We are emotional creatures. There are some truly amazing stories that come out of sports, but ultimately these games we consume rabidly are there to lift us all up, to inspire us, to distract us, and to allow us to feel like a part of something incredible. Perhaps Jerry Seinfeld said it best when he said that we cheer for clothes.
However ridiculous we are as fans, the excitement, passion, and dedication we show is real. We spend our hard-earned money on football, and that investment both in time and money gives us a feeling of entitlement to let our emotions run wild with the outcomes of games and roster moves.
Much has been said, largely by way of Twitter, about the booing of Andrew Luck as he walked off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium for what we assume was the last time as a Colt. Many have called out Colts fans as classless and ridiculous. I myself rapid-fire tweeted this gem:
Well that’s about the only way to make this worse. Be frustrated sure, but Andrew Luck has earned better. Grow up children. https://t.co/1dxVsK5BdG— Chris Blystone (@chrisblystone) August 25, 2019
As pundits and fans weigh in around the country about the rightness of booing a quarterback who lifted this whole team against overwhelming odds, I thought it made sense to take a moment to think about the whole thing.
First, to those of you who booed, I get it. I sat dumbstruck in my living room, unable to process information for a solid fifteen minutes before I was really able to do anything. My emotional investment in this team is perhaps higher than it should be, and it hit just about every mark on Saturday evening.
Let me make a comparison here that I think is relevant to understand where the people who booed are coming from. This summer I took a trip to the Rockies to go hiking. On our last day there, we took a trail to Bear Lake up to Lake Haiyaha. If you’ve been, you’ll know it is a beautiful trail.
However, this two mile trip wasn’t our destination. We went off trail from the lake and began working our way up a rock slide on our way to Otis Peak, which sits a couple thousand feet in elevation higher than Lake Haiyaha. The climb was brutal, because we’re from Indiana, and here when you breathe, you get oxygen. It was 3 hours of grueling work, all in the pursuit of an accomplishment and a really nice view.
The worst part of the whole climb, however, is that there are eight different false summits. There is almost nothing as demoralizing as thinking that you have endured the agony and trial of climbing and are nearly at the top, only to realize that you weren’t really close and you’ve got a lot more climbing to go.
That feeling is what elicited boos from Colts fans on Saturday night. We had put up with the miserable teams that surrounded our generational talent. A defense that could make Blake Bortles look like a viable quarterback and an offensive line unit that seemed to have a personal vendetta against Andrew Luck. Our former general manager alienated everyone while spending money on overpriced free agents who didn’t pan out.
Are there fans who have had it worse than us? Sure, and lots of them. But fandom is inherently selfish, so we don’t have to give much consideration to them. We turn to sports for what they give to us, individually and collectively. Regardless, the Ryan Grigson era in Indianapolis was taxing for us.
We kept going because we had hope, when Chris Ballard was brought in, that we might start making progress. His draft classes began stacking up quality players. There was new talent brought in from free agency. The coaching staff he hired seemed like a great fit for the culture the team was building. Matt Eberflus got the defense running better than we could have hoped.
Despite a disappointing end to the 2018 season, there was a sense that we were nearing the summit. We had nearly finished this arduous climb and were about to be in a place to sit back and enjoy the view. Colts fans were more optimistic heading in to this off-season than perhaps they had been since 2005, when the Colts were smack in the middle of Peyton Manning’s prime.
Then, midway through a preseason game, we found out that our generational quarterback, the best reason this team had for hope of not just a good season, but a great one, was going to hang up his cleats. Not only was Twitter just about the worst way to find out such devastating news, but to find out while Luck was standing down there on the sideline? The timing really couldn’t have been worse.
Most of us don’t handle traumatizing news well. Emotionally investing in something usually means if that thing is ripped unexpectedly away from us, we react badly. Most of us also have the sense to recover from our reaction and gain perspective given some time. The fans in Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night didn’t get that time.
Their emotions were raw, and they reacted in real time. Those boos were less a statement about Andrew Luck, and more an expression of bitter disappointment. Is it regrettable? Absolutely. Andrew Luck has sacrificed and literally bled for this team. There aren’t many “true” fans, whatever that means, who feel ill will toward Andrew Luck for making a personal decision to leave football.
No one should blame Luck for his decision. The Colts did little to deserve his loyalty from the time he was drafted until the arrival of Chris Ballard. We know this on some level, if we view the situation through an impartial lens. Our fandom clouds our judgement here, and that is to be expected.
For those on the outside looking in, it isn’t hard to see Luck’s point of view. You don’t have emotional investment in this team. In reality, there has never been, to my knowledge, an announcement of this impact that has taken place in this way, during a game where the player is present. Is it surprising that a crowd of Colts fans who have been drinking for half a preseason game would react badly?
They were faced with a unique and awful circumstance. They handled it about like any fan base would have. If you are self-righteously claiming that your fan base would have reacted differently, you’re kidding yourself.
If in the light of a new day, with time away from the initial shock and pain of Luck’s decision, you still find yourself faulting him for that choice, there is room for discussion and I would have some questions for you.
But maybe, like many, you’ve been able to distance yourself from that moment and find some perspective. If so, you likely realize that the greatest part of that reaction and pain is due to the bitter feeling of loss you felt at the prospect of never seeing Luck connect with a deep ball to T.Y. Hilton or of how much more there may be to climb before reaching that summit.
For those condemning fans who booed, you aren’t wrong. It sucks that this happened to a player who thrilled us as fans. It isn’t the way any of us would like to see him end his time here. But perhaps extend some level of understanding for those fans. They aren’t classless or trashy, most of them. They just had their hearts ripped out of their chests, and had their reaction recorded in real time.