Pictured here: the Indianapolis braintrust searching for some testicular fortitude
Normally, this column doesn’t come out until after the Monday night game — but this week’s dishonor is such a slam-dunk exercise in stupidity, there’s no need to wait. And considering how utterly bad some of the coaching decisions often are in the NFL, that’s saying something.
Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian — come on down! You’re the next two contestants on “What the hell were you thinking?”.
By now, following the Colts throwing the game against the Jets lying down in the fetal position pulling their offensive starters while holding a 15-10 lead over the Jets midway through the 3rd quarter, you’ve already heard the reasoning behind why the decision was made. “The perfect season was never one of our goals,” said head coach Caldwell after the game.
You’ve heard the excuses from Colts management, and you’ve heard the excuses from columnists, pundits, and “experts” from all around the country as to why this was the right decision (and don’t get me started on the embarrassing company line that was being spouted by Tony Dungy on NBC Sunday night — is he on NBC’s payroll or still on the Colts?). You’ve heard it all already: They need to focus on winning the Super Bowl. They have to stay healthy for the playoffs. They had nothing to play for.
Really? Nothing to play for?
How many Super Bowl Teams — even winning ones — do you actually remember? Without looking it up, who won Super Bowl VIII in 1974? Or Super Bowl XV in 1981? Too long ago, you say? What about Super Bowl XXVI in 1992? Or even Super Bowl XXXIII in 1999? That’s only ten years ago — no problem, right?
You probably don’t immediately identify any of those champions, and that’s not a big surprise. There’s some great teams in that list, including two franchises — Miami in 1974 and Denver in 1999 — that were winning their second consecutive titles in those years (the other two teams were Oakland in 1981 and Washington in 1992).
But you certainly do remember the 1985 Monsters of the Midway Bears, don’t you? And you won’t forget the 1998 Broncos and John Elway’s first championship either. And you definitely aren’t going to forget the 1973 unbeaten Miami Dolphins team — even though that club is arguably not even one of the top-10 Super Bowl Champions of all time.
The reason you remember those clubs — and the reason you’ll never forget the 2008 match-up between the Giants and the then-unbeaten Patriots — is because those were teams that were faced with the prospects of sports immortality and true greatness and seized the moment.
It might have mattered to these fans, but Caldwell and Polian were never accused of having a sense of history
Don’t confuse any of those great teams with this year’s Colts. Indianapolis — or at least, the team’s leadership — was faced with the opportunity to achieve something legendary, magical, and defining — an accomplishment that would cement their legacy in the NFL annuals for as long as football is played — and they didn’t just come up short in the task, they purposely turned away from it.
It’s says a lot about the team’s leadership that they’re more afraid of what bad might happen then about the good that could be accomplished with finishing off this otherwise magical season in a perfect way. It’s not an attitude that will serve them well in the playoffs, when they’ll be facing other teams willing to do anything and everything necessary to win — while they themselves, at least for this one Sunday, seemed willing to do anything to keep themselves from winning.
But what about the ultimate goal, you say? What about winning the Super Bowl? In theory, that’s why they made this decision — in order to rest, avoid injury, and prepare for the playoffs. And it’s worked well for them in the past, so why wouldn’t they do it again?
Except it hasn’t worked for them. Ever. With all of their talent (arguably more than any team in the AFC over the last decade) and with arguably the greatest quarterback of all time under center, the Colts have a whopping one Super Bowl title to their credit. And that championship came in a season where the Colts rested no one, having to play hard through the season’s final game to get the #3 seed and needing to win in the playoffs’ opening wild card round. Despite the “extra” work and the added “risk” of injury, the Colts drove through the playoffs that year. They were in sync all through the postseason — and it showed.
And those seasons they went with the strategy they’re employing this year? Those Colts performances have been notably unimpressive, featuring a 3-8 overall playoff record and no less than an incredible six seasons where the Colts were one-and-done. In three of those one-and-outs, the normally high-powered Colts offense scored 18 points or less. In most — if not all — of those losses, the Colts looked rusty, out-of-sync, and struggling to find a rhythm while their opponents — often teams that were facing must-win games all the way to the final week — took advantage.
There are no such things as coincidences. If you believe that, then you also have to believe that the Colts are following a questionable strategy – again — that has never worked for them in the past, and it’s as likely to hurt them again this year as it is to lead them to that ultimate goal of the Super Bowl that Caldwell and Polian have been talking about. When asking yourself why the Colts instead wouldn’t follow the one path that actually has led to a championship, but continue to do what hasn’t worked, it serves to remember that the definition of idiocy — or insanity — is doing the same thing over and over again and somehow expecting different results.
Don't even let your Colts practice, guys -- someone might break a nail
Worried about injuries? Despite Rex Ryan’s pressure defense, the Jets got no closer to putting Manning on his backside yesterday than you or I did. Heck, Reggie Wayne could blow out an ACL in practice between now and playoffs — he wouldn’t be the first player to do so. Dallas Clark could get hit by a car driving to the store this week. Do you keep him and all of the other Colts isolated until the playoffs begin? If you’re worried about Manning and others getting hurt, then why did they even play at all yesterday? Why keep the starters in games that are out of hand earlier in the season — which the Colts do — if the only thing that matters is health in January?
If you thought there were distractions — or pressure on the Colts — before, then what about now? Caldwell and Polian have taken a team that was all on the same page and focused and handed them a huge distraction in the enormous amount of second-guessing and questioning that will take place over the next two weeks about their decision. And forget the company line being spouted by players after the game — one can’t ignore the possible locker-room issues that may have been created, a questioning of the team’s management decisions that was clearly evident on the faces of an unhappy Manning, Wayne, and others as they watched Curtis Painter fumble away the team’s chances at immortality. And in their decision to throw away that chance, Caldwell and Polian have made winning the Super Bowl an all-or-bust proposition, and in doing so, they’ve not only diminished the team’s remarkable achievements so far, but they’ve increased the pressure on the entire team tenfold.
And none of these points even touch on the integrity of the game — what the Colts did with a lead yesterday was tantamount to fixing the game’s outcome, and in a league that concerns itself so much with its image and with gambling influences, yesterday’s debacle was a black mark for the whole league. But I suspect it’s not going to matter in a couple of weeks anyway, and if history repeats itself, then Indianapolis’ management will get their just desserts in just a few short weeks. The San Diego Chargers — not the Colts — are the team hitting on all cylinders right now, and they show no signs of following Indy’s lead and letting up off of the gas pedal. Don’t be surprised when Indianapolis is looking at another one-and-done playoff performance. There are potential playoff opponents looming other than the Chargers that may match up well with the Colts — a tough defense and an emotionally-charged team in the Bengals, and a bent-on-revenge Patriots team that should have beaten them once already in the dome, for example. An ultimate irony would be the Jets facing off with the Colts and knocking them out of the playoffs, since it was Indy’s generosity that put New York in a position to make the playoffs in the first place.
If that happens, don’t blame Manning or his teammates — they wanted to go for the ultimate achievement and they wanted to keep playing to win, even if they didn’t know it was what they need to do to give themselves the best chance of winning it all in Miami. Instead, blame the people who’ll be shouldering the real blame when someone other than Indianapolis is representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Le Boo, Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian. Le Boo.