Are you ready for some politics?: Inside City Hall Stadium

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Preparing to write yet another piece about local politics, I allowed myself to drift a little bit. Suppose that I didn’t have to write about politics? Suppose I could write about sports?

Couldn’t we just apply sports metrics to the City Council’s performance?

Everyone on board? OK, good, let’s look back at the 2009-2010 season.

Let’s face it; we stunk. Lopsided losses to the USOC, El Paso County and Landco set the tone, as did two devastating defeats at the hands of the Revenue Raiders, led by aging quarterback Douglas Bruce. Even the late-season pickup of controversial free agent Sean Paige couldn’t contain the damage, as Paige’s quarrelsome, outspoken media presence was the source of locker-room tension.

Team finances deteriorated as well. Hoping to save money for payroll, the team refused to pay for police and fire protection, and asked fans to volunteer for unpaid stadium cleanup and turf maintenance positions. Management turned a deaf ear to fan complaints, even after the league threatened to expel the franchise for turning off half of the stadium lights during night games, a move which led to the forced “resignation” of GM Penny Culbreth-Graft.

Players complained bitterly about the team’s parsimony, except for Paige.

“Football is football,” he said, “and I can see fine with just starlight.”

We know one thing for sure: quarterback Lionel Rivera will be leaving right after the April draft. A backup for six years, Rivera took over in 2003, replacing All-Pro signal caller Mary Lou Makepeace. Like Charles Wingate and Cheryl Gillaspie, Rivera never lived up to his early promise. After an abortive attempt to trade him for Doug Lamborn or Jeff Crank in 2006, the team grudgingly gave him a four-year guaranteed contract in 2007. Disbelieving analysts pointed out that Rivera would be overmatched against El Paso County’s tandem QBs: “Slingin’ Sallie” Clark and “Jammin’ Jimmy” Bensberg.

But franchise decision-makers stayed with Rivera, believing that he might have some of the fundamentally conservative yet daring moves of the legendary Dougster.

November’s all-but-approved team restructuring — which concentrates decision-making in a single person, may result in better personnel decisions and improved team finances. Hoping to replicate a rival’s success story, local season ticket holders David and Chris Jenkins hired former San Diego exec Adrian Kwiatkowski to drive the restructuring campaign.

But the real question has to do with the April draft. Here’s the rundown.

Leaving: QB Rivera, backup QB Larry Small, perennial special teams player Randy Purvis, off/on cornerback Tom Gallagher, and heady WR Darryl Glenn (traded to El Paso County for a player to be named later).

Angling for new contract: RB Sean Paige

Staying: Kicker Jan Martin, left tackle Bernie Herpin

Fans are bitterly divided about “Touchdown Tommy” Gallagher’s departure. Two picks against the USOC almost prevented a loss, but fumbled kickoff returns against Pueblo nearly cost the franchise a rare victory.

Possible April pickups: There are at least a dozen QBs in the draft, none of whom have played in a pro-style offense. Playing the position in Colorado Springs requires brilliant improvisation, deceptive moves and superb accuracy. Fans remember the glory days of Bob Isaac and Mary Lou Makepeace, and they’re unwilling to settle for less. The team will likely trade away most of its stockpiled draft picks to choose a raw talent (Brian Bahr), or to trade for a grizzled veteran (Dave Munger, Buddy Gilmore).

The team’s in turmoil — but so is the rest of the league. Fans everywhere are protesting high ticket prices, overpaid players and incompetent management. We’ll see change — but we may find ourselves missing “Lionel & the Losers.” Look for another forgettable season, even as eager rookies replace listless veterans.

And don’t count out Paige. Remember when he said of his quarterback “I’d say that he throws like a girl, except that I don’t want to disrespect no girls?” The talented but erratic Paige might demand a shot at the quarterback position, if only to be the team’s field general.

The bottom line (according to our resident seer, the seasoned sports observer):

“This team’s going nowhere,” he said. “Ever since management let go Sallie Clark, Ted Eastburn and Jim Null to make cap space for Rivera’s contract in 2003, it’s been a disaster. They’re lucky that El Paso County is losing Bensberg and Wayne Williams — I don’t think that Darryl Glenn and Peggy Littleton can replace them. On the other hand, they might get lucky and sign Mike Merrifield.”

Is there any way that we can get better?

“Get rid of the TABOR revenue cap,” he said. “That’s given an enormous advantage to teams that have exempted themselves from the cap. That’s why our team’s underpaid, the stadium’s falling down, and we’ve gone from the penthouse to the outhouse in 10 years.”

Hazlehurst can be reached at john.hazlehurst@csbj.com or 719-227-5861.

2 Responses to Are you ready for some politics?: Inside City Hall Stadium

  1. I’m leaving next year?

    What do you know that I don’t?

    I always thought of myself as more of a linebacker type…

    Scott Hente
    September 17, 2010 at 6:49 am

  2. John, Scott Hente and I are not up for election in 2011. Soctt is term limited, I could run in 2013. Jan Martin will need to run for reelection or mayor.

    Bernie Herpin
    September 17, 2010 at 7:10 am