Horseshoe Diaries, Volume 4

This week’s Horseshoe Diary submission comes from Jason. Living in Maryland, Jason’s experience as an Indianapolis Colts fan is unique. After the jump, we’ll read about this experience, Jason’s love of the Colts, and how this love affected the relationship between him and his dad.

To know the love I have for the Colts is to know where it started, what longtime Colt fans went through, to where we are today. I am a Maryland native, I was born and raised a Colts fan. So the Colts have always been a large part of my life and my families life. Watching the Colts move at the age of 7 was heartbreaking, but my loyalty was and always will be to the Colts. So my dad and I loyally followed them to Indianapolis, while my moms loyalty stayed with the City of Baltimore. To this day, I still catch heat over that from my friends, but deep down they respect the fact I have stayed loyal all these years, through 1-15 seasons to Super Bowl Championships, my faith and love in the Horseshoe never wavered.

It wasn’t always easy. In the early years, the Indianapolis Colts were rarely televised in the Baltimore area for obvious reasons, so I got all my Colts updates from the 10 minute ticker on NBC and then NFL Primetime starting in 1987. The only games I remember being on in the area were a 45-3 drubbing to Pittsburgh in 1985 and another blowout loss vs. Miami the same year. I literally would watch entire games for 10 minute ticker updates on the Colts and the NBC/CBS (at that time NBC held AFC rights; CBS held NFC rights) halftime updates of which they rarely showed Colts highlights.

I remember in 1986 being 0-13, praying they wouldn’t lose all 16 games, them hiring Ron Meyer (from SMU infamy), then winning the last three games at Atlanta, home vs Buffalo, then a win at the LA. Raiders at the time – which I was particularly excited about because it was actually televised. Through the first few years they had some good players: Vernon Maxwell, Eugene Daniel, Duane Bickett, Johnny Cooks, Donnell Thompson, Randy McMillan, and Bill Brooks. I am sure a lot of younger Colt fans don’t remember these guys, but I do because they were the only decent players on bad teams.

From 84-86 we were bad-really bad. Then came the strike shortened season of 1987, our first playoff season. We traded for Eric Dickerson, who, along with Albert Bentley, formed a formidable backfield. The team started to win and I still remember a huge mid season win at Cleveland 9-7, who was an AFC juggernaut at the time. That’s when I knew this team could actually make the playoffs. We had a great running game and a stifling defense led by Duane Bickett. It all came down to the last game that year at home vs Tampa Bay, a win and we were AFC East Champs. Eric Dickerson ran all over Tampa and led the Colts to a 24-6 win and into the playoffs. The Colts lost that playoff game at Cleveland, but it was my first taste of the Colts in the playoffs and I loved it. Then from 1988 until 1995 we struggled to make the playoffs.

We had some decent teams in 88, 89, 92, and 94 but no playoff berths. There were some great individual games throughout that time, the Denver Monday Night Massacre, a win over the Redskins in 90, some great wins over the Dolphins and Bills, so the Colts did have their moments. That said, 1991, without a doubt, was a low point for me as a Colts fan, they finished 1-15, Jeff George was horrendous, Eric Dickerson held out, etc. That year was awful and that had to be one of the worst offensive teams with the worst offensive lines I have ever seen. I remember a past his prime Bubba Paris, formerly of the great 49ers teams, literally rolling over on two different lineman in one play and breaking both (2 different players) of their legs in a game vs the Raiders in the Coliseum. If not for a 28-27 comeback win at the Jets late in the season, the Colts would have went 0-16, shout out to Jessie Hester. So through the first 10 years the Colts had one playoff appearance, but better things were to come.

Then came 1995.Ted Marchibroda, Jim Harbaugh, Marshall Faulk, Ray Buchanon, Jason Belser, and Tony Siragusa. What a great season, Jim Harbaugh,aka Captain Comeback led us back from two 24-3 deficits in wins at the Jets in Week 2 and at the Dolphins in Week 6. I knew there was something special about that team. They had a knack for making plays at the right time to win games. A mid season game vs San Francisco, highlighted by a goal line stand right before halftime to hold the lead. Then a late game touchdown pass to Ken Dilger to clinch the win. Jim Harbaugh definitely played out of his mind that year.

However, once again it came down to the last week of the season to clinch a playoff birth. The Colts needed to defeat Drew Bledsoe and the Pats at home to earn the right to go to San Diego, the defending AFC Champs, the next week. That they did, by squeaking out a 10-7 victory. I was on cloud nine, back to the playoffs!

