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|| News Item: Posted 2011-12-12

From Winner To Loser
Covering The Colts Slide

By Robert Scheer, The Indianapolis Star

Photo by Robert Scheer, The Indianapolis Star

Photo by Robert Scheer, The Indianapolis Star

Curtis Painter, quarterback for the Colts, stands with receiver Reggie Wayne near the end of a lopsided game, Indianapolis Colts vs. New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA, Sunday, October 23, 2011. New Orleans won 62-7.
Why it’s fun covering a loser.

“Peyton’s only one person.”

“The Colts will have a great season.”

That’s what people were telling me when I did a quick talk-of-the-town feature on September 9, two days before the Colts' first game, a 7-34 woodshed beat-down in Houston. The fourteen people I talked to included Indy’s mayor, a team cheerleader, and a lady holding a Lhasa Apso styled in a matching blue bow and sweater. Lots of smiles all around. The NFL Championship was coming to town in February 2012, after all, and quarterback neck injury or not, you could tell folks were gearing up for a hometown Super Bowl.

As of this writing, the one-time juggernaut is 0-10.

Most responses I got were “rah-rah” comments. A couple were non-committal. Only Paula Jarrett, a former editor at my paper, The Indianapolis Star, foresaw the future. “I think we’re doomed,” she said with a wink.

I started working at The Star six weeks after Manning was drafted in ’98. I haven’t shot every game, of course, but have gotten pretty good at deciding when Manning’s knee-hitch—arm-flap—point—hut-hut—knee-hitch meant a shovel pass, and when it meant a bomb to Reggie Wayne on a skinny post route.

The team won, a lot. It was great looking forward to covering a playoff game or three most years—but really, how many "Manning grimaces and clenches his fist" images can you shoot before they all kinda look alike?

Full disclosure: I neither root for nor against the Colts. I really don’t care, except that on years when all the Colts’ cylinders are firing, it makes January’s snow seem not so bad.

This year, it’s different. Sure, the stadium is packed with all the people who snapped up season tickets in better years. But all this bottom-feeder stuff is pretty surreal, and well, fascinating.

I don’t mean this in a hater sort of way—but I can’t help but find today’s Colts games fun in a different way, because they give my colleagues and me new photos to make. I find myself working reaction and fans a lot more heavily than before. There haven’t been the late comebacks or the record-breaking throws, so who cares about yet another meaningless five-yard run up the middle?

At the 62-7 debacle in New Orleans a few weeks ago, by the middle of the third quarter, I’d pretty much quit shooting action altogether. Instead, I spent long stretches camped with a big lens (400mm) pointed at whichever Colt on the bench most looked like he’d just lost some birthday balloons into the sky. I often had my pick.

Two of the images with this article are pretty standard game images: a fan holding a sign and a dejected backup quarterback. The third one is a shot I might not have attached much meaning to in past seasons. It features a cautious-looking Colts team standing under a foreboding Saints logo before kickoff. I thought the game would be lopsided—just not slap your forehead lopsided.

Photo by Robert Scheer, The Indianapolis Star

Photo by Robert Scheer, The Indianapolis Star

Colts players stand underneath a Saints banner just before taking the field during pre-game, Indianapolis Colts vs. New Orleans Saints.
Mike Chappell, who covers the team for my paper, says that getting interviews is tough this season. Players who usually give tons of smart quotes—guys like Dwight Freeney or Jeff Saturday—are giving quick quotes at best, duck out the back door at worst.

Because photographers aren’t usually talking with players, nothing is intrinsically harder about covering a suddenly floundering team. The steps remain the same:

1. See photo.

2. Make photo.

So far, I haven’t gotten any flak from my non-journalist friends for shooting “yet another” team-looking-bummed-out photo.

The worse the Colts look, the better Manning looks (he should have ten MVP trophies, not four) can’t come back, and if A. Luck ends up being R. Leaf, the novelty of a bad Colts team will fade pretty quickly.

(Robert Scheer is a staff photographer with the Indianapolis Star. You can see his work at his Sports Shooter member page: and at his personal website: .)

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