Colts Loss Leaves Me Oddly Thankful

Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck With the Now Famous "Butt Safety" (Photo: Mike Fender/Indy Star)

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck with the “Butt Safety”
(Photo: Mike Fender/Indy Star)

Sunday was a weird day.

I started off watching the Detroit Lions play the Atlanta Falcons (in London) at 9:30 in the morning. And before long, I was convinced it was Thanksgiving. Then, I watched the 1:00 games waiting for the Colts to come on (sadly, with no turkey or pumpkin pie). When the Colts finally took the field against the Pittsburgh Steelers at 4:25, they looked nothing like the team I expected to see, or the team I wrote about last week.

Bottom line: Worst Thanksgiving ever. The good news: It wasn’t Thanksgiving anyway. And that’s kind of how I look at Sunday’s game.

The Colts weren’t as good as they were made out to be last week. But, they’re also not as bad as they’ll be made out to be this week. This isn’t who they are. But it also isn’t who they aren’t.

I know. I’m confusing myself too. But it was a confusing day.

At risk of sounding like Dennis Green, the Colts are who I thought they were, which is…not quite there yet. A loss like this was going to come. Is it stunning that they shut out the Cincinnati Bengals week seven, then allowed 51 points by the Steelers week eight? Maybe. But sometimes getting knocked on your butt at the right time is exactly what your team needs. Hopefully, you don’t get knocked on your butt in the end zone like Andrew Luck did (a play which Indy Star columnist Gregg Doyel brilliantly nicknamed the “butt safety”).

But (no pun intended)…that’s the thing about the NFL. Your team is only as good as it is on that day. Sunday, October 19th, the Colts were brilliant. Just like the week before. They were magical. Like unicorns, I said. On Sunday, October 26th, they were more like livestock. Nothing magical about livestock.

The Steelers are still a tough, physical team, and they played like it. They had been embarrassed and disrespected, including by former Ravens linebacker and current ESPN analyst Ray Lewis, who called them out, saying teams no longer had to wear chin straps when they play them. Uh, Big Ray…I beg to differ. If Andrew Luck hadn’t had his chin strap on Sunday, he would have been the Headless Horseman on Monday. I’d rather watch 100 scary Halloween movies (in a row) than watch Steelers linebacker James Harrison coming after Luck on every down.

As Colts fans, we have much to be thankful for. Most of all, let’s be grateful that was a regular season game. And that the Colts can learn from it, put it behind them, and move on to the Giants this week.

And that we can all still look forward to Thanksgiving…

When I will have football on my TV and turkey on my table.

Go Colts!

Is Indianapolis Breeding Sports-Crazed Stepford Wives?

The Colts Blue Ladies Group  (Photo: Matt Bowen/Colts)

The Colts Blue Ladies Group
(Photo: Matt Bowen/Colts)

I knew it! I’ve been saying this forever. And by forever, I mean…at least five years.

I’m just glad some numbers-loving nerds finally gave me some data to back it up. This time, it’s the people at Scarborough Research, as referenced by the story in Indianapolis Business Journal.

Basically what they’re telling us, is that Indianapolis is a hot spot for female sports fans. I know that. And I can tell you why from personal experience.

I moved to Indianapolis in 2004, a sports fan, but a normal woman in every other sense of the word. I loved my family, friends, fashion, an occasional cocktail (or three), and bordered a little lot on the high maintenance side. Saks Fifth Avenue was my happy place. And I also loved football.

Over the next decade, with the help of the Colts and Peyton Manning, that love would turn into a full-blown obsession. Today, I have two sports blogs and football basically runs my life. I also picked up a somewhat unhealthy relationship with basketball (something I had never seen in Minnesota because…hockey). And the first time I saw an IndyCar go around the track at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I was also smitten.

Yes, I am still a little high maintenance (some may say a lot). And Saks is still my happy place (second only to Lucas Oil Stadium).

So, what is it about Indianapolis? Is Monument Circle some kind of sports vortex that takes normal women like me I was and turns them into adrenaline-loving sports junkies? Kind of like The Stepford Wives…only their polar opposite? To be honest, I could use a Stepford wife. Because, you know those women? Who make all that food on game day? Well, we don’t have one of those. And we could really use one. Or, maybe it’s a sister wife I need.

Regardless, every city has its thing. In Indianapolis, that thing has always been sports-related, starting with the Indy 500. As I was sorting through pictures from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for my blog series The Look of the 500, I found photos of Indianapolis women as far back as 1911 cheering on drivers in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

We’re surrounded by colleges playing competitive football and basketball (some years more competitive than others).

