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New folk hero in starring role

– No muss, no fuss, no sweat. The Indianapolis Colts – to be known the rest of this account as the Griff Whalen Gang – were so dominant Sunday, they didn’t even trail at halftime.

What’s a quick way to feel good after you’ve been feeling bad? A 25-3 walk in the stadium will do. Of course, it could be mentioned it came against a 2-12 Houston team that has not seen victory since mid-September. But that’s quibbling. Time must tell whether Sunday was the result of refreshed Indianapolis prospects, or a broken opponent mailing in the rest of the season. Or maybe both.

“It’s a big win regardless,” Antoine Bethea said. “It’s not easy to get wins in the NFL.” And as Chuck Pagano said, having sat through some ugly Colts game films lately, “We needed it.”

The Griff Whalen Gang has seen more close shaves lately than a bathroom mirror; its previous five victories had been by an average of 5.2 points. So it was relaxing for them to have a sleepy fourth quarter.

The Griff Whalen Gang ended the Great Drought of 2013, having gone six games without a first-half touchdown, which is an utterly remarkable statistic for a division champion. Hoping for a spark with a no-huddle offense, they scored two – count ’em – two Sunday.

The Griff Whalen Gang is now 9-5 and looking for some preplayoff mojo, continuing its thisaway-thataway pattern. The past six weeks, every loss has been followed by a win. And vice versa.

There were plenty of points Sunday, including those scored by Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk on the scoreboard screens at halftime, as they went into the Ring of Honor.

Plus, Robert Mathis had his 108th sack to set a franchise record. All in all, a nice day.

“We needed this,” Darius Butler said. “You never want to back into the playoffs. We want to go in there hot.”

Any questions? Oh, yeah. Who’s Griff Whalen?

The new Colts’ folk hero.

Friday, he was on the practice squad. Sunday, he caught the first NFL touchdown pass of his life. Plus three other catches. Plus a 51-yard punt return.

“The coaches just told me to basically have fun out there and do what I know how to do,” Whalen said.

He didn’t know he was playing until Saturday. Before that, not a word. The life of a practice squader is rather like a firefighter, waiting for the alarm bells to go off.

“That’s something we talk about, having everybody prepare like a starter,” he said.

Whalen has all the prerequisites of a guy nobody ever sees coming. Walk-on at Stanford. An undrafted free agent entering the NFL. A mainstay of the Colts’ practice unit, except for the occasional times they need another body.

Working and waiting. Waiting and working. Doing well in the practice assignments handed him. But as Whalen said – and this could have been any NFL player who ever lived – “It’s a different story doing it on Sunday.”

Not that he has ever doubted his choice of vocation.

“This is a game I love playing, so it’s not hard to get up and go do it every day.”

Pagano has noticed. “Certainly Griff’s not one of those guys that would go in the tank, so to speak. He’s a grinder. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He’s got something to prove, obviously.”

The Colts needed him Sunday with receiver LaVon Brazill hurt. So there Whalen was in the first quarter, slashing across the middle of the Houston defense and into the hearts of anyone partial to underdog stories. It was his 14-yard catch from old college teammate quarterback Andrew Luck that gave the Colts their first pre-halftime touchdown in eons. The handiwork of a Boy Scout invariably prepared.

“You always want to be on the field,” he said. “You always want to be contributing. It’s kind of a tough thing mentally just to keep yourself in it and try to stay focused.”

And the touchdown ball? Surely a keeper?

“I handed it to somebody. I think they said they were going to hang onto it. I hope they did.”

The world looked brighter Sunday in Lucas Oil Stadium. And the playoffs are only three weeks away.

Mike Lopresti is a freelance writer. His columns appear periodically.

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