This Is Our Year

Ten years ago, I woke up saying, “Did that really happen? It wasn’t a dream? The Colts really won the Super Bowl?”

Today, I woke up saying, “Did that really happen? Did the Patriots really come back and beat the Falcons to win the Super Bowl?”

The only thing worse than that is waking up and having no football for six months.

The good news is – it’s a brand new season. And it starts today (even if it doesn’t officially start until fall).

And this season, the Super Bowl is in Minneapolis, the city I grew up in, the place I fell in love with football watching the Vikings with my dad on Sundays.

Minneapolis is beautiful. Yeah, it’s cold. But U.S. Bank Stadium is warm. And so are the people.

I plan to be at Super Bowl LII. And I plan on bringing the Colts with me. And if my old team wants to show up – well, that’s fine too. In fact, that’s exactly what Dan Graziano of ESPN is predicting – a Colts/Vikings Super Bowl – with the Colts winning, of course.

Here’s to 2017…

This is Our Year.

And it can’t get here soon enough.

Go Colts!

Pat McAfee Is Ready For The Next Big Thing

Photo: Matt Bowen/Colts

It was the first clue – and it came last July when I was riding around with Pat McAfee making surprise deliveries to Colts season ticket members.

After dropping approximately $150 into a jar at a lemonade stand, McAfee got back on the Colts bus. We were chatting about training camp, now just days away, and he said something that put a doubt in my mind that I couldn’t erase.

“This is the first year I’ve dreaded going to camp.”

I know no one looks forward to going to training camp (myself included), but there was something about the way he said it that told me this was more than just talk.

As the season progressed, so did my suspicion. I would notice a post on social media or hear his response to a question in the locker room.

Finally, around mid-season, I brought it up.

“You’re making me a little nervous,” I said. “I don’t know how much longer I’ll be kicking footballs for?”

He was sitting down in front of his locker. He looked me in the eyes and talked about how much time football takes up, about the other interests he has, and about how badly he wanted to pursue them.

And right then, I knew. At 29 years old, Pat McAfee was contemplating retirement.

Photo: Matt Bowen/Colts

I didn’t tell a soul. It was a casual conversation, more personal than professional in nature. I didn’t try to change his mind, it wasn’t my place – but secretly, I hoped something else would.

Later, as the end of the season neared, he seemed noticeably relaxed. Something had changed, I could tell. I knew he had a new lady friend, but still – I wondered.

“You seem happy,” I told him.

“I am,” he said. “I’m done.”

He proceeded to tell me about a job with Barstool Sports. It was the most excited I had seen him in months. He said he knew it was time to move on.

And suddenly, I did too.

“Well then,” I said, “I’m just going to enjoy every day we have you here.”

And I did.

Pat McAfee took his talent for kicking footballs from Plum, Pennsylvania all the way to the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Indianapolis Colts, and the NFL Pro Bowl.

Now, he’s going to use his talent to entertain – something he’s equally good at – and see how far that can take him.

Over the past eight seasons, Pat McAfee has grown up right before our eyes. He’s become a man, a professional, and more than anything – a Hoosier.

Pat McAfee is proud to call himself a Hoosier. He embraces everything about being a Hoosier. And he makes me a little more proud to be a Hoosier.

Goodbyes are tough, but McAfee made it clear he’s not going anywhere. He moved his family to Indiana and Indiana is where he will stay.

For Pat McAfee, retirement isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of a new, exciting chapter – one we can’t wait to be a part of. Whether it was on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium or on the stage somewhere else, we were always there to cheer him on. And we always will be.

Thank you, Pat, for showing us how to turn lemons into lemonade, inspiration into opportunity, and laughter into medicine.

The Colts’ loss is the country’s gain.

Someone needs to make America laugh again.

Photo: Pat McAfee

And Pat McAfee is just the man for the job.

Robert Mathis Is More Than a Football Player

The Colts locker room rarely looks the same.

The faces inside it are always changing – season to season, week to week, even day to day.

But for the past 14 seasons, linebacker Robert Mathis has been the anchor in a sea of change – the constant teammate, the constant professional, the constant leader.

You always know what to expect from Robert Mathis.

He demands the best of himself and those around him. Ask him a question, he’ll answer it. But if you want something more, you’ll have to ask another question – or a better question.

He doesn’t waste words. Mathis has a unique ability to say a lot by saying a little. Maybe it’s for effect, maybe he’s being efficient, or maybe it’s just his way.

He commands attention when he walks in the room. And when you see him coming, you get out of his way.

He looks the part. Every football player resembles a gladiator when they strap on a helmet and pads. Robert Mathis looks like a gladiator without all that. His chiseled features and steely gaze may be intimidating at first – but then he smiles and suddenly, he’s as human as you and me.

My job (writing the Colts blog, Colts Roundup), is to tell the players’ stories. I know who they are as football players, I want to know who they are as people – and help fans get to know them that way too.

With Robert Mathis, it wasn’t difficult – it just took time. He revealed himself slowly and in his own way.

He’s got a soft spot for kids and not just his own. His wife, Brandi, is his rock. He loves his family fiercely and he’s fiercely protective of them, just as they are of him. His late mother, Emma, was his everything – and now, she’s his angel.

Prior to the last game of the season, Mathis announced his retirement. During the press conference, I asked him this question: “Who is the one person most responsible for your success?”