Unfortunately for Colts fans Marshall Faulk was injured on the second play from scrimmage and missed the remainder of the playoffs with a toe injury. That meant backups, Zach Crockett and Lamont Warren had to step up and step up they did. Zach Crockett had a monster game rushing for 150 yards and two TD’s on the way to a 35-20 road win. My dad and I were so excited, a Colts playoff win at long last! Next stop, Kansas City, where the Colts defense again stifled the team with the best record holding them to 7 points en route to a 10-7 win.

The team was playing out of its mind. I couldn’t believe it, my Colts were going to Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. The game vs Pittsburgh was a great game. The Colts had a legitimate chance to win, but the game came down to three key plays. Kordell Stewart running out of the end zone then catching a TD pass; a shoestring tackle on Lamont Warren by Dion Figures on a 3rd and 1 play, where if Figures doesn’t blitz, Warren is still running; then the dropped interception by Quentin Coryatt. Again, if he catches that, he takes it to the house, and that’s the game.

It wasn’t to be, as Jim Harbaughs last second comeback attempt fell short when Aaron Bailey failed to hold on to a last second pass that seemingly was laying on his lap. I still remember being on hands and knees in front of the television thinking HE CAUGHT IT HE CAUGHT IT! Then they showed the replay and my happiness turned to sadness as the Colts season was officially over. The Steelers went on to lose to Dallas in the Super Bowl 27-17, part of me still believes had the Colts made it, Captain Comeback would’ve found a way.

A second consecutive trip to the playoffs would come in 1996, highlighted by the exploits of a Rookie Wide Receiver from Syracuse University named Marvin Harrison. The Colts were blown out at Pittsburgh in the playoffs that year, but the first of the triplets was born. The next year was a largely forgettable 3-13 year, except for a few things; Jim Irsay firing Bill Tobin and hiring Bill Polian; firing Lindy Infante and hiring Jim Mora; and of course the drafting of the second triplet Peyton Manning.

The second we drafted Peyton, my dad and I decided we should get this new thing called the NFL Sunday Ticket, so we could be together every Sunday to watch Colts games. Over the past 14 seasons we have bonded and have become like brothers. I am an only child so this is very special to me as I consider my dad to be the finest person I have ever known and I strive to be the man he is, every day.

To say that Peyton Manning is great is an understatement. Even as early as his rookie year you could see the potential of an All Time great. Even though the record didn’t reflect it, the Colts were coming, and fast. Then came my all-time favorite Colt besides Manning, and the third triplet, Edgerrin James. Pundits were shocked we didn’t draft Ricky Williams, but as soon as I saw Edge play I was glad we drafted him. His vision, speed, power, and ability to get stronger as the game went on were unheard of in Colt land. Not only that, but Edge had hands like a WR, I remember a one handed catch vs Washington to clinch the Division that was absolutely sick. My dad and I looked at each other and shook our heads, EJ was legit. The thing I loved most about EJ was his attitude. He just played and wanted to be on the field all the time. He was an every down back, who could punish you with the run or punish you blocking. Edge was always a great pass protector.

So the triplets were in place, Harrison, Manning, and James. From 1999 until 2005 this was one of the best offenses in the league and those 3 played a large roll. From 1998-2001 our defense was our downfall, we could not stop anyone. So despite playoff births in 99 and 00, we quickly made first round exits. Changes needed to be made, the defense had to get better, so when Jim Mora would not fire Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio, GM Bill Polian fired him, leading to the greatest 10 year regular season run in history, and it started with the hiring of Tony Dungy.

In 2002, Jim Irsay hired former Bucs Head Coach Tony Dungy, who made his name on strong defensive, first as a Defensive Coordinator, then as Head Coach of the Buccaneers. Then came the drafting of Defensive End Dwight Freeney, another Syracuse product, I had seen play for 4 years. Being a Syracuse fan, I saw both he and Marvin Harrison play all of their College games, so I knew how good both would be. Dwight DID NOT disappoint, dominating outmatched Tackles all year and forcing his way into the starting lineup. I had told my dad when we drafted him, you have no idea how good this guy is, his first step is so fast, he will be a Hall of Famer one day. Looks like I was right.

That season was largely spent weeding out some veterans and finding out what the strengths and weaknesses of our team were. So it was no surprise to me that the Colts lost in the playoffs to a hot Jets team. What was a surprise was the way they lost, 41-0 the only game I have ever turned off in my fan career. My frustration with the team at the point was beyond high, so the best thing to do was just turn the game off, knowing we would be better next season. Both my dad and I were shocked at how awful we played that game and hoped better things were ahead.

