Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Indiana Pacers forward Paul George have a lot in common. Both are young burgeoning stars and great citizens who have done notable charity work.
They’re also playing in the shadows of stars who came before them. Luck is trying to fill the sizable shoes of Peyton Manning and George is trying to replicate—and even surpass—Reggie Miller’s success while wearing the blue and gold.
Through no fault of their own, Luck and George share one more commonality.
Neither has fully connected with central Indiana sports fans. Maybe it’s because they’re still developing their competitive skills and/or star persona. Maybe it’s because the two haven’t quite stepped out of the sizable shadows that envelop them.
Maybe it’s because they haven’t won enough games. Whatever the reason, Hoosiers don’t seem completely invested in these guys and don’t truly bleed for them—yet.
Oh sure, hardcore Colts and Pacers fans love Luck and George. With good reason. But the dynamic duo has yet to catch the fancy of the more casual sports fans the way Manning and Miller did.
Think about it. Hundreds of thousands of local residents would have given their left arm to see Manning hoist the Lombardi Trophy one more time with a horseshoe on his helmet. That’s just a slight exaggeration. But it’s part of the reason it hurts local fans so badly to see him playing for Denver.
In a parallel way, throngs of central Indiana folks would have loved to see Reggie get an NBA championship ring with the Pacers. That’s one reason the brawl in Detroit left such a bitter taste in Hoosiers’ mouths and why Ron Artest will never be forgiven. That event and Artest are held chiefly responsible for keeping Miller from winning the title he so richly deserved.
It got to the point where local fans wanted a title for Manning and Miller as much as those athletes wanted it for themselves. I just don’t sense local sports fans are there yet with Luck and George.
Yes, Lucas Oil Stadium has been full for every Colts game since Luck arrived and lots of No. 12 jerseys have been sold. And it’s true that Pacers television ratings this year are up more than 140 percent over last year and attendance is on the rise at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Still, I sense that a lot of locals have only one foot on the teams’ bandwagons. A loss for Luck’s Colts or George’s Pacers would not yet rise to the level of tragedy. There would be nary a tear shed in Indy if either of these two struck out—this year.
Maybe it’s because they’re young and have lots of opportunities before them. The French say an athlete must suffer before earning the embrace of a champion. Maybe local fans haven’t seen Luck and George suffer enough to truly want a championship for them as much as they want it for themselves.
While the fan adoration for Luck and George hasn’t fully bloomed, make no mistake, the seeds are sown.
For as great as Manning and Miller were on and off the court, there’s one characteristic Luck and George have in greater abundance. They’re a little more down to earth. A little easier to relate to for this blue-collar town.
And for that reason, if these two stay in Indianapolis long-term, the love fans feel toward an athlete could reach new heights.
Unless something unforeseen happens on or off the field or court, they, too, will become this state’s adopted sons.
And when that happens—win or lose—the floodgates will open, and the tears will pour fourth on their behalf. Let’s hope this time those tears fall in rejoice, not in remorse.