Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Do Colts Fans Boo Injured Players?

In recent years fans of the Indianapolis Colts have developed a bit of a reputation for being "low class" (or other less charitable phrases). The reputation is undeserved and is the product of a crowd that knows and understands the game reacting in a way that to those who don't know and understand the game -- and in particular, don't know and understand the way the Colts play the game -- seems wrong. Do Colts fans boo injured players? Yes, but only some of the time. And it is an understanding of the when and why Colts fans boo an injury that explains why Colts fans aren't really being "low class" at all.

The first thing that must be understood is how the Colts offense plays the game. Unlike almost all other teams, the Colts don't go into a huddle between plays. When one play ends, the offense walks right up to the line of scrimmage and gets ready for the next play. The Colts are able to do this effectively because their quarterback, Peyton Manning, is so good at what he does. Using the "no huddle" offense provides the Colts with several advantages. First, it allows the team to get into a rhythm from play to play to play. That is part of the reason that the Colts are so successful in marching straight down the field so often. In addition, by using the no huddle offense the Colts are able to keep the defense from making player substitutions that might be appropriate given the down and distance situation in the game. If the defense has to rely upon the "wrong" player being in the game in a particular situation, then that is an advantage for the Colts. Furthermore, the no huddle offense can be physically exhausting on a defense and, if the defense is exhausted, it should be easier for the offense to have success. Finally, the Colts have become quite adept at being ready to run the next play very, very quickly and catching the other team with too many players on the field (while making substitutions) or being out of position. Sometimes, the defense get penalized; sometimes the defense will call a timeout; and sometimes the defense will fake an injury. And that is when Colts fans boo.

If you watch a Colts game carefully, you will note that Colts fans don't boo when member of the opposing team's offense or special teams is injured. And Colts fans don't boo when there is an obvious real  injury. For that matter, Colts fans almost never boo when a defensive player stays down immediately after a play. But when a defensive player gets up after a play, walks back into his team's huddle, looks over to the sidelines, and then takes a knee or "falls" to the ground, we know what we're seeing. The strategy of faking an injury was perfected by the New England Patriots (and Willie McGinest in particular in a December 2003 game when New England was out of timeouts).

The next time that you watch a Colts game, here a few things to notice about "injuries" that the other team may incur:
  • The "injury" rarely affects one of the defense's top players;
  • The "injury" usually happens just before a 3rd down play;
  • The "injury" usually happens right after a big play or right before a critical play;
  • The "injury" is almost always described as a cramp;
  • The "injured" player usually sits out one or two plays and then returns;
  • Frequently the coach or defensive coordinator of the other team will be seen smiling or laughing on the sidelines while the "injury" is being attended to; and
  • Sometimes two players are "injured" at the same time, but remarkably one of them is able to continue while the other has to come out of the game for a play or two.
True fans of football never want to see a player injured. But fans of the game also don't want a team to take advantage of the care that is taken to prevent injuries to be used as a tool. In reality, what is going on is that Colts fans are booing the coach of the other team for having so little respect for the game. Colts fans aren't booing the injured player or the injury; we are booing the other team for resorting to a lie in order to try to stop our offense.

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