There’s a lot to complain about in this world, and we as humans certainly love to do it, but with Thanksgiving approaching (unless you’re Canadian, in which case we don’t care about you) I thought it would be a good idea to take a moment and reflect on just how lucky we are here in the Crossroads of America.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not going to sit here and tell you that the Indianapolis Colts are thegreatest franchise in the history of American sports, or that we should feel privileged to pay our money to an organization worth more than a billion dollars (how you spend your money is totally up to you of course), but I think it’s worth pointing out just how fortunate we’ve been to root for a great team over the years.
Let’s do this. You know the drill, 5 reasons in order of ascending magnitude.
5. The Stadium
The RCA Dome was a bit of a mess, uncomfortable seats, slippery concrete floors, ugly aesthetics, and disgusting bathrooms. In 2006 it was announced that the Colts, in partnership with the city of Indianapolis, would be building a new stadium to replace the aging dome; the Luke was conceived.
Since its opening to begin the 2008 season, Lucas Oil Stadium has won multiple awards, including the Grand Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies for the technical achievement of the building itself. In 2012, a review for the magazine “Stadium Journey” claimed that watching a Colts game at Lucas Oil Stadium, “may be the best sports experience in the world.” And they aren’t even Colts fans.
Miles of tailgaters, state of the art facilities, award winning architecture, classic yet modern aesthetics, the experience of enjoying a game at the “Luke”, as it’s affectionately referred to, is like few in the world. Whatever you may think about the financing of the stadium itself, you’ve got to admit, it’s one heck of an achievement.
4. The Owner
He’s been called the “Mad Tweeter” but to most of us here in Indiana he’s just our owner. Jim Irsay took some serious flak, and deservedly so, for his handling (or mishandling as the case may be) of certain aspects of the Peyton Manning departure, but what he sometimes lacks in social tact, Mr. Irsay more than makes up for with fan appreciation and solid organizational decision making.
Irsay took over ownership of the Colts upon the death of his father in 1997. What has followed has been a decade and a half of winning football. A lot of that credit certainly goes to Bill Polian, Peyton Manning, and Tony Dungy, but if not for Jim Irsay pulling the strings to bring those guys in the Colts might have gone the way of the San Diego Chargers, drafting Ryan Leaf, employing the most hated GM in football A. J. Smith, being coached by Norv Turner, struggling through one disappointing season after another, and now dealing with talks of moving the franchise to Los Angeles. Irsay saved us from that fate, and now we have Andrew Luck to carry the torch for the next decade and a half.
Aside from his organizational decisions Jim Irsay is known for his unprecedented level of fan interaction for an owner of a major sports franchise this side of Mark Cuban. He frequently gives out tickets and prizes (sending two fans to the Jets game with free tickets, a ride on the team plane, and even some spending money), and even organized a raffle to give away Super Bowl XLI rings to help raise money for charity. The man is many things, goofy, eccentric, and socially awkward even, but he’s got his heart in the right place and has been as a good an owner as any fan could hope for.
3. The History
I was born in 1986, two years after the Colts moved to Indianapolis, so my knowledge of the Baltimoreera is wrapped in lore and mystique more than reality or personal experience. Johnny Unitas, considered by many to be the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL, took the Colts to national prominence (before Johnny-U they had not recorded a single winning season), and in the process became a legend of the game. That Baltimore era is filled with Hall of Fame names and memorable moments, the Colts of that era serving to shape the future of football in many ways both subtle and profound.
Here in Indianapolis things got off to a rockier start. From the early-80’s to the late-90’s it was pretty rough going. Robert Irsay struggled as an owner and put together one miserable team after another. They had a couple Eric Dickerson led competent teams in the late 80’s, and Jim Harbaugh gave us some memorable moments as the quarterback of an overachieving ragtag bunch in the 1995 season, earning the nickname “Captain Comeback” in the process, but fell one play short of the Super Bowl on an infamous hail mary attempt that was nearly completed. It wasn’t until the drafting of Peyton Manning in 1998 that the Colts really regained their place in the pantheon of great NFL franchises.
