TERRE HAUTE —
Watching Peyton Manning fire a touchdown pass to Dallas Clark in a regular-season game is far more entertaining than watching them connect in practice.
But who am I kidding? Watching it anytime is still fun.
Since the Indianapolis Colts started conducting preseason training camp at Rose-Hulman in 1999, I’ve helped the Tribune-Star cover Manning, Clark, etc… almost every year. Although I missed two camps — when I got married in 2002 and when I fought cancer in 2009 — I noticed their larger-than-life presence made Terre Haute feel proud about itself during those late-summer weeks.
Terre Haute can continue to feel proud, but not because of the Colts anymore. Team president Bill Polian announced Wednesday that they’re heading back to Anderson to conduct training camp.
Oh well. I’ll survive and so will other Colts supporters. I won’t desert them to start cheering for the Oakland Raiders or, even worse, the New England Patriots.
As the Colts drive off with Terre Haute in their rear-view mirrors, local residents are left with a giant horseshoe full of camp memories.
In 2007, for example, I told longtime friend Max Harvey that he and his teenage son Eric should stand at a certain obscure location on Rose’s campus if they wanted players to sign items on “arrival day.”
When Max and Eric followed my suggestion, they ended up with more than they bargained for.
“We were standing there by the curb, then Peyton Manning and [former Colts player] Aaron Moorehead pulled up in a Chevy Tahoe,” Max Harvey recalled Thursday.
“They had Subway sandwiches and they pulled up right by us [near the driveway entrance where Colts players checked in on the first day of camp]. Peyton was driving and his window was already rolled down. He said something nice to us. We were just standing there with a full-sized Colts helmet and we handed it to him. He signed it and gave it back to us, then another father and son came up. They had Peyton sign a Super Bowl ticket [from the previous season when the Colts defeated the Chicago Bears]… The players were in a little bit of a hurry, but they were still real nice to everyone.”
John Mazeqie of Terre Haute also offered his fondest memory of Colts Camp at Rose-Hulman.
“Peyton Manning signed my helmet one time several years ago, maybe four years ago,” he said. “It was after practice, which he stayed [after practice] all the time. He talked to me like a person, which I appreciated.”
Tribune-Star Colts beat writer Tom James tossed in his two cents about an interesting moment from the team’s time in Terre Haute.
“It was 2006 and the Colts were practicing [at Cook Stadium] in the rain,” Tom explained. “After the workout was over, we asked [then-coach] Tony Dungy how tough was it to practice in the rain… He looked at us and laughed and said ‘Well, it was good to practice in the rain. You never know when there’s going to be a big game in the rain.’ And lo and behold, Super Bowl XLI … it rained the entire night [as the Colts outlasted the Bears to become world champions].”
T-S columnist Mark Bennett, our former sports editor, brought up a camp incident from the early 2000s that still brings a grin to his face. It involved then-coach Jim Mora Sr. scolding then-receiver Jerome Pathon in front of all sorts of stunned observers on the last day of training camp.
“Coach Mora yelled, ‘Nobody sits on their helmet here!’ ” Mark mentioned. “He was as animated as I ever saw him in person.”
Mora was one of my favorite people from the early years of Terre Haute Colts Camp, probably because he remembered my name from year to year.
Edgerrin James and Reggie Wayne were two of my favorite players from a reporter’s perspective. Both were known for their grand entrances on the first day of camp, providing me and my co-workers with plenty of story material.
One year, “The Edge” showed up with a school bus full of children. Another year, he and Wayne took a yellow taxi cab from Indianapolis to Terre Haute because his driver’s license was suspended.
On arrival day of 2006, Wayne paid tribute to James, who had left the Colts to sign with the Arizona Cardinals as a free agent during the off-season, by wearing a No. 32 Cardinals jersey with James’ name on the back.
The next year, Wayne wore a camouflage outfit on arrival day. Last year, although I wasn’t there to see it, he rode shotgun in a yellow dump truck and wore a hard hat and orange vest while carrying a lunch pail to symbolize “going to work” on a Super Bowl championship.
Hey, it almost worked.
Personally, I’ll never forget the arrival of James in 1999, which was the first year of Terre Haute Colts Camp as well as James’ rookie year.
It didn’t occur on arrival day, however. After the future Colts star ended a brief holdout by signing his first NFL contract, word leaked among reporters that he would make his first appearance on a hot weekday afternoon in the middle of camp.
Sure enough, the dreadlocked James went through a grueling practice and agreed to answer media questions afterward. He chose to stand outside next to Rose-Hulman’s Sports and Recreation Center, leaving little room for newspaper and television reporters to surround him.
Because James was drafted No. 4 overall in ’99, reporters from ESPN and CNN traveled to Terre Haute to relay his words of wisdom to viewers. I didn’t bring a recording device that day, so I scribbled while TV reporters stuck their microphone cords over my notebook — blocking my vision at times — to reach James’ face.
Did I mention it was really, really hot that day?
Anyway, James handled the impromptu press conference calmly and politely. Although my notebook ended up drenched from sweat, I wrote what I thought was a good story.
OK, that was my favorite on-the-record memory from Terre Haute Colts Camp. Now do you want my favorite off-the-record story?
At least it was off the record in 1999.
I had conducted a late-afternoon interview with a Colts player for a feature story, which needed to be written that evening, when I decided to take advantage of the free-dinner offer for on-duty reporters covering camp.
I was a rookie to this, so when I stepped inside the door to Rose-Hulman’s dining area, a young lady said I must wait until the players and coaches were done eating before I could enter. Told that it might take a while, I wondered what I should do while I stood outside the door.
Within a minute, Rose-Hulman president Samuel Hulbert — whom I knew well from cover the engineering institute’s basketball games over the years — said “hello” as he approached the door. I explained my dilemma — whether to wait for players and coaches to finish eating so I could claim my first free meal of Colts Camp or whether to return to the newsroom to write my story — and Hulbert suggested I go inside with him.
So I went inside, grabbed a tray, gathered up some delicious-looking food and found a seat next to Hulbert in the same room where the players and coaches were eating.
I kept to myself and didn’t hover over Manning to see what he was eating, but I was still in trouble. You see, because Hulbert thought it was OK for me to go inside with him, I didn’t even think about checking in with the young lady who had told me to wait a few minutes earlier. When she saw me eating in the same room, she evidently told on me.
Without going into great detail, let’s just say I got reprimanded by the Colts and forced to eat the rest of my food in a room all by myself.
Both sides quickly got over this misunderstanding. That’s why I can smile when discussing it now, just like I can smile about Colts Camp gracing Terre Haute for 11 fun-filled years.
David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224 after 4 p.m.; by e-mail at
email@example.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.