What I’d like to think is that Sunday night had a whole lot of things in common with Nov. 27, 1978.
That day nearly 30 years ago was the Indiana State men’s basketball season opener at Purdue, and several members of the South Eighth Street Booster Association — now there’s a flashback for you older folks — made the trip to West Lafayette in an apprehensive mood.
Larry Bird, Brad Miley, Steve Reed and Leroy Staley were back from what was probably the most talented — as differentiated from the best — team ISU had ever had, and Carl Nicks was back from junior college. But we didn’t know how the newcomers — junior college transfer Alex Gilbert and Denver University transfer Bob Heaton — were going to fit in, and we’d lost a lot of size with the departures of DeCarsta Webster and Richard Johnson. Way too many question marks, we figured, to open the season against a Big Ten team on the road.
I think you all know how the story turned out, but I still vividly remember our reaction as we departed from Mackey Arena with a 10-point win: Purdue is really going to stink (we actually used a different word) this season.
And actually, the Boilermakers turned out to be pretty good — 27-8 and a one-point loss to Indiana for the NIT championship.
So, from the perspective of Bear fans who didn’t have a whole lot of faith in their team a few days ago, maybe it’s premature to think that the Indianapolis Colts are on their way to horrible. Maybe some credit should be given to the Bears. Maybe Chicago is better than we thought, and that the Colts are still going to be the powerhouse their front-running followers are used to.
Or maybe not.
First, the Bears perspective. Sunday night was a must-win game for them, because if a team that prides itself on defense can’t beat a team playing its third-string offensive line and with a quarterback who hasn’t taken a snap in a game for eight months, it’s not going to beat anybody.
The betting line that favored the Colts by nine to 10 points was, with those things considered, absolute foolishness. I’m sure the internet gambling sites are making a profit selling the e-mail addresses of the morons who took the Colts and laid the points; those folks can expect to hear from a host of African millionaires and English lotteries very shortly, if they haven’t already.
But the worrisome thing is what Sunday’s game is going to do to the Bears’ helmet sizes. Nobody does overconfidence like this team, which spent 16 games last season figuring it was just a flip of the on-off switch away from becoming the team that had been to the Super Bowl the season before.
So now, at Lake Forest, all the problems are solved. The Bears are back to where they used to be, and they really mean it this time.
If betting on football were legal, I’d advise you strongly to take the Panthers on Sunday.
Now, are the Colts better than they were Sunday? Well, probably. To begin with, Peyton Manning can’t do anything but get better as he gets the rust off.
But they’re still replacing the best center in football with a rookie or two. One of their guards was supposed to be a second-stringer, and the other was supposed to play behind the rookie who was replacing a 2007 starter. An awful lot of key players are banged up already, and everybody doesn’t bounce back from injuries like Bob Sanders does — Bob Sanders, incidentally, probably being the best player in the National Football League right now.
The Colts have been playing downhill for several years in a row now, building big leads in their division thanks to being undefeated for a month or two every season.
That’s already not going to happen, and now they have to go up to Minnesota and play on that unforgiving parking lot turf against a team that’s going to be a little bit angry for its home opener. I hate to be disloyal to my team, but I’d fear the Vikings’ defense every bit as much — actually more — than the Bears.
Consider this season a challenge, Colts backers. And hope that it’s 1978 all over again.