Indianapolis Colts — And Fans — Need to Prove Themselves Against Pittsburgh

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After two bad losses to open the 2011 NFL season, the Indianapolis Colts are close to confirming everyone’s worst fears about the team without Peyton Manning.

Tonight’s prime-time matchup with the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers (1-1) at Lucas Oil Stadium can either establish one and for all that the Colts can’t contend without their four-time MVP starting quarterback, or it can be a proving ground for them to show that they can.

But the Colts aren’t the only ones who have something to prove at tonight’s game. Colts fans do, too.

I recently heard that a buddy of mine who is a die-hard Steelers fan was able to score tickets to tonight’s game for $45 on StubHub. That should be extremely disconcerting to true Colts fans. If one Steelers fan can get into the game at such an amazing price, what does that say about how many Terrible Towels you might see in Indy’s stadium tonight?

I understand the economy is still in a rut and plenty of people would rather save money than spend considerably to watch a lackluster football team.

But Indianapolis has a poor track record with this stuff, folks. Nobody supported the Colts in the early- to mid-1990s when Bill Clinton helped the United States to a surplus. Indy sports fans abandoned the Indiana Pacers when losing followed The Brawl and Reggie Miller’s retirement — this after a ticket at Market Square Arena and Conseco Fieldhouse was tough to score. And all that happened when the economy was still in good shape.

For the last decade, the Colts have been the tough ticket in this town. Obviously, Peyton Manning has had a lot to do with that. He surely will go down as one of, if not the most influential sports figure in Indianapolis history, and that includes Miller and any of the iconic drivers from the Indianapolis 500. Basketball and auto racing have long, storied traditions in the town. Indy — and Indiana as a whole — hardly had any football culture until Manning was selected first overall by the Colts in the 1998 NFL Draft.

But Manning is missing meaningful games for the first time in his Hall-of-Fame career. As a result, the Colts have started 0-2 for the first time since Manning’s rookie season. Most people have adopted the common thought process that Manning is the single most important player in the NFL and that the Colts will tank without him. That could be a reason fans might not show up in force as they have for the last decade.

Granted, Steelers fans are the class of NFL fanaticism. Their unwavering support of their franchise is unparalleled by any other fan base in the NFL and perhaps all of American professional sports. They always travel well, so it will be no surprise to see many of them at Lucas Oil Stadium tonight.

The concern should be whether the problem persists. Nothing would be more heartbreaking than to see opposing teams’ fan bases invade Lucas Oil Stadium just like they invaded the RCA Dome in the pre-Manning era. I understand the circumstances nowadays, but it till does nothing but reinforce a terrible stereotype about Indianapolis sports fans — that they’re fair-weather bandwagon jumpers.

As for the game itself, I don’t expect the Colts to put up much of a fight, at least on paper. Quarterback Kerry Collins needs all the time he can get in the pocket, and time isn’t exactly something the Stee;er’s defense gives so generously. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley form one of the NFL’s top pass-rushing tandems, so theColts had better hope for another solid performance from rookie left tackle Anthony Castonzo and just A solid performance from the rest of the offensive line.

If Indy’s defense stops the Steelers consistently, I’ll be impressed. I don’t see it, though. Running back Rashard Mendenhall could have a field day against the Colts’ stop unit, and that will only open things up in the passing game for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, woh really doesn’t need much opening to begin with.

One thing the Colts have done well early this season is run the football. Joseph Addai is averaging 4.7 yards per carry, and rookie Delone Carter has been every bit the powerful runner as he was described when the Colts drafted him. However, I wouldn’t look for much success on the ground tonight. The Steelers always play the run well, and nose tackle Casey Hampton is a brick wall down in the trenches.

Interestingly enough, Manning will be assisting the Colts from the press box, something he figures to do until he’s healthy enough toplay again. Regardless, it’s going to be a tough one tonight, and the Colts could be looking at an 0-3 start.

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  1. Great article Drew, knew it was going bad in Colts camp, but didn’t realize the fans were selling out (that’s sad considering what this team had done over the last decade).

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