Emily Powell, 5, has 23 Colts autographs on her pink cap, but there’s just one she hadn’t been able to coax out with her pretty blue eyes and beyond-her-years personality.
“Peyton,” she said at Tuesday’s final night practice. “He’s really hard to get. I’ve been trying to get him.”
Emily and her family were part of an estimated 9,500 Indianapolis Colts fans who made last-ditch efforts to see their favorite players (and possibly get that prized autograph). Anderson University officials and fans claimed success with the Colts’ return to the city, noting increased crowds and autographs.
“The camp has been extraordinary; it’s exceeded our expectations,” said Chris Williams, a spokesman for the university.
Williams said about 76,000 fans have flocked to the campus for Colts Camp, about triple the amount that watched the Colts train in Terre Haute last year. The estimation, he said, is based on crowd “guesstimations” and parking fees.
“The Colts responded to the amounts of the crowds,” said Sena Landey, one of two Andersonians recognized for pushing for the Colts’ return to the local university. “When the fans showed up with that sort of force, they reciprocated.”
Landey and Williams said Colts players have signed autographs in a designated tent during scheduled times. But, more often than not, players also had impromptu signings as they entered and exited the practice field.
It’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed to fans, as well.
“Overall, the team is more into the people and appreciative that we’re here,” said Betsy Sheets, of Anderson.
Sheets and Bucky Sheets said this year’s training camp bested the training camps from 12 years ago, before the Colts moved to Terre Haute for practice.
“The excitement of this thing is way bigger,” Bucky Sheets said. “When they (Anderson) had it before, you just strolled in and sat anywhere. Now, the fans are everywhere.”
Bucky Sheets also noted Colts City, the fun zone just before the practice fields that the Colts franchise sponsors. It included a kids section, climbing walls, a trailer with Wii games, and merchandise booths.
Colts City put on a party of sorts for the last night of practice, featuring a concert by Living Proof at 5 p.m. and fireworks after the practice.
“It’s to put a giant exclamation point on this wonderful experience here in Anderson,” said Kat Taylor, a Colts representative in charge of marketing.
Some fans at the final night practice squeezed the camp into their schedule for the first time this year.
Steve Smith, of Anderson, brought his 12-year-old son Brady Smith. Brady hoped to pack more signatures onto a football that some Colts players signed two years ago at Ball State.
“It’s cool because I live like five minutes away,” Brady said of the camp’s return to Anderson, with his father quickly correcting that it was more like 15 minutes.
The Sheetses said they were glad Mother Nature decided to cooperate on the final night. The 17 days of camp were riddled with rainy — sometimes stormy — days and the longest heat stretch in recent years.
But, the heat didn’t keep fans from as far as Canada from coming to Anderson.
Emily’s family is from Knightstown and drove about an hour to Anderson, just to get seats. Shane Evans said they left their home at 7:30 a.m., all in the name of the Colts.
“We don’t even get good spots; there are crazier fans than us,” he said, vowing that the family would leave at 5:30 a.m. if the camp returns next year.
Evans said the camp was worth their long trips but that a “VIP section” prevented other fans from getting closer access to the players. Emily’s mother, Kylie Powell, said the VIP section was an inner circle of fans just inside the gates.
“By the time they get back to regular fans, they’re done,” Kylie Powell said.
All-in-all Colts fans just couldn’t get enough of the return of their favorite team.
“It’s not over,” proclaimed Betsy Sheets. “We still have a few hours left.”
—Christina M. Wright is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Story republished with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2010, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the seventh consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.