INDIANAPOLIS –Sunday will be a rollicking day at Lucas Oil Stadium with the Colts hosting the Green Bay Packers. A sold out crowd of about 63,000 spectators will be on hand.
Colts fans for years have had fun at home games, making the stadium one of the toughest venues in the league for opposing teams.
Bruce Arians will be directing the Colts onto the field against Green Bay, the first outing this year the team will battle without its field leader, Chuck Pagano.
Pagano was diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia last week and Arians is the hand-picked successor. Arians has coached in some spirited atmospheres in his career, and he urges Colts followers to be loud and proud this weekend.
"This is a very special week for a lot of reasons," said Arians. "I'm challenging our fans, especially this week because it's kind of a unique, special thing. They (Colts fans) need to be at an all-time high for Chuck and for the team."
Indianapolis will be playing a high-powered Packers team that is finding its stride in 2012. Green Bay overcame a tough week three loss at Seattle by beating New Orleans last Sunday at home.
The Colts have played exciting games in their last two outings. Indianapolis captured a last-second 23-20 victory over Minnesota three weeks ago when rookie quarterback Andrew Luck conducted a late drive capped by a 53-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri. Two weeks ago, Vinatieri booted the Colts into a 17-16 lead in the final minute before Jacksonville rallied for a 22-17 win.
Arians observed Colts fans in action during those games, and he wants the same fanaticism on Sunday. He also hopes to observe the return of linebacker Dwight Freeney. Freeney exited the Chicago opener early with an ankle sprain.
Getting Freeney back would be a great thing according to Arians.
"You can't put into words what he means to our defense," said Arians. "To have him out there (in practice) I think just uplifted everybody. To see what he's going to do on Sunday will be fantastic."
Earlier this week, Arians said he was looking for his "five-star" players to help lead the charge, naming Freeney as one of those guys. Freeney hopes to come through.
"It's getting there. It's not there yet," said Freeney. "With those types of injuries, they kind of linger, the high ankle. I just go out and test it every day and be very optimistic that it's going to be fine. Those kinds of things stick around for a while. Unfortunately, it happened. Fortunately, it happened in the first game, not the middle of the season. It gives me some time to get back healthy."
Freeney had a Chicago offensive lineman fall on the back of his leg in the game's first few plays. The injury has cost him the most games in one season since 2009.
"I hope to play. That doesn't mean it's going to happen," said Freeney. "It's really a day-to-day deal. I treat it the same way I've treated all my injuries. I wake up on Thursday, 'How does it feel,' wake up on Friday, 'Whatever it is.' (I) wake up on Saturday, 'Maybe I can go.' "
"He looked good," said Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky of Freeney's Wedesday work. "I think (he's) just trying to knock off a little bit of the rust. For the most part, he's still just testing out his ankle. He looked good."
Freeney and linebacker Pat Angerer both hope to return this week. Angerer, injured in preseason, expressed earlier this week how tough being out of action has been, something Freeney echoes.
"It's real tough. I can't stand it," said Freeney. "That's why sometimes you see me if it's a three-week injury, I'm back after one week. The sideline I can never get used to.
"You really do (miss playing when hurt). You really start missing it, all the camaraderie, the meetings, just being around with the players in practice and definitely the games. It's part of you, especially being out there for 11 years like I have. It's all you know. You never want to see the guys out there without you."
Freeney admitted the rare chance to face Green Bay is exciting. Also an allure is having a first-ever opportunity to battle an old friend, Packers center Jeff Saturday, who was a teammate of Freeney's for a decade.
"That's going to be interesting. It's going to be really interesting the first time I actually hit him or he hits me," said Freeney. "There's definitely going to be something said. I don't know (what). That's another thing (why) I want to get out there so bad – to see Jeff. If it happens, it will be something special."
Freeney is one of a handful of NFL players to top 100 sacks. Saturday led a line that saw the Colts produce one of the most prolific offenses ever assembled in the league. Who might have more veteran guile?
"Jeff has been there for a while. Jeff's the guy. What is it, 14 years for Jeff? I don't know (who has more)," smiled Freeney.
Linebacker Robert Mathis has been a mayhem partner of Freeney's for many seasons, and they lockered just across the way from Saturday for years. Mathis looks forward to seeing his old buddy, too.
"It's going to be fun but at the same time, you miss him around here," said Mathis. "He was our leader, our top dog around here. I understand it's the business of this game. It'll be fun playing against him."