Growing Up Before My Eyes

My son, my only son, is seven-years old.

God willing, he will live another eighty or ninety years full of football games, of joy and wonder and heartbreak and exaltation.

Should he be so blessed, I doubt very highly if he will ever see a better game in his hopefully long and noteworthy life than the Colts 45-44 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

He's an unusually bright and sensitive boy, full of enthusiasm and obsessed with being right about everything. He's emotional, but reticent to display those emotions in public. When other are around, he is introverted and quiet.

As T.Y. Hilton streaked down the middle of the field with the last of his 13 catches, tallying up the 219th, 220th, 221st, 222nd, 223rd and 224th yards of his ridiculous record-breaking night, I didn't bother looking at the celebration on the sidelines or in the endzone.

I turned to my boy and saw his eyes wide and frantic as he screamed full-throat with 65,000 family members, jumping and hopping and shaking uncontrollably. My son, my only son, was in the club, forever a fan. The man whose jersey he was wearing had just led one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history.

He is growing up with Andrew Luck. They are growing up together. Right before my eyes.

The First Half

There is only so much real analysis I can give about the game. There was too much insanity, too much desperation, too many high fives and hugs and screaming. They don't allow these things in the press box for good reason, but I was blessed not to be in the press box.

I can tell you that while the Chiefs fans were numerous, their number was not the issue. They were a loud, angry, aggressive bunch. Many were kind, but many more came to Indianapolis to cause trouble. I can tell you that even as a pacifist with his seven-year old boy present, I had to leave my seats for a quarter plus for fear I'd get into trouble. Don't misunderstand. I wasn't afraid of them. I was afraid of me.

I was watching the last decade-plus flash before eyes. While the Indy defense was being decimated by a second-tier quarterback and a brilliant offensive coach, I knew that it didn't matter if the Chiefs hung 40 on Indy. "They", the awful mindless "They" that breeds in the primordial ooze that seeps out of Bristol, Connecticut and pools around the feet of columnists, pundits and shock jocks across the land, were going to blame Luck for the loss.

It's just what "They" do.

In the first half, I saw flashes of what the Indy offense should have been all along. I let go of my anger and incredulity that has marked my commentary all year. The ceaseless questions like, "How can they pull Hilton off the field for a fullback?" or "How can Darius Heyward-Bey be the second receiver?" all melted away. Almost too late, Chuck Pagano figured it out.

I was frustrated. This team could have been so much more. If they had run that offense all year long, they would have won the two seed in the AFC. They would have been a Super Bowl contender, but they had let the window slam shut on 2013. The 'Seminole Chant' was echoing through Lucas Oil Stadium, faint but clear. No one was coming back from 28 points down.

 

Star Wars Numbers

The boy and I left our seats. We didn't leave the building, but we left our seats. We found an enclave away from the Chiefs fans and watched as Donald Brown, so expendable the coaching staff had him gunning on special teams to open the year scored two touchdowns. We watched as Robert Mathis does what Robert Mathis does best: separate quarterbacks from the ball.

We watched as Luck became something else entirely than what he has been in 2013. Gone was the Joe Flacco Facsimile the franchise had carefully crafted. He stopped being a glorified game manager whose most discernable skill was the ability to avoid the interception.

Instead, on the big stage he threw off his cloak and showed he was a jedi like his father before him.

He became the second coming of Peyton Manning.

The only reason why Luck didn't put up "Star Wars" numbers in 2013 is because the owner, the GM and the coach conspired against him. They didn't want the next Manning.

As the bedlam finally quieted last night and they celebrated the next step forward in the eventual creation of a championship team, I can only hope that Irsay, Grigson and Pagano fell to their individual and collective knees and whispered a prayer to Yoda in gratitude that the force is strong with Luck.

I saw him fire a torpedo into tiny exhaust port for the first touchdown of the game. Hilton is what?  5'8"? No one could hit a target that size. Far from one-in-a-million, Luck did it 13 times.

I saw him shake off every mistake. There was no try. There was only do.

I saw him reach out his hands draw the loose ball into his arms, then fly over the goal line to keep the dream alive.

29-for-45. 443 yards. 45 yards rushing. Five total touchdowns.

45-44.

Star Wars numbers indeed.

 

The Next Level

If you let Luck run a no-huddle, vertical passing based offense, there are no limits. He is so good that if the Colts play the Patriots next week, he'll be the best player on the field. If they play the Broncos, he'll probably be the second-best player, but it will be very close, and he'll be far closer to Manning that anyone realizes.

He is ready now. The Colts still have plenty of flaws, but who in the AFC doesn't? They don't quite have the personnel to execute the no-huddle vertical passing game they have only recently discovered. But the genie hacked his way out of the bottle last night, and all the Stanley Havili's in the world won't be able to cram him back in.

By the time Luck hit Hilton for 64 glorious yards, the boy and I were already back in our seats, celebrating with family both biological and extended. Today, his voice is raspy and unusually deep, the fleeting wounds of unreasonable fandom.

He and Luck are growing up together. All I can do is watch and be grateful.

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