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Saying goodbye to Nuggets superfan Russell Ray ...

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Over the weekend, the Denver Stiffs and Nuggets family sadly had to say goodbye to one of its most iconic members.

My pre-game ritual, hanging out with Vicki the Signlady and her husband Russell Ray.
My pre-game ritual, hanging out with Vicki the Signlady and her husband Russell Ray.

While Denver Nuggets and NBA fans worldwide were caught up in the insane free agency frenzy that overtook this year's July 4th holiday weekend, we in Nuggets / Stiffs Nation were saddened by the tragic news that our friend and fellow Nuggets fan Russell Ray had passed away early Saturday morning. While we don't know the specifics (nor do we need to) of Russ's passing, we were made aware that something had gone terribly wrong when Russ's wife Vicki - known to Nuggets fans everywhere as "Vicki the Signlady" - had posted on her Facebook page last week that Russ was in critical condition and prayers were needed.

Sadly, despite the countless thoughts and prayers sent to the Ray family from Nuggets Nation and beyond, Russ didn't make it through the weekend. In his wake, he leaves a giant hole in the hearts of Nuggets fandom.

Anyone who has attended a Nuggets game for the past 20-plus years knows who Russ and Vicki are. They sit in the very first row corner of Section 130 where the Nuggets players exit and enter their locker room. And in addition to having a stack of creative, hand-made signs to support her favorite team, Vicki always has an assortment of candy on hand for the players and coaches based on their own personal preferences.

Ever the supportive spouse, at each and every Nuggets game Russ could be found sitting alongside his wife Vicki while sporting his #3 "Vicki's Husband" customized Nuggets uniform and carrying a DSLR camera that he used to shoot terrific in-game footage. Russ and Vicki always bought more season tickets than they themselves needed and routinely offered the tickets to friends, charitable groups and others who could otherwise never experience a Nuggets game in person in the first row. In fact, at all of our Stiffs Night Out events the Rays would donate tickets for us to give away to our loyal readers in attendance.

My longtime Denver Stiffs colleague Jeff Morton shared the following thoughts on Russ's tragic passing:

The first real memory I have of Russell Ray was an interaction I had in the newly formed Denver Stiffs comment section in 2009. I had readily espoused my ultra liberal way of thinking and Russ engaged me in a debate. That was seven years ago. Little did I know that nearly all of those seven years later he and I would regularly chat, talk and give our thoughts about the Denver Nuggets and Family at Pepsi Center.

I'm coming up on my seventh season covering the Nuggets for Denver Stiffs. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Russ and super-fan Vicki Ray (the sign lady!) are the most dedicated, committed, die-hard Nuggets fans on the planet. It was a pleasure to talk to Russ, even though he and I didn't agree one bit on politics. The last four seasons as a credentialed Nuggets reporter I've taken the time, every home game, to say hi and hug Vicki and shake hands with Russ and shoot the breeze for five or 10 minutes. 

Every home game, like clock work, Russ and Vicki have been there. It's a remarkable amount of dedication that needs to be appreciated for it's loyalty and depth. Over time, through Stiffs events and covering games Andy Feinstein, Nate Timmons and myself developed a bond with the Denver Nuggets super fans that I grew to treasure. You never adequately appreciate someone until they are gone, and Russ passing away certainly hit me harder than I ever thought it would. 

I'll miss you Russ, and my thoughts, sympathies and love go to Vicki and your family for your loss. It's a huge loss for your family, and the Nuggets family as well. One can only hope that eventually the Nuggets bring home that championship that all of us dearly crave and in that championship we can all think of Russell Ray ... the man who showed us what dedication and fandom is all about.

Goodbye Russ.
Like Jeff, I too cannot imagine attending a Nuggets game without interacting with Russ before tipoff. As Jeff mentioned in his comments above, Russ and I would also engage in fierce political debates, him being much more conservative that I'll ever be. But I always respected his consistency when it came to his staunch conservative values and we always found common ground when it came to our joint belief in limited government and personal freedom.

And - of course - we spoke endlessly about our beloved Nuggets.

Unlike his amazing wife Vicki and her belief in cheering for our favorite franchise no matter what, Russ was a bit more critical (when criticism was warranted) and never shied away from saying so both in our comments section here and on our Denver Stiffs Facebook page. Just like his political beliefs, Russ wasn't afraid to speak his mind about his favorite basketball team and let the organization know about it. I know for a fact that the organization listened, evident by the time Nuggets president Josh Kroenke asked me to organize a group of fans after a rough 2014-15 season and specifically asked for Russ and Vicki to attend (unfortunately Russ had a work conflict that night, but Vicki was certainly there!).

At our Stiffs Night Out events, Russ and Vicki could always be found in the corner booth at our hangout, Jake's Sports & Spirits. In addition to bringing tickets for us to give away to our readers, Russ was always armed with his camera and took photos that we could use on our site, Facebook page and so forth. We never asked for the tickets or the pictures, Russ and Vicki simply offered them. Simply put, the word generosity didn't and doesn't do the Rays justice.

Please join me in expressing our collective condolences to the Ray family for Russ's all-too-soon and tragic passing over the weekend. A memorial fund will be set up soon, but in the meantime a Meal Train is now online for friends of the Rays to assist with meal delivery during this difficult time.

Denver Nuggets games will never be the same without Russell Ray sitting in Section 130, Row 1. And if the Nuggets ever do win that championship that has eluded them for four-plus decades, the parade just won't feel right without Russ standing there alongside his lovely wife Vicki, cheering loudly while taking pictures with his camera for us all to share.

(Nate Timmons and Jeff Morton with Vicki "the Signlady" - Photo by Russell Ray)