Fan fest: Colts eager to begin new era
By Michael Osipoff 648-3137 or firstname.lastname@example.org June 20, 2012 11:16PM
Stormy Friday (cq), Chesterton, Ind. has her photo taken with Indianapolis Colts Pat McAfee, left, and Joe Reitz during Colts Fan Fest held Wednesday June 20, 2012 at LaPorte High School in LaPorte, Ind. | Joe Raymond ~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 23, 2012 7:41AM
LAPORTE — Joe Reitz had never been to this part of the state.
But as a graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School, his participation in the Indianapolis Colts Fan Fest stop at LaPorte High School had a certain added significance. Reitz, expected to start at left guard for the team this season, and punter Pat McAfee attended Wednesday’s event.
“It’s such a huge blessing for me to be able to come back home and play for the Colts,” Reitz said. “It’s the team I grew up liking, the team that I love. It’s a great town, a great community. So any time like Pat and I are able to give back, it means a lot to us as NFL guys, but it means even more for me because I’m a local kid from Indiana. ... It’s very cool, very special.”
Reitz and McAfee signed autographs, as did four Colts cheerleaders. Also among the range of activities for fans, there were giveaways; an interactive traveling team museum; skills challenges, including throwing and catching passes, and tackling; inflatables, including a horse head slide and a bounce house with the horseshoe logo on it; and live music.
The players arrived in LaPorte via helicopter, and received a police escort to the school.
“It’s really cool to get out in the community and see the people that really make the Colts survive,” McAfee said. “These are really the people that make the Colts who they are. We have the best fans. Last year was a tough year, but we’re still excited for next year, probably more than ever. It’s just awesome to see them, meet them, talk to them and tell them that this year things are going to be different.”
Indeed, the Colts are trying to re-establish their brand after a 2-14 season, and the subsequent offseason overhaul of the franchise, what owner Jim Irsay has acknowledged as a major rebuilding project. Gone are iconic quarterback Peyton Manning, executive Bill Polian, and coach Jim Caldwell; enter No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Luck, Highland and Purdue graduate Ryan Grigson, and Chuck Pagano.
The Colts open the regular season against the Bears at Soldier Field on Sept. 9, with the start of training camp a little more than a month away.
“We’re ready to rock,” McAfee said. “All the so-called experts on TV are saying that we don’t have a chance because of all the new pieces that we have, but we have the same amount of time to practice as all the other teams, the same amount of time to prepare, and we have group of guys with a new attitude. We’re ready to turn things around and make some magic happen. We have a new attitude that’s really optimistic, and I’d be ashamed if I said I didn’t think we were going to be a really good team next year.”
The Colts also parted ways with several other stalwart players, including center Jeff Saturday, linebacker Gary Brackett, tight end Dallas Clark and running back Joseph Addai, part of this virtual reboot for the organization.
“I think excited would be the best word,” Reitz said. “For myself personally and the whole team, there’s just a level of excitement that we haven’t had around here in a while. New coaches and all the new players, so we can’t wait to get to training camp and get the pads on and see what kind of team we have. We’re all excited about it, and I think we’re going to surprise some people this year, because like I said, great coaches, some great new players. Hopefully we can mesh all together and become a really good team.”
Luck, for one, has already started to make an impression.
“He’s a really good quarterback,” Reitz said. “I think that was evident from the first day he walked out on the practice field. He obviously can throw the ball really well, but he’s got great command, he has a confidence about him — he’s very confident, but he’s not arrogant. He’s a down-to-earth guy. And like Pat said, he’s got a cannon on his right arm. He can sling that sucker around. As an O-lineman, that puts the pressure on us to make sure we keep him protected and keep that jersey clean in the pocket. If we can do that, we’re going to have a really good offense, as long as we’re healthy.”
The Fan Fest marks the fifth year in a row that the Colts have embarked on such a summer campaign. LaPorte is one of seven locations around the state this time around.
“What a pleasure it is and a great opportunity to host the Indianapolis Colts,” LaPorte schools superintendent Glade Montgomery said. “We’re so happy that they decided to come here. ... We’re very, very happy to welcome the Indianapolis Colts to Northwest Indiana.”