The air in the Indiana Football balloon escaped at halftime of the 38-24 loss to Cincinnati. IU still led 14-10, but anyone who has been around the Hoosiers knew what was about to happen.
Memorial Stadium, earlier packed to the corners for the only time in 30 years for a game not against Ohio State, became sparsely populated again as fans chose to seek an environment they could control. As Indiana fans know better than anyone, there are no losers at a tailgate party or Nick’s.
Immediately after the game and parties ended, my mind wandered to basketball. That may seem unfair to the football program coming off a 6-2 season, but old habits are hard to break. Fans can only be disappointed so many times before developing protective mechanisms against future misery.
Indiana fans are used to watching football without significant emotional investment. That’s what happens when you tether your hopes to America’s losingest program. We’ve learned. We’ve adapted. Nine days to Hoosier Hysteria.
“Can Michael Penix stay healthy” has become “Can Trayce Jackson-Davis dominate the Big 10?” That’s Indiana. I’ve even caught myself asking whether Ali Patberg can lead IU’s women’s basketball program to the Final Four. That’s an unprecedented level of abandonment for football in my decades as an Indiana fan. I suspected the 6-2 mark was Covid aided, so pivoting back to this familiar territory was inevitable.
It’s comfortable to get excited about Indiana Basketball in a way that doesn’t happen with football. Despite IU not going to a Final Four since 2002 and not cutting down the nets at the NCAA Tournament in 34 years, the program has shown occasional signs of life never apparent across the parking lot at Memorial Stadium.
Mike Woodson returning to Bloomington to try to get things straight has given fans a legitimate reason to believe brighter days are finally possible. There is rational reason for hope as the first Bob Knight disciple has returned to the big chair at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall since 2008. That’s when Dan Dakich briefly followed Kelvin Sampson’s moronic malfeasance with accountability and consequences.
Still, even with Woodson coming home, three games is a little early to pull the plug on the excitement for a season that had IU ranked 17th before being throttled by Iowa in the opener. That excitement just never felt reasonable. IU fans kept trying to talk themselves into believing this season might be different.
The hope for Indiana Football was fleetingly tied to an uptick in recruiting and the “Love Each Other” credo proffered by hyper-enthusiastic coach Tom Allen. Hard core boosters dipped their toes in the water of buying in, but have since resumed skepticism.
I spoke with one of these guys at a party last Saturday after Cincinnati turned a 14-point deficit at IU into a 14-point win. We briefly discussed Indiana Football – and I am certain this conversation was repeated tens of thousands of times Saturday afternoon Here is the transcript of our conversation that features a moment of enlightenment for the booster/Indianapolis physician:
- Him: What was the goal of the program before the season started?
- Me: Playing in the Big 10 Championship Game in December.
- Him: And that is still in Indiana’s control, right?
- Me: You sound like an insane person.
- Him: (as the hopeful sparkle vanished from his eyes and he dejectedly took another sip of beer) I know.
Our talk immediately turned to Jackson-Davis, Tamar Bates, and Race Thompson. “Do you think Woody can get IU to defend and make free throws? It’s been a long time since Indiana looked like Indiana!”
The sparkle returned – for now.
The NBA has an image problem as safe harbor for self-immersed fools, and Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons didn’t change it today.
It is being reported that Simmons has told the team he will not report to training camp and will never wear a 76ers jersey again. He is under contract with the Sixers for another four years and a grand total of $147 million.
That’s right, Simmons has been so egregiously insulted by the Sixers that he will put at risk that staggering amount of cash to avoid playing basketball 82 times this season for a team and city where he doesn’t feel appreciated.
Oh the humanity!
As the country battles a virus, businesses close, and people default on mortgages, Simmons cannot muster the will to play basketball for roughly $37 million per year.
Did I mention Simmons can’t shoot? It’s true. This 25-year-old reluctant superstar has made all of five of his 34 three-point shots in his four years in the NBA. His career free throw percentage hovers just above 60%. Yet he feels aggrieved enough to forego a reported $227,613 every game he skips.
Simmons should hit his knees each night to thank whatever deity he worships for living in a world where he can earn absurd wealth while being terrible at the most important thing in the game he plays. He’s among the luckiest people on Earth, but refuses to acknowledge that – oranything but the minor insults that cause his dismay.
