By Todd Golden
TERRE HAUTE — Since I began covering Indianapolis Colts training camp for the Tribune-Star, I’d been to my share of Saturday morning practices. The majority of them were sparsely attended compared to the weekday practices … and especially compared to the ever-popular night practices at Cook Stadium. Generally, if you showed up 10 minutes early, you still had plenty of time to get to the field before practice started.
That wasn’t the case yesterday. When I drove up to the U.S. 40 entrance, the line of cars nearly reached the road.
Stands on both sides of the field at Cook Stadium were jam-packed. The autograph hunters in the bullpen next to Hulbert Arena were six-deep instead of three-deep. Fans regularly line the west side of Cook Stadium to get a closer look, but the east side of the stadium had folks packed in like sardines, too.
The total attendance was 2,628 … and there were no fireworks aside from football to keep everyone entertained.
The only unusual detail about Saturday was that it was a Blue-and-White scrimmage instead of a run-of-the-mill practice — anything that simulates game-action is always more fun to watch — but drawing 2,628 fans on a Saturday morning is impressive no matter how you slice it. Especially when the mercury was rising much higher than it had been through the first four days of Colts Camp.
It’s been that way all through the first week of Colts camp as the Colts’ decision to return to Terre Haute has been a rousing triumph at the turnstiles.
During the first five days of camp, 15,071 fans made their way to Rose-Hulman. No one had historical numbers on hand, but the Rose-Hulman folks I talked to said it was at least the second-largest turnout for opening week since the Colts came to Terre Haute in 1999.
The only year where the Colts may have drawn better was 2007, the year after they won Super Bowl XLI, although the first-week numbers provide circumstantial evidence that the blue-and-white army that showed up so far this season might be larger than that one.
The opening day of practice drew 3,403 for both sessions last Monday. In 2007, the opening day tally was 3,282. Wednesday’s night practice had 3,310 fans overflowing Cook Stadium. The 2007 first-week night practice drew 3,252.
Favorable weather, a cheap day of entertainment in a shaky economy, Peyton Manning’s return to camp after missing last year’s camp due to injury, none of it has hurt at the gate.
Ultimately, though, it really doesn’t matter why the fans are there. They’re there.
And while the obvious benefit is to the Colts — and provides 15,071 reasons why the Colts should not fix what’s not broken and decamp to Anderson or elsewhere — I think there’s a sometimes overlooked benefit for Rose-Hulman, too.
There’s a (minority) opinion expressed to me from time-to-time that Rose-Hulman doesn’t need the Colts. Its academic reputation is rock-solid, it has no problem with enrollment or endowment, and its athletic facilities are among the best in Division III. If the Colts walked away, life at Rose would go on as usual.
That might all be true, but what the Colts provide Rose-Hulman is a much-needed connection to its community.
One thing has always struck me about Rose-Hulman in relation to its hometown — the university is in Terre Haute, but not of Terre Haute. Once you get past the Hautean giants in the university’s name, the connection to the city begins to dissipate.
It is culturally, and even geographically, in its own little world. The campus is nestled in a place where you’re not going to drive through it and see its charms while running an errand.
Many of Rose’s students and faculty, drawn to the school by its deserved reputation as one of the nation’s best engineering schools, don’t have roots in the area, with 39 percent of the student body coming from Indiana. Once here, the demanding curriculum compels them to spend much of their time studying in seclusion from the rest of the city.
Colts Camp provides the community conduit. For Rose-Hulman, it’s one of the few times it throws its doors open to everyone in the Wabash Valley and exclaims, “Here we are. Come on in and check us out.”
While most of those fans who came to camp had their hearts and minds fixed on Manning, Gary Brackett, Reggie Wayne, etc., I’m sure most couldn’t keep their eyes off how spiffy the surroundings are. Not to mention the hospitality the Rose students and staff put forth every day.
The Colts brought 15,071 people, many of them from the Wabash Valley, who probably would have never stepped foot on Rose’s campus otherwise. While the fervor was saved for Manning and company, I hope the exposure is a benefit that’s not lost on Rose-Hulman.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.