As I sit here tonight writing my 6,000th and final article for Stampede Blue, it’s hard not to think about what a fun and crazy journey it’s been over the past five years.
I think back to 2011 when, as a Colts fan who loved to write, I started my own blog and tried to model it after Stampede Blue, which I considered to be the best website covering the Colts. Little did I know then that a year later Brad Wells would send me a message asking if I’d be interested in joining this site. I readily accepted and, for my first article, wrote about Andrew Luck’s first mini-camp with the Colts.
I think back to that magical 2012 season when, following a bye week in which Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with cancer, the Colts rallied back to win a thriller against the Packers, 30-27. Reggie Wayne, sporting orange gloves in support of Pagano, had the game of his life, and he caught the game-winning score from Andrew Luck with less than a minute left to complete the comeback. After the game, Jim Irsay delivered the game ball to Pagano in the hospital.
I think back to the end of that 2012 regular season, when Pagano made his return to the sidelines for the finale against the Texans. The game was meaningless since both teams had locked up a playoff berth, but it carried a lot of meaning for the Colts since their coach was back. The ovation from the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium - consisting of fans of both teams - was thunderous and emotional; it was about more than football in that moment as Pagano returned, having beaten leukemia. The Colts won that day, and it was the first of an NFL record 16 straight wins against their division opponents.
I think back to another thunderous ovation at Lucas Oil Stadium the following season, when Peyton Manning returned for the first time. It was a magical moment pre-game when, following a video tribute to Manning, he took the field and fought back tears as he waved to a roaring crowd; he may have been a member of the Broncos, but that moment reminded everyone that the relationship between Manning, Indianapolis, and the Colts was something different and something special. That was a huge ovation, but it might not have been the loudest that night: that might have come when Robert Mathis strip-sacked Manning for a safety. Manning may have been Indy’s hero, but the new-era Colts won that night behind four touchdowns from Andrew Luck.
I think back to the signature moment of Andrew Luck’s career later in that 2013 season, a stunning 28-point comeback in the wild card round against the Kansas City Chiefs to win 45-44, the first playoff victory for Pagano and Luck. Luck scooping up Donald Brown’s fumble and diving into the end zone like Superman remains the defining play of his career, and a short while later he hit T.Y. Hilton for the game-winning 64-yard score.
I think back to another playoff win the following year, a game that might represent the high point of the Chuck Pagano era. The Colts won eleven games for the third straight year in 2014 while Luck led the league in touchdown passes (40) and broke Manning’s single-season franchise record for passing yards (4,761), and they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild card round of the playoffs. That set up a road divisional game against the defending AFC champion Broncos and Peyton Manning. The defensive gameplan was nearly perfect and the execution was too, with Vontae Davis in particular having the game of his life. The Colts dominated the Broncos and won 24-13, advancing to the AFC Championship game.
Of course, it wasn’t all positive - far from it. The following week the Colts were crushed by the New England Patriots for the second straight postseason, and this one gained far more attention because of the Deflategate saga. The next year, in a home game against the Patriots, the Colts pulled off one of the strangest-looking plays in NFL history as they attempted a crazy fake punt that failed miserably and made them a punch-line. There were two straight 8-8 seasons and two straight years of missing the playoffs, all the while dealing with injuries to Andrew Luck. Following the 2016 season, as a culmination of a number of failed moves that included the Trent Richardson trade and the Bjoern Werner draft pick, general manager Ryan Grigson was fired.
That led to a sort of rebuild taking place this offseason with new GM Chris Ballard, and I think the Colts are starting to head in the right direction. Ballard is a really likable guy who’s well-respected, and so far his moves seem pretty solid. Though the team still needs to figure out its coaching situation and add more playmakers to the defense, I think they’re heading in the right direction.
As they head in that direction, however, it’s also time for this site to head in a different direction. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I will be stepping down from this site as I move on to different ventures in my life that I’m very excited about. I’ve been studying in seminary and plan to become a pastor, and I’m excited to pursue that path further in the upcoming years. So today is that day for me to say goodbye, and this is my final article here at Stampede Blue. The fine folks at SB Nation are at work finding the next lead writer and editor of this site, and I’m sure they’ll be updating you on that soon enough.
