Punter Pat McAfee has come a long way in the last five years. In 2009, the Indianapolis Colts drafted him out of West Virginia in the seventh round. His rookie season, the Colts lost to the New Orleans Saints in the Super Bowl. In 2010, during the bye week, he got in a spot of bother after a drunken swim led to his arrest and suspension. This incident is best left in the past; I bring it up only to emphasize what McAfee has accomplished since.
Consider the 2009 season. Peyton Manning was in charge, and the Colts rarely punted. Fans didn’t know much about him, hardly ever saw him and probably rarely thought about him at all. But an incident like that swim in the canal, just a few years removed from all of the issues that resulted in Indianapolis more or less ignoring the Indiana Pacers for nearly a decade, is the sort of thing that makes a Midwestern fanbase turn on a guy.
But what happened with McAfee was exactly the opposite.
He started a foundation to provide scholarships to children of U.S. military parents. He played well enough that the Colts franchise tagged him last season. Through Twitter and various media appearances (especially with local radio show Bob and Tom), fans got to know Pat as funny, self-deprecating and quick-witted. He even parlayed his on-air talents into a one hour Internet show through the Indianapolis Star newspaper, complete with opening monologue, guest interviews and games, including racing two Indy 500 drivers on tricycles. If his name was “Jimmy” instead of a “Pat” he might already have considered a permanent career shift.
But McAfee is a punter who hits and (as rumor has it) is capable of making a 70-yard field goal. He’s full of heart and personality, owning his old mistakes without letting them define him. He’s never been ambiguous about his feelings for the city of Indianapolis or his teammates. In 2012, when coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, Pat was the mastermind behind the ubiquitous Chuck Strong t-shirts. During the disastrous 2-14 season, McAfee was actually listed as the emergency quarterback, and I have to wonder how close he came to taking snaps. Last season, when tornadoes ripped through central Indiana, McAfee rallied his legions of Twitter followers to raise money for the victims. One of the towns badly hit was my hometown, and his efforts did not go unnoticed.
When his franchise tag expired, McAfee hit the airwaves, presumably building a resume for eventual life after football. He sat with Rich Eisen, Dan Dakich and Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. He dressed as Thomas Jefferson for a Presidents’ Day appearance on Bob and Tom (which I will remind you, is a radio show). He gave improv a shot at Indianapolis’s Comedy Sportz. This morning, he was on the air with NFL AM when he got the call that the deal was done and he would be a Colt for the next five years.
I love that all of his hard work and good will have been rewarded, but I don’t know that his spot on the roster was ever really in doubt. McAfee made it clear he wanted to stay, and Colts’ owner Jim Irsay said in no uncertain terms during an appearance on Pat’s Indianapolis Star show that he had every intention of bringing him back. I’ve grown to love Pat McAfee, through his heart, hits and humor. I, for one, am thrilled to see all this fuss over a punter.