While Starters Rest, Colts Fans Reflect
By WILLIAM C. RHODEN
Published: January 3, 2010
Indianapolis Colts fans are still seething over what they perceive to be a lost chance to achieve glory.
Last week against the desperate Jets, Coach Jim Caldwell, in consultation with General Manager Bill Polian and the Colts’ ownership, removed quarterback Peyton Manning and other key players in the third quarter. The Colts lost, and their 14-game winning streak ended. Many Colts fans were furious that their beloved organization had given up on a chance at a perfect season.
Caldwell’s decision, judging from the attention it has received, trumped Bill Belichick’s choice to go for it on fourth-and-2 as the most hotly debated coaching strategy of the 21st century.
Here’s a thought for Colts fans who continue to object: enough is enough.
Let it go.
Belichick’s decision might have cost New England a game, but Caldwell’s decision cost the Colts nothing, except for a possible run at perfection.
The debate has turned into sanctimonious tirades about the loss of integrity.
Caldwell, a contender for coach of the year, told his players all week that the starters would have roughly three quarters to put the Jets away. If they could not do that, he was pulling the plug.
The Colts squandered scoring opportunities, and at the appointed time, Caldwell pulled the plug, as promised.
Manning was irritated by the decision, and some players sulked like children often do when their parents make decisions that are in the long-term interest of all concerned. Players, like children, are often focused on the short term, on the here and now.
That’s why players have coaches, coaches have general managers, and general managers have owners. That’s why fans are fans.
Would 16-0 have been nice? Absolutely, as an event, as a story to cover, as another feather in the cap of a great franchise and its loyal fans.
On the other hand, for a team that has piled up mountains of impressive statistics, the lesson in all of this is, beware of chasing empty glory. In fact, the criticism of the franchise is that, over the last few seasons, the Colts have not taken advantage of all of their championship opportunities.
From the Colts’ perspective, the big picture is not an undefeated season.
What is humorous about the complaining is that Colts fans are the ones who seem to have lost perspective.
Perfection? Twenty-six years ago, you didn’t even have a team.
Before the Colts came, Indianapolis hung its hat on being an amateur sports capital, a host to a men’s college basketball Final Four and an assortment of other amateur championships.
The N.F.L. was a distant dream. Indianapolis watched as Minnesota received its franchise, the Vikings, in the early 1960s; Cincinnati, to the southeast, got the Bengals in the 1970s.
Finally in March 1984, Indianapolis got its team when the owner Robert Irsay sneaked the Colts out of Baltimore in the middle of the night. Indianapolis happily received stolen goods.
In the intervening seasons, the team and the city have become like family. The undefeated controversy is a family squabble that should end when the playoffs begin.
The loss may end up being a Super Bowl blessing.
There was no guarantee that the Colts were going to beat Buffalo on Sunday in their final regular-season game — they ended up losing, 30-7 — and there was the possibility that a key player would have been injured trying. In fact, while the Colts were losing in Buffalo, New England was dealt a potentially devastating blow when receiver Wes Welker injured his left knee and had to leave in the first half of a loss to Houston. Could you imagine if Manning had been hurt?
The N.F.L. season is harrowing enough without having to wear a target. Had the Colts been 15-0, Sunday’s season-ending game against a demoralized Buffalo team, with players eager to start the off-season, would have become the Bills’ Super Bowl. If Buffalo could have snapped the Colts’ winning streak, the organization’s season would not have been a total loss. Who needs that?
The N.F.L. playoffs are harsh enough without giving an opponent the added incentive of stopping an unbeaten season. If the Colts reach the American Football Conference championship game — and they had better — winning will be difficult enough without the burden of maintaining perfection.
If posterity is important, consider this: if asked right now to name a quarterback of the decade, voters would narrow it down to the Patriots’ Tom Brady and Manning. Brady would win because he has three Super Bowl rings. If the Colts win the Super Bowl this season, Manning becomes the quarterback of the decade, hands down. If the Colts stumble, Manning becomes the prince who may be overtaken if Donovan McNabb or Tony Romo wins the Super Bowl.
Indianapolis fans should remember those dreary years when the Colts’ seasons were filled with loss after loss. After that period of darkness, the Colts have basked in the light for much of the last decade. And some fans have the nerve to be angry because their team didn’t chase “perfection.”
Count your blessings, enjoy the run and remember from whence you came.