The Indianapolis Colts have done the unthinkable, they have made it to the NFL’s post-season, posting an 11-5 record along the way. Few fans could have imagined such an outcome last year, when the #1 pick in the NFL draft was a bittersweet consolation for a miserable, 2-14 season.
But it didn’t take long for Jim Irsay to shake things up, that’s for sure. On January 03, 2012, just two days after losing 13-19 to the Jaguars in the season finale, Irsay made the Indianapolis news headlines by firing Colts president Bill Polian and his son Chris Polian, the club’s general manager, citing the “sharp decline” in performance among his chief reasons. After a brief, 2-week search for a new general manager, Irsay found his man in Ryan Grigson, former director of player personnel for the Philadelphia Eagles. What followed was a flurry of departures that included coach Jim Caldwell and much of his staff, the release of several high-profile veterans, including Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, and Gary Brackett; as well as a slew of lesser known players who were deemed either too expensive or expendable. Then came the exclamation point: On March 8, 2012, Irsay announced that future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning would be released after 13 spectacular, record-setting seasons. The Manning era, in all its high-flying glory, was officially over.
Andrew Luck: Manning 2.0?
On Apr 24, 2012 the Colts announced they would use their #1 draft pick on Stanford’s Andrew Luck, a prospect viewed by most draft experts as the surest thing since Manning or even John Elway. And so it was, that on Apr 24, 2012, a new era in Colts football had begun as the Colts selected Andrew Luck with their first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Whether or not Andrew Luck is the second coming of Peyton Manning remains to be seen. That said, there are some pretty strange similarities between Luck and Manning, as well as some eerie coincidences that are hard to ignore. Both Luck and Manning were sons of NFL quarterbacks. Andrew Luck’s dad, Oliver Luck, played backup to Peyton Manning’s dad, Archie Manning for the Houston Oilers in the early 1980s. Andrew Luck set all kinds of passing records while playing for Stanford, as did Peyton while playing for Tennessee. And in a very strange twist of events, Manning replaces Jim Harbaugh as the Colts’ quarter back in 1998. Harbaugh eventually winds up head coach at Stanford University, where he coaches Andrew Luck. Luck then goes on to replace Manning as the Colts’ quarterback in 2012, and the circle is complete. Both threw a touchdown pass on their very first play in the NFL as rookies. Through the first nine weeks of the 2012 season both Luck and Manning had a 5-3 record and exactly 2,404 passing yards.
Dealing With Adversity, the Chuckstrong Way
The regular season began on September 9 with a 41-21 loss to the Chicago Bears. But the real loss came on Oct 1, 2012, when it was announced that Colts head coach Chuck Pagano had been diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. It was the kind of development that could have thrown most teams into a tailspin. But the Colts responded. This would be a turning point in a storybook season fit for a Hollywood movie. It started with Bruce Arians’ idea to leave the light on in coach Pagano’s office. The light would not be turned off until Pagano returned from what was expected to be three rounds of chemotherapy, lasting 17 weeks.
To support their recovering coach, two dozen Colts players, and two of their cheerleaders, shaved their heads. “Chuckstrong” became the operant phrase in his absence. The Indianapolis Colts would play some of their best football over the next 12 games. With interim head coach Bruce Arians taking the over in Pagano’s absence, these young Colts players, led by several key veterans, including Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea, came together under a common cause to beat the Greenbay Packers 30-27 in a shocking upset.
Indeed, it was a season in which both rookies and veterans alike made clutch plays when they had to. It was about Andrew Luck leading the team to 7 fourth-quarter comebacks, the most ever by a Rookie quarterback taken as the #1 pick overall. It was about veteran Reggie Wayne coming up big, time and time again, to keep drives alive. It was about rookie T.Y. Hilton hauling in 7 touchdowns, #1 among rookie receivers in 2012. And whether it was rookie tight end Dwayne Allen snatching virtually everything thrown his way, or rookie Vick Ballard slicing up the middle for 9 yards on what should have been a loss, they did what few thought possible at the start of the season, at that was win games.
Back in Business
On November 5, doctors announced that Pagano’s cancer was in remission. He returned to his head coaching duties on December 24, 2012. Having already locked up the AFC’s number-5 seed, the Colts had nothing to gain by playing their starters against a Houston Texans team that had everything to play for. There wasn’t a Colts player who wanted Coach Pagano’s first game back to be a losing one. So play their starters they did. The result was one of the most emotional wins in franchise history, for players and fans alike.
Where they go in the post season is anyone’s guess. One thing’s sure: It has been a season for the ages. The Colts travel to Baltimore on Sunday to face the Ravens. For a team that has over-achieved all season long, fighting until the very end to win improbable games, why stop now? Go Colts!!!