ANDERSON –Enthusiasm always is present at the opening of a training camp.
Also present at Anderson University on Sunday for the afternoon practice was Owner and CEO Jim Irsay. Irsay's family has owned the Colts for four decades. He is seeing the dawning of a new era in 2012 with a new general manager, head coach and quarterback.
The last time this was the case was in 1998, and it was the start of a magical run. While it is too early to draw numerous parallels, there is plenty to note about the state of the franchise.
Irsay is excited.
"This is my 40th training camp. It's exciting to be here," said Irsay. "It's nice to have (former Colts Head Coach) Tony (Dungy) around for a day and to see him at practice. We still feel the connections to the past as we move into the present. They (Dungy and new Head Coach Chuck Pagano) both come from the defensive side of the ball. They both are tremendous leaders. They have the respect of the players and assistant coaches in a big way. I think our players with Tony, their great respect for him automatically gave him a lot of capital and credibility when he addressed them.
"It's the same thing with Chuck. … It's what they bring into a room when they get with the players. A leader is followed (many) times from the heart and from deep belief. You can't force someone to follow you, even though their contract says you must. I think the players have a deep respect for Chuck, as they did for Tony."
Irsay has seen his teams change through the years. A handful of veteran faces dot the 2012 roster, but those faces have won in the past, and those players want to return to the winning ways after a tough 2011 season. Irsay likes the veteran presence.
"There are a lot of new faces," said Irsay. "When you see the turnover that's happened and the changes, it's great to see some of those veterans who were around here that understand the tradition of winning – the, 'No Excuses, No Explanations,' (motto). The type of accountability our veteran players have carried through the years, it's been unprecedented…in terms of leadership."
Irsay noted he and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck have gotten to know each other. It was like this for Irsay when Peyton Manning was drafted in 1998, though Irsay noted their age difference was less than what it is now with he and Luck.
"Andrew is an incredible young man," said Irsay. "(He's) a tremendous young man, (with) so many similarities to Peyton. Everyone knows the mental aspect of the game and playing quarterback in this league takes a lot more than having a great arm. All those intangible aspects Andrew brings to the table – really understanding and knowing the game, leadership and all those things – are tremendous. He's a humble guy. He wants to be treated like the rest of the guys. You love to see that. We're blessed to have him. (His) attributes are hard work and humility."
When asked how he thought the team would fare in 2012, Irsay was bullish on his club's chances, compared to analysts who predict a lean season.
"Everyone wants to know how this team is going to do this year, how many games it's going to win," said Irsay. "A lot of people…have us being the 31st or 32nd team in the league. … My impression is we don't want to use (the word) 'rebuild.' We want to have a chance to compete, have a chance to be in the playoffs, win games and do what people predict what you can't do. Everyone knows when you go with a rookie quarterback, it's tough. There have been some cases with Andy Dalton (in Cincinnati) last year who played extremely well. The difference with Andrew is the whole team is being (re-done) because of age, injury and salary cap as well. …We're hopeful. … We want to surprise people. We want a chance to win games and be thinking about the playoffs in December."
Irsay had fun with Luck's singing abilities after the rookie worked his way Saturday through a tough rendition of John Denver's classic, "Take Me Home, Country Roads." He was asked to compare Luck's warbling with that of Manning.
"Neither one of them could (sing), but that's okay," cracked Irsay. "We don't go by tone for quarterbacks. Andrew can't play golf as well (as Peyton) either, but he's a better ping-pong player. There are differences there."