A Southern Indiana health official’s long-running joke has earned him an invitation to an Indianapolis Colts game next season.

Clark County Health Officer Dr. Eric Yazel has been sending letters to the Colts’ front office for about 15 years. It’s part of a tongue-in-cheek quest to become the football team’s next quarterback.

Yazel usually sends the letters when the Colts switch quarterbacks or general managers. He came up with the idea as a joke for his colleagues at Clark Memorial Health, where he’s a doctor in the emergency room.

“It was something silly, honestly,” Yazel said. “Everybody in health care is tired around that ER, and they get a kick out of when I send these silly letters. So I was like, ‘You know, everybody could use a laugh.’”

Yazel said he never expected much to come from the campaign. At most, he thought he might get an official letter from the team acknowledging his fandom.

But the joke turned into something bigger when the Indianapolis Star wrote a story about the letters. USA Today then picked it up, bringing it to a wider audience.

Louisville news stations followed with segments about Yazel’s football hopes.

“My son got to catch some passes on the news,” Yazel said. “He’s back in school today and probably thinks he’s big time. So that’s pretty cool.”

It escalated even more when Colts GM Chris Ballard called Yazel last weekend. It’s the first time he’s received a response from the team.

During the 30-minute conversation, Ballard invited Yazel and his family to be special guests at a game this fall, where they’ll be allowed to walk around the field during warmups.

Yazel said he almost “fell out of his chair” when he got the call.

“I can’t say enough how awesome that was that he took the time to give me a call and think of my family and everything,” he said. “It just means a lot. Something that was light-hearted and silly that I never really thought would get any legs has really turned into something cool for my family, which is really neat.”

The coronavirus pandemic has been difficult for Yazel, like many other frontline health care workers across the country. When he’s not helping patients in the emergency room, Yazel is busy leading the county’s public health response.

“Not to get overdramatic, but it’s just been a tough year for me,” he said. “It’s a challenging year from the work side of things, and puts a lot of strain on my family. And it’s just really cool and exciting that we can all have a neat event to look forward to.”

Yazel said Ballard didn’t specify whether he would get a tryout during the trip. But he’s prepared to show off his skills if necessary.

“He probably wants to get a first-hand look at my measurables and gauge my arm strength and stuff like that,” Yazel said. “I think that’s probably my shot, so I’ve got a long summer of training ahead of me.”

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.