With Manning at the helm the Colts saw unprecedented levels of accomplishment, winning the most games ever in a single decade (115), making the playoffs 11 times in 12 seasons, recording seven consecutive 12 win seasons, playing in two super bowls (winning one), and putting the Indianapolis Colts back in the collective consciousness of national sports fandom (ranking #2 behind the Dallas Cowboys as the country’s most popular team at one point in the 2000s).
Most fans would kill for that level of franchise success, here in Indianapolis we didn’t have to.
2. The Players
History is one thing, but what about the present? Well here in 2012 we have the honest-to-goodness Midwestern pleasure of rooting for players we actually like. The NFL, in some circles, has come to be known as the “National Felons League” because of the ridiculous number of players who seem to get arrested each and every season (34 NFL players and counting have been arrested so far in 2012). Here in the Midwest we value integrity, and the Colts reflect those values, the franchise gaining a national reputation for choosing character over talent, and it’s worked pretty well so far.
This 2012 roster is littered with players full of character and charisma. Reggie Wayne turned down more money to come back to a rebuilding team because he loves the city and the fans. The new franchise QB, Andrew Luck, has proven himself humble and self-deprecating, as talented as he is intelligent, every bit the savior we all hoped he’d be. Chuck Pagano, a player’s coach if there ever was one, came to Indianapolis, won over the team, was diagnosed with leukemia, and then turned it on its head, creating a positive out of a negative through courage and self-sacrifice. The story lines could go on and on with this team, player after player with interesting backstories and fan friendly personalities. We are truly lucky to be rooting for such a great group of men.
Sports fans will willfully engage in all manner of mental gymnastics to root for players they would otherwise likely detest, a difficult position to be in no doubt, but it’s quite a refreshing change to like the players on the field without even needing to try.
1. The Quarterbacks
I’ve already mentioned them but let’s take a moment to reflect on this good fortune more specifically.
Starting with Johnny Unitas, a pioneer of the forward pass and winner of three NFL Most Valuable Player Awards. Johnny U, as he was known, won’t appear in the top 5 of any of the modern passing chart we’ve come to accept as normal, but in his era he was the single greatest quarterback that ever put on the uniform. Finishing his career with nearly every passing record recorded at the time, “The Golden Arm” was the personification of excellence, his competitive fire and will to win now legendary. He pushed the game of football forward and helped usher in the era of passing that would define the NFL for decades to come.
With a shout-out to Jim Harbaugh’s “Cardiac Kids” of the mid-90’s, and the 6 excellent seasons of Bert Jones (and one MVP) in the 70s, the next great Colts quarterback was Peyton Manning. A worthy successor to the great Johnny U, Manning proved that it isn’t always the most physically talented player that is the best. Through sheer strength of will and an undying desire to be the best, Manning took the NFL by storm with his unique brand of no huddle play calling and at the line of scrimmage adjustments. No quarterback in the history of the NFL has been able to read a defense the way Manning does, and his uncanny knack for making the right read and the perfect throw places him smack dab in the middle of the Greatest Of All Time conversation.
It’s one thing when you have two great quarterbacks separated by decades (Johnny U retired in 1974), but to have one stacked directly on top of the other would be like going from Michael Jordan to LeBron James, it just doesn’t happen in sports. Well this time it has. Which brings us finally to our latest super star, Andrew Luck, the European raised, soccer loving, Stanford educated quarterback from Washington D.C. While he may not have the aww-shucks southern charm of Peyton Manning, which plays so well here in the Midwest, his own brand of humble-to-a-fault never good enough attitude is endearing in its own right. While it’s way early to put Luck in the conversation with Manning and Unitas, early signs point to another great quarterback, his physical gifts and mental acuity providing nearly unlimited potential.
Should be a fun ride.
Here are some awesome Peyton Manning commercials to really set things off. Have a great day and, as always, thanks for reading.