Growing up next to Chicago, I never though much about Indianapolis. Nor did I have any reason to: Until the mid-1980’s, Naptown had only one professional sports team, the Pacers, who weren’t exactly noteworthy in those years. Since auto racing means nothing to me, I paid no attention to the 500. In fact, I never went to Indy as a kid, and the only time I’ve been there as an adult was at a rest stop.
As a sports-loving lad, I did have an attachment to Baltimore. My dad great up in southern Pennsylvania, about an hour from Charm City. Around our home, in addition to the Cubs and bears, we thus rooted for the Orioles and the Colts. They all were in different leagues or conferences, and until the mid-1980s, my hometown teams never had a chance of going to the World Series or Super Bowl, so there never was a conflict. In the late 70s, as we watched the Bears start quarterbacks as wretched as Bon Avellini, my dad would simply say, “He’s no Johnny Unitas, that’s for sure.”
In March of 1984, when the Colts made their cowardly “midnight move” from Baltimore to Indy, I was finishing high school outside of Philly. Then and there I made a decision that, on principle, I would never root for the Colts. Johnny Unitas never forgave the Irsay family for moving the team, so why should I? Besides, the Bears were beginning their ascendance, so I had no reason to root for the Colts—especially since they were now vaguely near my former hone.
Over the years, y anger at the Colts has somewhat subsided. Baltimore lost its moral authority by stealing the Browns from Cleveland. The team did gain some literary cred by naming themselves after a Poe poem. But the Ravens lost any allure for me when they won a Super Bowl with a snoozer of a squad. And if there’s on book I won’t be reading any time soon, it’s that new one about a season spent with the Ravens; 30 seconds is too much Brian Billick. Regardless, Baltimore’s recent success did make Indy more acceptable to me, even as I now like in New York City.
I’m not entirely sure where all this personal geography leads me, except to say that I’ve traveled a long way with the Colts, as I do admire their current team. They are undeniably exciting on offense and suddenly have a solid D. Their coach, Tony Dungy, even seems like a pretty cool guy, unlike, say, a Parcells, a Shanahan, or the beady-eyed psychopath who coaches the Giants. And as my pal Jason likes to point out—at least when the Colts are not trouncing his beloved Steelers—the current Irsay who owns the team, Jim, also purchased the original scroll manuscript of Kerouac’s On the Road, and has now sent it on a national library tour.
A great squad, with a human coach and even a literary cache—is there anything more that bohemian football fans could ask for out of a team? I say there is, and it’s what Jimmy the Greek used to call an “intangible”: Naptown just ain’t got no soul. Let’s go Bears!