The Pacers, during the Reggie Miller era, were the center of the Indianapolis world for years. And they worked their way back there under head coach Frank Vogel.

And the Colts, well…the Colts have some of the most passionate and faithful female fans in the NFL. They call themselves the Blue Ladies and yes, I count myself as one of them.

Indianapolis is also home to the NCAA headquarters and is always playing host to major sporting events like the Big Ten Championship Game, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, and of course, the granddaddy of them all…the Super Bowl.

It’s part of life here. It’s what we talk about. It’s our culture. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Do I think the Georges, the Simons, and the Irsays have conspired to suck the brains out of normal women and replace them with sports-crazed fan babes? I don’t. And truthfully, even if they did…I’m happier this way anyway.

Then again, that’s exactly what a Stepford wife would say…

Go Colts! Go Pacers! Go Indy!

This Time Around

Colts Running Back Ahmad Bradshaw (Photo: Colts)

Colts Running Back Ahmad Bradshaw
(Photo: Colts)

Something kind of unsettling happened this morning. My husband turned on Mike & Mike on ESPN (as he usually does when he’s getting ready for work). And as the dog and I cuddled in bed (as we usually do when he’s getting ready for work), I watched part of the show…and they were saying good things about the Colts. Really good things.

They talked about their dominating offense, their stifling defense, even threw out the letters “MVP” when discussing Andrew Luck.

Later that day, I turned on some other sports shows. Also good. All good. Almost too good.

Considering the lack of attention the Colts have had from the national media, you’d think I’d be thrilled to hear them finally taking this team seriously. The sports world is just seeing what I’ve seen for a few seasons now: up and coming stars, putting the pieces together, preparing for glory, and getting closer every week.

And now, we have people saying this could be the team and this could be the time. The only problem is, I’ve been there before. And I know the baggage that comes with it. The last time the Colts were the darlings of the NFL, I got caught up in the madness. And so did they. There was talk of disrespect when no one paid attention, talk of destiny when they did.

The first time around, I related to the younger players, the guys who had never been there before, the guys who couldn’t wait for it, wanted it so badly they could taste it, and got restless when it didn’t happen on their timeline.

This time, I trust myself. I listen to my gut. I identify more with the veteran players: Robert Mathis, Reggie Wayne, Adam Vinatieri. The guys who’ve been down this road before. The guys who preach patience and focus and process. The guys who know it’s as much about timing as it is about talent.

This time, I’m older and wiser. I’ve been through more ups and downs (in sports and in life) and I have better perspective because of it. This time, I’m not going to let the media tell me how to feel about my team. Especially those who only see it in person once or twice a season.

Trust me, I want the Colts to get there as badly as anyone. I can’t wait to see this team win a conference championship, make a run for the Super Bowl, and hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

But this time, it’s not so much about what happens. It’s not so much about when it happens. This time, it’s about the ride.

And so far, I’m enjoying the ride.

Even if we just picked up a few (thousand) more passengers.

Go Colts!

Pacers Prepare For Season Without Paul George

Pacers forward Paul George  (Photo: Matt Detrich/Indy Star)

Indiana Pacers Forward Paul George
(Photo: Matt Detrich/Indy Star)

Most Pacers fans can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news that first fateful Friday in August of 2014. Whether it came by television, text, or tweet, it was equally stunning. Star forward Paul George suffered a leg injury during a Team USA exhibition game in Las Vegas. Play was stopped and would not continue out of respect. The gruesome images explained why. The words “career ending” were thrown around on sports broadcasts and in social media.

After the shock, came sadness and disbelief. Followed by the cold, hard reality. The Indiana Pacers would face the coming season without their star player, their All-Star, or as fans call him, their “PaulStar.”

Pacers President Larry Bird summed it up in a press conference days later.

“I can sit up here and try to sugarcoat it all you want me to, but you just can’t replace Paul George.”

-Larry Bird, Pacers President

Who will fill Paul George’s size 12 shoes? It’s tough to say. But he’s not afraid to say his teammates are up to the challenge. And George hopes the fans are as well.

“This team is going to be a team that goes out there and competes. I look forward to them still having the same drive and the same commitment and being the team everybody loves in Indiana.”

-Paul George

The Pacers didn’t fold in 2012, when All-Star forward Danny Granger was sidelined with a knee injury. If anything, it created an opportunity for a young player with talent, drive, and untapped ability. A player who looked to Granger as a friend and mentor. A player who would be named to the NBA All-Star team himself the following season.

A player named Paul George.

The good news is that Paul George will likely resume his basketball ascent, which means the Pacers haven’t had to make dramatic changes to their marketing. Todd Taylor, senior vice president and chief sales and marketing officer, says the players are very clear about their desire to be sold as a team.