Speaking of SB Nation, I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer up some thank yous. Firstly, thanks to Brad Wells for bringing me on staff here back in 2012. He gave me the opportunity to truly live my dream of covering the Colts, and I got to do it for the website I considered my favorite and the best Colts site out there. After five years and 6,000 articles, I’m still just as grateful to Brad for bringing me on staff and offering me the support and encouragement to keep at it and to continue improving as a writer and analyst.
Thanks also to Joel Thorman and the folks at SB Nation for giving me the chance to step into a bigger role when Brad stepped aside in 2014. I have nothing but good things to say about them and the support they’ve given me, and they’ve been tremendous to work for. Whenever I’ve needed advice, required assistance, or had questions, they’ve always been ready to jump in and help however. It’s been awesome being a part of a team of SB Nation sites covering the NFL, and the writers at the other team sites have all been incredibly helpful over the years with any questions I’ve had about opposing teams.
Further thanks go out to some of those others who have supported me over the years, including George Bremer, Tom James, and Mike Chappell, among so many others. Those guys, and all of the others covering the Colts too, have always been absolutely great. One of the things I’ll miss the most are those training camp conversations with those guys, whether it be while sitting in the media trailer or while standing out on the practice field watching the Colts each day. There are some great people out there covering the Colts, and it’s been awesome getting to know them.
Thanks also to the Colts, and in particular to Matt Conti. I can’t imagine that it’s easy dealing with bloggers (especially those like me who don’t always have the most positive things to say about the team...), but I’ve noticed the team slowly but surely beginning to embrace bloggers as legitimate over the past few years. When I was first credentialed by the team for training camp in 2013, it was almost unheard of for a blogger to be granted access. Over the last few years, I’ve seen them embrace online outlets more and more, and for that I applaud them and encourage them to keep going. And thanks also to those players, coaches, and team personnel who were great with me over the years too.
Thanks to my family and friends, who have always been supportive and who have been totally understanding with some of the scheduling demands of this job - and, to be honest, having those scheduling demands include watching football games is pretty great. But my family and friends have been awesome and 100% supportive.
Thanks to our staff, both past and present. Matt Grecco was great in helping with behind-the-scenes stuff and site moderation to allow me to focus more on writing, and our contributing writers have put out quality content. I’m especially excited to continue reading the work of the guys on staff now, from Matt, Ben Lamers, Andrew Aziz, Matt Danely, Alex Jacobson, Brian Krosky, Brett Mock, and Stephen Reed. All of those guys know football and know the Colts, and I can’t wait to see the quality of work they continue to put out.
And last but certainly not least, thanks to all of our readers. I know it’s cliche but I absolutely mean it: for me, it was never about the page views or anything like that; it was always about informing you all and talking Colts football. That’s why training camp was my favorite time of the year: whereas most people have access to the games on Sundays, most people can’t get to training camp. So I loved going into detail on my daily training camp recaps and notebooks, informing fans of what happened that day. And, in my humble but correct opinion, I thought we kicked butt in training camp and had the best Colts coverage out there. But it wasn’t just in camp; I loved keeping fans informed year-round and loved talking Colts football. The backbone of this site is our community, and we’ve got thousands of members who interact regularly. You’d have a hard time finding a bigger and/or better place anywhere else to discuss Colts football, and I loved it.
You’re not getting rid of me totally: I’ll still be around reading and interacting with this site, and I’ll still be around on Twitter talking Colts football. But it’s time for me to step down from running this site and writing, and while I’m sad to be moving on I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to live the dream, and I’m excited about the next steps in my life. I’m excited to see where this site heads, too, just as I’m excited to see the direction the Colts head.
So as I reflect on five years of covering the Colts, I’m reminded of plenty of good and some bad, but mostly I’m reminded of just how much fun this job has been. That’s thanks to you all, and so once again, thank you!
And as always, Go Colts!