The seasons that followed were some of the happiest times of my life. I got to watch every Colts game and I got to watch them all with my best friend and biggest Colt fan I knew, my dad. He had long suffered through the pain of being a Colts fan from the time he moved to Maryland. From Baltimore to Indy he had stayed loyal, so it was great to see him so happy over the Golden Era of Colts football. From 2002-2010, the Colts won at least 10 games every year and made the playoffs every year. They won a remarkable 109 games, made 9 playoff appearances, 7 AFC South Division Titles, 3 AFC Championships, 2 Super Bowls and the 2006 Super Bowl Champions. Some people say we underachieved, I say we were blessed to be a part of such a historic run of winning. All the great players, coaches, and talent evaluators in that time deserve all the credit in the World. They turned Indianapolis into a Football City.

I will never forget the 2006 AFC Championship, down 21-3 in the 2nd Quarter, walking into my bedroom and literally getting on my knees praying to God for us to comeback and win. It’s definitely cheesy to pray over a football game, which in the grand scheme of life, is not that important, but at the time it made me feel better, and by some miracle we started coming back. It was my happiest time as a Colt fan when Marlin Jackson picked off that pass from Tom Brady and knowing that the Colts were going to the Super Bowl. I remember hugging my dad, being so happy, and thinking I just want them to get one, one for the players, coaches, front office, fans, but most of all my dad.

For the longest time, I wasn’t sure he’d be around to witness a Colts Championship. Hell in the early days, I wasn’t sure I was going to live long enough. As bad as it sounds the Super Bowl was anti climatic for me because I knew we were going to win. Even when we kicked to Devin Hester and he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, I knew we were going to win, and we did. And when we did I ran around the house like like a little kid celebrating, just as I had done two weeks earlier. That feeling just cannot be put into words. It was a beautiful moment for the players and fans of Indianapolis and it was a special moment between father and son, one I will cherish forever.

I feel privileged to have seen every game Peyton Manning has played since he got to Indianapolis. In my opinion, he is the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. He has the numbers, the championship, but more then that he redefined the quarterback position. He took what Johnny Unitas did and raised the bar. I have never seen anyone run a team like 18. The way he commands the huddle, reads defenses, changes plays based off defense recognition, and the precise way he runs the offense. Nobody is better at late game comebacks, 2 minute drills, or knowing just what play to call at a crucial part of the game.

The guy is a winner, a hard worker, and someone who changed the culture of a town. Not only taking it from a laughingstock to a winner but being a crucial part of getting Lucas Oil Stadium built, and Indianapolis landing this years Super Bowl. No way we get that Super Bowl without Lucas Oil Stadium or Peyton Manning.

As we all know Peyton has struggled with a neck injury and getting his nerves to regenerate post surgeries. So now Colt Nation is at a crossroads as it seems he will be released to finish his career in another uniform. I hope something can be worked out and we can keep him to finish out his career, if anyone deserves to go out on his terms, in his town, in the Stadium he built, it’s him. I don’t want the last time he wore a Colt uniform to be in a playoff loss, defined by a bonehead decision by a poor Head Coach. It just doesn’t seem likely, and that breaks my heart, my dads heart, and Colt Nations heart. But that’s the NFL, it’s business, and Jim Irsay needs to do what he thinks is best for the franchise, while considering what’s best for 18. If I had two wishes it would be for Peyton to be healthy and for the Colts to find a way to make it work. If it’s not in the cards, it doesn’t lessen my appreciation for Manning or my respect for him as a player. He’s the greatest, point blank, period, end of story. [EDITOR'S NOTE: This was written two weeks ago, and put in the post queue, hence Jason's hope for a happy solution]

So my “Horseshoe Diary” comes full circle, fresh off a 2-14 season w/out our Hall of Fame Quarterback. This past season reminded me of those early years in Indy, when we literally had no viable Quarterbacks, a terrible head coach, and tons of upheaval. Fans that are too young to remember those years, imagine this year times 3, yeah it’s a depressing thought. I look at the rebuilding as a positive, we have a new coach, new GM, and most likely an ultra talented new QB. If we can’t have Peyton, Andrew Luck is the next best thing. So whereas in the early days of the Indianapolis Colts the forecast would be gloomy, I see the future as bright. I have the early years of the Colts to thank for that. I never have taken any of this for granted, hopefully you haven’t either. As far as my dad and I go, we still get together and watch every Colt game on Direct TV. The Colts have brought so much happiness to me and my dad. They made a strong bond between father and son, even stronger. I feel like the Colts and Colt Nation are part of my family.

We bleed blue, always will!

Thank you, Jason, for sharing your experience! The Horseshoe Diary submissions have been awesome, keep em coming to!