ANDERSON, Ind. – Curtis Painter would like to forget his NFL initiation. So would the Indianapolis Colts fans.
There was the sack, the fumble, the touchdown, the interception, the crash of a perfect quest and, of course, the cascading boos that rained down from every aisle inside Lucas Oil Stadium. Painter had to relive it with the endless replays that documented coach Jim Caldwell's decision to pull the starters and the reaction from fans.
On Sunday, Painter will finally get a chance to redeem himself against San Francisco — or at least show fans he's better than the quarterback thrown into an impossible situation last December.
"I watched it (the tape) to evaluate it and self-scout," he said at training camp this week. "I'm critical of myself, and I know I could have done better things. I was just a little off."
Well, welcome to the NFL, where every little mistake is magnified by one thousand times.
The Indiana native, who played college ball at Purdue before living out his dream with the Colts, has had a full season and another full offseason to learn the system and get back in sync. And fans are praying Painter's extra work will help him become a more capable backup for four-time league MVP Peyton Manning.
The truth is Painter was never expected to fill the No. 2 role next season.
Jim Sorgi, Manning's longtime backup, went on injured reserve in early December with an injured throwing shoulder, and suddenly, Painter was No. 2 on the depth chart. On Dec. 27, the first rookie quarterback to take a snap for the Colts since Sorgi in 2004 went into the game trying to protect a 14-0 record and a 15-10 lead against the New York Jets.
Painter struggled then, but has looked far more comfortable in practice the last two weeks.
"You do get more familiar things in your second season, you have a better grasp of it," Painter said. "Here you can dedicate your days and nights to football, and there are a lot more things that go into it."
Painter insists knowledge has helped his confidence.
But what fans are looking for in Sunday's preseason opener against San Francisco is whether the Colts made the right decision by passing on another quarterback from an Indiana school, Nate Davis, five times before selecting Painter in Round 6 of the 2009 draft.
Davis left Ball State after his junior season and was initially projected to go in the first three rounds.
But some scouts questioned whether a learning disability would slow Davis' progression as an NFL quarterback and become an impediment to learning the playbook. Those doubts dropped Davis all the way in Round 5, No. 171 overall.
Now, the duel between Davis and Painter can begin anew.
"He was a playmaker, he did a lot of things well and made plays in and out of the pocket," Caldwell said of Davis. "He played on teams that won and that won big. He's a fine athlete and he throws the ball well."
Despite the lavish praise, Caldwell still likes his guy, Painter.
And the paths these two have taken are remarkable similar.
Painter and Davis were considered the state's two best college quarterbacks in 2008 and wound up as backups to a pair of former No. 1 picks — Manning and Alex Smith. Davis actually has the distinction of backing up two former No. 1s, Smith and David Carr.
On Sunday, though, it's Painter and Davis who are expected to spend much of the day on center stage in their second head-to-head meeting.
"I'd rather not know. I think it's kind of weird when you know you're only going to get eight plays, or 12 plays, or this many series," Smith said when asked about playing time. "I'd rather just go out there and play my game and when they tell me to get out I'll get out."
Painter can't wait to get back in.
Yes, the Purdue alum played in the Colts' regular-season finale, a loss at Buffalo, but he finished the season just 8 of 28 for 83 yards with two picks and no TDs and hasn't taken a meaningful snap since then.
Now Painter is hoping he can make the most of his second chance.
"It (the boos) didn't bother me because I try to focus on what's going on at hand," he said. "I don't worry too much about outside factors because I have too much to worry about in the game.
"But it's been a long time since I've been on the field, and I'm excited and want to get things going out there."