About this time last year, I wrote an impassioned editorial refuting Donovan Wheeler’s callous claims that the NFL was basically a 32 team brothel designed to take football fans’ money and time by extolling the virtues of the Colts as a unifying force for the community. Three quarterbacks and nine games later and I’m ready to cry or beg or scream, if I could only find the energy. In 2017, I’ve learned that it’s much easier to praise a team that is pounding out the Ws or at least giving the fans hope that a W is on the way. For the devoted Colts fans, I can only liken this season to going through the five stages of grief.
Stage 1 – Denial
Andrew Luck underwent what Jim Irsay described as an “outpatient” procedure on his shoulder in January 2017. There were assurances that Luck would be able to play when the regular season started. Three months later, Luck confirmed that he’d be playing in the regular season. Over the summer, Luck was placed on and removed from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. But still, I remained optimistic…Even in the face of the addition of quarterback Jacoby Brissett prior to the start of the regular season. Because even if Andrew Luck didn’t play in the first game or two, we’d be fine, right? Irsay and Luck both told us that Luck would be back, so everything was fine.
Stage 2 – Anger
And then Scott Tolzien started in the regular season against the Rams and the Colts lost 46 to 9. Okay, that’s fine. Some adjustments needed to be made. That could be done. Jacoby started the next game and has been starting ever since. The Colts went 1-1 over the next two closely scoring games and then they played the Seahawks. The Colts were up by five points at the half and then in the second half, they got skunked. The Colts offense was done and the final score was Seahawks, 46-18. There has been a long-standing simmering anger amongst Colts fans regarding the inability of the offensive line to protect the quarterback and Chuck Pagano’s questionable decisions in making second half adjustments. After a combination of sacks and turnovers led to a 30 minute massacre, the Colts fans were not happy.
The anger was briefly tempered by the Colts eeking out a three point win against the 49ers. But that was just a temporary distraction until the Colts lost to AFC South rival, the Tennessee Titans, in the next game. Meanwhile, while Colts fans were under the impression that while Luck’s return may not be imminent, it was coming in the regular season. Pagano assured us that Andrew was doing more in practice to imply that he was coming along in his recovery. That is, until Matt Hasselbeck, former back-up Colts quarterback, said Luck “wasn’t close” on ESPN. Wait, what?
And then the Colts played the Jacksonville Jaguars. The never-won-a-Superbowl, just-mark-this-down-as-a-W Jaguars. And the Colts. Got. Creamed. Not just creamed, humiliated in a shut-out, 27-0. While most Colts fans (this author included) like Pagano as a person, we wanted his head to roll. The days of letting Pagano off the hook because he took the blame for the team’s loss were gone. No Colts fans wanted to hear the Pagano adage that the Colts need to just keep “chopping wood” and the winning tree would eventually fall. It was time for a change.
Stage 3 – Bargaining
All over social media, Colts fans called for his firing and most sports analysts seemed to agree saying that the Colts had no choice but to fire Pagano. The prevailing attitude seemed to be that the Colts fans would stick with the franchise through the hard times, but some changes needed to be made. If Jim Irsay would assure the fans that he saw what we saw, we could back into a good space. But let’s be honest, this is Jim Irsay we’re talking about here. Jim Irsay who let former Colts general manager Ryan Grigson’s reign of terror and ineptness last for far too long before giving him the ax. To basically no one’s surprise, Pagano did not get fired. Jim Irsay has consistently said that he’s a long-game kind of person and that he’s more concerned about winning Lombardi trophies than appearing in the playoffs every year. Quite frankly, we Colts fans would like both. So can we just work out a plan for that?
Jim Irsay has consistently said that he’s a long-game kind of person and that he’s more concerned about winning Lombardi trophies than appearing in the playoffs every year. Quite frankly, we Colts fans would like both. So can we just work out a plan for that?
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Stage 4 – Depression
The Colts will get neither this year. We won’t be in the playoffs and we definitely won’t be winning a Lombardi. And on November 2, we got the blow we all had probably figured out was coming. Andrew Luck was placed on injured reserve. He is out for the season. While certainly, it’s disappointing as a fan for the star quarterback to be injured and to know that we will have to endure several more games of punishing hits and unsatisfactory outcomes, there’s more to it than that. As I wrote last year, the Colts have been a rallying point for the community. Colts fans felt like a part of the team. And we’ve lost a little bit of that this season. We haven’t seen our star quarterback play in months. He’s been shielded from the media, so we rarely even hear from him. Given that Luck is the franchise quarterback, it’s hard to envision the future of the team without knowing when and if he will ever fully recover. More worry came from a comment Tony Dungy made on the Dan Patrick show about Luck’s mental toughness. He claimed that Jim Irsay told him that Luck’s injury is now mostly a mental battle back to health. A torn up shoulder can be healed, but an injured psyche leaves more room for questions. So what does that mean for the future of our team?
The excuses from Pagano and Irsay have grown redundant and tiresome. The Colts fans feel like they’ve been lied to, which is evident from the class action lawsuit that some season ticket holders may bring against the Colts for providing false information about Luck’s possibility of return, which influenced ticketholders’ decision to renew. And most of all, it’s hard to watch the team we’ve invested take hard hits and suffer disappointing losses. Also, did I mention that the Colts got shut out by the Jaguars?
Stage 5 – Acceptance
The writing was somewhat on the wall for Andrew Luck, so it wasn’t that difficult to accept that he won’t be back this season. That’s about all I can accept, though. Except that there’s always next year.
Jennifer Stevens is a Greencastle native and a DePauw University graduate, who later earned her PhD from Purdue.