Monday, January 11, 2010

What Do Colts Have in Common With a Political Party?

I seldom stray from politics, but today I do so to defend Colts fans who find themselves being trashed as "spoiled whiners" following their near universal disappointment that the Colts management sat their starters against the New York Jets, effectively foregoing pursuit of a perfect, not just a 16-0 season.

I had a friend who said the following about the movie Underworld: "This is so unrealistic. They wouldn't be able to put sunlight into a bullet." And I thought, "That is the unrealistic part?!? It's not the centuries old blood-feud between vampires and werewolves?" But I understood his point. If you're going to offer "fiction," it has to be consistent within its own little universe.

Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian said their goal was to win a Superbowl, not go 16-0. Presumably, they didn't mean they would purposely tank the perfect season, but rather, would sacrifice the latter to preserve the former. Under what circumstances would such a sacrifice be necessary?
Because you need starters to win, but playing starters can get them hurt, costing you a Superbowl. Sound proposition, right?

I'm going to completely put aside: (1) how demoralized the Colts players looked; (2) how the decision will likely mess with them subconsciously; (3) how Manning admitted this was discussed widely among the players; (4) how you don't take your "foot off the gas" when you are trying to get momentum going into the post-season; (5) how having the offense go consistently three-and-out against the Jets increased the risk of injury to an exhausted defense; (6) how Manning looked rusty in the first half against the Jets and some more reps against a real team, not a practice squad, would have helped him; and (7) how, by the time the Colts take the field this week against Baltimore, it will be four weeks from the last game during which they played hard.

I'll just focus exclusively on management's offered rationale that you don't play key guys in meaningless games.

Okay, then explain why, even though we wrapped up the AFC number one seed, we had starters playing the entire game at Jacksonville? And explain why Peyton Manning took a single snap on a snow-covered (and slick) field in Buffalo, along with Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne?

The answer became obvious when Manning threw only to Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark until both of them had 100 receptions for the season, then the troika exited stage left. Those passes were almost all dinkers that even our 3rd-string backup could have completed. So why was Manning in the game? Oh, right. He has a consecutive starts streak going.
Is there anybody else in this city who doesn't see that management risked our Super Bowl victory so that three guys could achieve individual accolades but that same management would not take that risk for a more laudable team achievement of perfection? How can anybody say management used consistent logic, even in their own little universe?

I'll bet anything that Wayne and Clark were in because Manning told Caldwell that get them their pieces of history was the only way to bring peace back to the mind of his two star receivers.

Now, some say the injury to Patriots receiver Wes Welker in a game the Patriots didn't need rebuts Colts detractors, in particular now that the Pats got bounced by Baltimore.

It does no such thing. Welker was untouched on the play that resulted in his injury. It was just one of those freak things. Just like with Marlin Jackson and Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson, guys can get hurt in practice. The only guaranteed way to keep players safe is to not let him leave their homes. But as former Pacer Ron Artest showed when he face-planted on his staircase, even that isn't foolproof.

Peyton was more likely to twist a knee on a snowy field than he was from getting hit by a mostly non-existing Jets pass rush.

But, ultimately, none of this matters. We folded up shop, and that's inexcusable. And because of the illogic of when we play/don't play starters, I'm starting to wonder if Teddy Bruschi had it right when he said the Colts wanted an excuse because they were afraid to play for perfection. What if the starters stay in against the Jets and lose? Or what if the Colts win against the Jets, bring the starters and lose against Buffalo? Being afraid is the only thing that makes sense because playing your stars even for a second on a sheet of ice sure as heck doesn't.

Understand I never called for Caldwell or Polian's resignation. Those folks are going overboard. I remember well being 0-13, not 13-0. What Caldwell did as a rookie was outstanding, and Polian's decision does not change my belief that he is the best operations guy in the NFL.

But you know why people follow sports? No, it's not primarily to see beautiful athleticism, though that’s part of it. Just like with political parties, it's about a feeling of belonging to something bigger than you, even though you aren't the star on the field.

Most fans watch sports because their lives will never be as exciting as having millions transfixed, waiting to see in the last instant if he can stretch his arm across the goal line and turn his team into a world champion, or instead come up a yard shy, making the other team the world champion. Every member of that city or state or even national fan base can live vicariously through those players. They can say that MY team has achieved something only a handful of others have had. Every Colts victory is our victory. That perfect season would have been our perfect season. Didn't millions of Democrats feel that same exhilaration when Obama was declared our president?

I don’t mean to overly minimize the Colts' sustained excellence of winning the most games in a decade of any team in the NFL history, but how’s that play in the debate down at Spencer's Stadium Tavern?

Dolphins fan: Yeah, well, my Dolphins had a perfect season!

Me: Oh, yeah, well, the Colts had…the most victories spanning a decade in NFL history.

Pats fan: Yeah, but they had ONE Superbowl during that time! By your own rationale, all those season victories are meaningless because your alleged ultimate goal was to win the Superbowl, a task you failed at nine of those ten years. We played in four Superbowls and WON THREE during YOUR alleged decade of dominance!

When Peyton Manning was pulled from that field, it suggested that neither Polian nor Caldwell cared whether Colts fans would be deprived of the chance of saying that the team for which they root, for which they invested money, sacrificed work, gave sacred leisure time, and used as a means to bond with family and friends, had achieved what nobody else has ever achieved - the perfect season with Superbowl victory in the 16-game NFL era.

And why did we give up the pursuit of perfection? To keep guys safe WHO WE JEOPARDIZED THE WEEK BEFORE AND THE WEEK AFTER!

If the Colts don't win the Superbowl, most people will think it's because we didn't keep them sharp, and we demoralized our players by suppressing their killer instinct. If we win, that will be awesome. But who among us won't wonder, "What if?" It will be the first Superbowl victory with a mental asterisk next to it.

At the end of the day, fans (and political activists) want to see a fighter’s spirt. They aren't bothered by the fights we lose as much as the ones we don't suit up for.

Let’s be honest. Winning a Superbowl requires some luck keeping players healthy, and it requires that destiny to be on your side. How often do you see a quarterback elude an almost certain sack to heave a ball down the field to have the receiver catch it while falling down and holding it against the top of his helmet? But that’s precisely how the New York Giants took it all away from the last alleged team of destiny, the New England Patriots, isn’t it?

We all will be pulling mightily for you, Indianapolis Colts, to win it all. But I will always steadfastly believe this: to BE a team of destiny, you have to play like one. On December 27, 2009, the Indianapolis Colts didn't.



varangianguard said...

This is kind of like running for President. You do really well in some early primaries, then your management team tells you to ignore some of the smaller states after that to concentrate on the bigger ones later on. But, you lose your early momentum, voters begin to follow someone else and find yourself sitting on the sidelines during the nominating convention.

Anonymous said...

Could be worse. You could be a Pacers fan.

Paul K. Ogden said...

This article is absolutely correct on everything. I have tried to say the same things, but IPOPA does a much better job than I ever could.