Moran: Huge loss for the Springs

If you asked even the most astute aficionados to list the most special dates in Colorado Springs’ sports history, it’s a safe bet nobody would think to mention July 26, 1979.

Mike Moran would have.

On that warm Thursday night at Garry Berry Stadium adjacent to Wasson High School, a crowd of at least 10,000 people gathered for the opening ceremonies of National Sports Festival II, a 31-sport extravaganza that attracted 2,300 of America’s best amateur athletes from figure skating and gymnastics to track and field.

NBC Sports provided national TV coverage, and every major-metro daily paper sent writers to chronicle the event sponsored by the U.S. Olympic Committee. That opening night, with country star Ronnie Milsap as an added attraction, legitimized months of work by Moran as the USOC’s new head of communications.

“What a perfect night!” Moran said proudly that evening as we watched the occasion unfold under a classic Pikes Peak sunset. “We’ve got so many media here to cover it! And the people of Colorado Springs really showed up!”

That festival would produce all kinds of soon-to-be historic stories, including the birth of the U.S. Olympic hockey team that went on to produce the Miracle on Ice seven months later in Lake Placid, N.Y.

It also was a huge moment for Moran in his mission to bring year-round media and public awareness to the Olympic movement. That remarkable mission spanned a quarter-century to Moran’s retirement, followed by another lengthy stretch helping the Colorado Springs Sports Corp. promote events for the Pikes Peak region.

Then, suddenly, it all ended two weeks ago on July 7, and most of Colorado Springs didn’t know how to react. There was one sports story in the daily paper as literally hundreds of messages, instant eulogies and tributes crisscrossed the cyber world.

Mike Moran, 78, former longtime communications chief for the U.S. Olympic Committee (1978-2003), passed away at Penrose Hospital of unexpected complications from pneumonia.

[pullquote-1-center] In his final years, as senior media consultant for the sports corporation, Moran added his expertise and instincts to many of the city’s annual events, from the Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and Rocky Mountain State Games to the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame, plus countless other competitions, luncheons and celebrations.

Across the sports world, Moran’s respected stature and spotless credibility resulted from his years as the American Olympic movement’s most prominent spokesman, media liaison and guiding force. His enduring, positive working relationships spanned every level of local, national and global media. He was equally as effective dealing with national networks, major newspapers or local writers and TV stations.

His influence spanned a generation of Olympic history and athletes, from Lake Placid in 1980 to Los Angeles in 1984, Atlanta in 1996, the Salt Lake City Winter Games of 2002 — and so much more in-between. Another unforgettable moment, in April 1980, brought that same national media throng back to the Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs, when the USOC voted to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Moran was at the center of that storm, helping all sides navigate a chaotic weekend including a visit and speech by Vice President Walter Mondale.

Yet, as remarkable as Moran’s professional life was, including 11 successful years (1968-78) as sports information director at the University of Colorado before joining the USOC, all those experiences and stories aren’t the reason for this tribute.

You need to know more about the real Mike Moran, whose value to this city and region since the 1970s cannot be overstated. That comes from firsthand knowledge as a veteran local media presence across the same span.

Nobody has done more at a personal level to promote, praise, publicize and enhance the reputation of Colorado Springs.

Let that sink in. Nobody. Not even close.

His move to the Springs, in the summer of 1978, coincided with two momentous occasions: the USOC (now U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee) moving its Olympic House headquarters from New York to the Olympic Training Center here, and the debut of the National Sports Festival.

Moran soon attracted national media here to share all the stories and personalities, transforming the Olympic beat into a constant newsmaker instead of an every-four-years fling. And a constant ingredient in his pitch was Colorado Springs, which he helped push as the self-proclaimed Amateur Sports Capital of America — long before “Olympic City USA” became a thing, a title also championed by Moran.

He could have focused entirely on the mega-media, but he took equal pride in helping the city’s daily newspaper become a key player on the Olympic media scene. He made sure The Gazette had credentials and access around the world, always having a good workspace and seat for the grandest Olympic stages. I was one of the first beneficiaries, yet it was the same for everyone else representing The Gazette through the years.

But for Moran, it wasn’t just about the Olympics. The two of us were proud of having led a determined crusade in the 1980s to bring minor-league baseball to Colorado Springs, reaching fruition with the Sky Sox for what became a 30-year run. Later, riding high with the Olympics in the 1990s, he aided the campaign to build the new Broadmoor World Arena, then the cultivation of our city’s Sports Hall of Fame, serving as perennial emcee for the induction banquet from its start in 2000 to his finale (though nobody realized it) last October.

Nobody was ever more comfortable with a microphone in hand, yet Moran also was a great fan and sports purist who loved having a seat in the stands. One example: When the Colorado Rockies were born in 1993, playing their inaugural game in New York against the Mets, he wrangled two upper-level tickets at Shea Stadium, looking down on home plate. My press seat went empty as the two of us shared a day to remember, one of many such occasions in our friendship that spanned 43 years.

Along the way, he became an avid follower of Colorado College hockey and the Air Force Academy (he loved college sports, not so much the Broncos), attending many games with friends such as former local sports executive Fred Whitacre. Moran also relished generating fresh local interest in those programs with his annual Sports Corp. preseason luncheons for college football and hockey.

Ever the voracious reader, he began every day devouring newspapers from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Denver Post to the Colorado Springs Business Journal, Indy and Gazette. All of them have lost a longtime faithful subscriber. And he sent countless emails daily to friends here and afar, sharing informative stories and opinions that always were relevant, both sports and politics.

We could go on, but hopefully, this begins to convey more of what Mike Moran meant to Colorado Springs, going back more than 40 years. Yet, it was never about wanting credit, praise or honor for those efforts. Just Mike doing what he did best.

He never called himself this city’s supreme sports ambassador, but that’s what he was. For him, underneath those amazing Olympic experiences and influences, what also mattered was convincing everyone in his world to appreciate Colorado Springs as much as he did, starting with that night in 1979.

Nobody else can fill that void now, which is what historians say only when someone really was one of a kind.

Mike Moran fits that extraordinary description. Truly, there won’t be another like him.