The biggest NFL offseason storyline to emerge so far this year has been that the league is returning to Los Angeles, as the Rams have relocated there and the Chargers have an option to join them (though it won't be in 2016, the team announced a few days ago).
Many Colts fans have commented (often in a joking way though with quite a bit of truth to it) that if it weren't for Peyton Manning, their franchise likely would have been the one moving to L.A. instead. What was perhaps unknown, however, was how close that came to being a reality over a decade ago as the Colts were early in the Manning era. WTHR's Bob Kravitz wrote a tremendous story recently about that very subject, looking at the possibility of the Colts moving to L.A. in the early 2000s before eventually getting a new stadium deal with the city of Indianapolis. Writes Kravitz:
Don't laugh. In the early 2000's, the Colts had a foot - maybe half-a-foot - out the door and were seriously contemplating a move to rich and robust Los Angeles. Just like so many franchises before them and so many franchises after them, the Colts had an eye focused on LA at a time when Indianapolis was feverishly attempting to un-do a terrible lease agreement with the team. It seemed to reach critical mass in 2002, when ESPN's Chris Mortensen ran with a story that suggested the Colts were all but ready to make the move as negotiations with the city slogged along with no agreement in sight.
It's a terrific read worth your time, as Kravitz talks to people who were very connected with the discussions - such as former Indianapolis mayor Bart Peterson and the former head of the Capital Improvement Board Fred Glass. There are plenty of interesting details in the story, such as how there was legitimate doubt - on the part of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Colts owner Jim Irsay, and other NFL owners - that Indianapolis could support an NFL franchise. Another interesting detail is how it was actually the city who had to convince Irsay to build a new stadium, not the other way around like so often happens. The previous deal for Irsay was a luxurious one that required Indianapolis to pay the Colts money to offset the league's median revenue, meaning that the city knew they needed to get a different stadium deal in place. Irsay was unsure, but once he was shown the concept art and designs for the new stadium, he began to come around to the idea. Peterson made it very clear that Irsay never threatened to leave or even implied it, but everyone knew that Los Angeles was without an NFL team and that the possibility of a move was always there.
Of course, we all know how it turned out. Irsay and the city of Indianapolis agreed to a deal for a brand new stadium (a deal that turned out to be pretty nice financially for Irsay, too) and that is routinely ranked among the best venues in football. Lucas Oil Stadium has hosted a Super Bowl, the NCAA final four, the Big Ten football championship game, and several other events, helping to put Indianapolis even more on the map as a sports town.
Furthermore, the city has been able to keep their most popular sports franchise, as the Colts have turned Indianapolis into a football town - despite doubt early on that the market could support an NFL team. The Colts almost always sell out their games, and that's in large part due to the product they have put on the field. In the past 14 seasons, the Colts have 12 double-digit win campaigns, 12 playoff berths, have made two Super Bowls, and won one. They have seen the likes of Peyton Manning (one of the greatest to ever play the game) and several others who might one day make the Hall of Fame, such as Marvin Harrison, Tony Dungy, Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, and Adam Vinatieri. Now, they get to see Andrew Luck and a new era of Colts football but one that looks promising, despite a rough 2015 season.
We may never know just how close (or not) the Colts came to moving to Los Angeles in the early 2000s, but the good news is that the two sides got a deal worked out that kept the franchise in Indianapolis long-term and has worked out well for both parties.