Deflated footballs got me over the Colts loss

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It was a strange medicine that got me over the crushing loss by my Indianapolis Colts to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

I went to bed a hot mess on Sunday night. On Monday morning, I got up, listened to sports talk radio, and wrote about the five stages of grief for Colts fans. I felt a little better. I put myself somewhere between bargaining and depression. By Tuesday, I was done bargaining and it was just depression. I figured I’d be there for a while.

But when the report came out from ESPN that the Patriots were playing with deflated footballs, everything changed. Not because it had any impact on the outcome of the game. I make no excuses for the way my team played and neither do they.

What changed was how I felt about it. Initially, I was angry and disappointed, but also a little embarrassed about the 45-7 spanking the Colts took at the hands of the Patriots. But, as I watched allegations of another Patriots cheating scandal unfold, I couldn’t help but feel anything but grateful.

Because win or lose, I’m proud of my team. And I’m proud to call them mine. I wear my Colts pride on my sleeve (and many other places) and I never feel the need to justify it.

That matters to me. It always has. It’s one of the things that makes me such a loyal and passionate fan. I love that my fandom defines me and that it’s one of the first things people talk to me about when they see me. And much of that goes back to who my team is.

The Colts lost badly in the AFC Championship game. They aren’t going to the Super Bowl. But the future is bright and I know they’ll get back there soon enough.

More importantly, I know they’ll do it the right way.

I have now made peace with the fact that this Colts season is over. And even how it came to be over. Strangely enough, it took the team that ended it to get me to acceptance.

Football is life. And life is all about perspective.

Being disappointed in your team’s performance is one thing. Being disappointed in your team is another.

The Colts may have lost the game.

But the Patriots lost much more.

Go Colts!

The five stages of grief for Colts fans

Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne during the AFC Championship game in Foxborough, MA (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Colts receiver Reggie Wayne during the AFC Championship game in Foxborough, MA
(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

There’s no doubt about it. This one’s going to hurt a while. Not because the Indianapolis Colts lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game. But…because they barely competed.

The Colts were manhandled by their archenemy, losing 45-7 on a national stage, in the pouring rain, and to end the season. That’s about as bad as it gets for the team and its fans.

So, where do we go from here?

Let’s start with the five stages of grief.

The first step for dealing with any loss is denial. And I don’t know about you, but I was in denial for the first quarter. Even after starting the game three and out. Even after Josh Cribbs bounced a punt off his forehead. Even after Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal wide right, the Colts were still in it. Down by ten points at halftime, I was still hopeful. But somewhere between the typhoon, the Andrew Luck interception, and the (LeGarrette) Blount force trauma, reality began to creep in.

From there, we moved quickly into anger. How is this happening again? Why does it have to be like this? How do we change all of our people and still end up with the same old result? Over and over and over again. Social media was overflowing with emotion. There were calls to fire coaches, the general manager, even the owner (no, you can’t do that), few of them rational. But all of them were part of the process. Just get it out, people. Every erratic, non-sensical thought you have. Yell, cry, whine, whatever it takes. But just remember, if you tweet it or post it, it may come back to haunt you.

Now, this is where it gets a little more complicated. Because you’ll have the obvious bargaining, like: The Colts should trade Trent Richardson for a lawnmower, so at least they can say he made a cut. (Yes, I made that up. No, I’m not sorry. See stage two.) But bargaining can also include statements like, “I’d give my right arm to have Robert Mathis back in the lineup.” I don’t know why I’m always giving my right arm away, but I really need to stop.

And that leaves us here: at depression. That’s where I find myself and assume many Colts fans find themselves today. The Colts lost. It was ugly. The season is over. And now, we get to carry that defeat into the long, dark period we call the offseason. We’ll maybe watch the Pro Bowl (or at least, part of it). We’ll cheer against the Patriots in the Super Bowl. We’ll have the NFL draft. And training camp a few months later. But, there’s a lot of time in between with no football. And the thought of it right now is overwhelming. The short solution is to break it up. Take it day by day. And celebrate the little things: the signing of a free agent, the drafting of a running back, the losing of the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The time period is different for everyone. But one of these days, we’ll look back at Sunday’s game, not as a failure or a black eye, but as experience. We won’t see it as an embarrassment, but as an exercise in growth and strength and character. And the reason the Colts were able to come back bigger and tougher and better…so they could go farther. And then, we will have arrived at acceptance.

Because we don’t have to like what happened to like what happens next. As Vince Lombardi said, “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.”

The Colts got knocked down.

And the process of getting up starts right now.

Go Colts!

Colts vs. Patriots: Everything has changed. Nothing has changed.

(Photo: Patriots QB Tom Brady's Facebook fan page)

(Photo: Facebook fan page of Patriots QB Tom Brady)

Three years removed from Peyton Manning, and the rebuilt, Andrew Luck-led Colts face the same old storyline: When will they get the Patriots (and quarterback Tom Brady) off their back?

