by Kent Sterling
Colts fans have become used to disappointing results in the preseason. Last year’s 0-4 preseason record brought shrugs because fans were smart enough to know they would celebrate an AFC South Championship.
We know that nobody remembers the preseason once the regular season rolls around. Despite the impulse to believe what we see – the missed tackles, poor timing, and occasional flagging effort has a lot more to do with who makes the final roster than whether a team wins the Super Bowl.
The highlight of the game was the upgrade made in the broadcast booth. Rick Venturi, who spent 27 seasons on the sidelines for the Colts, Browns, Saints, and Rams, slid very easily into the analyst chair next to play-by-play pro Don Fischer. He shared information and perspective with comfort and humor, and made the game a lesson for viewers.
Fans and media can always use a little schooling in how football works, and few are better at imparting that knowledge than Venturi.
I thought I knew something about football until I sat next to Venturi in the press box at the Jones Dome in St. Louis for a 2011 Rams game. He spent three hours showing me the intricacies of defensive football, and I became a better informed fan.
Fans tend to watch the ball. Coaches watch everything else, and that’s where the success or failure of plays can be found. A missed block, a bad route, or maybe a defensive player inexplicably diving away from the ballcarrier. Venturi saw it all that day, generously and patiently explaining what happened every play.
It was like sitting next to the human embodiment of Google. For every question, there was an answer. For every observation there was an explanation. It was invaluable. I’ve done it again a number of times, and always left with a better grasp of the game.
Venturi’s wisdom doesn’t come without great effort. When we worked together at 101ESPN in St. Louis, Venturi regularly watch five hours of Mizzou football tape to prepare for a 10-minute interview with coach Gary Pinkel. Up at 4:30 a.m. every day, Venturi prepares like a defensive coordinator getting ready for an offense led by Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, John Elway, or Dan Marino – which is exactly what Venturi did for a living for nearly three decades.
When you do the work on the front end, the comfort during the performance makes for a fun broadcast. That was the case yesterday for Colts fans who stuck with the game beyond the time when the result was in question – basically the first quarter.
Now, all of us have that opportunity throughout the preseason as Venturi leads fans from ignorance toward enlightenment during games that would otherwise be a frustrating waste of time.
Venturi will also co-host a weekly pregame show on CBS4 where he will share more wisdom without worry about wrapping it up before the next snap.
Radio listeners already look forward each week to his hour with Dan Dakich on 1070 the Fan. Every Wednesday at 12:30p, Venturi coaches up Colts fans including Dan who seems to enjoy it as much as we do. While I host a radio show on a different station (CBS Sports 1430), I never miss Venturi on Wednesdays during the season.
Venturi is a rare talent in media who can communicate what he knows in vernacular that we can all understand. And while we might be ambivalent about the Colts effort and results during the preseason, at the very least the investment of our time to watch meaningless football will be rewarded by increasing our knowledge of the game we love.