Okay Colts fans, let’s all just a take a deeeep breath…hold it in…annnndd exhale. Do it again if you need to…okay, is everyone calmed down enough to have a rational discussion? Good. Because we really need to talk.
First off, let me start by acknowledging that your anger isn’t misplaced. Last Sunday was hard to watch. I understand that. I felt the same stinging bitterness when Indy pulled Peyton Manning holding a 15-10 lead with five minutes left in the third quarter as you did. I exchanged the same angered text messages with my friends, and like you, I held an unrealistic hope that Manning might say “screw it,” bolt onto the field, tap Curtis Painter on the shoulder and give him the old “Coach wants to talk to you” line, before leading the Colts on yet another game winning drive.
Unfortunately, that never happened. Fans were instead subjected to one of the worst quarters of football in Colts history. I don’t blame anyone for leaving early, or for cursing out an overwhelmed Will Hampton on 1070 The Fan during the drive home. Hell, I’ll even give a pass to the boo birds who rattled Painter so much that the trainer had to throw his pants out after the game (poop stains, people). All were understandable reactions to watching the Colts give up in a game they clearly could have won.
What I can’t get behind, and what seems to be the feeling a majority of Colts fans share, is that we were somehow “cheated.” That we, as paying supporters of the team, were “owed” something more than the already incredible success we’ve experienced over the past decade. What, 10 consecutive trips to the playoffs isn’t enough? 23 straight victories didn’t do it? Solidifying ourselves as the greatest regular-season team of the decade meant nothing? Apparently not. I mean, have you listened to sports talk radio this week? People are criticizing the team so vehemently you’d think they were the Pacers. I’ve heard threats of a playoff game “hold-out” — where fans would wait five minutes into the start of the AFC Divisional game before entering — and I’ve heard long-time season ticket holders publicly surrender their playoff seats.
Searching for a sensible reaction to what happened I called my dad, normally the most rational person I know when it comes to discussing Colts hype. When I heard him mention the words “criminal act” and “deliberately thrown game” followed by comparisons to Tim Donaghy and Pete Rose, I knew for a fact; Indianapolis sports fans had officially lost their minds.
All the backlash seems more than a bit extreme to me. Pretend, for a minute, you were an out-of-town salesman — from Detroit, we’ll say — staying in downtown Indianapolis this week. Imagine flipping on “Kravitz and Eddie” in your rental car, and hearing caller-after-caller rip into everyone in the organization, from Bill Polian down to Bob Lamey. What would you be thinking? I’m guessing something along the lines of “What in the !#$@ are they complaining about? The Colts are 14-1 right? What a bunch of spoiled brats.”
And guess what? That assessment of how Colts fans are acting right now couldn’t be more right. We’re behaving like a prep-school teenager who only got a new Mercedes for graduation instead of a Mercedes AND a two-week trip to Europe (but Daaaad, I wanted both!).
While we’re here, I don’t understand all the vitriol directed towards Polian. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. Since Polian’s been in Indianapolis, he’s constructed a roster that complements Manning perfectly, and has continually unearthed late-round gems and undrafted players who’ve been instrumental in making the Colts the winningest team in any decade ever.
Edgerrin James over Ricky Williams? Thank Polian. Dwight Freeney at #11 overall? Polian. Robert Mathis in the 5th round? Antoine Bathea and Pierre Garcon in the 6th? All Polian. How about Gary Brackett, Jeff Saturday, Melvin Bullitt, and Jacob Lacey? You think those guys would be contributing to the best team in football if Polian weren’t around? Not a chance. Bill Polian has done more for this team, and subsequently this city, than anyone in the past 10 years. To turn on him now, for a strategy he’s been following since losing Cornelius Bennett in a meaningless Week 17 game (against Buffalo no less) during the 1999 season, is unconscionable to me.
Not that he’s above criticism, but there’s a reason the man’s considered a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame general manager. He knows what really matters, and he knows how to accomplish it better than nearly any man in football history. Who are we to criticize and bash the architect of the team who has given us so many worthwhile moments over the last decade? Just because we were greedy for historical immortality doesn’t mean pursuing that goal at all costs was the best thing for the franchise. Polian made an extremely difficult decision, one that had no clear-cut right or wrong answer, and he’s stuck by it, criticism be damned. That’s something that should lauded, not dissected by a bunch amateurs whose football knowledge is limited to suiting up as a high-schooler in the mid-seventies and coaching their kids pee-wee football team (I include myself in this group, by the way).
Hey, I hate to be the one saying this, I really do. I care about the success of this team to an almost unhealthy level, and as a life-long Indianapolis resident, nothing pleases me more than seeing this city continually beating up on the likes of New England and New York, but I have to call it like I see it.
Think about it. We’re 14-1. 14-1!?!?! That’s a ridiculously good record, one that not even the most optimistic of Colts fans would have predicted entering the season. The team has answered the bell week-in-and-week-out, rising to the occasion every time they were threatened. This hasn’t been the best team to wear Colts blue, but it’s by far the most focused. From the start of training camp, they’ve been led on a singular mission by a man who doesn’t know the definition of “taking it easy.”
Of course Peyton was ticked-off when he was pulled on Sunday. He’s a madman! Nobody would have expected him to act any different, but sometimes a player like Manning needs to be protected from himself. And preventing him from taking the field behind a makeshift offensive line against the top-ranked defense in the league was one of those instances. Yes, it was painful to watch, and yes, the timing was regrettable, but it’s over now. We lost.
And yet, nothing changed. We’re still the top ranked team in the NFL, we still have home-field advantage throughout, and now, as an added bonus, we don’t have to worry about playing our starters an entire game in Buffalo this weekend. By the way, have you seen the forecast for upstate New York on Sunday? 20 degrees, 16 mile-an-hour winds, and snow showers. Those are exactly the type of conditions that cause knee sprains and dislocated body parts. Would you rather be 16-0, or headed into the playoffs with a squad guaranteed to be as healthy as it’s been all year?
Personally, I’ll take health over a meaningless historical accomplishment every time, but that’s irrelevant at this point. What matters is that this team is in the driver’s seat of what could be an amazing run through the playoffs, and they need their fans completely on-board. We have to put this perceived slight by management out of our heads, and concentrate on how we can help bring a second Super Bowl title to Indianapolis; namely by showing up at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 17 united in our quest to make the “Oil Drum” the loudest venue in all of professional football. Leave the doubting and negativity to the Indianapolis media. Colts fans have always been, and will always be, better than that.
If you need a little help channeling into what’s really important, let me take you back in time. Do you remember where you were on the night of February 4, 2007? Of course you do. Think back to that night when the Colts vanquished their demons by handily beating the Bears on a rainy field in Miami. Can you feel the unbridled joy? Can you remember the spine-tingling sensation you got as you watched Kelvin Hayden sprinting down the sideline for the game-winning touchdown? It was one the best nights in every Colts fan’s life, and it’s a moment we’ve been hoping to recreate ever since.
Screw Mercury Morris and the ’72 Dolphins. Forget about topping the ’07 Patriots. None of that matters anymore. The success of this season has always hinged on one thing and one thing only; standing on Monument Circle the Monday after the Super Bowl celebrating Indy’s second title. That’s it. So to all my Colts brethren out there, let’s refocus, quit the bitching, and get to the task at hand. Should be a fun ride.