Sometimes teams win a world championship and many believe, “well, that city isn’t cursed anymore. They got over the hump.” Ask any Cleveland fan. They still feel cursed with their sports teams, especially after the Cavs won the Finals in 2016. I mean, points are valid. The Indians blew a 3-1 lead in the World Series that same year and then they fell in the ALDS in the next year after being up 2-0 on the Yankees. And the Browns have been an amazing 1-31 in those two years, so….
Which brings me up to Indianapolis. It may not be the first we think of with having a curse on their necks in part because of the Colts Super Bowl win in 2006, so of a championship drought of 12 years with only 2 teams isn’t bad, but we need to look further.
Indianapolis hosts the Colts and Pacers. Both teams have seen great success especially since the mid-90’s. However, since the one year of the Colts winning the Super Bowl, it has always seemed like for whatever reason, these two have come up short time after time and have been more of a bridesmaid to their conferences. A cursed bridesmaid at that.
INDIANAPOLIS: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS, INDIANA PACERS: (1 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP; DROUGHT OF 12 YEARS):
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (2 SUPER BOWL APPEARANCES SINCE ARRIVING IN INDIANAPOLIS, ONE SUPER BOWL WIN, DROUGHT OF 12 YEARS)
For older fans, they remember the whole Mayflower moving truck in the middle of the night as the Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis. So for a curse on Indianapolis, it is warranted. The first 11 seasons in Indianapolis the Colts only made the playoffs once and it was the strike year of 1987 where the Colts were no match for the Cleveland Browns. The Colts in 1990 tried make an impact by trading up to get the #1 pick from the Falcons and drafting to get Jeff George to get them over the hump (Indianapolis was pretty much a .500 team from 1987-1989 and hoped George would get them to that promised land). However, George struggled with injuries and had a lot of issues and came off as a brash, arrogant jerk who wasn’t living up to his expectations as the Colts finished 1-15 in 1991 and 4-12 in 1993 (in a season where he held out for part of it, thus getting booed by the Indy faithful). The Colts traded George to Atlanta after the season. Indianapolis then went with veteran Jim Harbaugh and drafted Marshall Faulk where they ended up sneaking to the AFC Championship against Pittsburgh in 1995 despite going 9-7. A year later and drafting Marvin Harrison, the Colts made it back to the playoffs at 9-7 but being bounced out by the Steelers again.
However, the Colts struggles returned as they went 3-13 in 1997, but the silver lining was that they got the #1 draft pick in 1998. And they selected Peyton Manning. Manning’s first year wasn’t a glorious one as Indianapolis stayed at 3-13 and it was Manning’s worst year of his amazing Hall of Fame career (which is understandable; he was a rookie). But after that, the Colts started to roll. From 1999-2010, the Colts made the playoffs 11 of the 12 times, winning 10 or more games each year. However failures arrived the playoffs for the Colts. In Manning’s first playoff year in 1999, the Colts went 13-3 and won the division but were bounced in the divisional round at home by Tennessee. A one-and-done loss would happen in 2000 to Miami and 2002 to the Jets (where they were destroyed 41-0 in their playoff game). In 2003 and 2004, the Colts had one of the best offenses ever and actually garnered success in the playoffs, winning their first rounds in both, but then would run into the Patriots, who would forever be their albatross, first losing in the AFC title game in 03 and the divisional in 04. In 05, the Colts actually escaped New England and took the top seed in the playoffs, but a slow start in that game compiled with a shanked FG by a then often reliable yet mouthy Mike Vanderjagt costed the Colts the game, thus making people wonder if Indianapolis would ever get over that hump.
2006 did change the fortunes when the Colts upended New England in the AFC Championship game in a come-from-behind manner and then the Colts would take down Chicago in the Super Bowl. However the next two years were one-and-dones to San Diego both times. The Colts got back into the Super Bowl in 1999 but lost to New Orleans to which many were stunned. In 2010, the Colts got back to the playoffs, but were another first round bounce-out as Manning was starting to have neck issues needed to have season ending surgery before the season even started. Indianapolis took it on the chin in 2011 without Manning as really he was the cog, going 3-13.
But again, a silver lining happened, somewhat. The Colts, unsure if Manning would ever play again, drafted Andrew Luck (and said bye to Manning). The Colts went to the playoffs in Luck’s first three years, as many went “well, they made the right choice.” However, Luck couldn’t get past New England (and really got stomped by Patriots in the process). Worse, after the 2014 season, Luck himself was starting to experience those nagging injuries and stunted his progress. In 2017, Luck’s throwing shoulder continued to be a problem after surgery and missed the whole season as the Colts, combined with sketchy signings and drafts fell to 4-12 and many wonder despite Luck being able to throw again, if he will ever be the same.
To me, the Colts, having that 1999-2010 run should have probably ended up with more Super Bowls than just the one, similar to how I am reminded of the Atlanta Braves in baseball. They had some great teams, but just never got over that hump.
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: I can’t put the Manning walking off the field without shaking anybody’s hands from the Saints after the Super Bowl loss, so the image I still have is the Vanderjagt shank miss against the Steelers in the AFC playoff game. To me that was the best Colts team they had in that run and came up short. I know the Colts won it all the year after, but I just felt like they could have had engineered a dynasty in the middle of the Patriots dynasty at that point.
