BY DEAN HOCKNEY
SPORTS JOURNAL PUBLISHER
Forty-four years ago, I was born at St. Joseph Hospital long before St. Vincent attached its name to the letterhead. I was born when Kokomo was known as Stop Light City and Indianapolis was called Naptown. I was born when The Golden Arm of the Colts was Johnny Unitas, not Peyton Manning, and the Horseshoe was located in Baltimore, not Lucas Oil Stadium. I was born in a region that was split between rooting for teams in Chicago or Cincinnati because Indy was not considered a major league town. Like my father, I was born a fan of the Reds and Bengals.
I grew up with Kenny Anderson as my football hero, and cheered loudly when they made the Super Bowl in 1981 – the same year Anderson was the NFL most valuable player and long before the Colts even considered renting Mayflower. And I am sure I cried when Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers beat the Bengals 26-21. I was excited again as Boomer Esiason led the Bengals to the 1988 Super Bowl, only to be downed by the dreaded 49ers in another nail-biter, 20-16.
So, why the history lesson? As you might have noticed in the last week, the Colts released Peyton Manning and much of the core of the team after a dismal 2011 season (and salary cap issues). They sent Manning packing with the high hopes of Andrew Luck coming in and reviving a program that has as much history as any other in the NFL. And that got me thinking about the Colts, Manning and where my allegiance stands.
You see, when the Colts arrived in 1984, I was halfway through high school and still a diehard Bengals fan. I had Bengals clothing, Bengals pennants, had family in Cincinnati, traveled there to watch games (and go to Kings Island) and listened to sports on 700 WLW. Manning was still a distant memory, and the Dolts, as some called them, didn’t exactly light the world on fire when they arrived in Naptown.
But a funny thing happened along the way – the Dolts started winning and the Bengals were referred to as the Bungals. And slowly, as local news covered the Colts relentlessly, I became a fan of the Horseshoe. Granted, it was not with the same diehard tenacity that I had with the Bengals, but I started to follow the Blue Crew and wore Colts clothing while still following the Bengal Stripes. While Jim Harbaugh was leading the Colts to the AFC Championship game in 1995, the Bengals were losing – a lot – and I wasn’t even living in Indiana (thanks to Uncle Sam).
Then in 1998, the year before I returned to Kokomo, the Colts drafted Peyton Manning and I became a diehard fan. But what was I a fan of? Had I totally changed allegiances. Was I rooting for the Colts, or for Peyton Manning, or both?
When Jim Irsay released Peyton Manning last week, like most Hoosiers, I was disappointed. I was even more disappointed when Black Friday occurred and Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett and others were no longer Colts players. It seems that the team that I loved was no longer.
So where does that leave me? I had jumped on the Colts bandwagon with the arrival of Peyton Manning, but still kept an eye on my Bengals. I was excited when Carson Palmer led the Stripes to the playoffs in 2005 for the first time in 15 years.
I guess I am a torn fan. Unlike today’s youth who only know the Colts, I am just old enough to remember the days before the Hoosier Dome was built. I remember the Mayflower vans arriving. I remember the advent of Colts-mania in Indianapolis and the end of Naptown. I grew up a Bengals fan, became a Colts fan, and I guess now I am a true fan of both. If the Colts had come a decade earlier, I probably wouldn’t remember much about the Bengals. And if they would have come a decade later, I would have been too far engrained with the Bengals. I guess I am what you would call a tweener – a fan of both with an allegiance to Mr. Manning. Boy, it sure will be weird wearing a No. 18 jersey in a different color next football season.
Until next time, remember to keep the man and ship in sports – and I’ll see you at the game.