Is there a better way to describe Colts fans? With their 20-13 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Colts moved their record to 10-5 (their 12th time winning 10 or more games in the past 14 years) and clinched a playoff berth (their 12th playoff berth in, coincidentally, the last 14 years). A year after going 2-14, after an off-season in which the owner, Jim Irsay, fired the General Manager and Head Coach, after he cut Peyton Manning and a handful of talented veteran players, the Colts were able to make the playoffs.
And how about that owner? For all of the grief Irsay is given for his quirky personality, is there anyone Colts fans would rather have own the Colts? In a climate that sees sports owners fighting to pocket more cash, Irsay isn't afraid to aggressively spend to the salary cap. He isn't afraid to hand out up-front cash via signing bonuses. And while he has a vision for the team, he hires men to execute that vision, and then gets out of the way and lets them do their job. In the 16 seasons since Irsay took over full control of the team in 1997, the Colts have had only 4 losing seasons while making the playoffs 12 times.
In an era of TMZ and arrest meters, when there is as much time devoted to a player's embarrassing criminal activities as there is their on-field play, the Colts have consistently fielded teams that stay out of trouble with the law, that do the fans and the city of Indianapolis proud. While the rest of the world would proudly beat their chest to the song of, "winning is all that counts, no matter the cost," Colts fans take pride in, as Tony Dungy calls it, "winning the right way." We've never had to worry about any of the teams on-field triumphs being overshadowed by their off-field shenanigans – Nick Harper's wife is another story.
For 12 seasons, Colts fans were able to watch the greatest quarterback in NFL history lead their team. Over those 12 years, he became more than just the quarterback for their favorite team, he became theirs. Being a Colts fan became synonymous with being a Manning fan. We would rush to the forums, the phone lines, the twitter to defend our quarterback against the slings and arrows of anyone who dared insult him. And then it ended, so abruptly, in a way no one would have ever predicted. Manning was cut, gone, off to finish his career in Denver. For many Colts fans, losing with Manning, watching him finish his career as a Colt, was better than moving on with anyone else, no matter who they were or how good they would be.
Then there was Andrew. It didn't happen all at once. Like a love affair born out of so many small, intimate moments, our relationship with Luck took some time to blossom. It started with an eerie homage to his predecessor: a touchdown pass on his first play from scrimmage in the NFL, during their preseason opener against the Rams. It grew out of admiration for his toughness – his ability to stand in the pocket and absorb hit after hit while still making the plays his team needed to win.
And then it happened. First, there was national media, talking about his bad stats, his interceptions, his completion percentage. Sure, the Colts had wins, but he wasn't RGIII! We rushed to his defense. This felt familiar. Then came the Lions game: down 12 with 3 minutes to go, he lead his team to a 35-33 victory with a touchdown pass to Donnie Avery as time expired. 12 games into his rookie season, Luck had fans and teammates believing that no deficit was too large to overcome, that no game was over until the clock read 00:00. Remind you of anyone?
Last week, as I was reading ESPN's profile of Chuck Pagano, how his strength and determination through his fight with leukemia was an inspiration to people everywhere, I was reminded of a previous Colts coach, Tony Dungy. It was 7 years and 2 days ago that his son, James, was found dead in his apartment in Florida. Coach Dungy's grace through the most heart-wrenching situation a parent could ever face was a source of inspiration for people everywhere.
While many teams were run by coaches who wanted to be noticed more for their words than their actions, or owners who wanted to be the front page story, the Colts were lead by men who carried themselves in the most respectful, dignified way possible.
So as I sit here thinking about the Indianapolis Colts, about their past, their present, and their future, I can't help but think how incredibly lucky we all are.
But what do you expect from a group of people who have a horseshoe tattooed on their heart?
Happy Holidays, everybody!