CURSED MOVE: Without question, trading for Jeff George. They traded a nice package including Andre Rison, who was a beast for the Falcons and Chris Hinton, who was a nice offensive tackle as well as draft picks which included Mike Pritchard, who did well for the Falcons in the system he was in. As for George, he was more of a headache for the Colts than anything, and by 1994, he was shipped to….the Falcons and had two pretty good seasons with them before imploding on Atlanta. Some point the Colts traded away Faulk to the Rams as another cursed move, but while Faulk did win an MVP there and is in the Hall, I don’t see that as a cursed move as Indianapolis got Edgerrin James to replace him while Indy got Mike Peterson & Brad Scioli in that trade. Both were solid players for the Colts, but Scioli retired early because of injuries. So it wasn’t a fully cursed move, but the Colts could have netted more.
CURSED RATING: 3/5 (SOMEWHAT CURSED)
INDIANA PACERS (1 NBA FINALS APPEARANCE): Bridesmaid: the woman who accompanies her bride on her big day. Or in sports terms: the Indiana Pacers.
Up through the early 90’s, the Pacers were irrelevant in the NBA. From 1977-1989, Indiana only made the playoffs twice and put out some very bad teams in that timespan. However, the Pacers in the 1987 draft changed their futures by selecting a lanky shooting guard from UCLA named Reggie Miller. It took Miller a season or two to get going, but when he did, he was one of the best shooters in NBA history and many still think he is. Adding on, he found ways to draw fouls, get under teams’ skins, and one of the best trash talkers on top of it. After four years of being a 1-and-done team in the playoffs from 90-93, the Pacers, after making good moves of drafting the likes of Rik Smits (1988), Dale Davis, Antonio Davis and trading for the likes of Derrick McKey, Byron Scott, and Mark Jackson, found themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals. Indiana’s first run to the Conference Finals was a memorable one as they went toe-to-toe with the heavily favored Knicks team with Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, and John Starks. After the Knicks dominated the first two games, Indiana answered the bell at home, winning those two, which set up a classic Game 5 where Miller was on the largest stage, shooting the daylights out of the ball in the Garden, to Spike Lee’s dismay. Miller was seen yapping at Lee and giving him the choke sign to his Knicks as the Pacers were one win away from the Finals. However, Indiana failed to close out in either Game 6 or Game 7. But many thought the Pacers were at the forefront in the East. However, the next season despite beating the Knicks in the 2nd round (another classic series), the Pacers fell in 7 in the Conference Finals to the upstart Orlando Magic with Shaq and Penny leading the way. 3 years later, the Pacers would lose to the Jordan Bulls in the conference finals in 98 and the Knicks in 99. In 2000, Indiana would finally get past their Eastern Conference demons and get to the Finals where they ran into the Lakers, in the process of building their new dynasty with Shaq and Kobe, thus really ending that chapter.
Miller stuck around for the Pacers through 2005, but wouldn’t see another Eastern Conference Finals run until 2004 when Indiana actually pulled the best record in the NBA that year, but again, fell in the Conference Finals to the Pistons, where their old coach Larry Brown (who coached those Pacers teams in the mid-90’s) was running things. Indiana would fall to Detroit in 05 in the semis, but the season was marred by a regular season incident with Detroit fans which costed Pacers stars Ron Artest and Jermaine O’Neal to miss pretty much the entire season, knocking them out of the front of the conference. From 06-11, Indiana was either one-and-done or they weren’t even in the playoffs as they were just a patchwork team. In 2012, the Pacers made it to the semis losing to the LeBron & Miami. The next two seasons, Indiana would get back to the conference finals, only to lose to Miami on both rides, really solidifying Indiana’s “Bridesmaids of the Eastern Conference” moniker.
It has to be frustrating if you’re a Pacers fan to see all the years, whether or not Indiana was a favorite to get that far and to come up short, as most of those series went 6 or 7 games. It has to be an ultimate gut-punch. Worse, the coaches that have been there, notably Larry Brown and Rick Carlisle, have won championships after they left Indiana.
CURSED MOVE: The Pacers have somewhat avoided making bad decisions as a whole. However, for some reason, trading Antonio Davis to the Raptors for Jonathan Bender sticks out. It seemed like somewhat of a good idea at the time, getting more of an athletic youngster in Bender and he would be on a team with seasoned vets to show him the way. However Bender never panned out and injuries riddled his career. Davis had some strong years in Toronto and could have been a key piece against the Lakers in the following season when Indiana made it to the Finals.
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: “The Malice at the Palace.” While never considered major rivals with one another despite sitting in the same division for years, the Pacers and Pistons were at the forefront of the Eastern Conference in the mid-2000’s. Both played a physical, grinding defense that would frustrate you. And tensions were escalating between both. Most know it. In an early regular season game, the Pacers went to Detroit, beating the defending world champion Pistons and bad boy Ron Artest committed a hard foul on Ben Wallace, with Wallace taking exception. Teams tried to separate Wallace and Artest, who showboated on the scorer’s table, laying down as a Detroit fan threw a souvenir cup at him. Artest charged after the guy (he got the wrong guy though) and Artest and the fans got into a donnybrook. Pacers stars Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson got into it as well in the stands as Detroit fans fought back and it escalated on the court where fans were challenging Artest, Jackson, and O’Neal as an image of O’Neal slugging out a Pistons fan is still a moment. However, it costed the Pacers a lot as Artest was suspended for the entire season (including playoffs), Jackson for 30 and O’Neal for 15. The Pacers fell back big time in the standings because of that while Detroit won the division. Worse, the Pacers were eliminated by the Pistons for the second straight year in the 2nd round.
CURSED RATING: 4/5 (CURSED)
Indianapolis won’t stick out as being a cursed town thanks in part to their Super Bowl title in 2006, but we are getting to that point that 2006 is becoming more and more of a distant memory. It also has that vibe that the Super Bowl win doesn’t negate all the heart-breakers that the city has suffered with both the Colts and Pacers. So really, the city has to be considered cursed with their two major professional sports teams (nothing against the Indianapolis Indians though).
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat