INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts had just came back to tie the Carolina Panthers midway through the fourth quarter on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Panthers were staring down a third-and-two. Then:
- False start (on guard Mike Horton).
- False start (on tackle Martez Ivey)
- False start (on "everybody but the center," as assessed by referee John Hussey).
Cut to the Colts' sideline and there was linebacker Darius Leonard feeding off the stadium's energy, dancing like a, well, "Maniac" and encouraging the crowd to get even louder.
It was a moment that felt somewhat normal — the home crowd rattling an opponent and the players getting juiced up by it.
"Well, first of all, it doesn't take much to get Darius dancing," laughed linebacker Zaire Franklin.
But after the bizarre, often unsettling atmosphere around the pandemic-altered 2020 season, it just felt good for the Colts to have so many fans back at Lucas Oil Stadium — and to have them make an impact on the game.
"It was just great, especially after the year that we had last year, to have fans in there, to feel that energy in the home crowd and see it get to the other team, it was definitely something to feed on," Franklin said. "It was just, you could tell it's going to be a fun year."
Rookie wide receiver Mike Strachan, who had three catches for 57 yards, was impressed by the energy at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday, too. The last home game Strachan played — in November 2019 at Division II Charleston (W.V.) — was attended by 2,567 fans.
"We don't get the crazy crowds (in college) but I love our crowd, we came out and they were so excited for us and we played hard for them," Strachan said. "… This is not possible without our fans. They are what brings the fire in us. We give it back to them."
And the crowd's energy for the Panthers game was one of the first things coach Frank Reich noted after the game. And it only promises to be more juiced up four weeks from Sunday when the Colts open the regular season against the Seattle Seahawks at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"It was kind of fun to get into the second half of the game, and in a very entertaining game, where they're causing illegal procedures by the offense because of the noise in a preseason game. That fires us up," Reich said. "Our guys notice that stuff. Our guys got the juice. You could see our guys on the sideline living it up with the fans. So nice job, great to be back out there."