This list is in no way scientific or driven by a vote of any kind. These are the ten stories that occurred in Indiana that either were horrifying, thrilling, or incredible—to me. There are a lot of stories that could have made the cut but didn't. Indiana has become a ripe field for the amazing. I left out Luke Zeller's shot to win the state championship for Washington High School, as well as Ryan Sterling's 22-foot hook shot at the buzzer signaling the end of overtime over Robbie Hummel to win the opening game of the 2006 Hall of Fame Classic—although that was without question was my favorite moment.
Without any more fanfare about Ryan, here are my Top Ten Indiana Sports Moments of the Naught:
10. Colts Win 23 Consecutive Regular Season Games
You have to pick something to salute the regular season excellence of Peyton Manning's Colts. The consistency of this franchise, and Manning as its leader, is beyond amazing. During an era when the idiotic is seen as triumphant, the Colts simply grab their hard hats and lunch pails and go to work. They prepare and execute better than anyone, and that turns into wins. Go figure.
9. Kelvin Sampson Fired
That this was entirely predictable doesn't make the middle of February 2008 any less memorable. Sampson was a purveyor of arrogance and selective morality at Oklahoma, and there was no reason to believe he would leave all of that in Norman when he brought his act to Bloomington. An internal audit of phone records revealed three-way phone calls between recruits, assistant coach and unrepentant dipshit Rob Senderoff, and Sampson. This violated NCAA sanctions that were imposed upon Sampson when he was at OU. He was escorted to the Monroe County Line with a check for $750,000 to cover his moving expenses.
8. Lucas Oil Stadium Opens
The Colts went from a franchise that was even money to bolt for Los Angeles to one that opened a new retractable roof stadium against the Chicago Bears in September 2008. There were some nervous moments as opening night came. No one was quite sure if everything would work properly, but thanks to Mike Fox and his crew, everything went off without a hitch—other than the Colts' game plan. The Bears beat the Colts as Peyton Manning was coming off two knee surgeries and looked like he had spent the previous four months in a POW camp. There were whispers that the Colts might not be comfortable in their new digs. Those whispers have fallen silent.
7. IU Goes to NCAA Finals
In 2002, everyone briefly forgot that Mike Davis was a poor coach, totally unprepared for the job of running the Indiana University basketball program. Indiana rode a monstrous shooting night against Kent State and missed foul shots by Duke to a date in Atlanta where they dispatched Kelvin Sampson and Oklahoma in the semifinals before losing to Maryland. Davis said some troubling things during the tournament run about not having any idea what his game plan would be and that he let God drive the strategy. I could never tell whether Davis was being coy or an over-matched simpleton. I'm still not sure.
6. Colts Lose Chance for Perfect Season
This is a little fresh in my mind, but holy hell, what a wild response by the fans. People claimed to burn their Colts jerseys, return their Colts license plates, and vowed never to attend another Colts game after the Colts pulled Peyton Manning and many of the frontline players with just over five minutes remaining in a game the Colts led by five. An hour later, the Jets were 29-15 winners, and the dreams of a perfect season were over. The Colts underestimated the fervor with which the 67,000 fans in Lucas Oil Stadium would respond to the benchings. As Manning stood on the sideline with his helmet still on, the crowd became the first group to boo (loudly) a 14-0 team in any sport (I assume). Every time the offense came onto the field sans Manning, Clark, and Wayne, the crowd was not shy in voicing their collective displeasure.
5. Indy Car and CART Merge
One thing was sure when Tony George created the Indy Racing League—two open-wheel racing series were not going to to survive. Both CART and Indy Car made a valiant run at being the survivor, but in the end, the series with the equivalent of the sport's Super Bowl was able to outlast the other. The die was cast when Roger Penske left CART in favor of George's series. Little did we know that George would be forced out as the head of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indy Car within a couple of years. Following George's departure, the series inked a major sponsorship deal with IZOD that should breathe new life into Indy Car. The momentum certainly seemed to be moving in the right direction last May.
4. Pacers Make It to NBA Finals
So early in the decade, it's almost impossible to believe that it was less than ten years ago that Reggie, Mark, Rik, the Davis Boys, Jeff Foster, and Austin Croshere made it to the NBA Finals against the LA Lakers. The nights of the three home games with all of the world's attention on the team we had grown to love over the previous decade were thrilling. In the end, Kobe and Shaq were just too much, but for one glorious season that seems so long ago, the Pacers were the darlings in the Indianapolis sports scene.
3. The Brawl
On one cold night in Detroit five years ago, a proud franchise unraveled. It hasn't been fully reconfigured yet. Ben Wallace committed a hard foul against Ron Artest, and there was some posturing. As the on-court penalties were being sorted out, Artest lay down on the scorer's table. A drunken fan tossed a plastic cup at Artest, and all hell broke loose. Artest went after the wrong guy, and Stephen Jackson followed him. Both threw punches, and fans took to the court. Jermaine O'Neal button-holed some poor dork with a punch the guy undoubtedly still feels. Suspensions ensued, and the Pacers have still not recovered. This is likely the saddest event in Indianapolis sports history. So many have worked so hard and spent so much to build and now rebuild that franchise, and in one night irresponsibility took a flamethrower to it.
2. Colts Win Super Bowl
There was just no chance the Colts were going to lose that game to the Bears even after Devin Hester returned the opening kick for a touchdown. If memory serves, the Colts won 29-17. The monkey was off the backs of Tony Dungy, Bill Polian, and Peyton Manning, and the city of Indianapolis finally had a major league championship. Time will tell if that season will be the only visit Manning makes, but if so, that was one sweet night.
1. Bob Knight Fired
This was the day that Indiana University Basketball ceased to matter in this decade. Irrelevance is not a word that I ever thought would describe IU Hoops, but when Knight responded to that dumbass who greeted Knight with, "Hi, Knight!" he violated Miles Brand's zero tolerance policy—whatever the hell that was. No question that Knight had stopped working at recruiting and he had hired assistant coaches who didn't have any clue what they were doing, including the man who would replace him. In the end, Knight's arrogance authored his undoing. He believed it didn't matter who the players or assistants were because he was so incredibly brilliant that he could win with anyone on the court or on the bench. Hopefully, there is reconciliation between Knight and the university he brought to athletic prominence. The amount of marketing might Knight brought to IU is incalculable, and it would be great to see him honored in the Assembly Hall.
His teams were filled with precision motion offense and tenacious man-to-man defense. Bob Knight garnered three NCAA Championship banners. It would be great to give those of us who were enthralled by that success a chance to thank him for what he did and how he did it. I would hate to think that the last time Knight stood in Assembly Hall, it was to answer questions about some punk who felt somehow demeaned.
Who knows what is going to be in store for the state of Indiana during the teens? Whatever the future brings, 1070 The Fan will bring it to you—and enjoy the hell out of doing it.