Follow The Republic:
When you stop and think about it, the irony is striking.
Correct that. It’s unbelievable.
Hearken back to August. Who could have imagined that within nine months the following would unfold:
The Indianapolis Colts, built for a Super Bowl, would lose their first 13 games.
Peyton Manning would never suit up or ever play again for the Colts.
Indianapolis would dubiously earn the No. 1 pick in the draft, the ultimate reward for ultimate failure.
Bill Polian, arguably the best team builder in NFL history, would be fired.
Jim Caldwell, who led the Colts to two straight playoff appearances — including a Super Bowl — would be axed, too.
A Pro Bowl-filled roster, with only a few exceptions, would be gutted.
The long waiting list for season-tickets would vanish.
The youthful Indiana Pacers — built, at best, for mediocrity — would become an Eastern Conference power.
Guys like David West, George Hill and Roy Hibbert — even Lou Amundson — would become household names.
A fringe playoff team a year ago, the Pacers would storm into the postseason as a No. 3 seed and flirt with the conference finals.
Larry Bird, chided by fans in the post-brawl years for the team’s unsavory makeup, would win the NBA’s Executive of the Year Award.
Frank Vogel, 38, who still hasn’t had the benefit of a full season and training camp, would be hailed as one of the league’s top coaches.
A roster devoid of star power would give the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade-powered Miami Heat a major scare in the semifinals.
Fans, who abandoned the Pacers in droves in the mid-2000s, would re-embrace them by season’s end and pack Bankers Life Fieldhouse for the playoffs.
Talk about role reversal. The Pacers are hot, the Colts are not. West’s a hero, Peyton’s a Bronco. Bird’s in, Polian’s out. Fieldhouse rocks, Lucas Oil Stadium mocks.
It all defies imagination.
In the blip of a neck surgery, it was all over for the Colts. The entire era, Manning and all, was gone. No gradual decline, no red flags on the horizon, just a sudden crash and burn.
By comparison, the Pacers’ return to relevance was just as surprising and swift.
Coming off a year in which they made the playoffs with a losing record, a modicum of improvement was not unexpected. But what eventually happened was.
With nothing resembling a superstar, the Pacers had the fifth-best record in the NBA and the third-best record in the East and won eight of their final 11 games heading into the playoffs. They made relatively quick work of Orlando in the first round and then shook up the Heat by stealing home-court advantage and grabbing a 2-1 lead in the conference semifinals.
Although LeBron and Wade brought Miami back from the abyss, the spirited run brought once-disgruntled Pacers fans back to the fieldhouse. And they didn’t just pack it. They rocked it. “Gold swagger” T-shirts, a thunderous din, standing ovations — all the old magic was back.
The two-pronged question moving forward is: Can the Pacers keep what they have, and can the Colts rediscover what was lost?
Logic suggests the Pacers will have an easier time. They’re playoff-tested, they have momentum, and the city always has supported them during the good times, even during a few lean years in the ‘90s.
The Colts, on the other hand, are picking themselves up off the turf. They’re rebuilding from the basement up, and they’re doing it in a town with questionable credibility as an NFL city.
But if 2011-12 taught us nothing else, it’s that anything, and everything, is possible. The mighty can fall, the meek can rise, and it can all happen without warning.
Consider yourself warned.
Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!
Note: All comments left on our sites are first reviewed by an automated comment moderation system. Your comment may take up to 5 minutes to appear. If for any reason your comment can not be approved you will receive an email from this system with a detailed explanation.
All content copyright ©2013 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.