By David Hughes
TERRE HAUTE — Remember those guys who were hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Miami almost six months ago?
You know, the ones who visited the White House and met President Bush? The ones who were prominently featured on the star-studded ESPY Awards?
Surely you haven’t forgotten their 6-foot-5 quarterback with the laser-rocket arm who hosted “Saturday Night Live” or their coach who appeared as a guest on “Late Show with David Letterman,” have you?
Yeah, those guys. The ones with horseshoes on their helmets.
Well, they’re baaaaack.
The defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts are back in Terre Haute. They arrived at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology campus Sunday to get ready for the start of another preseason training camp.
Anthony Gonzalez, a rookie wide receiver who played for Ohio State University last season, was the first to show up in the morning after he drove in from Indianapolis.
“I’m just excited to get in here and become even more a part of this team,” he told dozens of reporters who crowded around him. “I’m happy and thrilled to be a part of it.”
Peyton Manning, the above-mentioned quarterback, wasn’t far behind Gonzalez as he pulled up in a dark-colored Chevy Tahoe. Now that longtime friend and teammate Brandon Stokley is a member of the Denver Broncos, Manning revealed the identity of his new camp roommate — tight end Dallas Clark.
“Dallas has stepped up to the plate and has huge shoes to fill,” Manning said. “We’re going to miss Brandon deeply as a player and as a teammate.”
A smiling Clark later said he’s up to the challenge.
“It’s going to be good,” he predicted. “It puts a higher premium on performing well in practice.”
Manning quickly let the media know that the off-season fun is over and the Colts are here for business.
“I’m just looking forward to getting back at it,” he said. “I sent a mass text message out on my way over here to all the guys. Everybody seems excited … The offseason’s over with. We’re glad to be back. The [New Orleans] Saints season opener will be here before we know it [Sept. 6], so we’re here to get ready for that.”
This is Manning’s 10th NFL camp, but he insists it never gets old.
“I was excited driving up here,” he said. “I was looking forward to getting here. I look forward to being around the guys. I’ve always liked the fact that we come away [from Indianapolis] to training camp for a few weeks.
“I believe in some of that bonding. Team chemistry is formed during this time. I was excited. I was kinda like a young kid, I guess, driving up here. I can relate to what it’s like for Anthony and these rookies driving up here. I still have that same excitement and passion for the game. I’m glad to be here. I’m ready to go to work.”
Manning emphasized that focusing on football wasn’t that difficult this summer, despite all the extra attention the Colts received for winning the Super Bowl.
“I’ll tell ya, it really hasn’t been that much of a challenge,” he said. “Because of the type of players that we have, because of the type of coaches that we have, the guys have handled the situation well. Guys are ready to come back and work hard and try to go do something special again this year. Everybody [on the team] knows how hard we worked to achieve that goal last year. That’s the only way to achieve anything … through hard work.”
Later in the day, Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne emerged from his vehicle making a unique fashion statement. He was wearing head-to-toe camouflage and sunglasses.
“We know they coming for us, you know what I’m saying?” he said, explaining his attire to the amusement of reporters. “Might as well be prepared and be ready. Hide and get ready and catch them before they catch you.”
On a more serious note, Wayne hopes the team’s focus will remain as strong as it was last season.
“It better be the same,” he stressed. “We got one [Super Bowl title]. Now we need to find out how we can get two.”
Second-year running back Joseph Addai promised that the Colts won’t be relying on their reputation from last season.
“That was last year, last season,” said Addai, who mentioned that he brought an extra pillow, an extra blanket and his laptop computer to camp. “This season, anybody could be at that point, so we can’t look at it like that. We’re not taking anything for granted. It came and it’s gone, so we have to start all over again.”
Others expressed how happy they are to be in camp, although they didn’t mind the fun offseason.
“This was the fastest offseason ever,” Clark remarked. “Obviously, winning the Super Bowl helps to kinda enjoy the offseason because whenever you come up short [in the playoffs], you’re always much more eager to get back in camp and fix the things that you need to correct. But now it’s time to get back to work. It was a fast one this year.”
“We’re glad to be back,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “I’m excited. It seems like [the offseason’s] gone fast in a lot of ways, but when you look forward to it, I think in some ways it seems like it’s taken a long time to get here. So getting back into our environment, our element where you know what the routine is, it’s something that I’m looking forward to.”
“When I was in Tampa [with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers], we stayed in a nice hotel, had somebody make our beds and do all that good stuff,” defensive tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland said, recalling past training-camp experiences. “Then somebody called [before this trip] and said, ‘Bring some comforters,’ That’s something I’m not used to. But it’s fun. This time of year, you really start to develop and identify who you are and who you’re going to be as a team.”
“This is definitely a good time for us,” safety Bob Sanders noted. “It’s always good to come back to camp and get things started and get the new guys acclimated to what we do.”
Dave Edwards, who walked all the way from Seventh and Hulman streets in Terre Haute, was among a smattering of fans who lined the roads within Rose-Hulman’s campus to seek autographs from their heroes. He brought his own football, which defensive end Robert Mathis signed.
“I’m hoping they get back to the Super Bowl,” the 41-year-old Edwards said. “I’ve been a fan of the Colts since they were in Baltimore.”
Two public practices are scheduled for today, one from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. and the other from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. The Colts will break camp Aug. 19.
Tribune-Star correspondent Tom James contributed to this report.