Booing Colts even in victory, fans in Indianapolis have 10-year itch

PRO FOOTBALL

November 07, 1993|By VITO STELLINO

When the Indianapolis Colts, leading the New England Patriots 9-6, intercepted a pass last Sunday with 1:55 left, they did the logical thing.

They had Jeff George kneel down to ice the victory because the Patriots were out of timeouts.

It wasn't logical to Colts fans. A cascade of boos rained down from the Hoosier Dome. Fans often boo when teams kneel down at the end of the half, but at the end of the game? Booing a victory?

"It [ticked] me off," said Sam Clancy of the Colts. "I know we didn't score 10 touchdowns, but we got a W and we needed it."

It was a sad commentary on what the Colts are billing as their "10th Celebration" season. They were supposed to be celebrating their 10th season in Indianapolis since moving from Baltimore. Instead, they should call it their "Fed Up" season.

The fans are fed up with 10 years of football produced by owner Bob Irsay. Even when they win, it's boring. Two of their three wins have come by 9-6 margins. Three field goals to two.

The Colts drew only 46,522 fans for the game. Their two home sellouts this year came when the visiting teams, the Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns, brought a large contingent of fans.

The only surprising thing about all this is that one Indianapolis columnist, Robin Miller, blamed the fans.

"I'm starting to wonder if we even want the Colts," he wrote last Monday. "It's downright embarrassing to have Cowboys and Dawg Pound followers drown out the Indianapolis faithful. Maybe we do belong in the Continental Football League instead of the NFL. Maybe we should lose the Colts and keep the Dome for monster trucks. Maybe we're not such a great sports town."

Lighten up. It's not your fault.

For once, Baltimore fans can sympathize with Indianapolis fans.

In the expansion derby, Baltimore is still being bashed for not supporting the Colts in the years before Irsay moved.

It's one thing for fans to stick with a team through the down cycles. But they have to be given some hope there's going to be an up cycle. The Indianapolis fans have figured out the same thing the Baltimore fans figured out: As long as Bob Irsay owns the team, it's never going to get much better.

Miller wrote: "Fans aren't fervent here like in Cleveland or Denver or Seattle, where they create so much racket it's impossible for visiting teams to conduct business. There's more passion in a Madonna video than at Colts games. They're social events, where people leave before overtime starts or during the middle of a fourth-quarter tie."

The problem, though, is not the Indianapolis fans. It's the team.

In the NFL offices, though, they'll never blame the team. They'll blame the town. They already have a lot of practice blaming Baltimore.

The fix

Just in case anybody had any doubt that the NFL made a back-room deal to deliver an expansion team to Charlotte, N.C., Hugh McColl, the chairman of NationsBank Corp., outlined how it was done in a profile on Page One in the Washington Post last Sunday.

The story started out, "The banking king is on the phone, cutting a deal to bring a professional football team to Charlotte."

It happened on a "Wednesday in September" when Jerry Richardson, head of the Charlotte effort, called McColl.

"Richardson reports his effort to bring an NFL team to Charlotte has hit a snag. Sales of 'permanent seat licenses' are $30 million under target. An NFL official has let the Richardson group know that if all the seat licenses were covered, Charlotte would blow away the competition, the other cities seeking an expansion team -- Baltimore, St. Louis, Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla.

"McColl is a leading banker in several of those places and he has said he supports their efforts as well. But Charlotte is home, after all.

"He tells Richardson and a consultant who is the other voice on the line that NationsBank will guarantee $15 million of the total. Now they should go, McColl says, to the heads of the other two North Carolina bank giants, NationsBank rivals First Union Corp. and Wachovia Corp., and use this as a prod?

" 'Ask them if they might scrape the other $15 million up,' he says."

The story said he committed the money without consulting with anyone else in his company.

That's how it was done. The only missing piece of the puzzle is the name of the "NFL official" who gave Richardson the word.

That probably will come out in one of the antitrust trials that is likely to come out of all this.

Another charade

As if the whole expansion derby weren't a charade to start with, the NFL started another charade with the date of the meeting at which the second team is to be named.

After J. Wayne Weaver, head of the Jacksonville group, complained about having to wait until Nov. 30 for the meeting, the NFL said it was considering a change.

It spent all last week saying it was considering moving the meeting up two weeks to Nov. 16-18.

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