Will Indy stick with rebuilding Colts?

July, 23, 2012
7/23/12
11:27
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“With Indianapolis Colts training camp starting next Sunday in Anderson, Ind., the bond that so tightly welded the team and its fans through recent glory years is showing cracks and strain,” writes Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star.

Though the team talked of blackout potential to spark some ticket sales, it now appears highly unlikely that the Colts won’t be on local TV this year.

Still, hometown interest in the rebuilding Colts will be a huge question mark as the year unfolds. Richards' piece offers a good look at the issues at hand.

I started covering the team in 2008, and media insiders there have always said it was not a Colts town, but a Peyton Manning town.

[+] EnlargeColts coach Chuck Pagano
David Kohl/US PRESSWIREChuck Pagano will be leading a team coming off a 2-14 season and starting a rookie quarterback.
With Manning out last season, the team collapsed. Now he’s gone, resuming his career in Denver.

The city has reason for optimism. The No. 1 overall pick the lousy season produced presented the franchise with a great opportunity to replace Manning. Andrew Luck is rated as an outstanding NFL prospect.

But it will take time for him to grow into an NFL star, provided he follows the expected course.

It will take time for us to learn if Chuck Pagano is a quality NFL head coach, and if he has the right staff. It will take time to find out what sort of personnel man general manager Ryan Grigson is, and whether his approach is an effective one.

Will goodwill buy the team the time it takes to answer some of those questions?

At least some of the reason owner Jim Irsay parted ways with his top executive, Bill Polian, after the 2-14 season was because of Polian’s gruff style. It’s an approach that was palatable when the team was consistently earning playoff spots. But it would have been much more difficult for the public to swallow Polian’s approach to the media and fans during a rebuilding period.

Even with a friendlier regime in play, we ask: Will the fan base be patient or will its attention wane if things don’t come around quickly?

The Colts have been the top dog in Indianapolis for some time. Now they’ll be competing again for their place in the pecking order.

Team executive Pete Ward tells Richards he believes fans are giving the Colts the benefit of the doubt. They should, but I am not certain they will or how long they will if they are doing so initially.

During a stretch of nine consecutive playoff appearances starting in 2002 and 11 playoff berths in 12 seasons starting in 1999, the team didn’t have to promote itself. Consistent winning football in the NFL sells itself.

Now the Colts are promoting young players, starting with Luck, who they believe can lead them back to prominence.

Can they hold on to a high percentage of the people who loved them so when things were wonderful? Their stickiness is in question for sure, and much of it will be determined by how they play early on.

It’s not something Pagano and his staff will be considering as they draw up their initial game plans. But the team's early play will have a vital side effect on the franchise.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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