Lopresti: Colts must be hoping there’s no place like home

mike lopresti sportsWell, that didn’t take long, did it? The first crisis/crossroads/moment of truth for the Colts. The headlines keep sounding like it’s the Grand Canyon on West 56th Street, with the coach on the north rim, and the general manager on the south.

“I’ll be glad to talk to you about something that’s relevant,” Chuck Pagano said at a press conference when asked about his relationship with Ryan Grigson.

In other words, touchy subject.

Given that—plus the sink of dirty dishes that passed for the first game in Buffalo—the Colts had better not even think of losing to the New York Jets in Monday night’s home opener. Or else the fire alarms start going off.

To mark the occasion, here is the Lucas Oil Stadium Primer. Ten things to know about the Colts’ home games and their opponents. And since the NFL published a story about which celebrities root for which teams, we’ll list them by their famous fans.

No. 1. Upon entering the building, those holding tickets as Pagano supporters, go left. Those in the Grigson camp, go right.

No. 2. Officials say they’re on it, as far as making sure no more bolts fall from the roof, so you can leave the hard hats at home.

No. 3. The last time Adam Sandler’s New York Jets appeared in Indianapolis was the 2010 post-season, and Peyton Manning was losing his last game as an active Colt. Now the home team is not thinking playoffs, but damage control, after the Buffalo Belly-flop.

But here’s a plea for calm. The Pagano/Andrew Luck regime has been pretty good at recovery. Since they arrived, the Colts are 1-3 in season openers, and 32-13 the rest of the way.

“If we’re not improving,” Luck said the other day, “then that’s a reason to worry.”

No. 4. It’s been comforting lately for Indianapolis to lay eyes upon Gene Hackman’s Jacksonville Jaguars. The Colts have thrashed the Jaguars five consecutive games by an average margin of 23.6 points.

No. 5. The NFL will be riveted when Mark Wahlberg’s New England Patriots come to town. Will the FBI be in charge of the footballs? Will the FCC be in charge of the headphones? Will there be a one-day civic ban on the wearing of Indy Welcomes All shirts? Will the boos for Tom Brady break a Marion County decibel record? And will the Colts come within 21 points for the first time in five meetings?

No. 6. The visit of Brad Pitt’s New Orleans Saints will be the second rematch of former Super Bowl opponents this season in Lucas Oil Stadium, along with the Jets/Colts re-enactment of Super Bowl III. Overall, there are 19 Super Bowl rematches in the league in this season of Super Bowl 50.

No. 7. No other way to say this. The Colts have owned Roseanne Barr’s Denver Broncos—lock, stock and Peyton Manning. Indianapolis has won seven of the past eight against Denver and Luck is 2-1 against Manning, including the playoff upset last January. Might this be Manning’s last bow in Lucas Oil Stadium?

No. 8. The Colts haven’t lost at home to Dick Vitale’s Tampa Bay Bucs since 1997, and this would be no time to start, in what presumably will be a match of No. 1 draft picks—Luck vs. Jameis Winston. Matter of fact, by this stage of the season, the Colts better be piling up the home victories. That’s what true contenders do.

The past two seasons, New England and Denver each went 15-1 on friendly turf during the regular season. The Colts went 12-4, and it cost them. Anyone here remember the 38-8 St. Louis pummeling? Or the Jacksonville stumble? If a team wants to maximize its Super Bowl chances—meaning, if a team wants to be playing conference post-season games in January at home—things like that can’t happen. They just can’t.

No. 9. George W. Bush’s Houston Texans have been to Indianapolis 13 times, and lost 13 times. While there are several warning lights flashing after Buffalo, it should be noted the Colts are still playing the second-easiest schedule in the NFL, using 2014 records as a criteria.

No. 10. The regular season ends at home against Faith Hill’s Tennessee Titans and No. 2 draft pick Marcus Mariota, if he hasn’t been dismembered by then. By the way, quarterback aficionados have hit the jackpot with this Indianapolis home schedule. How often do you get the chance to see three Hall of Fame locks—Brady, Brees, Manning—and both the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the last draft—in Winston and Mariota—visit the same season?

So the home schedule brings questions. Was Buffalo just a bad day, or a bad omen? In the matter of Grigson vs. Pagano, is it overblown or a true rupture? A general manager/coach rift—even a rumor of it—does not easily fade from the public, the press or the Internet. And will the distraction get in the way?

The Colts started 0-2 last season and looked rather wobbly … but ended up in the AFC Championship Game. That’s the good news. The bad news, for those with a Lombardi Trophy fantasy, is that only nine of 49 Super Bowl winners lost their season opener. So pick your statistic, and your karma.

The Colts get one mulligan. But they’d better be good Monday night.•


Lopresti is a lifelong resident of Richmond and a graduate of Ball State University. He was a columnist for USA Today and Gannett newspapers for 31 years; he covered 34 Final Fours, 30 Super Bowls, 32 World Series and 16 Olympics. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mlopresti@ibj.com.

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