“From the first guy to the last guy, they’re all very likeable. They like each other. And I think their play really reflects that. And I think that matches the Midwest and Indiana specifically. I think that we take a great deal of pride in being from the state that they play the game as close as you would want the game to be played, still knowing that they are the best on the planet.”

Still, Taylor sees an opportunity for an individual player to step up, step into the spotlight, and contribute to the team in a big way. The Pacers may have to take a step back to move forward. But then again, they may not.

“There’s been plenty of great teams out there that should have won a title and didn’t. And there’s been teams that kind of came out of nowhere and they won a title…so you never know when the next storyline is going to develop.”

-Todd Taylor, Senior Vice President, Indiana Pacers

It’s what makes sports the ultimate, longest-running, and most successful reality television show in history. And whether they’re watching a team that’s built for a championship or a team that’s building for a championship, the Pacers are banking on the fact that fans will want to be there to see it unfold in person.

The Pacers hope the goodwill they’ve built with their success (including back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference Finals) carries into this season. That regardless of losing Paul George, pride and team loyalty will bring fans out to Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

And that the basketball they see there will bring them back.

Go Pacers!

Colts Pass a Milestone and Turn Into Unicorns

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Well, well…here we are. As Phillip B. Wilson kindly reminded me, the Colts passed a major milestone last week.

It’s not a club record or anything like that. I guess it’s more of a made up milestone. But that doesn’t make it any less significant. Or any less true.

Former Colts general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian used to say (and still does) that, “You don’t know who your team is until week six.” It’s something I believe and preach on a regular basis.

So, let’s review what we’ve learned about the Colts in the first six weeks of the season.

1) Schedule

Some things you just can’t control. The NFL schedule is one of them. Part of the reason I was so disappointed the Colts had to play the Broncos week one was for the reason I just stated. “We won’t even know who they are…they won’t even know who they are.” Yes, I whined. A lot.

The Colts opened the season with two tough games against two (all but certain) playoff teams and performed admirably. Do I wish they had a do-over against the Broncos? Absolutely. But they probably will. In January.

After losing to the Broncos and Eagles in prime time games, the Colts started the season 0-2. Then, they went on to pummel their divisional rivals, the Jaguars and Titans, which put them back to even and earned them the title of  “Slayer of Cupcakes.”

After bagging themselves a bird and a steak (Ravens followed by Texans), the Colts have gone from 0-2 to 4-2 and now sit alone atop the AFC South at 3-0. But with games against the Bengals, Steelers, Giants, and Patriots in the coming weeks, there will be no talk of cupcakes anytime soon. Which is unfortunate. Because I love cupcakes.

2) Offense

Admit it, we were skeptical in the beginning. All we heard about during training camp was the “exotic offense” the Colts were going to run. And yet, the first few games, it looked a lot like the “no coast offense” we had no love for last season. But as the weeks went on, the Colts offense started looking more and more exotic. With the war chest Andrew Luck has of finely tuned offensive weapons, we may have to start calling the Colts the “Unicorns” (which would be awesome). Because what’s more exotic than a unicorn?

3) Special Teams

If the Colts offense is a unicorn, the Colts special teams is the more rare and even more exotic pink unicorn.

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Three onside kicks recovered? In six games? And all three successfully? Since when do the Colts even attempt onside kicks? The only onside kick I can even recover from my memory is the one successfully executed on the Colts in the Super Bowl by the Saints (and we don’t talk about that one). Once the bane of the Colts existence, Pat McAfee, Adam Vinatieri, Matt Overton, and the rest of the Colts “Fourth Down Army” is putting the “special” in special teams.

4) Defense

And who would have thought that despite losing the sackmaster himself, linebacker Robert Mathis, for the entire season…the Colts would be amongst the top teams in quarterback sacks? Erik Walden, Bjoern Werner, Cory Redding, D’Qwell Jackson and others have divided the work up nicely. No LaRon Landry? Sergio Brown steps in…no problem. No Arthur Jones? Ricky Jean Francois steps up in a big way. When defensive coordinator Greg Manusky says, “Next man up,” his guys don’t just walk up…they jump at the opportunity. And no, I’m not going to compare those guys to unicorns. Because they could hurt me.

It hasn’t been perfect. There’s room for improvement. And there’s a whole lot of football left to be played. But judging by Bill Polian’s theory, I can only tell you one thing: We’re starting to see who the Colts are. And the more I see, the more I like.

Now, in the famous words of Bill Belichick, “It’s on to Cincinnati…”

Go Colts!