The Indianapolis Colts were more fan friendly than many NFL teams this season by crafting an attendance plan that allowed people into Lucas Oil Stadium who were not related at birth, by marriage or generational connection to members of the team.
While some teams played out their schedules in loneliness with echos reverberating throughout their vast empty stadiums, the Colts in recent weeks allowed as many as 10,000 fans to buy tickets.
That was the rule in effect for Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a game that turned out to mean something, even though the Jags were the worst team in the league.
The Colts had to win to make the playoffs, which should have been a gimme. But they wouldn’t have been in this fix if they hadn’t lost their opening game of the season to Jacksonville once upon a time, as it so happened the Jaguars’ only victory of the 2020 season.
However, the days of paper tickets when a fan could keep a souvenir stub are apparently gone. Fans had to purchase tix online and then present the image on their phone at the gate. Anyone who does not believe in expensive phones for tasks that have nothing to do with making phone calls was out of luck.
Just as the Colts were a year ago when Andrew Luck retired with little notice.
Typically, for such a game, Lucas Oil would be jammed with 70,000 blue-and-white clad supporters. Instead, the seats available were so socially distanced on the map they did not seem to be located in the same area code.
Which is OK if you didn’t want to be near anyone who breathed and might infect you, staying as safe as possible outside of your living room being the whole point of limited attendance rules.
The price wasn’t half bad, either. My traveling companion and I sprung for $67 seats in the 400 level. Would have been cheaper higher up and more expensive closer to the field.
By comparison, phone ticket aside, this was hassle-free attendance compared to regular-world attendance. No traffic problems. No parking difficulties. Line to enter through the Lucas Oil Gate a short one.
Temperatures were taken of those entering with thermometers pressed against foreheads. Didn’t see anyone turned away for running a fever.
We took a pregame lap around the entire concourse area, checking out the eats stand by stand as well as the decorations. Ordinarily, with a full house, it would have been elbow to elbow, just like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Oops. It was like Times Square on New Year’s Eve this year since crowds were not permitted in New York to watch the ball drop.
The Colts gave away team caps to customers on this day — a freebie souvenir — just lining them up on tables for the grabbing. Similarly, “Scout” the game program was given away, too, so there were extra takeaways for the buck.
Pricier souvenirs, like player jerseys paying homage to guys like quarterback Philip Rivers and defender DeForest Buckner, were available at a souvenir shop in the range of $165.
Cheerleaders were deployed at various entrances to say hello to patrons, although behind their blue sequin-decorated face masks, it was hard to hear what they were saying if they uttered more than one word at a time.
Grace (not her stage name) of Greenwood said the cheerleaders had weathered the illness scares well enough, though they were banned from dancing on the field this season.
“Everyone stayed healthy,” Grace said.
Which means the Colts cheerleaders had a higher rate of protective coronavirus success than the Baltimore Ravens, the Denver Broncos quarterbacks or the New Orleans Saints running backs.
A trio of young brothers from Carmel with the last name of Richardson didn’t seem to be in need of any additional Colts gear. They each wore a player jersey, making for a quirky set of allegiances.
Oldest Wyatt, 10, had a vintage, never-goes-out-of-style Reggie Wayne No. 87 jersey. Middle brother Bennett, 7, had on a jersey sporting the name of current backup QB Jacoby Brissett. And Rhett, 4, the little guy, wore an Andrew Luck jersey, raising the question of whether it was a hand-me-down or if he was just planning to grow into a Philip Rivers outfit.
Accompanied by mom and dad, the tickets were a Christmas present for the boys.
Blue, the well-known Colts mascot, perched high above field-side in one corner of the stadium, not doing as much mingling as he would as usual, such as showing off his anthropomorphic self with hugs for kids. He tossed footballs toward a distant barrel, danced and wiggled and wielded a sledgehammer to either make noise, or since he was immediately surrounded by stage smoke, to blow off steam.
Thinking of every health trick available for social distancing, the one true indication that we might be experiencing the apocalypse was evident in the men’s room. It makes you think about being out in public when “Not In Service” signs are placed on every other urinal for keep-apart purposes.
Oh yeah, one of the two people seated closest to us, guys apparently in their 30s, two rows down in the same seat numbers was a Jaguars fan. Given Jacksonville was on its way to a 1-15 record and the No. 1 overall pick in the next draft, this was a questionable commitment. He may have been the only Jacksonville fan in the house.
Beyond that, he wore a Blake Bortles jersey. This may come as a surprise to some, but although he is no longer the quarterback for the Jaguars, Bortles still has a team, the Los Angeles Rams. Given the cost of player imitation jerseys, this was a poor judgment purchase to begin with. The guy only gets a pass if he is related to Bortles, but we didn’t ask.
For the first half, the Colts ran amok on Jacksonville, scoring freely. Then Indianapolis left its offense in the locker room at the intermission and Jacksonville got within one score before the Colts prevailed 28-14.
If the Colts lost, they would have been out of the playoffs and deserved it. Instead, the end of the game provided a feel-good scene. Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for a team record 253 yards, a historic occasion, and the Colts finished 11-5 for the right to keep on playing this season.
The big scoreboards looming over the field let the fans in on what was no secret. “Playoff bound!” the message declared.
The 10,000 people allowed in to witness the game mustered as much noise as they could.