I’m a Chicago Bears fan. Always have been, always will be.
I was born in Highland Park, Ill., and despite growing up in Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale, I always kept my Chicago sports allegiances, perhaps none more so than the Bears.
But because my Bears lost to Houston in Week 17 and failed to make the playoffs, I didn’t have a dog in the fight (too soon?). OK, I didn’t have a horse in the race (is that better?).
I’ve lived in Indianapolis going on three years now and truth be told, Indianapolis is a lot more exciting when the Colts are in the playoffs. The Super Bowl run a few years back was a great time here, up until the actual game that is (remember the whole Bears thing).
Now, I usually hate bandwagon fans. I lived in Atlanta when the Braves got good (the Comeback Kids). I lived in South Florida when the Marlins won the World Series and the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Finals. And I was in Bloomington, Ind., when the Cubs almost made the World Series. Bandwagon fans are insufferable. I put them in the same class as New York Jets fans – they make you want to punch them in the face. Well, that’s at least what I thought prior to Saturday night.
Being a bandwagon fan is great! I can cheer the highs and shrug off the lows. It’s like fast-forwarding through a Nicolas Cage action movie.
On Saturday, the Indianapolis Colts met San Diego in the AFC Wild Card game. A group of friends and I decided to go to a bar to watch the game.
Normally, I would have people over to my place to watch on my oversized TV, but I have a 40-year old out of work chain-smoker suffering from depression, a severely deviated septum and what is probably pneumonia passed out on my couch 20 hours of the day. But that’s a story for another time.
So we settled on Buffalo Wild Wings and we get there early – real early. I’m talking 5 p.m. for an 8 p.m. kickoff. And you know what? We weren’t the only ones.
We were able to creatively design three tables to fit 12 people and give everyone decent TV sight lines. After warnings of blocking fire exits, the waitresses were impressed with our elbow design.
The rest of the crew rolls in dolled up in their blue and white Manning, Sanders and Wayne jerseys. I don’t own any Colts gear. Like I said, I’m a Bears fan. The best I could do was wear an Indiana University sweatshirt. Indiana. Indianapolis. Close enough. And after all, during our three-hour wait for kickoff, I had a chance to watch my beloved Hoosiers show surprising fight against Iowa (only lost by six, that’s a win for us in 2008-09).
Finally, the game starts (four 24 oz. beers and 12 spicy garlic wings later). My buddies are nervous, and with good reason. They’ve seen their Colts lose to the Chargers before and they are irate that a team with 12-4 record should have to play a road playoff game to a team that finished 8-8.
The game gets off to a good start. Joseph Addai opens the scoring with a LenDale Special.
The second quarter isn’t so good to the local team.
LT scores on a 3-yard run before Adam Vinatieri puts the Colts back on top with a field goal.
Then Mike Scifres boots a 67-yard punt down to the 5-yard line.
Profanity-laced exasperations flood Bdubs.
“We’re going to lose because of a god damn fucking punter!”
Darren Sproles then gives Colts fans a taste of what’s to come later with a 9-yard touchdown run late in the quarter to give San Diego a 14-10.
Clenched fists pound tables. Beer is spilled. Waitresses glare.
Then Chad Simpson seemingly fumbles the ensuing kickoff.
A fanatic buddy of mine, who probably draws Colts horseshoes on condoms before using them (“It’s my helmet.”), convulses. His chair flies backwards. He paces, cursing every step of the way.
Luckily, before he gives himself an aneurysm, he hears the play is being challenged. Replays don’t calm him. It looks to be clearly a fumble. However, surprisingly the Colts retain possession and he returns to his fallen seat.
Halftime comes and my friends have a chance to breathe.
The third quarter is uneventful until Peyton Manning does what he does and pulled what some call a smart play, but I call cheap. As the Chargers are sleeping, Manning snapped the ball and fired a deep pass to a wide open Reggie Wayne, who breezed past a loitering Antonio Cromartie.
I jump out of my seat and cheer with the rest of the crew. High-fives are exchanged. Beer is spilled. Waitresses glare.
San Diego answers with a solid drive of their own. But as Sproles races toward his second score of the game, he loses control of the ball and Raheem Brock recovers in the end zone for the Colts.
More high-fives. I’m enjoying myself. This is fun. I can’t wait to do this next week.
The fourth quarter is tense. Colts fans have seen their defense fold before, and despite a great effort all night, they expect the Chargers will score when they get the ball back with 1:48 left down just three points.
And they do. A Nate Kaeding field goal with :33 left in the game knots it at 17-17.
Hands aren’t exchanging high-fives nor pounding tables. Instead, they are covering faces.
“Great. The season comes down to a fucking coin flip.”
And sure enough, the Colts lose the coin flip.
San Diego has a 3rd-and-11 from their own 24-yard line. And as predictable as Bill Simmons’ jokes are, Philip Rivers dumped the ball off to Sproles, who raced 13 yards for a first down.
To be honest, I’m surprised the waitstaff didn’t ask some of my friends to leave. People at surrounding tables had a look of fear in their eyes. For me, it was pure comedy, though I kept my laughter hidden.
Some questionable defensive holding calls didn’t help, especially the 3rd down call on Tim Jennings.
It’s at this point my friends know the Colts are going to lose. They just don’t know – by field goal or touchdown.
By the time Sproles finished scampering 22 yards for the game-winning score, two of my friends were already out through the bar’s fire exit. Others sat distraught.
It was like the family dog just died.
Then there was me.
“Oh well. I was going to be out of town next week anyways.”