Ever had one of those moments where you expected something really, really good to happen...and then it didn't?
Well, I'm a passionate supporter of the Horseshoe, a member of the Blue Nation, a Colts fan, and that's what our playoff loss to the Steelers in 2005 felt like: just plain emptiness.
We had the best record in the league. We had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Heck, we'd even been on the brink of going undefeated.
But we lost. All that money I'd ponied up for tickets—wasted. Everything the team achieved in the regular season—meaningless.
Instead, it was yet another offseason of having to hear about how the mighty Colts choked in the playoffs, and how Peyton Manning "couldn't win the big one."
It was yet another year—of a finite number of years—down the drain.
The loss was my lowest point as a Colts fan. I was stunned for weeks. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw either Ben Roethlisberger's miracle tackle on Nick Harper or the infamous field goal shank that cost Mike Vanderjagt his job.
Things were bad.
As you can imagine, I was legitimately put off by the NFL when August rolled around. I just wasn't excited. And really, how could I have been?
It's human nature to shy away from something that has hurt you, and the Colts had cut me awful deep.
But as every fan knows, you can't turn your back on your team so easily. After all, the bonds we form through years of loyalty are, for better or for worse, some of the strongest ones we'll ever know.
Those bonds are the reason we put bumper stickers on our cars, and plunk down on our couches to watch a season's worth of games. They're the reason we blow obscene amounts of money on tickets, even when we know we shouldn't.
It's a lot like being in love, actually: You'll do things for your team that you wouldn't normally do for anything else.
Somewhere along the way, I realized the truth. I realized that I couldn't just abandon a group of guys who'd become like a second family to me. I realized the importance of moving on from the past.
Slowly but surely, I emerged from my malaise.
Both figuratively and literally, I got back on the horse.
As I re-acclimated myself to the team, it didn't take long to see that things had changed. Edgerrin James had left for "greener" pastures in Arizona. Vanderjagt, the man with the highest field goal percentage in NFL history, was gone. And most importantly of all, Peyton Manning just seemed...different.
And I'm not talking about the lingering effects of the Steelers loss. It was bigger than that.
There's a scene in Halloween where Dr. Loomis describes what Michael Myers was like when he was under his care, and he remarks how Mike would just sit in his room all day and stare at the walls —as if he were contemplating the day when he'd finally escape and wreak havoc.
As strange as it sounds, Peyton Manning had that same look in his eyes.
Throughout the 2006 preseason, Peyton seemed to be looking towards something else—a far-off destiny in southern Florida, perhaps, only ever to be reached at the conclusion of a journey beset by countless obstacles, and driven by heart as much as anything else.
Maybe Peyton had come across the last page of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald—the one where Fitzgerald writes of the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that's no matter, tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther...And one fine morning—
Prophetic words. I don't know if Peyton has ever read them and in late summer 2006, I certainly didn't know what the apparent shift in Manning's demeanor would mean for the Colts' fortunes.
All I knew, really, was that somehow, some way, this year was going to be different.