I always wondered what it’d be like the second time around.
I’d long marveled at fan bases that rooted for teams like the Patriots, Steelers, Cowboys and 49ers. They all supported teams that won multiple championships in a short span, and while I always knew the Indianapolis Colts would someday join that group, what I really wanted to find out was what it felt like to make a return trip to the big game. Would I feel the same unbridled joy I felt in 2006? Would the experience leave me somehow unsatisfied? I didn’t think so, but I was dying to find out. And find out I have. Almost, anyway. The Colts haven’t completed their journey quite yet, but at this point, 10 days before kickoff, I can give you a pretty good idea of the differences between the first, and the second time rooting for a Super Bowl bound team.
I remember clearly what it felt like the first time around. I remember waking up early that Sunday morning, pouring a stiff screwdriver, and pulling on my well-worn Dallas Clark jersey. I remember calling my dad and giddily talking about what the Colts had in store for Rex Grossman and his Band of Hapless Bears. I remember driving into downtown Indianapolis, checking into the Hyatt Regency, and running around the hotel with my friends, screaming and jumping on furniture like kids with a sugar buzz. The vibe surrounding the group I was with — the vibe surrounding the whole city really — was that of borderline hysteria. Nobody was out of control — not yet — but there was electricity in the air, a charged undercurrent of anticipation that’d been building in Colts fans since the arrival of Peyton Manning. You could see it in the animated way people were talking, and in the much-too-loud way they were laughing. Something needed to be released, and win-or-lose, it was going to come out.
Luckily, thankfully, the Colts won, and all that agonizing buildup — 23 years worth — was allowed to come out in the form of a wild celebration. It could have been much worse. I’m not saying Colts fans would have rioted on Monument Circle — we’re not that extreme — but I have a feeling the Marion County Jail isn’t big enough to hold the approximately 438,000 incidents of drunk and disorderly conduct that would have occurred had we lost.
The Colts run through the playoffs that year had a life or death feel to it. Not literally, of course, but the hopes of ever seeing Manning and Tony Dungy bring a title to Indy certainly seemed to live and die with the outcome of every game. They’d been so close, so many times, that the fear was if they didn’t win this time, it may never happen.
Winning the Super Bowl was more than just a desire. It was a need. For everyone involved. Jim Irsay, Bill Polian, Dungy, Manning, all were considered among the best at what they did, but none had been able to add that elusive championship to their resume. And Colts fans, we could claim to have the best QB in the league, we could claim that we were the top team in the NFL, but without a title, it was nothing but talk. In 2006, everyone was searching for more than just a victory parade. We were looking for validation. And we got it. We beat the Bears, hoisted the trophy, and gained the league-wide respect we’d always sought.
This year, it’s been different. Still great, just…different. Unlike with sex, making a Super Bowl is always best the first time around. I know that now. That doesn’t mean the 2009 playoff run hasn’t been enjoyable, it just means the intensity and significance hasn’t been as palpable. In fact, the stress-level leading up to the two previous games was virtually non-existent. Sure, we all knew the Ravens and Jets would present some problems, and we weren’t expecting to blow either team out of Lucas Oil Stadium, but anyone who claimed to be a ball of nerves before those games was either lying, trying to pull a reverse jinx, or simply predisposed to feel that way.
There wasn’t one-tenth the amount of anticipation for this year’s Jets game as there was for the AFC Championship game against New England in ’06. Part of that was because of the opponent, but mostly, it was because we’d already surpassed that point. Been there, won that. Beating the Jets didn’t bring jubilant cheering as much as it did brow-wiping relief. It allowed us to finally put the 16-0 questions to bed, and focus solely on the only thing that’s important to a team who’s won 12 or more regular-season games in seven straight seasons; bringing home another Super Bowl title.
The Colts no longer need validation, now it’s all about accomplishing a goal, about fulfilling their vast potential. It’s about winning for the sake of winning, pure and simple. And that’s a nice luxury to have. When a team can take the field — minus that annoying back monkey — and focus only on what they’re paid to do, win football games, that team is at a decided advantage over their opponent. Especially when said opponent has the weight of a devastated city on its shoulders.
It’s been said there’s a five-year grace period after winning a championship. For the fans, that means no complaining, no second-guessing, and no jumping ship within those five years. For the team and the players, that means doing everything in their power to make sure winning it all wasn’t a one-time event. Outside of the last two weeks of this season, the fans have done their part, and now, the team is in the process of fulfilling their end of the bargain. It’s a great time to be a Colts fan. Maybe not quite as good as it was in 2006, but who’s complaining? I’m just glad we got the opportunity to find out.
Whether you’re an Indianapolis sports fan who follows the Colts, or someone simply interested in what the Super Bowl has to offer this year, keep checking back with funcityfinder.com on a daily basis.