This was his answer: “Emma Mathis, my mother. She lit a fire. Sophomore year in college, a lot of people don’t know it, but we got put out of our house. She was paying her rent, she cleaned houses for a living. She paid rent on time every month but the landlord wasn’t paying the mortgage. The U.S. Marshal knocked on our door and we got put out. My mom was crying crocodile tears. That lit a fire. There’s going to be a lot of hell to pay for somebody on the football field. Thank God for keeping me healthy for 14 years to retire her … It was a happy ending after all.”

Emma Mathis is Robert Mathis’ why.

It’s a special thing any time I get a player to share a piece of himself. But when Robert Mathis did – it was downright magical. During that last press conference, he opened his heart and let us see a little bit of his soul.

The following Monday, he was in the locker room cleaning out his locker for the last time. “Hey, Robert,” I said. I stuck my hand out to congratulate him and say goodbye. He looked up, smiled, and gave me a hug.

I had respect for Robert Mathis the day I walked into the Colts locker room. But the day I earned it back, I’ll never forget.

It’s hard to say and even harder to believe – but the next time I go into the Colts locker room, Robert Mathis won’t be there.

I won’t say he’s no longer a Colt, because Robert Mathis will always be a Colt. For 14 seasons, he showed us what it means to be a Colt. And I hope he can continue to do that in some way.

He played football for a living and made a life doing it. But Robert Mathis is more than a football player. He’s a husband. He’s a father. He’s Emma Mathis’ son.

But more than anything, Robert Mathis is a leader.

I look forward to seeing where life leads him.

And where he chooses to lead.

The Human Side of Football

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I was on my way to the Colts complex a few weeks ago and got a notification on my phone that a player had been released from the team. It was a guy I knew and enjoyed talking to. He had a fiancée and a new baby. My heart sank for him – for all of them.

I pulled into the parking lot a little early for the event and there he was, walking out of the building holding a box. It was a side of the business I had never seen and never really wanted to see. And yet, there it was – unfolding right in front of me.

He put the box in his trunk, said his goodbyes, got in his car and drove off.

I sat there numb, staring out the window at nothing in particular, trying to imagine how he felt pulling out of the Colts facility for the last time.

It’s the nature of the business. Football is a tough game. And the business side is even tougher. You may get used to it, but it never gets easier.

This week on Tuesday afternoon, I was on my way to another event when I got a notification that linebacker Sio Moore had been released. After going through the usual emotions, I assumed another player would take his place at the dinner he was scheduled to attend that evening for survivors of breast cancer.

But little did I know how little I knew Sio Moore.

I knew he was a great fit for the event. Raised by his mother, his grandmother, and his sister, Moore is a champion of women. Still, when I heard he was coming regardless, that he got special permission from the Colts to attend, I was stunned.

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The ladies were gathered in the owner’s box at the Colts Grille. They were chatting and munching on appetizers when Moore entered the room. He was a little overwhelmed and you could tell his mind was racing. He composed himself and told them what had transpired. He wasn’t sure where he was going or what he was going to do. But at that moment, he was right where he wanted to be – with them.

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He circled the room giving out hugs, words of encouragement, and gifts he brought them – beautiful blankets with matching bags and jewelry, each one of them unique and handmade by his mother.

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And when he was done, he took a step back and breathed a sigh of relief. With a moment to exhale among friendly faces, his guard came down and reality began to creep in.

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“Mama told me not to cry,” he said, as the tears welled up in his eyes.

The women embraced him in a group hug.

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He showed up to support them. But he was also in need of support. And in the absence of his mother and sister, he found himself surrounded by strong women once again.

It served as a valuable reminder – that you don’t need to be at your strongest to lend strength to someone in need.

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Colts players come and go and they all leave their mark in some way.

In a quiet act of selflessness, while facing his own fear and uncertainty, Sio Moore left a legacy in Indianapolis.

He showed us his heart.

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And we’ll never forget it.

The Day the Doves Cried

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How can you just leave me standing?

Alone in a world that’s so cold?

-Prince, “When Doves Cry”

Here I was packing to go to Minnesota for my cousin’s bridal shower and my niece’s first communion when I got the news of Prince’s untimely death.

And now, here I sit – a blur of purple memories racing through my mind. I almost feel like I’m returning home to pay my respects – because in a way, I am.

A world without Prince. It’s hard to imagine.

I grew up in Eden Prairie, not far from where he lived.

I used to see him at the gas station and driving his purple BMW on the back roads when I went to the barn where we kept our horses in Chanhassen.

My Aunt Mindy took me to see Purple Rain. It was the first R rated movie I ever saw.

My school bus used to drive under the famed Graffiti Bridge (which inspired his album of the same name) every day.

Photo: Jennifer Jacobson

Photo: Jennifer Jacobson

I remember driving around in my little red Acura Integra with “Little Red Corvette” blasting out the sunroof.

After I moved to Indianapolis and became a Colts fans, it was Prince who performed the halftime show and sang “Purple Rain” in the rain before the Colts won Super Bowl XLI. I still say it was the best halftime show ever. And not just because I’m a Colts fan.

The soundtrack of my childhood. The musician I grew up with. The man who put Minneapolis on the music map. And he never left the Midwest. He had other houses, but Minnesota was always home.

He changed the scene. He changed his tune. He changed his hair. He changed his name. But he always stayed true to who he was.

There will be other princes. But there will never be another Prince.

Rest well, my sweet Prince.

Until we meet again…