And if I’m Sixers general manager Daryl Morey, I allow Simmons to sit. At some point, the leader of a business must communicate clearly that there is a level of greed-fueled idiocy he can not abide. Simmons has launched a shot from that line that has finally hit nothing but net.
This won’t come as a great shock to Indianapolis Colts fans who have watched their team get off to an 0-2 start, but the Colts are not going to win a championship this season despite their hopes and dreams to the contrary.
Hope is a miserable companion because it almost always leads to disappointment, and minus one season of the last 38, Colts fans have invested hope fruitlessly. It’s difficult to get to the playoffs, much less win a championship, and an 0-2 start makes a playoff berth difficult to attain. Only 11% of teams are able to scramble back from an 0-2 start to punch their postseason tickets.
Fans should have known the Colts were destined for mediocrity in 2021. The Super Bowl 41 championship roster included Hall of Famers at quarterback and wide receiver. They also had a pair of defensive ends who might one day be enshrined in Canton and another wide receiver whose ticket will eventually punched. Add to that a healthy postseason for the briefly incandescent safety Bob Sanders, the consistent excellence of left tackle Tarik Glenn, center Jeff Saturday, and the best kicker in NFL history, and you can see how good those Colts were.
These Colts have a quarterback who holds onto the ball so long injury is inevitable, cornerbacks who are challenged in the art of pass coverage, and wide receivers who have yet to blossom. The best players are a left guard and will linebacker. You’ll notice the best players on the championship Colts did not include players at those two positions.
Simply put, Chris Ballard and company have not put together a championship roster. That doesn’t mean Ballard is bad at his job. It means there are 31 other general managers are also trying hard to win and finding a championship level quarterback – which is needed to contend year after year – is really tough. That is especially true when drafting outside the top 10 each year.
I don’t mean to spew negativity on your Corn Flakes this morning, but these Colts were stitched together with colorful but wispy thread. Ballard has swung for the fences 11 times with second round picks during his five drafts, and has hit three home runs (Darius Leonard, Braden Smith, and Jonathan Taylor). There have been four misses (Quincy Wilson, Ben Banogu, Kemoko Turay, and Parris Campbell), and another three somewhere in between (Michael Pittman, Rock Ya-Sin, and Tyquan Lewis). We have no data suggesting what Dayo Odeyingbo will be when healthy.
It’s possible the Colts can get the season back on track, but there is no evidence through two games that it’s likely. And all are guilty for the problems that plague them. In no particular order, here are six areas of weakness have have doomed the 2021 Colts:
- The roster is mediocre at positions that require talent, and talented at spots that allow for mediocrity.
- Culture may be too high a priority for management. Football games are not always won by players you would be comfortable dating your daughter. The Colts are a bunch of really smart and diligent guys. Maybe they need some rabid dogs among the show ponies.
- Coach Frank Reich is far too eager to trust the big brains with the fancy math degrees when a chart shows a team gains a statistical advantage by going for it on fourth down. Math literacy is not a prerequisite for winning football games. That is why Alabama wins CFP championships while MIT doesn’t have a football program.
- Depth at tackle has been a problem. Look, no team’s backups are as good as their starters, and investing serious cap room to secure a capable third tackle is a questionable use of resources, but the backup turnstiles the Colts have been forced to use at tackle are forcing the offense to dink, dunk, and screen their way to impotence.
- After 13 years of quarterback Peyton Manning never missing a start, the Colts have endured 11 starters over the last 11 seasons with a 12th coming this Sunday in Nashville if Carson Wentz‘s ankle doesn’t heal quickly.
- Injuries have dogged this team for years. The Colts continue to hope that luck will eventually be on their side, but the spate of wounded Colts being unable to practice and play has been unending. Resources are poured into studies about how to conduct training camp and build resilience for the long season, but again and again failures doom them.
That’s enough negativity for one day.
The Colts have a critical game this Sunday against the Titans. With a win, all things remain possible – if not likely. I’ll try to focus on that throughout this week, rather than on the obvious and annoying negatives.
This seems like one of those seasons that requires we cling to whatever hope exists for as long as we can.