Tears for Blanda, cowboy poets and ‘Spread the Word’

by Chris Aaland

My pee-wee football league in Rifle had four teams: red, white, blue and gold. The red team had Kansas City Chiefs-inspired uniforms; the white, the Dallas Cowboys; the Blue, the Denver Broncos; and the gold, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The lucky kids on the blue team had regional pride on their side. We got stuck with the red – and we stunk.

But at least we didn’t have to wear black. Nearly everyone in Colorado hated the Oakland Raiders with a passion. If you wore the silver & black around the playground, you likely took a beating or two. Rifle was Broncos country, and the late 1970s were the time Red Miller, Craig Morton and the Orange Crush defense were making miracles happen, much like in fullback Jon Keyworth’s bad soft rock/disco song that dominated Centennial State airwaves in 1977.

But one Raider always stood out. George Blanda was an icon. With his rugged face, sideburns and good-old-boy looks, he reminded us of our grandfathers. He was 48 years old, when he played his last NFL game, the AFC championship on Jan. 4, 1976 – a 16-10 loss that saw him kick a 41-yard field goal and an extra point. Blanda retired as the NFL’s all-time scoring leader (a record since broken), amassing 2,002 points in 26 seasons that spanned four decades, from 1949 - 1975. While many know him as a place-kicker (and one of the last straight-ahead kickers in NFL history), he was also a great quarterback, playing for the Chicago Bears, Houston Oilers and, ultimately, the Pride & Poise boys. At age 43, he replaced an injured Daryl Lamonica as Raiders’ quarterback in the AFC Championship game, threw two touchdown passes and kicked a 48-yard field goal in a losing effort. No other 43-year-old has ever quarterbacked a team in a championship contest. His last football card was a 1976 Topps issue. Battered and wrinkled, it’s still one of the favorites in my collection.

Blanda died Monday at age 83. Most Broncos fans bleed orange and blue, and I’m no different. On Monday night, though, I cried silver and black.

The Durango Cowboy Poet Gathering is once again upon us and, in addition to some of the finest contemporary Western wordsmiths around, some great music is lined up. At 7 p.m. tonight (Thurs., Sept. 30), Red Steagall & his Bunkhouse Boys will perform at the Community Concert Hall. Steagall is best known for his Texas swing dance music, which he’s brought to all corners of the globe for the past 40 years. Then at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Hot Club of Cowtown will bring Western swing to the VFW. I’ve been a fan of the Hot Club’s for more than 10 years. Fiddler Elana James, guitarist Whit Smith and bassist Jake Erwin have crafted a nice little career out of standards from the ‘30s and ‘40s as well as originals and clever covers of more recent songs. Their latest release, “Wishful Thinking,” came out in 2009. Visit www.durangocowboygathering.org for a complete schedule.

Fort Lewis College community radio station KDUR kicks off its fall membership drive Friday with the annual guest DJ day. This year, Durango’s community banks will vie to raise the most funds for KDUR in an hour of on-air pitching. The reigning champion, attorney Matt Kenna, will return to defend his cup from last year (a Mike Brieger original sculpture). The theme of this year’s fund drive is “Spread the Word,” and it continues through Fri., Oct. 8, with special guest interviews, live entertainment and all your favorite DJs spinning music. To support KDUR, call 247-7262 or visit www.kdur.org.

Tragedy brings out the best in Durango. Last November, Cassandra Yazzie-Hotchkiss was driving with three of her children (Noah, Amada and Dante) when they were hit head-on by a vehicle coming from the opposite direction. Cassandra died in the accident, and all three kids were severely injured. They all spent weeks at the children’s hospital in Denver and continue to deal with medical issues; Noah still has no use of his legs. Several Durango churches and community members have come together to try and cover the ongoing medical bills that her husband, Jason Hotchkiss, must pay. Durango DOT Comedy is teaming up with Christ the King Lutheran Church and local band Alchemy Jane to raise the money necessary to cover bills for the month of November. As such, Durango DOT Comedy will donate all proceeds from its Saturday show at the Durango Arts Center (7:30 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show) to the Hotchkiss family. While DDC shows are always good for lots of laughs, this one supports a great cause.

Backcountry Experience presents the most anticipated ski film of 2010, “The Way I See It,” at 7 and 9 p.m. tonight (Thurs., Sept. 30) at the Abbey Theatre. The movie is action packed: the deepest powder, steepest lines and massive park features from Japan, Switzerland, British Columbia, Alaska, Colorado, Washington and Idaho. Powder magazine awarded it “movie of the year.” It features the skiing of Mark Abma, Sean Pettit, Eric Hjorleifson, Henrik Winstedt, Bobby Brown, Colby West, James Heim, Richard Permin, Cody Townsend, Rory Bushfield, Ingrid Backstrom, Gus Kenworthy, Jacob Wester, Russ Henshaw and others.

The last Ska-B-Q of September is a blues-rock affair starting at 5 p.m. tonight with Vay Santos.

This week’s Starlight slate includes Salsa Night with Dario at 8 p.m. tonight (free dance lessons!), music and dancing with DJ Double from 9 p.m. ‘til close Friday, a roman holiday toga and gladiator party from 8 p.m. ‘til close Saturday (best costume contest starts at 10 p.m.), Musica del Mundo from 8 p.m. ‘til close Sunday, and an open mic night at 8 p.m. Tuesday.

While it pains me to do so, this week’s Top Shelf list acknowledges some other Oakland Raider greats.

- Fred Biletnikoff. Even without stick-um, he had great hands.

- Cliff Branch. Another legendary Raider wide-out, Cliff won three Super Bowl rings and starred for the CU Buffs.

- John Matuszak. A great linebacker, best remembered for his role opposite Ringo Starr as “Tonda” in “Caveman.”

- Dave Casper. “The Ghost” was arguably the best NFL tight end ever.

- Ken Stabler. A true good old boy.

The autumn wind is a pirate? E-mail me at chrisa@gobrainstorm.net.



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