Irsay-Manning saga dividing Colts fan base

It’s difficult to say what impact the Jim Irsay-Peyton Manning saga will have on the long-term loyalty of Indianapolis Colts fans.

Over the last two days, I’ve been polling Colts supporters, and the responses are split right down the middle. Half—maybe slightly more—say they are on Manning’s side, the other half say they are loyal to Irsay and the team.

Putting fans in the position to have to make such a choice, though, is a no-win proposition for the Colts. Sooner or later that type of bad karma will catch up with the team and its owner.

There’s no shortage of fans who are convinced the Colts are waiting until March 2 to announce their decision on what to do with Manning. March 8 is the deadline for Irsay to pay Manning $28 million or cut him loose. March 1 is the deadline for Colts season ticket holders to pay for the 2012 season.

Colts Senior Vice President Pete Ward insists the season ticket deadline has nothing to do with any announcement concerning Manning’s future. That may be true, but the specter of it all has certainly taken at least a little shine off the horseshoe Irsay so dearly cherishes.

One thing is certain through my e-mails, tweets and phone conversations with Colts fans over the last two days. Their patience is wearing thin.

And while winning will erase a lot of bad memories, Irsay has burned though a bag of mulligans, and if his No. 1 selection doesn’t pan out and his new general manager, Ryan Grigson, can’t get the team back to its winning way within three years—max—the club’s season ticket waiting list will melt faster than an arctic glacier under the pressures of global warming.

The Colts have sold out their stadium for more than a decade primarily through season ticket sales. But the waiting list has shrunk from 25,000 to 9,000 in less than five years, according to Colts officials.

True, a chunk of that was due to the move from the 56,000-seat RCA Dome to the 63,000-seat Lucas Oil Stadium. But that only accounts for about 7,000 of the 16,000 folks who have disappeared from the waiting list.

The Colts have two things going for it. The strength of the NFL brand and a new, richer league-wide TV contract that starts in 2014 and a resurging economy.

For now, Colts fans are sticking by their team. Season ticket sales this off-season are amazingly ahead of last year.

Still, even the strongest players can afford to make only so many missteps. And if we’ve learned one thing about Colts fans from the perfect season that wasn’t in 2009, it’s that Indianapolis football fans have long memories.

They may long recall this year as the one that divided the Horseshoe Kingdom that Irsay precariously presides over.

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