Many fans but fewer fanatics in Indy

Are folks nicer there or just indifferent?


January 11, 2007|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,sun reporter

INDIANAPOLIS -- Maybe it's because this is basketball country. Maybe it's Midwestern modesty. Or maybe it's that their football team is still relatively young and its roots lie, shall we say, elsewhere.

Whatever the reasons, Indianapolis' support for their Colts - while solid - doesn't seem to reach the trash-talking, chest-thumping, paint the town (insert your team color here) fever pitch of some other NFL cities.

Here, in the birthplace of Wonder Bread, life goes on and, by the way, there's a football game this weekend.

Baltimore might see Saturday's game as the cure for a long-nursed grudge, but even the most rabid Colts fans, and truly rabid ones are hard to find, view it as just another in a series of chances to get to the Super Bowl - maybe this time ... we might be able to win ... wouldn't that be nice?

Indianapolis doesn't seem a city pumped up. But maybe it just doesn't get that pumped up. Even the sign welcoming newcomers at the airport is humble. "Indianapolis: Building a world class city," it says - as if to admit there's still a ways to go.

Here, the Colts don't dominate the front page, or the airwaves. Few cars are festooned with Colts flags. Horseshoe logos aren't stamped on every available surface. With the exception of a few Internet forums, civility and humility prevail. But that doesn't mean there's no passion.

"I think we express our passion in a more positive way," said Bill Benner, a former sportswriter for The Indianapolis Star who is now associate director of communications for the city's Convention and Visitors Association.

"Our fans are far more apt to root for the Colts than against other teams or their fans. There's not that deep-rooted anger. I don't want to call it an East Coast mentality, but we're not like New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and a lot of other NFL cities. We treat opposing fans pretty civilly.

"We're nice people here in the heartland, and we tend to pride ourselves on our friendliness. We have a slogan - `Hoosier Hospitality' - and it's going to sound corny, but it really is the way we are. We want people to like us."

Colts fans are still on the road to becoming fanatics - but, as Benner sees it, the transition is almost complete, with a popular (and seemingly nice) quarterback, the passage of a generation since they relocated from Baltimore and another playoff berth this season.

For now, though, Colts fans are viewed as quieter than most, nicer than most, younger than average, more white-collar and, arguably, less hardy, accustomed as they are to watching their home games in a climate-controlled, 72-degree dome.

"Compared to other NFL cities, we don't have that longstanding tradition," Benner said. "Perhaps there's a lack of hardiness. The RCA Dome is a pretty sterile place. But that, too, is changing. It's becoming a little more blue collar, and less something that the society types do. It's becoming a bit grittier."

Even after 23 years, it seems, the Indianapolis Colts are still becoming Indianapolis' home team.

"There were so many divided allegiances here," Benner said. "People grew up Bears, Packers and Lions fans. It has taken a while for people to discard those allegiances and become Colts fans, and more to the point, passionate Colts fans - where it's not just something you do on Sunday, but something your heart is into."

Gary Zigler is a case in point. Zigler, who drives a bus for Hertz at the airport, has lived his whole life in Indianapolis. His team? The Green Bay Packers.

Growing up without a home team, Zigler has been a Packers fan since childhood. "They just always intrigued me since I was a kid. It might have been how they always played in the cold, or maybe it was because of Vince Lombardi, I don't know, but they're my team."

Asked where to find Colts fans, Ziglar answered, only partly in jest, "there's not that many around."

"I like the Colts, don't get me wrong. I'm glad we have a team here. But I don't like the way they got here. It was a sham thing, and it led a lot of other team owners to do the same thing" - namely, he said, forsake their fans for a better deal in another city.

Some say Colts fans lack fervor, some say they're just quieter about it. In reality, it's probably a little of both, along with the team's relative newness. The Colts don't have deep-rooted support because the team doesn't have deep roots in Indianapolis.

"It's not like it is with the steel foundries of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, with all these rooted people who grew up watching the Steelers and Eagles with their parents all their lives," said Todd D. Dashley, a funeral home vice president. "We don't have a rich history, and it takes a generation or two for those roots to set."

Added to that, Indianapolis, as a health and technology center, has seen its population become more transient - with more professional people moving in who are already loyal to another team, and moving out before they have a chance to become loyal to the Colts.

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