The presence of Butler University’s men’s basketball team in the 2010 NCAA Final Four was one of the most serendipitous moments in our sports history.
Perhaps in our city’s history, period.
It was the feel-good story of a lifetime, and could have gotten only a nudge better had Gordon Hayward’s last-second, half-court heave at Lucas Oil Stadium gone in instead of rimmed out, giving Duke University the national championship.
Remember how the city felt on that warm, wonderful spring weekend? Absolutely buzzed, stoked, geeked. Everyone, locally at least, was a Butler fan. Our big town seemed like a small town.
Now, as the National Football League season begins, we can’t help but think about where it will end—Lucas Oil Stadium—and who might be playing in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5, 2012.
In the history of the previous 45 games, it never has happened. No team has played for the Super Bowl championship on its home field.
One can only imagine what this city would be like if the Indianapolis Colts made it. It would be serendipity on steroids.
And before I continue, let me say this: to heck with the hand-wringing about the local economic impact taking a serious hit if the Colts were to be in the Super Bowl. The hotels, restaurants and every public space in the city still will be jammed.
Just as they were when Butler reached the 2010 Final Four.
Anyway, it’s fun to ponder—in September. But a quick reminder: There was similar thinking a year ago in Dallas. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had outgunned Indy for the right to host the 2011 Super Bowl in his new stadium, then went about loading up a roster that many believed was capable of getting there.
What happened? The Cowboys stumbled out of the gates 1-7, finished 6-10, and watched Packers and Steelers fans take over North Texas for the Super Bowl.
That said, if there has been any benefit to the lockout and quarterback Peyton Manning’s lingering can-he-play status, it’s that expectations for the Colts have been lowered. Certainly, nationally, few if any of the experts who make their livelihood on predictions are seeing the Horseshoes at LOS in February.
Many have ceded the division to the Houston Texans. Most have said the AFC will ultimately belong to the Patriots, the Jets, the Steelers or the Ravens.
And as an aside, God help us all if it’s the Patriots and their fans who invade Indy in February. That certainly will put our Hoosier Hospitality to the ultimate test.
There also would be a certain irony if Baltimore ended up in our Super Bowl. You think the national media would be all over that angle?
In any case, we happily will take anyone’s money … even if it’s only sort of happily.
But back to the Colts.
Who knows at this juncture whether Manning will start the Sept. 11 opener at Houston (my guess, nothing more than that, is yes) but we have seen how he, and the Colts, struggle when he has a layer of rust. Just three seasons ago, coming off an infected bursa sac in his knee that caused him to miss all of the preseason, the Colts limped to a 3-4 start. Of course, they did rally to make the playoffs (and Manning claimed his third MVP award) before losing in the first round.
The only known we have at this point is that Manning’s mental acuity and approach is a given and that, worst case scenario and he’s not ready to go, Kerry Collins is an infinitely better option than Curtis Painter (that statement of the painfully obvious comes to you free of charge).
There are many other concerns: inexperience on the offensive line and in the defensive secondary and the health of receivers Dallas Clark, Anthony Gonzales and Austin Collie. At least the Colts have gotten help from the NFL: The new kickoff rule should make their historically inglorious special teams less of a factor.
And if you took a poll, the approval ratings for coach Jim Caldwell would be above President Obama’s but well below, say, those of a Bill Belichick, John Harbaugh, Mike Tomlin or Rex Ryan. Fair or not, nothing short of a Super Bowl victory will enable Caldwell to emerge from predecessor Tony Dungy’s shadow.
Anyway, it’s upon us. The NFL season that ends right here in White River City. We’re a home field looking for an advantage.•
Benner is senior associate commissioner for external affairs for the Horizon League college athletic conference and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com. He also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.