Note: This post is a response to a request by furrycolt for the story behind my Random Fact of the Week (which I hope to swap out every Saturday if I remember). Hope you all enjoy it.
It was the summer before the 2005 season (i.e., the 13-0 season). My family had season tickets for a year now, and my dad, younger brother, and I decided that it would be cool to go to training camp for the first time and get some autographs. Each of us had our own fantasies of certain players (think Triplets) coming over to the bleachers during practice and signing our gear. Anyway, going into training camp, we were prepared. Each of us had our own football we bought at a sporting goods store in Fishers, IN (NE suburb of Indy). We found out beforehand from a couple of frequenter friends that each player would only sign one item per person. We also brought along an assortment of new jerseys for special players that we would like to sign. (A special trick that my dad found out is that you can buy a whole bunch of jerseys for training camp day, don't remove the tags, and then you can return the ones that you don't get signed.)
We arrived at Rose Hulman (the training camp site) about 45 minutes before practice and hurried over to the autograph tent that was set up, expecting a huge line. Well, there wasn't a line at all. We were the only ones there, so we got in line and waited. As the players came onto the field, only one family was behind us in the line, so we decided to go over to the adjacent bleachers to watch the practice. Plus, the bleachers were one of the three spots we were told that we had a good chance to get autographs from. The last one was the cart path. More on that later.
Well, the practice starts, and immediately my dad notices (my bro and I had no clue) that the full-on practice had been downgraded to a simple walkthrough, but my dad pays no heed to the subtle warning. To this day, I don't know why they downgraded the practice. Anyway, in the middle of the practice, there was one player who had spent all of his time sitting or pacing around the bench not really doing anything. It is none other than #13, Mike Vanderjagt. He eventually gets bored with doing nothing and decides to come over to the elevated bleachers (where my family is sitting), and sign anything that fans are able to reach over to him. We are able to get all three of the footballs we brought signed. Here is what his autograph looks like in case you are interested:
(Isn't that cute? He drew a little goal post with a little football going through it. My opinion though is that he should have drawn the football on the far right nose of the football. That would be far more accurate.)
So, feeling pretty good for ourselves for getting the autograph of the most accurate kicker in NFL history, we headed over to the autograph tent for our second "wave" of autographs. There was one problem though. The Colts' security goons had cut off the line! Apparently because of the downgrade of the practice to a walkthrough, the training camp security was told to cut off the line prematurely, so there was only about 30-50 people allowed in the line instead of the normal 30 minutes of signing. (30 mins and about 7 seconds per autograph usually means about 250 people get their stuff signed.)
We decided to stick around just outside the line and put on our most pitiful faces in hopes that the players would have mercy on us and let us get their autographs. So, the players selected to autograph that day start filing into the tent, and we don't recognize any of them, which was slightly gratifying to us at the time, because it meant we didn't miss anybody important. I never figured out who those un-named players were. But then, one last straggler ducked into the tent, and the entire line burst into cheers while our hearts sank. It was none other than Marvin Harrison. The enormity of what just happened hit us with a ton of bricks. We just missed out on getting Marvin Harrison's personal signature (and his was one of the jerseys we had brought that day). As you might have guessed, our pitiful faces had no effect on the hot and tired players, so after they left the tent, we hurried out to our 3rd and final autograph spot.
As you may know, at the Colts' training camp, everybody gets around the campus on golf carts. Our training-camp-frequenter friends had told us that if we line up on the golf cart path most frequented after practice, players sometimes will stop their carts and sign your stuff. Well, we waited next to the path with a small group of fans and saw players like Manning and Freeney whiz by without giving us a second (or first thought), and just when we were about to give up hope, one player ordered his driver (apparently the players aren't allowed to drive their own golf carts) to stop, and he got out and signed our footballs. I didn't recognize the player at all, and the signature was indistinguishable too. Luckily, I was able to read the number he wrote on the football....#51. I looked into the program I had with me and found that it was just some nobody backup, Gilbert Gardner. The indistinguishable marks were just his initials, "GG." On the long drive home, I tried to console myself with the idea that yes, I had lost Marvin, but I did get the autograph of a great kicker, and who knows? Maybe this Gardner fellow will turn into a great player someday. Little did I realize that those 2 players would soon become the 2 worst (and most hated) players in the history of the Indianapolis Colts.
So, in case you're a visual person, I ended up trading this:
I am forever going to keep those 3 footballs as a reminder of the rough times the Colts have had, and also to remind myself why I hate Vanderjagt and Gardner so much.