INDIANAPOLIS -- The Andrew Luck jerseys started popping up in Lucas Oil Stadium late last season.
Minutes after the Colts finally took the Stanford quarterback with the No. 1 draft pick in April, the jerseys were the hottest fashion in town.
Ever since, Indianapolis fans have been eagerly anticipating the day those impostors would step aside, the dress rehearsals would end and the new franchise quarterback would sprint onto his home field and start throwing meaningful passes. The wait ends today.
"There will be a lot of energy," Luck said. "It will be a lot of fun to play in this stadium. Hopefully, it's fun for the fans."
Luck already has a sense of what to expect from the welcoming party for the Minnesota game.
When Colts officials moved a June mini-camp practice to the stadium, billed as a ticket-buying opportunity, an estimated 7,500 people showed up -- most trying to catch a glimpse of the real No. 12. It was a virtual replay of his arrival the day after the draft when thousands more watched the No. 1 draft pick throw his first pass in Indy -- to 9-year-old Holden Harless of Anderson, Ind., a longtime Peyton Manning fan who needed life-saving surgery to remove a tumour in his spinal cord three years earlier.
Luck made two pre-season starts in Indy, which gave him a chance to see how seriously pro fans take these games.
"Even walking around it's interesting, hearing when people come up to you and say a couple of words, it's 'Wow you know a lot about football, maybe too much about football, I can't answer that question,"' Luck said with a laugh. "It's been fun to see how in tune the fans are, to the offence and defence, different situations. I know it's a little different than it was at Stanford where folks weren't so into that part of the game."
Fans will hardly recognize this home team.
Most of the big names -- Manning, Gary Brackett, Melvin Bullitt, Dallas Clark, Ryan Diem, Pierre Garcon and Jeff Saturday -- have moved on.
Those that did stick around -- Freeney, Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne -- will be found in new spots.
But as outsiders plan this big celebration, praise Luck and raise the expectations for what might be the most touted quarterback to enter the league since Manning, the Vikings (1-0) would rather become the purple party poopers.
"You've got to hit him. You've got to hit him," Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen said. "That's how you get to a young quarterback, not letting him get into a rhythm."
Allen knows all the tricks.
Last season, he won the NFL sacks title, set a franchise record (22) and was the major reason Minnesota shared the league lead with 50 sacks. Luck could be susceptible to a few more today.
Last week, the Chicago Bears exploited Indy's biggest offensive weakness by sacking Luck three times and knocking Luck to the ground numerous other times. The Colts also are likely to play today without left guard Joe Reitz (knee), could be without right tackle Winston Justice (concussion), too, and may need newly-signed guard Trai Essex to plug one of the holes. Essex signed with Indy after spending the past seven years in Pittsburgh .
But the Vikings are downplaying the perceived mismatch along the line.
"You don't want to misjudge what happened in the preseason or even in the first regular season game," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "Most teams in our league, and I hope we're one of them, will improve that second week."
-- The Associated Press