Of that 2007 AFC Championship game, which sent the Indianapolis Colts to their first Super Bowl win and the Patriots back to New England, only six players remain: Colts Reggie Wayne (WR), Robert Mathis (OLB-IR), Adam Vinatieri (K) and Patriots Tom Brady (QB), Vince Wilfork (DT), and Stephen Gostkowski (K).

And yet…

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is still up to his old tricks, finding sneaky ways to win football games. Only this time, the evil genius is using lineups instead of video cameras. And this time, it’s perfectly legal.

The Patriots are still talking. Gone are the days of trash talkers Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison. Today, the Patriots have tight end Rob Gronkowski, who knocked Colts safety Sergio Brown out of bounds earlier this season, declaring he “threw him out of the club.” Tom Brady posted a photo (above) of himself riding the horse from the Colts’ vintage logo on his Facebook fan page.

And then there’s the Boston sports media. Which makes the Miami sports media look sane and lucid. One scribe in particular, who I no longer refer to by name, takes great pleasure in discrediting the Colts, saying they have “no chance to beat the Patriots at Gillette Sunday night in Foxborough.”

And just so you know, it’s still not a rivalry. Or, so the Patriots say…

The more things change, the more they stay the same. And that’s just fine with the Colts.

Because…

While the Patriots were resting during their first round bye, the Colts were building. While the media was sleeping on them, the Colts were working. And while the critics talk, the Colts focus and quietly go about their business.

How long will it take the Colts to get the Patriots off their back this time? Fans are hoping the fourth time is a charm. And they can watch their team ride off into the sunset…and onto the Super Bowl.

Because beating the Patriots is great…but hoisting the Lombardi Trophy is the sweetest victory of all.

And that’s something the Patriots haven’t done in a decade.

Go Colts!

Colts take the next step…to AFC Championship game

Colts tight end Dwayne Allen (Photo: Indianapolis Colts)

Colts tight end Dwayne Allen
(Photo: Indianapolis Colts)

The Colts went into Denver the underdog. Few people outside of Indianapolis gave them a chance. They hadn’t won big enough games. They didn’t play many good teams. They didn’t have a strong enough offensive line or a tough enough defense. They couldn’t win a playoff game on the road.

The Colts left Denver the team headed to the AFC Championship game. The team you don’t bet against. The team that could surprise anyone.

And the three hours in between were all about one thing…taking the next step. It’s what Coach Pagano started preaching at the start of the postseason. It was time.

This new generation of Colts made the playoffs their first season together, a season they spent most of without Pagano, who was fighting Leukemia at the time. They lost that game to their coach’s former team, the Baltimore Ravens. The following year, they won a playoff game (an instant NFL classic) against the Kansas City Chiefs and went on to lose to the Patriots in New England.

The next step for the Colts was moving on the AFC Championship game. There were so many reasons they couldn’t do it. They were outmatched against the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning would prove too much. The Colts defense could do too little against the ground attack.

They got it done. The Colts went into Denver, beat the team Pagano used to cheer for, in the place he grew up (with his dad on the sideline), and against their former (and future Hall of Fame) quarterback.

Next step taken.

This week, the Colts go back to Foxborough to the play the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

I’d say they’ve already won…

But something tells me this team won’t be satisfied with that.

So, instead…I’ll just say I’m proud.

Go Colts!

As fate would have it…Colts meet Broncos in the playoffs

Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2013 (Photo: Colts)

Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2013
(Photo: Indianapolis Colts)

We knew it would come down to this.

It had to come down to this.

After the Colts beat the Broncos in 2013 and rained on Peyton Manning’s homecoming at Lucas Oil Stadium, the teams met up almost a year later and the Broncos handed the Colts a mile high loss in Denver to kick off the 2014 season.

We said it at the time and we echoed it all season…

“We’ll see them again in January.”

And here it is…January.

And here the Colts are…heading to Denver.

Four months later, much has changed for both teams. They’ve lost players and lost games and lost their way at times. But one thing remains. While 24 other teams are down and out, done for the season…the Colts and the Broncos are still standing. They overcame. And after Sunday, only one will remain.

Much will be made about the quarterbacks. As ESPN’s SportsCenter put it, “The young horse that runs fast. The old horse that knows the way.”

For Colts fans, it’s more than that. It’s bittersweet. It’s the guy who won the games, won the Super Bowl, and won our hearts…versus the guy who replaced him, won us over, and sooner than we expected.

For both Colts and Broncos fans, it’s not so much about the quarterbacks. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned this season, it’s that even Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning can’t do it alone. It takes a team effort to win in the playoffs. The fans know it. The coaches know it. And the players know it.

After beating the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild card round, it’s going to take every player the Colts have to beat the Broncos in Sunday’s divisional playoff game. The players feel like they have a little extra motivation after that week one loss. And they’ve had a lot of time to think about it.

“We have a nasty taste in our mouths,” Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson told the Indy Star’s Stephen Holder. “They handled us. We didn’t play our best game at all. That’s why I think a lot of guys have been quietly waiting for this opportunity. And here it is.”

Here it is.

And here we are.

Go Colts!