Every week Colts.com features a blog written by one of our fans. This week’s blog was submitted by Peter Harter.
Congratulations to the Indianapolis Colts on their first win of the year over the Tennessee Titans yesterday at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts had a great crowd in attendance as always. The offense and defense both gave their best performances of the year, but the telling difference to me was the vastly improved play of the offensive line. The national media may consider these games without playoff significance (at least for the Colts) to be ‘meaningless,’ but I for one have enjoyed watching the weekly progression of our offensive line, and I believe the Colts will be ready to return to contender status after a productive off season and draft.
The Colts are in the seemingly unique situation of having a chance to win their way out of the number one draft slot. With victories in their final games, the Colts could lose their chance to draft highly touted quarterback Andrew Luck. But long time Colts fans will remember that this has all happened before. This season has taken on an uncanny similarity to a season 25 years ago, when in week fourteen of 1986, the 0 – 13 Colts traveled to Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium to take on the Falcons. Like this season’s Tennessee Titans, the Falcons entered week 14 still in contention for a playoff birth. I was only eleven years old when the game took place, but for me it will forever have special significance, for it was actually my fervent prayer to God that caused Tate Randle to block the Falcons punt, and Eugene Daniel to scoop up the ball and run it in for the winning touchdown.
The day began like every Sunday at my house, with my father rousing our family for church. My two younger brothers and I were forced to shower and dress, and then our family solemnly marched into the sanctuary. Our church was a praying, bible reading, God fearing church, and our pastor was a large man with a deep booming voice who struck fear and good manners into every child in attendance. “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name,” echoed his deep voice, “There am I in the midst of them.”
When the service was over and the fellowship had died down, those who had not been intoxicated by the holy ghost returned to their cars and took the short trip back to their houses. I grabbed our family’s small box radio and tuned to WOWO 1190 AM, as I always did, because I knew the Colts were about to begin their game. Though the Colts had lost the opening thirteen games of the season I had good reason to hope that they would win this game. The Colts had just fired the hapless Rod Dowhower the previous week, and hired Ron Meyer as head coach. I knew this move would energize and motivate the Colts solid corps of players, who were worth rooting for, even in the worst of seasons.
The game itself was very poorly attended. On a blustery rainy day in Atlanta, almost no one wanted to pay good money to sit in the rain watching the Falcons beat the winless Colts. The outcome of the game was a foregone conclusion among the Falcons and their fans. Since the game did not sell out, it was blacked out in the Atlanta area, and because the Colts were out of playoff contention, NBC decided to air a different game at its South Bend affiliate. I’m not sure if the game was televised live anywhere in the country. I could have cared less that the game was not televised. In our family, the kids were not normally allowed to watch TV or listen to popular music, but I was allowed to listen to sporting events on the radio.
Bob Lamey’s play by play still heats my blood today, but as a child, the voice of our great radio man had a tremendous effect on me. I’m sure all true Colts fans still mute the awful ex-Buffalo Bill TV commentators (take your pick, they are all bad), and tune into the Colts radio network. What I love about Lamey is that he seems to have a genuine respect and affection for our players. And in return, the players of the Indianapolis Colts have always played with a genuine respect for the game and their fans. Not every team in the NFL has the disciplined play and professionalism that Colts fans have come to expect. I still consider Dwayne Bickett to be the best linebacker in Indianapolis Colts history, and John Hand was toughest guy in the division, and Cliff Odom was a grizzled veteran who ate nails for breakfast, because that’s what Bob Lamey made it seem like. It probably was not far from the truth.
In the first quarter the Colts got off to their customary slow start. In those days the Colts had a way of digging a comfortable deficit early in the game, and then playing just well enough to have a slight chance in the fourth quarter. I now recognize this as a losing mentality that many bad teams display throughout the sporting world, not just in pro football. Early in the second quarter, the Colts found themselves behind by two scores. Field conditions caused several turnovers and the momentum swung rapidly between the two teams. As the first half neared its conclusion, the Colts defense, who had been gashed by the Falcons’ running attack, bowed up its effort and stopped the Falcons on three straight rushes inside the five yard line. The stand kept the game close, and gave the Colts momentum heading into the locker room. For a more detailed rundown of the game, see the recent article by Kevin Bowen and Craig Kelley entitled “Series Flashback: 1986, 2003, 2007” on Colts.com.
