Yesterday, as part of my doom and gloom assessment of the chances of a resumption of the NHL season before it possibly gets officially scrubbed because of the coronavirus (no pun intended), I asked the group here what kinds of things you wanted me to write about – and a surprising number of you wanted some old-timey stories of the Avalanche’s past.
I’m still a little gun-shy about writing about the old days, because I still like to think of myself – no matter how unrealistic that may actually be in reality – as someone more focused on the present and the future of the Colorado Avalanche hockey club.
But hey, in these coronavirused times, with plenty of unwanted new time on my hands, I am here to serve at the pleasure of my readers. A few of you wanted me to go into one story in particular: how the Avalanche very nearly had a different team name in the beginning. It’s an intriguing story with several weird subplots, and one that actually involved yours truly.
So, here then, is the story of how the Avalanche would have been named the “Rocky Mountain Extreme” if the team’s original owner had had his way:
To begin, you have to get a picture of what life was like in the sports and entertainment world in the early-to-mid 1990s. It was a time of expansion in all four big sports, with lots of weird new team names, teams like the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, with lots of neon color and strange fonts.
The principal owner of the Avalanche in 1995 was a man named Charlie Lyons, a highly interesting entrepreneurial type of guy who always had kind of a laid-back, breezy vibe to him, yet a man in full possession of all the latest business-jargony buzzwords.
I always felt like I could just as easily hear, “Dude, let’s go smoke a doobie” from Charlie’s mouth as “Our Q2 revenue was divided into four quadrants…”
By 1995, Charlie could correctly claim a few titles to his life by then: ski bum, up in the Colorado mountains, aide to former New York governor (and, later, U.S. Vice President) Nelson Rockefeller, Marriott corporation young executive and, by then, owner of an NBA team, the Denver Nuggets, along with CEO of a company called Comsat Video Enterprises.
(Today, Charlie is a movie producer in Los Angeles).
When the sale of the Nordiques went through to Comsat on May 25, 1995, Charlie had an idea for a new team name. He wanted to call it the “Rocky Mountain Extreme”, in partial homage to his days as a ski bum and also to the hot new winter sport at the time – the Aspen Games, later the X-Games, for “extreme” sports. This was a perfect name for the go-go mid-’90s, he believed. Cutting edge.
So, Charlie told the NHL of his plans, and designs were put in motion for this newly-named franchise. You can see the picture, above, of the very earliest design. This picture, by the way, is courtesy of Michael Beindorff. He was the principal designer of that logo – and, later, the Avalanche logo. (It took me 20 years to get my hands on that logo).
Spring/summer of 1995 Adrian Dater was on a roll. Just four years removed from living in my parents’ basement in Concord, N.H., as a low-paid, low-on-the-totem-poll proofreader at the Concord Monitor, I was now breaking national stories about this new hockey team coming to Denver, soon to get the official title as “beat writer” for a big-time paper. I had the world by the shorthairs suddenly.
This was to be my scoop, too. Well, it had my name on it anyway, when the story on the front page of the Denver Post said what the official team name would be. In reality, my former Post colleague, Nuggets/NBA writer Mike Monroe, told me, through his Nuggets/Comsat sources, what the team name would be. Maybe as a gesture of goodwill to his new staff colleague, Mike told me I could have the story exclusively.
A couple days later, I was cursing Mike’s name.
Here’s what happened: After I “broke” the story of the new hockey team name, the public backlash was immediate. People hated the name. I remember Dave Logan, the host of an afternoon show on 850 KOA then, opened up the phone lines for public reaction to the new name, all with full credit to my story.
The unfavorable/favorable reaction was something like 98-2.
But, hell, I didn’t care. I had the story, and that was that, and who cared if it was unpopular? What’s done was done!
Well, except it wasn’t done.
When the public reaction to the name became complete ridicule, it made Comsat executives – even Lyons – rethink things. At the time, there was a vicious (but awesome) newspaper war between the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News, where literally every little note of newsworthiness was fought for like two starved pit bulls over a pound of raw hamburger.
While I spent my day reveling in congratulations over another big scoop about this new hockey team, News columnist Bob Kravitz was apparently hard at work trying to “chase” the story. I was eagerly anticipating the next day’s News, which would be full of “Yeah, we got beat on this story by the other paper in town, by some kid not far removed from living in the boonies of New Hampshire.”
(I can’t tell you, how exciting it felt to “beat” the other paper in those days. It was what I and most of my colleagues absolutely lived for. Competition made this city’s citizens such a better-informed group, news-wise, than it later became).
My indicator of just how bad a day the next one would be started right around 6 a.m.
My bedside, landline, push-button phone with the banana-shaped handset rang. I arose from my dozing slumber with a quiet “hello.”
“Hey, Adrian, it’s Shawn Hunter (President of Comsat).”
“Hey Shawn, what time is it?”
“Hey, Adrian, I don’t think what you had in the paper is going to be accurate.”
“What, about what?”
“About the name of the team.”
The rest of the day was, for me, pure horror. After the call with Hunter, which I don’t think lasted much longer than that transcript, I opened up the Rocky Mountain News, which had a front-page, bannered story by Kravitz basically saying, “Extreme? What Extreme?”
Or, “The hayseed reporter from other paper in town got it wrong yesterday, folks.”
Oh, god, the embarrassment. The horror of getting it wrong in a major newspaper in a big American city. As a guy who had only just been made full-time, still the rookie in a sports section newsroom that had people like Woody Paige and Mark Kiszla as the columnists and many other veteran, skillful sports scribes.
“Nice job, Woodward and Bernstein. , I thought. What did Monroe do to me? Why didn’t I triple-check things a little more? What….the….F?”
I doubled back to everyone on the story, essentially yelling “How could you do me like this?”
Everyone kept telling me, though: “That was going to be the damn name. They’ve even got logos made of it and stuff. They just backtracked after the public backlash. Your story was right.”
Except, it wasn’t. Comsat came out later that day and publicly refuted my story, and said that a public contest among eight soon-to-be-announced possible team names would be announced soon. The names that would go up to a vote were: Avalanche, Rapids, Wranglers, Cougars, Black Bears, Outlaws, Renegades and Storm.
Avalanche would win in a, ahem, landslide.
For 20 years after, I stewed over this story. I knew it was right at the time too. But what I always lacked was just one on-the-record confession about the original Extreme name idea, or any photographic evidence.
Beindorff supplied that to me about six years ago. Those drawings of the Extreme logo, in different forms, were well along in the process of being officially made into NHL intellectual property.
Lyons, in an interview with me for my book “100 Things Avalanche Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die”, confessed to it being all his idea. He wasn’t mad about it or anything. He basically had the attitude of “Hey, I thought it was a good idea, but the people spoke up quick about that, and I was a businessman who listened to my customers.”
Lyons could laugh about it then, and I can now too. Even with Bob Kravitz – a very, very good writer and someone I got to be kind of a buddy with in the business despite working for blood rivals – I can (and have) laugh with him now. Now, at least, I can say, with proof, “See. See?”
I did us all a big favor with that early story, right Avs fans?