No one knew quite what to expect from the crowd inside Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday night.
Would fans cheer Peyton Manning? Would they boo him? Would they stand behind the home team or instead side with No. 18?
Not even Indianapolis Colts players knew what to expect.Colts punter Pat McAfee admitted that after looking out of the team hotel on Sunday afternoon, he was a bit taken aback at seeing more than a few No. 18 Denver Broncos jerseys. He told WFNI-AM 1070 on Monday that he wasn’t sure if Sunday’s game was going to be like a typical home game or more like an away game atmosphere.
The game was as telling about the Indianapolis fan base as it was about the home team, which pulled out a victory over undefeated Denver.
On more than one occasion over the years, the homes of the Colts and Indiana Pacers seemingly have been filled with more fans for the away team than the home club. Area fans on occasion have been known to cheer for players on away teams if not the away team itself.
I remember well my younger days going to Pacers games when the crowd would overwhelmingly cheer for Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics or even Magic Johnson and the L.A. Lakers. I was always a little embarrassed by that. I thought it said a lot about Indy’s status as a sports town.
I loved Bird as much as any Hoosier did. But back then he didn’t wear “Indiana” on his jersey. He was a representative of Boston, and I never understood people cheering the hometown boy over the home-town team. To be fair, that was a tough decision for many area fans. Luckily, with Bird working in the Pacers front office, they no longer have to make that choice.
On Sunday, I feared fans would be equally torn over Manning. Happily, my fears were dispelled.
Local fans also have been known to sell their tickets—sometimes to the biggest games of the years. Sometimes to playoff games. And they often end up in the hands of fans of the away team. If that happened Sunday, the Broncos fans in attendance were mostly drowned out by the Colts faithful.
On Sunday, the Indianapolis fan base seemed to take a leap forward. Before the game, they cheered respectfully for Manning, who played his first 14 seasons in Indianapolis. It was heartfelt, and I would expect nothing less from folks long known for Hoosier hospitality. Besides, no one can deny what Manning has done for this franchise and city. No one denies that he is one of those chiefly responsible for energizing this fan base.
But he’s not on “our” team anymore, and that seemed understood. Like fans in a true sports town, once the game began, the crowd roared for the home team. Even with Lucas Oil Stadium’s roof open, it was at times deafening. There was no deference given to Manning when he was calling the signals for the Broncos. There was no hesitation to cheer when he was sacked and fumbled.
Yes, there were a few Broncos jerseys in the crowd, but in numbers were far smaller than many observers expected.
Maybe Indianapolis really has grown into a hard-core sports town. We’ll have a chance to test ourselves again the next time the Chicago Bulls roll into town.