The Colts opened the third quarter with a sustained touchdown drive capped off by Gary Hogeboom’s touchdown pass to wide receiver Matt Bouza. Hogeboom had not played a down since September, and his reinstatement by coach Meyer signified the fact that the Colts intended to fight till the season ended. After a pair of Falcon field goals stretched the lead to nine points, the Colts scored again to cut the lead to two when wide receiver Billy Brooks caught a two yard touchdown pass with under eight minutes remaining.
This is what Colts fans had been waiting for. All they needed now was a stop on defense, a final drive, and a game winning field goal and they could sneak out of Atlanta with a 24 – 23 victory. But instead the talented Falcons offense took charge, driving the ball at will into Colts territory, and eating up the game clock. The excruciating tension in Bob Lamey’s voice as the Falcons piled up yardage and the game clock dwindled became almost unbearable. On a third down play with under a minute remaining, Colts linebacker Dave Ahrens sacked the Atlanta quarterback at the Colts 48 yard line, but apparently Ahrens’ effort had come too late. A punt would bury the Colts deep in their own end with no timeouts, and no chance of a game winning drive. The Falcons let the clock run all the way down and called time out with only half a minute left.
I knew the Colts had to block the punt or they would lose yet another game. I couldn’t bear the thought. Desperately, I made my two brothers join hands with me in prayer, recalling the pastor’s sermon from that morning. It was then that I said the most intent and serious prayer I have ever said. I don’t remember the words I used but I remember the tension in my guts. I doubled over in pain and rolled around on the floor for what seemed like several minutes. Then I remember peace flooding over me and I knew before the play took place that my prayer had been answered. At the snap of the ball the Falcons punt protection mysteriously collapsed. Defensive back Tate Randle ran free into the Falcon’s backfield and blocked the punt. The ball squirmed furiously off to the left and cornerback Eugene Daniel found it and ran it in for the game winning score.
Even then the game was not over. Atlanta had time to throw two first down completions before the game’s final pass fell incomplete in the end zone. The Colts had done it, miraculously beating the Atlanta Falcons on the road 28 – 23. After a season of brutal disappointment, this game was a vindication of the players courage and their forthright effort in Atlanta led to two more victories as the Colts finished the season 3 – 13. Because of their late season spurt, the Colts missed the first pick in the draft, which went instead to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who selected Vinnie Testeverde, a highly touted quarterback from the University of Miami.
The Colts winning streak at the end of the 1986 season also carried over into 1987. In a season marred by a player’s strike, the Colts’ scabs started that year 3 – 0 with spirited performances by kick returner Clarence Verdin. The Colts finished the 1987 campaign with a 9 – 7 record and an AFC East division championship. Their playoff loss to the Browns was the first such appearance by the Colts since they moved to Indianapolis.
That was 25 years ago. The Colts were still pretty new in town then. If anything has really changed over the years its that the fans and media have become a little bit jaded by the success of the team with Peyton Manning as quarterback. Now these games without playoff implications are ‘meaningless’ in eyes of the national media. The national and local media personalities tend to imagine themselves in the role of the management, who must, because of the nature of their positions, have a slightly more cynical and less romanticized view of the games. But lets remember, to the dad who saved up to take his kid to his first Colts game (and who can’t control the team’s record, whether it be 13 – 0 or 0 – 13) the game is not meaningless. To the player who might score the only touchdown in his NFL career, or be awarded the only game ball that he’ll ever get the game is not meaningless. As a culture, we are so glutted with media coverage and video from every game in every sport that sports have lost their purity. All I have to do is listen to a professional gambler or a sports talk analyst blabber on about sports for ten minutes before I get sick to my stomach. When did we get so jaded?
On a final note I just wanted to mention that I am a fan and supporter of coach Caldwell. In ’86 it was the right move to bring in Ron Meyer at the end of the year. I don’t think a similar move is necessary now. We don’t need a superstar head coach, we just need a solid guy who demands professionalism from everyone, and we already have that. This season has been about building the offensive line. Our line is playing much better now than it did in September, and next year it will be better still. This is definitely an interesting time when the team is in flux and all the players, coaches and managers will have their work cut out for them this off season. Finally, we are still lucky to have the Colts. The Colts gave Indy its first and only major championship. Now that we’ve built them a new brick house, we’ve got them for the foreseeable future—and they’ve got us.
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