(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
This Monday's Colts Notebook, while still true to its newspaper-like style, will be a bit different than the usual entry. Today, we’ll discuss the playoffs, Baltimorean animosity, and a short breakdown of the Luck to Fleener touchdown. And, since the Colts are playing the Ravens, we'll talk about eminent domain – the rarely mentioned factor that not only finalized Robert Irsay’s decision to come to Indianapolis, but also possibly affected the odd timing of the move.
Going “Back” to Baltimore for the Playoffs
Indianapolis’s wild card playoff opponent resides in a city that loves Chuck Pagano but doesn’t feel quite so warmly toward the Colts, the team they attempted to seize through eminent domain, sadly sealing their fate in the struggle to keep the team from heading off to Phoenix, Jacksonville, Los Angeles, or Indianapolis. All those cities had entered the conversation for the Colts’ new home beginning in the late 1970s. (Take a moment to imagine a Jacksonville Colts team, playing at the Gator Bowl, which was part of the city’s plan in 1979)
As talks broke down in the spring of 1984, Maryland state legislature went ahead and approved the eminent domain bill a couple days before the team left, sparking the midnight move. By the time then-Maryland Governor Harry Hughes signed the bill on March 29, 1984, the Colts were already in the Circle City. (Source: The Baltimore Sun: Anatomy of a Move. There is also an interesting, more in-depth look at Examiner.com)
Jim Irsay’s very telling comments on the move, from a 2009 CBS Sports article by Clark Judge:
"People don't realize it, but my dad did not want to leave," the Colts owner said at a break during this week's NFL owners' meetings. "This was not like Al [Davis] doing something radical and being a maverick. It took him years [to make the decision], and it wasn't until the 'eminent domain' issue came up that he made up his mind. It was tough for him."
Despite all the peace Irsay has attempted to make over the years, many Baltimoreans still feel the sting of the heartbreak of their favorite team leaving for a new city, not much bigger than their own. There will be talk of the move – it’s an interesting story, after all – and there will be angry fans in Maryland. Yet, the game will be played by young men who aren’t old enough to remember the event that made a whole city so angry.
OLB Dwight Freeney is one of the older players on the team, but still was only four when the Colts moved to Indy, was asked whether it mattered to him that, of all places, they were going ‘back’ to Baltimore. “It doesn’t matter to us,” he said. “We’ll play in the parking lot. We just want to go out there and play football and be in this dance, which we are and just go out there and play against the best. Our goals, we have to accomplish these goals.”
“They’re a great team. Obviously, Coach Pagano knows more about them than I do so lean on him if that’s who it ends up being, but obviously a historic defense. I know the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis so it’ll be interesting. But I’ve heard it’s a tough and hard place to play. Obviously, everybody knows about their defense so hopefully it’ll be a good matchup.”
Whatever the focus of the players on both teams, the focus for some of the media and many fans in Baltimore will be the Colts returning to the city where they refuse to display the word “Colts” on their stadium scoreboard, instead electing to refer to the visitors as “Indy.”
Not Just Happy to be there
For many fans, after an equally promising and improbable season, Indy’s foray into the postseason is like icing on the cake, an unexpected bonus in an unexpected season. The Colts seem to provide little evidence of being a good team outside of their 11-5 record. Yet they continue winning, never listening to what others say about them, never looking at things like DVOA, or the raw production statistics that say they shouldn’t be winning so many games. They have been outscored (325-360) and outgained (5799-5988 yards) on the season, and Andrew Luck has been sacked 41 times.
Now, just as people predicted a losing record before the season, many now believe the Colts will likely be a one-and-done in the playoffs, even against the reeling Baltimore Ravens. These Colts, however, just like with those preseason projections, don’t see things the same way as those of us on the outside. They are not just happy to get to the playoffs after all they have been through.
“The story has yet to be written,” said rookie tight end Coby Fleener. “Ultimately, it’s what we do in the playoffs that means something. Getting there is one thing but winning games there is another.”
“We’re not happy just to be in,” added Andrew Luck. “There’s an ongoing mind just like every team in the playoffs and we’re shooting for that goal. We’ll take it one week at a time, but it is great to be in the playoffs for those veterans, but that’s not the end of the journey by any means.”
A couple days before their win against the Texans, Head Coach Chuck Pagano was talking about coming back to coach again and said, “…our goal from day one has been to hoist the Lombardi, we didn’t know when and where. Our deal now is why not now, why not us?”
They didn’t look like a winner on paper before the season, but they are. Heading into the playoffs, they again don’t look like much on paper, aside from their momentum and surprisingly good 3rd down conversion rate (7th in the NFL), but the Indianapolis Colts don’t care how they look on paper. And they are far from satisfied with just showing up to the dance.
Breaking down Fleener’s Touchdown
Coby Fleener didn’t have a particularly great game overall, but his short touchdown catch in the first quarter helped the Colts to play with the lead for the majority of the game. Indianapolis lined up looking like they would try a run after an empty backfield play didn’t work out. “It was a play-action play,” Fleener said, “and I think you’ve got to credit the o-line for selling run and the play by Vick Ballard in the backfield. They bit pretty well and came up a little bit and Andrew (Luck) threw it in there.”
The offensive line definitely sold the run look on the play. All four Houston linebackers barreled forward to try to stop the run while Fleener appeared to feign a whiffed block on the outside linebacker, who was picked up and slowed by a diving Ballard. The fake was so convincing that the camera initially followed Vick Ballard, the way camera operators used to follow Edgerrin James by mistake. Fleener quickly turned and caught a perfect pass right in the middle of the letter A in the Indianapolis end zone.
This was only Fleener’s second opportunity to celebrate a touchdown in his rookie season. Would he break out another unusual “jackhammer” dance? Nope. This time, “it was a tribute to the late Michael Jackson,” he said of his celebration. “I think it went well.” Regardless of his celebration (It surely didn’t get as much attention as Hilton’s odd end zone gyration), the play was a success, and it set the Colts up to play with the lead for all but about 12 seconds afterward.
A Few Good Quotes
Luck on the big guys dancing in the locker room after their win: “I’d say there are a lot better dancers. It’s nice to unwind, un-tuck your shirt and have a little fun in the locker room especially with coach Pagano there.”
Deji Karim, who was signed back to the active roster about three weeks ago, discussing his kickoff return for the touchdown that took the lead and the momentum back from the Texans: “All week we had been preaching it. (Marwan Maalouf), the special teams coordinator, had been telling us we were going to get one and just to prepare for it. We ran the return and it just split open. I mean I’ve got to give all the credit to all my blockers on kickoff return. They got the job done. They’ve been doing it every week and I kept telling them over and over again that we were going to get this. They stayed patient with me, opened it up for me and I just took it for six. It’s all a credit to them.”
Vontae Davis on the Colts: “We compete, that’s what it’s about in the National Football League. I’m just blessed to have the opportunity to come in this organization and be a part of this team.”
Pagano, to the people still fighting for their lives against cancer: “You are strong enough. You have one thing that you find out, that you’re a lot stronger than you think you are. Have a positive attitude, wake up every day, and have a faith, a belief that you’re going to beat it and you’re going to win. That’s the best message that I can give any of them. If they believe and they have faith, they’ll beat it. Lean on those people that are very, very close to you. But when you’re put in a situation like that, like I said, you’re a heck of a lot stronger than you really think you are. The will to beat it and the will to survive will get them through.”
All Quotes for today's notebook are courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts Public Relations Department.
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