Benner/Sports and Colts and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Pro Sports and Sports Business

BENNER: Anger-management fodder for furious Colts fans

January 2, 2010

I am an Indianapolis Colts season-ticket holder. Section 546. I’d like to be a little closer to the action but, hey, that’s what I can afford.

On Dec. 27—a date that evidently will now live in infamy in Colts history—my daughter who lives here, along with my other daughter and son-in-law who reside in Denver, accompanied me. The Denver duo had come home for the holidays and this was their one opportunity to see the Colts and share in the euphoria of an unbeaten season.

We’d discussed all along the possibility that the game against the New York Jets might not matter in terms of playoff positioning. Sure enough, the Colts clinched home-field advantage with three games to play.

But then they gutted out a remarkable victory at Jacksonville on four days’ rest. And, after much speculation, they opened the game against the Jets with their healthy starters on the field, including quarterback Peyton Manning, staying with them through more than 3-1/2 quarters of a competitive game.

Up in Section 546, we were into it. So were the fans around us.

Then backup quarterback Curtis Painter trotted out onto the field. You know the rest of the story.

My immediate reaction was surprise, followed by a sense of deflation and disappointment. I want the Colts to win every game, as improbable as that might be. That the management and coaches had chosen to “take a knee” on the quest for a perfect season was—in the moment—a huge letdown.

That said, I didn’t feel anger. And I certainly didn’t join the boobirds who vented their displeasure and continued to do so via the radio talk shows, letters to the editors, and all over cyberspace the next few days.

The Colts, specifically Colts President Bill Polian and Head Coach Jim Caldwell, were labeled “cowards” and “quitters.” It’s safe to say that never in the history of the National Football League has a 14-1 team and its leadership been so vilified. I heard one respected national commentator say he “felt sorry” for gamblers and fantasy football geeks who had been cheated out of an honest outcome. Seriously.

As stated, I did not agree with the decision to pull the starters. That said, I do not get paid to make that decision.

What I regret—and what I knew in an instant it would create—is the amount of local and national scorn being heaped upon a franchise (and the leadership thereof) that has served as an NFL model for the past decade.

So let’s try to balance the scale, shall we?

Bill Polian has made so many right decisions during his tenure with the franchise—one more time with emphasis: Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf –-that I can react somewhat less than apocalyptically to this one.

Can Polian be a gruff son-of-a-gun who does not take well to criticism, of either him or the franchise? Absolutely. Does he rule with an air of unchallengeable authority? It seems so. Does he not give a dang about what the media “pundits” think? Yep. But I’ve also found him to be engaging, articulate, accessible and downright charming on occasion.

And there’s no question that he is a great football man.

Too, the Colts have assembled both the right kinds of football players and the right kinds of people. This is a franchise that has all but avoided bad actors and bad headlines. It exudes professionalism. Even without winning the Super Bowl, the Colts have represented our city and state well.

As for Caldwell, he—certainly in concert with Polian—made a football decision based on what they believe is best for the team’s ultimate goal, which is reaching and winning another Super Bowl. I’m not quite ready to rip into a guy who won the first 14 games of his professional career and ran away with a division his team wasn’t predicted to win. It seems he must be doing something right.

It’s laughable to read that Polian and Caldwell are really under pressure to win the Super Bowl now. Like they weren’t before? Like they aren’t always when they have Manning as their quarterback?

Bottom line: My immediate reaction from Section 546 is tempered by my recollection of the Colts before Polian’s arrival.

Now that really was imperfection.

Finally, in last week’s column recapping highlights (and lowlights) of the decade, I inadvertently excluded mention of the Indiana Fever’s run to the 2009 WNBA Finals. My bad. It was an inspiring time. Here’s hoping for more.•

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Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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