Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Why the Colts?

Never have I been prouder to be an Indianapolis Colts fan then this past weekend when they erased an 18-point halftime deficit to beat the heavily-favoured Green Bay Packers. What brought a tear to my eye was that the Colts had dedicated the game to their coach who was in hospital just a few blocks away battling leukaemia.

Why the Colts?
From 1999 until last year, the Colts were a dominant team, riding the arm of quarterback Peyton Manning. Often when people met me in this period they assumed I cheered for the Colts because they were a winner, or because I was a Manning fan. When he went to the Denver Broncos some of those same people assumed I too would transfer my allegiance to the Mile High City. WRONG!

Gary Hogeboom, before "Survivor",
although with that offensive line
he was a survivor of a different kind
To the people who accused me of being a bandwagon jumper I always retorted, "I've cheered for the Colts since Gary Hogeboom was their quarterback!" The response was often a glazed look, or later, "You mean the guy from 'Survivor'?" I never watched "Survivor" so I left it to Google to confirm it was the same guy. Back then, I had to correct everyone who still thought they were the Baltimore Colts.

My allegiance goes back to 1986, and can even be confirmed by a message in my Grade 12 yearbook from Derek Flaman who admonished me for being a Colts fan.

So, why? Like any sports allegiance, it's a story as peculiar as sports itself. The first team I really liked was the Oakland Raiders, back in the late 70s when I was nine years old. I loved Jim Plunkett, and the amazing comeback story he was, overcoming injury and adversity to lead the Raiders to the Super Bowl, the first ever wildcard team to win the championship.

But after that, and as I discovered long before that, they were a winner. I've always liked an underdog. There was none bigger than the 1986 Indianapolis Colts. I picked up their trail in 1986 when they were winless, and threatening to not win a game all year. They fired their coach, and hired Ron Meyer with three games to go, and they were 0-13. I'd seen him coach the New England Patriots and liked him. Plus, here he was, given an impossible task.

Until they went into Atlanta and won. Then they took on Buffalo – and won. In those days, Indianapolis was like an NFL Siberia, so the Colts were never on TV. On peasant vision we never even got games on CTV or CBC until after the Canadian Football League season was over. Even then, we often got the "local" feed, which was usually a Seattle Seahawk game. However, on the last weekend of the regular season, the Colts and the Raiders were on CTV.

Albert Bentley, who still lives on
 in the Colts backfield in the video game
 Tecmo SuperBowl football
At first the game held no interest, but the Colts began to move the ball. Then Albert Bentley ripped off a big run, and led his team to victory. I got more and more into the game while I was doing some reading on a Sunday afternoon in front of the TV (back then the NFL had a bunch of Saturday games after the college regular season ended). I remembered Bentley from the 1984 Orange Bowl when he, and Bernie Kosar led their underdog Miami Hurricanes, to an upset over Nebraska and the national championship. (That would be the only time I EVER cheered for the 'canes, but that was before they became what they would become). I wondered what ever happened to Bentley, while I watched Kosar excel with the Cleveland Browns. Now here he was.

Eric Dickerson, in the news again
 this year as Adrian Peterson went after
 his single-season rushing record
The Colts won that game, finishing the season on a three-game winning streak. Still, my loyalty was not yet cemented. That happened the next season, and I have to admit it was a bit of bandwagon jumping. The NFL had a strike in 1987, and brought in replacement players for three games. Amid all that, there was talk that Eric Dickerson, who was probably the best runningback in the NFL, was sitting out a contract dispute with the LA Rams and wanted a trade. The rumour was the Colts were the likeliest team to get him – and they did, acquiring him in a three-way deal with the Rams and Buffalo. So it was kind of cool to cheer for them now, although they had come off that 3-13 season.

Once the strike was over, Dickerson joined the Colts. On the first day he dressed, Bentley rushed for almost 150 yards. I was so stoked. Dickerson would soon assume the lion's share of the rushing load, and the Colts won their division. I was pumped – and hooked. However, they faced none other than my hero Bernie Kosar and his Cleveland Browns in the AFC Divisional Game and they ran all over the Colts.

Still, that cinched it. The Colts were my time, and I have never regretted it.

Do you believe in coincidence, or numerology, or whatever it's called?
One more thing. That first season I cheered for the Colts they went 3-13. Keep that record, and those numbers in mind.

The Colts finished the 1997 season 3-13 which gave them the number one pick in the draft. They took Peyton Manning. The Colts finished 3-13 in 1998, Manning's rookie season. The next year, 1999, they finished 13-3, the single greatest turnaround in NFL history. Then last year, 2011, the Colts lost Manning for the whole season and finished with a record of 3-13, which gave them the first pick in the draft. They took Andrew Luck.

I fully expect the Colts to go 3-13, although 13-3 is still possible.

Whatever their record though, one of this season's wins is maybe the single most inspiring game I've watched them play. It wasn't for them, or stats, or a playoff spot. It was for their ailing coach – and they gave him the game ball.

Cheer for anyone else – NEVER.

No comments:

Post a Comment