I’m still in Indianapolis. Peyton Manning isn’t. Now who do I root for?
This is all very strange.
There was a time when Indianapolis could tell you, with relative certainty, how many laps Michael Andretti would lead in the 500 before anyone even tried to catch up.
There was a time, in 2000, when we were ecstatic about reaching the NBA Finals. Reggie Miller’s heroics and antics finally pushed the Pacers past the Knicks. But they couldn’t quite close the deal against the Lakers.
There was a time when Duke Tumatoe sang Lord, Help Our Colts on The (then-very-local) Bob and Tom Show. The song lamented our sorry NFL franchise that we felt a little guilty cheering for—since we had stolen it from a heart-broken Baltimore.
Over the past fourteen years, all of that changed. Some guy named Peyton came to town to play quarterback—and the funny guys in blue started to win more games. I found little cause for celebration at first. Any time the Colts won more than 50% of their games in the 80′s and 90′s, the hapless Irsay clan hurriedly canned anyone associated with the success. I was sure the golden-boy quarterback would be sent to greener pastures and Indianapolis could return to our collective nap.
But that didn’t happen. This guy Peyton kept plugging away. And gathering a cadre who seemed more interested in winning games than garnering high draft picks. Sports commentators’ associations of “football” with “Indianapolis” acquired a tone of deference rather than derision. While in Canada in 2004, I was surprised when a waiter’s first association with Indianapolis was the Colts rather than the 500.
I had to start paying attention to football if I wasn’t going to be a complete outcast by the water cooler. I don’t claim that my knowledge of football ever became any more than conversant. I knew enough to have a disproportionate dislike for the Patriots. I knew never to count the Chargers out of a playoff game. I knew the press made every effort jinx Peyton into believing he would never go to a Super Bowl. I knew Indianapolis was in the AFC South, which makes no geographical sense whatsoever.
And I started to identify with this guy. Like me, he imagined he could change careers. He moonlighted as a comedian:
By the 2006/2007 season, I was actually carving out time on Sundays for a football game. Like the rest of Indianapolis, I watched in rapt wonder as Peyton took command of the offense, the defense, the field position, the clock, the referees and the crowd. Oh—and he threw the ball pretty well, too.
Every week I felt bad for the poor TV commentator saddled with introducing the starters while the Colts were on their first drive—he never had time. The score was seven-zip before you could zap the cheese dip, and it tasted better after the Peyton accolades were heaped on.
The Colts’ victory at the 2007 Super Bowl was fantastic. But for me, and I think for many Hoosiers, it was neither as dramatic nor as euphoric as the preceding AFC Championship when we defeated the Patriots. I still get choked up when I see this Sports Illustrated Cover:
So I’ve been a bit of a quandary this week. Peyton is going to Denver. I’m staying here. I like to think of myself as someone who’s loyal. Fair-weather fanaticism is so precipitously frowned upon. But I was loyal to a Colts team that is, essentially, no more. Shall I be loyal to a team owner who regularly acts like a character out of a Chris Farley movie? I’m discovering I haven’t actually been a Colts fan to begin with. I have been a fan of the Colts players—Dallas, Marvin, Saturday, Sanders. I’ve been a fan of Peyton Manning.
So, as it turns out, no—I don’t feel particularly disloyal or torn in continuing to root for Peyton. I hope he wins another Super Bowl. Maybe two.
I’ll be interested to see what happens to the Colts, of course. It might be newsworthy if the front office could prevail upon Jim Irsay to give up tweeting—and maybe they could nominate him for What Not to Wear. Andrew Luck seems to be a nice enough fellow; I hope he does well. We’ll see how he fares with an NFL defense across the line of scrimmage.
But I think my gridiron attention will be elsewhere for a few years.
Go Peyton. Go Broncos.