Bittersweet memories of Indianapolis

Looking ahead to the Packers' game Sunday in Indianapolis, I can't help but think back to 1993. That was my first year after leaving Green Bay and the first of two seasons I would spend with the Colts. It was a real eye-opener for me.<p>

In Green Bay, during training camp, we stayed in town, roomed at St. Norbert's College, played on our normal practice fields and had the luxury of our own locker room inside Lambeau Field.

Things were completely different in Indianapolis. I joined them after the first week of training camp held at a little school called Anderson College. It was in the middle of nowhere, and was absolutely as hot and humid as it could be. We had a makeshift locker room in an old gym without air conditioning. There were portable lockers and plastic tarps all over the floor. Every day, with two-a-day practices, it was just like a sauna in there.

When NFL players are having a tough time they often wonder if things might be better for them with another team. I'm here to tell you that the grass is not always greener on the other side. That first summer in Indianapolis really made me appreciate how nice Green Bay's training camp facilities- and the whole situation – really were.

The fan presence at training camp was also completely different with the Colts. In Green Bay there would be a couple thousand people at every practice every day. The Colts never had any fans. Even the fan presence – or lack there of – was evident in the RCA Dome. I was used to Lambeau Field with the whole place rocking at kickoff. In the RCA Dome, a quarter of the stadium was empty and the upper decks were just vacant. In those days the Colts had minimal allegiance from their fans.

I went to Indy as a backup to Jeff George, and he didn't have a lot of support from the fans. In fact, the fans weren't 100% behind the entire team like they should have been.

Although I started eight games for the Colts in 1994, it never felt right to be playing for a team other than the Packers. After six years in Green Bay, I was having some shoulder problems and wasn't performing at the caliber of play I was used to when I was healthy. I was a different player in Indianapolis and just didn't have as much fun or as much confidence as I did when I played with the Pack.

One very good thing about playing with the Colts, though, was when they drafted Marshall Faulk, a big-time, very marketable running back. It was pretty special playing with him. He was Rookie of the Year and MVP in the Pro Bowl. To be around a running back like that was really cool. He was the most talented running back I had played with to that point.

Manning's the man

Fast-forwarding to today, there's a very different atmosphere in Indianapolis. The Colts are a winning force with guys like Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison. It's funny sometimes how things work out. Tom Moore, the Colts offensive coordinator, was the offensive coordinator for my last two years in Detroit (1995-96). When the Colts first drafted Manning, Moore and their general manager Bill Polian wanted me to mentor Manning. They said they wanted to sign me big time because of my experience and knowledge of their offensive system. I wanted very badly to play but I had had four ankle surgeries and wasn't physically able to play. But I am very familiar with their offense and believe me – Manning is the perfect fit. He is the most cerebral quarterback in the league and has more responsibility put on his shoulders than any other quarterback because he calls his own plays at the line of scrimmage.

The Colts offense is called the "Check with Me" system where the quarterback leads a no-huddle offense. If Manning sees six men in the box – with four down linemen and two linebackers – he's going to run the ball to the weakest spot in the defense. If the defense is in a seven-man front with three linebackers and four down linemen, the Colts will generally throw the ball. They like to use James in what they call "stretch" running plays where, instead of going off tackle, he takes a direct line from the tight end outside the tackle and Manning really has to stretch to back the handoff. The offensive line stretches out the defense and they let James find the open hole.

What they also do really well is set up the play-action pass off this running philosophy. I expect this will cause the Packers' defense some problems. The Colts are so well balanced, you can't just stack up and worry about stopping the run because they will then work the play-action and kill you with passes. The other problem the Packers face is that Manning is the most difficult quarterback to confuse. He can read blitzes and coverages better than anybody else so he can make a defense pay for its risky play.

One of the fun things to watch in this game will be the match-up between Manning and Brett Favre. Favre is a three-time MVP and last season, Manning was co-MVP, throwing for 29 touchdowns. The game this year will hearken back to the great quarterback duels of the 1960s when it was Johnny Unitas against Bart Starr. The Manning--Favre match-up figures to be a classic. They're in the same mold as Unitas and Starr. They're proven leaders and have been consistent for a long time.

Over the years, the Packers and Colts have battled mightily. In 1965, the Packers beat the Colts three times. The first was at County Stadium in Milwaukee on a late touchdown pass from Zeke Bratkowski to Max McGee. The second Packer win was at Baltimore in the famous "fog" game when Paul Hornung scored five touchdowns. The third Green Bay win came at Lambeau Field. After finishing with identical regular season records, they played in only the second Sudden Death playoff in NFL history. The Packers tied the game on a controversial field goal by Don Chandler and then won it in overtime on a 25-yard Chandler field goal. That victory set the stage for the NFL Championship game against the Cleveland Browns, and what would be the first of three straight NFL titles for the Packers.

In 1966, the Colts went to Milwaukee for the regular season opener, seeking revenge. What they got was more disappointment as Unitas threw a pair of interceptions that were run back for touchdowns by Bob Jeter and Lee Roy Caffey. The Packers won, 24-3. Later that same season in Baltimore, the Packers clinched the Western Conference title, beating the Colts 14-10 with Unitas fumbling the ball on what could have been Baltimore's winning drive in the final moments.

Packers vs. Colts. Yesterday and today. These are two teams with proud traditions and explosive offenses lead by great quarterbacks. For the fan, it doesn't get much better than this!

Editor's Note: Don "Majik" Majkowski played for the Packers for six seasons (1987-92). He was named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards (4,318). In addition to his duties with Packer Report, fans can catch Majik every Monday morning on WSAU-AM 550 in Wausau. He also is a frequent guest on "Pack Attack" on WAOW-TV 9 (Wausau) and occasionally contributes sideline reports for WITI - Fox 6 (Milwaukee).


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