10/12/04 — Fans meet, greet, see Thornton play

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Fans meet, greet, see Thornton play

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on October 12, 2004 1:57 PM

INDIANAPOLIS -- Smiles filled the room, as an overall warm feeling consumed the lobby of the Hampton Inn in Northwest Indianapolis Saturday afternoon.

When former Goldsboro High and University of North Carolina standout David Thornton entered the hotel lobby, the 12-plus hour ride on a charter bus by a group of 36 fans from Goldsboro suddenly seemed more than worth it.

Thornton, currently the defensive captain and leading tackler as a linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts, spent over two hours shaking hands, taking pictures and signing autographs for the fans who made the trip.

Not only did Thornton sign autographs, he furnished the posters, 8x10 photographs, hats, T-shirts and other memorabilia to sign. The group moved through the line as Thornton autographed at least three items for each fan.

Last but not least, each person was handed a lower-level ticket for the Colts' match-up with the Oakland Raiders in the RCA Dome on Sunday.

Thornton is a rising star in the NFL. The six-foot-two, 230-pounder clearly hasn't forgotten his roots.

"This is huge ... to see people take time of out their busy schedules to check out their old hometown boy," David Thornton said before leaving the hotel on Saturday. "It's a blessing to see them support me and the Colts. We are having a great season so far and it means a lot to see the people coming down."

"Goldsboro is my home and it will always be my home. I have a lot of ties still there, and I'm a diehard Cougar fan. I support my school, and it's a blessing to see them support me in Indianapolis."

It wouldn't be the last time the group got to see the standout linebacker. About an hour after Indianapolis finished off its 35-14 dusting of the Raiders, Thornton met the group again at the bus. More pictures, more autographs and you guessed it -- more smiles.

"Having a son who has been successful and has made great choices through the years ... it's more than a dream come true," Arnold Thornton said. "Words don't describe how proud I am."

On top of that, several of the group members were interviewed in the parking lot with Thornton by a local television station -- Indianapolis' WISH TV Channel 8. Every other week, Thornton assists in the station's post-game show that airs later Sunday evening. The footage with the Goldsboro crowd will be televised soon.

The group was nearly a 50-50 split between Thornton's family and friends and a group from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

David's father, Arnold and his brother Terrance, along with Richard Lambert --the Community Relations Consultant at Seymour -- organized the trip. Terrance Thornton and Lambert first met each other at a United Way Golf Tournament last summer, in which David Thornton also attended. When Arnold began putting the trip together, he knew exactly who to call.

"I decided to do this because so many people have told me they wanted to come up with me. I decided to make a friendly move and get my friends to come with me," Arnold Thornton said. "George Scott (Goldsboro Bus Company, Inc.) told me he had a bus to accommodate us. David and Terrance met Mr. Lambert. From there, he told me whenever he needed me to call him."

The decision for Lambert to collaborate was a no-brainer.

"What we have is a great young man (David Thornton) who is doing positive things for himself and his community," Lambert said. "When Arnold called me and said he wanted it to be a collaborative effort, I said, 'Heck yeah, why not.'

"We don't really separate on-base from off-base. This is one large community."

Among the group from Seymour Johnson was Nate Dolbee. Dolbee, a lifetime Colts' fan, grew up two hours north of Indianapolis before moving with his wife to Goldsboro several years ago. Sunday was Dolbee's first time seeing his favorite team live and in person.

"It's the chance of a lifetime to see the Colts, especially David Thornton, the captain," Dolbee said. "I didn't miss a game on TV growing up. This is my first game in person, but I've been to every game in spirit."

The game

The group arrived at the game two hours early and got a good look at both team's warm-up. Several got a chance to shake hands with David as he jogged through his pre-game routine. Most of the crowd was seated in the lower-level corner, behind the "Colts" end zone.

After individual warm-ups, Thornton and quarterback Peyton Manning (offensive captain) led the team's stretching exercises.

From opening kick-off until the final whistle, Indianapolis controlled Oakland -- now winless in 12 straight road games.

Manning tossed three touchdown passes in the first half to three different receivers -- boosting his league total to 14 touchdown passes -- as the Colts took a 21-7 lead into halftime. Efficiently, Indianapolis used the run to set up the pass with Edgerrin James toting the ball 16 times in the first half for 56 yards. James finished with 136 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries.

Meanwhile, Thornton and the Indianapolis defense, which came into the game ranked 32nd in the league in total defense, steadily turned in its best performance of the season to date. The Raiders had just 126 yards in the first half with running back Amos Zereoue gaining just 41 yards on 10 carries.

The Indianapolis secondary picked off Oakland quarterback Kerry Collins three times as Nick Harper, Cato June and Jason David picking off one pass each. David capped the defense's solid afternoon with a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown. The fourth-quarter pick was the first interception of the rookie David's career, pushing the score to its final margin at 35-14 with two minutes left in the game.

The Colts improved to 4-1 overall heading into a bye week. Up next for Indianapolis is a home game on Oct. 24 against AFC South opponent Jacksonville.

Thornton finished with three tackles and two assists against Oakland.

The scene

Think blue. Think really, really blue. Like 57,000-strong wearing blue and making a lot of noise in the 20-year old RCA Dome (formerly named the Hoosier Dome) -- in the heart of downtown Indianapolis.

The venue may lack modern amenities such as in-game statistics, but it makes up for it with an all-around solid atmosphere for football with knowledgeable fans. The Midwest may be more widely known for its love for Big 10 Conference football, but folks in Indianapolis are truly devoted to their Colts.

Oh yeah, the group from Goldsboro weren't the only ones sporting their David Thornton No. 50 jerseys either. Behind Peyton Manning's No. 18, Edgerrin James' No. 32 and Marvin Harrison's No. 88, Thornton's No. 50 was one of the more widely-worn among the blue-clad crowd.

The ride

The trip began around 10 p.m. on Friday from Percy Royal's Royal Classic Barber Shop in downtown Goldsboro. A quick stop for gas, then the bus stopped just once more in Wytheville, Va., before rolling into the Cincinnati area Saturday morning where buffet breakfast was well-received.

The final two hours in the morning light was highlighted by a crossing of the Ohio River, a trip through southern Indiana, before finally arriving in Indianapolis around 12:30 p.m. central time.

The bus made a few more stops on the way back home and arrived back in Goldsboro around 9:30 a.m. eastern time on Monday morning.

Bus drivers Donnell "Sugar Bear" Hinton and Rusion Pickett alternated behind the wheel.

Arnold Thornton is confident the trip to Indianapolis will be an annual event, but he is hoping to make the trip more expedient next year. He mentioned taking the group by flight next year as a strong possibility. Arriving in Indianapolis earlier on Saturday would allow for a chance to take in the Colts' Saturday practice.

Roll call

A list of the participants in the inaugural trip to Indianapolis -- Bus drivers Donnell "Sugar Bear" Hinton and Rusion Pickett, Arnold Thornton, Terrance Thornton, Richard Lambert, Percy Royal, Christopher Bezio, R. Allen Jones, Jerry Sykes, Debra Sykes, Cornelius Harris, Keity Hirschy, Wendel Campbell, Clarence Toran, Brent Tate, Jeffrey Wimbush, D.J. Wimbush, Donald Faison, Robert Everson, Evan Lasseter, Virginia Lasseter, Nate Dolbee, Randall Grimmer, Guy Davis, Jason McCraw, Carol Whitley, Jeremy Loether, Jerry Taylor, Eddie Edwards, Owens Waters, Joyce Waters, Danta Waters, Richard Slozak, Chris Slozak, Erthel Hines, Kenneth Maldonado, Jamell Bell and Gabe Whisnant.