Indianapolis, you were warned.
Fans in every NFL city think the Super Bowl host jinx is just a myth until it lands on their town. But there's a variety of reasons why no team that has provided the stadium for the big game has ever played in it. And at the rate they're piling up reasons, the Colts _ host of February's title game _ might be the first knocked out of the running even before the regular season kicks off.
After a decade as the league's most stable franchise, and arguably its most successful, Indy is suddenly the capital of chaos. A bad wing threatens to snap Peyton Manning's NFL-best consecutive-games streak, and depending on who you talk to, it might be the least worrisome of his injuries. Owner Jim Irsay has been on a Twitter binge, mischievously tweeting that he was chasing one aged quarterback (Brett Favre) when he wasn't, then announcing the actual signing of another (Kerry Collins) before letting his team in on it. Not everyone thought it was funny.
"Who says Kerry's going to be the starter?" star receiver Reggie Wayne grumbled, putting in a bid for longtime backup Curtis Painter to get the job. "Just because we bring him in doesn't mean he's the starter."
And then there's this: Indy just hired disgraced former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel as a game-day consultant to help with video-review challenges, but decided he won't start until he has served his NCAA suspension and then some. The last time things were anywhere near this crazy was 10 years ago and four questions into a postgame press conference and Jim Mora, the coach at the time, was standing at the podium.
"Playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game! Another game!"
Mora was replaced by Tony Dungy at the end of the 2001 season and that hasn't been a problem since. The Colts won a Super Bowl, reached another, made an NFL record-tying nine straight postseason appearances and won more regular-season games than anybody. So steady was the organization, from Irsay and vice chairman Bill Polian on down, that Dungy basically handed his clipboard to longtime assistant Jim Caldwell in January 2008, and the team barely skipped a beat _ until this past offseason.
Everyone assumed the steadiest franchises would be hurt the least by the lockout; just the opposite appears to have happened to the rock-steady Colts. The first hint of a crack in the foundation appeared in late May, when Manning underwent surgery on his neck. But that seemed almost routine when Irsay handed him a five-year extension worth $90 million at the end of July. Since then, reports on Manning's readiness have been all over the map.
He was held out of the preseason, then upgraded from the physically-unable-to-perform list just in time to merit a "doubtful" on the injury for this weekend's opener against Houston. Yet fans encouraged by Manning's uncanny ability in past seasons to show up for the bell should remember that not a single Colt listed as "doubtful" all of last season played the game that week. Given the uncertainty surrounding Manning's status at the moment, and how much it has unsettled the rest of the team, they'd take one week without him in a heartbeat.
The Colts have already auditioned more free agents in this preseason camp than the total for nearly the past decade. And talk about mixed signals. In Collins' only preseason appearance, Wayne and front-line receivers Dallas Clark and Pierre Garcon, as well as top running back Joseph Addai, stayed glued to the sideline. That indicated Manning was likely to be ready. Now, the Colts are stacking up running backs and getting Collins as many repetitions with the first team as time allows. Plus, Painter still has a job, indicating Manning is unlikely to be ready until, well, until when?
"As of now Peyton continues to deal with a complicated neurological recovery, the end date of which is unpredictable," the Colts said in a statement.
Anyone who knows more is invited to call Caldwell.
"It's been an incredible feat," the coach said. "He's been an iron man, there's no other way to put it. It's doubtful that he plays this week, but it takes a very unusual individual to have that streak."
Much the same could be said about the Colts' unbroken run of success. What's been almost as remarkable, up until now, anyway, is how well they've managed to keep nearly all of the drama that accompanied bottled up between the white lines.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org. Follow him on http://twitter.com/JimLitke