The room was packed inside Penrose House, as about 75 people with some kind of tie to the Olympic movement, the University of Colorado and/or the Colorado Springs sports scene over the past 30 to 45 years gathered to share in a special moment.
Everyone in the crowd was there to honor Mike Moran, and he didn't have a clue.
Longtime friends and cohorts of the former U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman and head communications officer had decided a few months ago to attempt a surprise roast for him. It would coincide with the annual Olympic Assembly, ensuring that many people close to or inside the USOC over the past generation would be available. The tough part would be guarding the secret, because nobody keeps a closer eye on what's happening than Moran, who now works as senior media consultant for the Colorado Springs Sports Corp.
Somehow, the surprise worked. Last weekend, Moran was brought to Penrose House, ostensibly en route to dinner with USOC friends. He walked in and was stunned to see the crowd, which included El Pomar Foundation CEO (and former two-time USOC president) Bill Hybl along with a broad collection of current and former Olympic Family administrators. There were others who knew Moran from his sports information days at CU, including Steve Hatchell, president and CEO of the National Football Foundation, and Steve Ehrhart, now executive director of the Liberty Bowl. The ringleader was Dave Ogrean, now head of USA Hockey but with past stints at the Sports Corporation, the USOC and ESPN.
What followed was a first-class roast (without the sit-down dinner), as everyone recognized Moran for his impact on them and the USOC. He came to the Olympic Committee and Colorado Springs after 10 years at CU, and quickly began making a career out of helping media at every level in covering the Olympic movement, from its business side to the athletes and the Games.
He relished dealing with the national TV and print media, making sure they were satisfied. But he always had time to make sure that local journalists had access and opportunities, including subtle inside information. I first met him in 1977, when he was at Boulder, but a year later he came here to help run the first National Sports Festival, and soon thereafter he was here to stay.
As Moran remembered when his turn finally came at the roast, the nature of the USOC at that time (with leaders who weren't so enamored with facing media) pushed him into a prominent role, starting with the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980 and spiraling upward from there. When controversy came, such as the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan figure-skating fiasco in 1994, Moran had to deal with the damage control. That continued to be his role, through the often-unexpected turnover of executive directors and officers, until his retirement in 2003. And as someone said during the roast, he was always at his best during chaos.
Through the years, Moran personally took on a different task, with no supervision other than his own instincts. He became an influential, forceful advocate on behalf of Colorado Springs, talking up the city and its attributes to anyone, anywhere, who might need to know. His mission was to make sure people saw this city as he did, as a great place to live but also to visit, much different from its negative reputation.
Hardly anybody's known it, but Moran has been Colorado Springs' most ardent promoter, even chiding local media for caring too much about Denver pro sports. Since leaving the USOC, he has dedicated himself to helping publicize and put on the Sports Corp's activities. He also has become the unofficial historian for the USOC and the Olympic movement, posting superbly crafted pieces for a huge online mailing list. (Check out his work at coloradospringssports.org.)
Several times in the past decade, Moran considered moving away — perhaps to Maine, where he loves to visit, possibly back to his home state of Nebraska, or maybe New York. But it never worked out, and when he took the microphone Saturday night, he made it clear that he's not going anywhere now, "because this is home."
And more than almost anyone else, he's made Colorado Springs a better place.