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Some thoughts from a hectic month

End Zone

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For those who can't get enough of sports, October stands out as the best month of any year. All four major professional leagues are making news, the NASCAR fans are locked into their postseason Chase, and at the college level, we have football in midseason, hockey just heating up and basketball about to start preseason practices.

Locally, we even have the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame induction banquet coming up on Oct. 27, as if the month weren't crazy enough already.

So let's pick out a few angles that are worth some observations.

Denver Broncos: We brought this up earlier, and the point is worth exploring again. When might we see a lot more of Tim Tebow? Struggling along at 2-3, but in a four-way tie for second place in the AFC West behind surprising Kansas City (3-1), Denver still might inspire some eternal optimists to think there is hope for the 2010 season. But that's not exactly realistic.

The defense, now without its top two pass-rushers (outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Robert Ayers), can't be expected to hold up through 11 more games. And the offense, despite some gaudy numbers from quarterback Kyle Orton, still lacks a running punch.

Orton did sign a contract extension back in August, and he has lived up to the nice things that Denver's management said about him then. But if he's not the quarterback of the future, why not start the next generation now?

Denver could trade Orton, right now, before the trade deadline next Tuesday, and get maximum value in return. You can't tell me that somebody like Cleveland, Carolina, Seattle or others wouldn't jump at the chance to build around Orton.

The question becomes whether Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels still believes in Tebow, who looked promising in preseason games against vanilla coverages and no blitzes. If Tebow is the main man for someday, what's the holdup?

Hall of Fame: This class of 2010 inductees (tickets for the Oct. 27 event are $100 each; call 634-7333, ext. 1000) will bring back many memories, but one that stands out for me involves the 1980 U.S. Olympic women's volleyball team.

That group, the first national team to live and train together year-round at the Olympic Training Center, had positioned itself perfectly for a history-making run at the Olympic gold medal. After the men's hockey Miracle on Ice in February 1980 at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., many inside the American Olympic movement saw the women volleyballers as more than capable of pulling off a similar feat. It wouldn't have been a miracle, either, because the U.S. women already had risen quickly among the world's elite after first gathering in Colorado Springs and working under coach Arie Selinger.

But then, just weeks after Lake Placid, the U.S. Olympic Committee's leaders met in April — right here in Colorado Springs, at the Antlers Hotel. President Jimmy Carter decided that the United States should boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, because of the Soviet Union's military invasion of Afghanistan. That weekend at the Antlers, the USOC made arguably its most difficult decision, and Vice President Walter Mondale came here to deliver the White House's message.

There were lots of victims among the American athletes, but none felt the sting more than the women's volleyball team. And just a few days later, Team USA played its final exhibition here at Wasson High School against East Germany, which was heading for Moscow (and eventually won the silver medal). I'll never forget the atmosphere, and the sad emotions, that night in the jam-packed Wasson gym. Sitting on the first row, cheering the U.S. women as fervently as anyone, was Eric Heiden, fresh from his five gold medals in speed skating at Lake Placid. And yes, Team USA did win that night. But the pain took everything away from that victory.

Air Force football: Watching the Falcons as they dismantled Colorado State by 49-27 last weekend, the memories of several other special AFA teams, and their similarities to now, started to come back. In particular, this Air Force team is reminding me of the 1998 Falcons who went 12-1, captured the Western Athletic Conference championship and handled Washington in the Oahu Bowl.

This is not to say the Falcons of 2010 will go 12-1. If they do, with all the tough battles still ahead of them, they would have to rank among the best Air Force teams ever. But regardless, these Falcons are winning for the same reasons that the 1998 team won: excellent quarterbacking, superb play from the defensive secondary, some excellent runners and receivers, and extremely smart coaching.

Ironically, the quarterback then (Blane Morgan) is coaching the quarterback now (Tim Jefferson), and Jefferson is coming up with big plays at the most opportune times, as Morgan did. The statistics are solid, not eye-popping, but the offense's relentless personality and wide variety of surprises are simply too much for all but the best opposing defenses.

More than a few Air Force teams have worn down physically in the back half of the season, simply from being so out-sized but also from the academic grind. Whether that will happen to this team might be answered Saturday night when the Falcons play at much-improved San Diego State (6 p.m., CBS College, Comcast channel 170).

This is the kind of game that has derailed many AFA seasons, because the Aztecs can move the football running or throwing, and they have plenty of athletes with excellent speed. Air Force's best hope is to rely on those same basics — offensive efficiency, big plays on defense, being smart all around — to make the difference.

But the Falcons are only favored by one point, which tells you how close the oddsmakers see it.

routon@csindy.com

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