson through Fat Lever and Dikembe Mutombo, I’m sure a title would bring a few tears of joy.
Don’t get me started on the Rockies. Their ownership only seems to care about increasing attendance figures and winning more concessions revenue. If I live to be a hundred, I am not certain I will see them hoist a World Series pennant at Coors Field.
None of those teams inspire the same sort of passion, dedication and devotion that the people of Naples have held for their club. They do not live and breathe and die with every win or loss, with every excruciating kick or clock winding down, with every run toward goal or cross delivered into the box.
The only comparable I can draw would be the Denver Broncos’ 1998 Super Bowl victory. Denver has always bled predominantly-orange and blue. Decades of futility and four prior Super Bowl losses were pent up in the fanbase before that game. After John Elway made an iconic helicopter dive, Terrell Davis plunged into the endzone untouched, and Pat Bowlen lifted the Lombardi Trophy, Denver celebrated as it never had before or since.
My college friends and I drove along a packed Federal Boulevard, sitting atop cars waiving flags, smoking cigars and cheering as traffic crept toward downtown. Just as we got there, smoke-canisters shot up into the air to quell the over-joyous crowd. It was a sight to behold.
The following year championship, and the Peyton Manning-led winners, never had the same emotional release. Sure, the city celebrated and cheered their achievements, but it never hit that same level of euphoria.
Maybe one of the differences comes down to the simple plethora of options. When one team is down, Denver fans can jump ship to the next title contender. Did the Avs go out in the first round? No problem, the Nuggets have a championship in their sights. Do the Rockies and Rapids stink? Maybe Sean Payton will turn back the clock for Russell Wilson.
Naples is not the same. There is one club, one team. In a city with roughly the same population as the Denver Metro Area, there are no other sports franchises. Even for soccer that is rare. Milan has two big clubs. Same with Rome and Turin. Cities like London and Munich have a handful each.
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Maybe that is why it felt so similar to the Broncos’ first Super Bowl victory. Sure, the Nuggets had been around, the Rockies had recently started launching baseballs and the Avs arrived and promptly produced our town’s first championship, but none had the same connection with the populace that the Donkeys did.
Maybe the only hope to bring back that feeling resides with the Rockies, that they become a lovable loser in the same way the Cubs and Red Sox were for nearly a century. Then, maybe, after another 50 years or so, we could see a city so overjoyed to see its club bring home a title, we will shoot off fireworks of our own.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq.
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