For a long time, he hated the Indianapolis Colts. They were his when they were in Baltimore, and then an evil man, Robert Irsay, moved them away in moving vans. March 29, 1984. A Day That Will (Also) Live in Infamy.
It was unthinkable, and, in response, he did the unthinkable. He started rooting for the Washington Redskins. They’d always been sort of his sentimental favorites, losing every year, often heroically, thanks to Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor, and Bobby Mitchell. When the leagues had merged, and the Colts had moved to the American conference, he had started rooting for the Redskins in the National.
It wasn’t the same, though. It just wasn’t. The Colts. From Bahlimer. Memorial Stadium and row houses. Chuck Thompson always calling Unitas “John” and Lyles “Leonard” (instead of Lenny, who was Moore). In Indianapolis, they started playing in a dome, for chrissakes. He wished they’d change the name. Change the colors. Stop using those perfect uniforms. It was inhumane. Let them be the Indianapolis Racers, with an STP sticker on the helmets and uniforms that glowed in the dark.
The Royal Blue and White got in the way. It made them so much harder to hate.
So, too, did Peyton Manning. He didn’t play like Johnny Unitas, exactly. No one ever did. He acted like Unitas, though. Old Man Irsay died. His son wasn’t exactly Tom Hanks, but Jim Irsay didn’t seem completely evil. He just inherited the dumb from his old man, it seemed. He wasn’t likable, but not many big-time sports moguls are.
Damned if Daniel Snyder didn’t buy the Redskins.
He found himself being drawn to the Colts again, even though they played indoors. They still wore those uniforms, blue jerseys at home, white from head to toe on the road. Manning was like Unitas. Manning was smart. Called his own plays, though from the line, not the huddle. The coaches called a play – Unitas wouldn’t even have stood for that – but Manning always changed it at the line. If Manning didn’t, it sure looked like it.
He remembered where he was. Driving through the back roads of New Hampshire, listening to a baseball game on the radio. The word arrived that Johnny U. was dead. He had to pull off the road. He felt silly, sitting there weeping for a boyhood hero, because now he was supposed to be grown up.
A few days later, he heard that Manning wanted to wear black high-tops to honor Unitas. The sanctimonious, greedy National Football League informed Manning that they were in charge of equipment, by God, and Peyton would take his megamillion dollars and smile when Peyton laced up his approved cleats.
Rules were rules, wretched or not, and Manning did what Unitas would have: followed the rules.
He thought it was a noble gesture, anyway, and, after twenty years, he started rooting for the Colts again. They won a Super Bowl and lost another. Manning moved on to Denver, which was good because Manning prospered there, and it wasn’t like when Old Man Irsay exiled Johnny U. to San Diego.
So here he was, sitting in front of a TV, watching Andrew Luck and the Colts play the Cincinnati Bengals in a first-round playoff game, fifty years after the first football game he ever remembered. That was when he was six, and the Cleveland Browns beat the Baltimore Colts, 27-0, in the NFL championship game. Fifty years, and he still remembered that an end named Gary Collins, catching passes from a quarterback named Frank Ryan, had eaten an aging Colts defense alive.
The game in front of him, played inside and on grass that didn’t grow, made him realize that some tiny molecule of a six-year-old was not only still inside him but thriving in its way.
Most of time my sports-related stories are at www.montedutton.com. This one qualifies as fiction on a technicality. Please consider my books, fiction and non-fiction alike, here: http://www.amazon.com/Monte-Dutton/e/B005H3B144/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416767492&sr=8-1