BENNER: Colts prove they can overcome ‘bulletin-board material’

Yes, I know it’s behind us, but the evening and the event were so extraordinary, I have to take one more look back at the Colts-Broncos game. Besides, it’s the bye week.

Bulletin board material. Call me naïve, or just plain stupid, but I don’t think it is the deciding factor in many games, especially at the professional level.

Still, that’s what many, including the media, would have you believe. During my tenure as a daily scribe, I played that card, too, because—after all—there’s no better storyline than the easy one.

So, in the monumental buildup to The Return of No. 18, Colts owner Jim Irsay tossed a meaty bone to the national and local media. They chewed it until game time and beyond. Again, I’m not criticizing. Back in the day, I would have done the same. It couldn’t be ignored.

Irsay’s comments, taken out of context and blown entirely out of proportion, spoke to his desire to have won more than one Super Bowl ring during the Peyton Manning era. He regrets that the organization wasn’t able to put a more complete team around their “Star Wars” quarterback.

Don’t we all?

I thought it was a candid self-evaluation of the Indianapolis Colts’ organization, not a cheap shot directed at either Manning or former President/General Manager Bill Polian. Irsay knows the buck stops on his desk, and I doubt if Polian made a single significant personnel decision without the owner’s consent.

In my view, the real cheap shot came from Denver coach John Fox, who instantly assailed Irsay. Perhaps Fox was seeking motivational material for his team, as if it needed it for the biggest regular-season matchup in the NFL in years.

As we moved toward game time, there was commentary that the Broncos would be so stoked by Irsay’s comments that they would put up 60 or 70 points on the Colts, and that Manning would personally see to burying his old team and owner.

But bulletin board material isn’t much good when Robert Mathis is blasting Manning from the back side or Darius Butler has crawled into Wes Welker’s shoulder pads.

Perhaps, as some speculated, it was classic reverse psychology from Irsay, putting the focus on him instead of his team. I think that’s a bunch of hooey, too, but maybe he’s a mad genius. After all, this is the same owner who dressed as the Mad Hatter for a rally on the Circle. I don’t see Bob Kraft or Jerry Jones doing that.

Anyway, I saw it practically and simplistically. The Colts blocked, tackled and game-planned better. Their effort and execution were superior.

But back to our quirky, eccentric owner.

Irsay speaks off the cuff, unfiltered. He uses the social medium of Twitter the same way. What other owner gives his team’s fans such unfettered access to his thoughts—even if they do sometimes require translation and/or interpretation? What other owner is having contests for tickets, trips and cash? What other owner beats the media—some of the time—to impending transactions?

I don’t spend a lot of time on Twitter. But following Irsay, or at least learning of his 4 a.m. tweets, is an absolute hoot.

One more thing. I admire his moxie—if not his word choice—in responding to his critics. In the aftermath of the Broncos game, especially from followers who were Denver fans, I can only imagine the trash that flowed into his account. So he came back at them. So what?

By the way, the other much-discussed and somewhat-debated topic—the pre-game video tribute to Manning—was appropriate, well-done and did nothing to detract from his performance or the mood of the evening. Classy move by the Colts, and a classy response for Manning to remove his helmet, mouth a “thank you,” and touch his heart.

That, in particular, touched mine.

Finally, as for most of you, for me the joy of the win over Denver was significantly dampened by news of Reggie Wayne’s season-ending injury. There’s nothing I can add to the tributes paid to Wayne, who emerged as our second beloved “Reggie” after the first, Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller, retired.

I always found it interesting that our city was so thoroughly embraced by the wide receiver from Miami and the shooting star from California. Just shows you it’s more about the who and the how than the where. Let’s just all hope we can see Wayne catch another pass.•


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 He also has a blog,

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