Even though the Colts now call Indianapolis home, they played -- and lost -- a lot like they did in Baltimore so many times the last few years.

They lost their first Indianapolis home game, 23-14, to the New York Jets. Although it was a sellout, nobody knew exactly how many people attended because the turnstiles at the Hoosier Dome broke down before the game began.

The Colts took a little longer. For a few brief moments, with only two minutes left in the game, it looked as though they might make their debut here successful and dramatic.

Eugene Daniel, the Colts' rookie cornerback from Louisiana State, intercepted a third-down pass at his 12 with two minutes to play.

The Colts, then trailing, 16-14, were only about 50 yards away from Raul Allegre being able to kick a field goal, plus satisfaction for these 60,000 or so fans who, all afternoon, acted like teeny-boppers at a Jacksons' concert.

But quarterback Mike Pagel threw incomplete on first down, scrambled for three yards on second down, had a pass dropped on third down and was sacked into a fumble on fourth and desperation.

Jets linebacker Greg Buttle picked up the ball at about the four -- Mark Gastineau had forced the fumble -- and ran in for the touchdown that gave the Jets' the 23-14 victory.

"We had one more chance to get three, and gave seven," Colts linebacker Vernon Maxwell said. "Not a good exchange."

A strange thing happened, though, as the Colts left the field in defeat. The sight of Colts players walking off the field dejected was familiar enough, but cheers accompanying their exit was something Baltimore only offered in victory.

"You know they would have booed us back in Baltimore," Chris Hinton, the all-pro left tackle said. "We're still a new fad here, though. I hope three years from now they'll still cheer us after a loss."

Perhaps even the Colts' owner, Robert Irsay, the man who moved the team here in the middle of the night last March, had a little cheer within him.

Irsay wasn't very gracious before the game, however, when he entered the press box and cursed at Baltimore News American columnist John Steadman, apparently looking for a confrontation. Steadman, who has seen every NFL game the Colts have played, asked Irsay how it felt "to be a man devoid of decency," then refused to be drawn further into a scene.

Truthfully, the fans here were about ready to cheer anything, maybe even Irsay. The Colts, when they took the field for calisthenics, walked in a line about halfway around the stadium and received their first standing ovation.

The cheerleaders were introduced and they, too, received a standing ovation. Even Henry Lee Summer, a rock-and-roller who gave an unbearable rendition of the national anthem, was given an ovation.

The only time the fans booed anything to do with the home team was when Coach Frank Kush elected to punt on fourth and three with about six minutes left. It was polite booing.

"It was pretty high intensity out there," Maxwell said. "The first game here was pretty much like I expected, but the ending wasn't what we wanted. You heard those fans out there. They gave us a lot. We've got to start giving now, and not just taking."

Kush couldn't help but notice the fans himself. "I was really impressed with the fans," he said, just as politely sidestepping any comparisons with those in Baltimore. "I felt their enthusiasm really helped us a lot."

He probably was more impressed with the fans than with his team's offense. "The offense played hard," he said, "but the thing that hurt us more than anything else was the three fumbles . . . and the five or six dropped passes . . . There's no way you can play in this league and have the board hands that we had today."

It looked for a while as though the Colts would lead a charmed life, at least for this afternoon. Pat Leahy's 42-yard field goal attempt for New York bounced off the right upright early in the first quarter, keeping the game scoreless.

The Colts (7-9 last season) scored their first touchdown as the Indianapolis Colts 19 minutes and 11 seconds into the game when Curtis Dickey ran three yards after Pagel had passed 15 yards to Ray Butler.

But the Jets tied the score at 7 just before halftime on Pat Ryan's 13-yard pass to tight end Mickey Shuler.

The Jets took a 10-7 lead on Leahy's 29-yard field goal and increased it to 16-7 on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Shuler toward the end of the third quarter.

If the Colts were going to score again, they would need a big turnover. They got one early in the fourth quarter when Rohn Stark's 55-yard punt was handled, then fumbled, by New York's Kirk Springs, who was hit by Mark Kafentzis.

Mike Humiston recovered for the Colts at the Jets' five and three plays later -- on third and goal from the one -- Frank Middleton appeared to be stopped at the goal line but twisted and fell backward into the end zone.

The extra point pulled the Colts to 16-14. But they couldn't come up with another score. Their next drive, only three plays, took all of 14 seconds.

Like last season in Baltimore, the Colts expected too much of the defense and couldn't produce offensively when necessary.

Pagel completed 17 of 26 passes for 199 yards. When his receivers weren't dropping passes, he was trying his best to keep Gastineau from dancing.

Gastineau had four sacks and his minidance conformed to the NFL's new rules curtailing on-field celebrations. As Kush said, "Mike was running for his life."

Pagel was in good enough spirits afterward to joke, "I'm chicken. I've been hit by Gastineau a couple of times and developed a yellow streak down my back."

Many of the Colts, such as Hinton, who has been living here since April, said they felt quite "at home" in the Hoosier Dome. Now they'd like to repay the fans for the warm reception with a few victories.