IT WAS A HUMBLE BEGINNING. The Blue Crew began as a small tailgating club in the mid-1990s. Randy Collins, Tim Millikan, Tony Payne, and Eric VanWagner would meet in an empty parking lot just south of the RCA Dome (then home to the Colts) on game day. They recall only three or four other tailgate groups joining them at a time when Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers seemed to be the only team in town. “Home games felt like away games. The Green Bay Packers drew more fans than the Colts,” Millikan recollects.
THE NAME CAME OUT OF KANSAS CITY. When the Colts acquired Peyton Manning in 1998 with their first-in-line draft pick, Collins and his tailgate buddies decided the Colts deserved a “12th man,” or an official fan club. They credit a Chiefs fan for the moniker. VanWagner says that after the Colts upset the Chiefs in Kansas City in the 1995 divisional playoffs, a woman in the stands patted him on the back and declared, “Good job, blue crew! It’s not easy to come here and beat us.” The group then applied for the trademark.
PEYTON MANNING CHANGED EVERYTHING. To gain support, the crew tried all-night tailgates on Friday nights; Collins spent 24 hours in a port-a-potty in the dead of winter to promote ticket sales; and they handed out posters and T-shirts on behalf of the Colts, sometimes fielding a bit of resistance. “When the Colts were 3-13, some people would be yelling and flipping the bird at us,” recalls Millikan. But Manning would soon prove to be the best recruiter of all, drawing more than 2,000 members to the Blue Crew during his reign as quarterback. (Membership these days is 560.)
LESS THAN $50 GETS YOU IN. A one-year membership costs $48.50, which gets you a Blue Crew T-shirt, a beer koozie, a Colts license plate, and a soft cooler. A portion goes to charity. Preferred attire? Colts blue and white, of course. Face and/or body paint is optional but encouraged. Visitors and opposing fans are welcome to join in the tailgating fun, Collins says, as long as everyone plays nice. So far, no one’s ever been asked to leave.
MEMBERS DON’T LIVE ON HOT DOGS. When construction began on Lucas Oil Stadium in 2005, the Crew moved their tailgating site to a parking lot next to Colts Touchdown Town and a Hail Mary pass away from the front door to the new stadium. Just look for Collins’ Blue Crew firetruck, which is always parked adjacent to VanWagner’s horseshoe bar (which is exactly what it sounds like), known for its socials where attendees toast with shots of blue schnapps. The crew eats well, too, sharing everything from homemade chimichangas and jalapeño poppers to bacon-wrapped pork chops, fried chicken wings, and Creole-style wild game.
THEY CELEBRATED THE COLTS’ SUPER BOWL XLI WIN WITH BEER FROM CHICAGO. Thousands flocked to South Florida for the 2007 Super Bowl showdown. Colts fans took over Miami and ultimately the Bears, beating them 29 to 17 despite a torrential downpour. Once home, Collins recalls, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley sent Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson 32 cases of Goose Island 312 Wheat Ale. But Peterson couldn’t accept it, so the Blue Crew graciously did.
THEIR BIGGEST SUPPORTER IS JIM IRSAY. “The Blue Crew has always got our backs,” says the Colts owner. “They’ve been loud and proud at every game … and are critical to our fan base.” Over the years, he’s provided the Crew with extra tickets, transported them to an away game after the bus company they used folded, and showed up in a golf cart on a game day to induct Collins and Joe Fonderoli, the Colts vice president of operations, into the Blue Crew’s Hall of Fame. An even bigger surprise was when Irsay handed out signed $100 bills to stunned Crew members.
THEY COME IN PEACE. The Crew takes two bus trips a year to away games, often to Cincinnati. They plan to tailgate with Bengals fans at Paycor Stadium on December 10. “We want to show the NFL that two fan bases can enjoy a game together without a ruckus,” says Crew president Brent Vogel.
IT’S A 12-MONTH JOB. Activity is year-round, whether they’re on a bar crawl or revving up the firetruck. They’re regulars at the Circle City Classic and Veterans Day parades. Collins dons a blue Santa suit to visit nursing homes during the holidays. The club adopts a charity each year, most recently Little Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to kids with cancer. The Blue Crew also supports Wheeler Mission, last year sponsoring a sock drive.
IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT FOOTBALL. “We’ll always be here whether the team is winning or losing,” Vogel insists. “The Blue Crew is really about family and friendships.”