Isn't it always amazingor, perhaps, not sothat character, class, dignity and integrity always matter so much ... until they don't? And that moment arrives in the instant of unacceptable defeat. Then we'd trade Tony Dungy for anyone, anywhere, who could deliver the holy grail of victory, sweet victory. Why, even a cheatin' son-of-a-gun like Bill Belichick would be OK, as long as he was our cheatin' son-of-a-gun and produced that shiny, silver trophy.
Of course, Dungy's foremost sin appears to be having only a single Super Bowl win on his record and, you know, that and those 10 straight playoff berths, six straight 12-win seasons and a winning percentage of .668 (.759 in Indy) won't get you much more than a trip to the Hall of Fame.
Which only illustrates that the reaction to the Colts' overtime wild-card playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers has been emotional, irrational and knee-jerkemphasis on the jerktoward an organization in general and a coach in particular that have performed at such an exceptionally high level for such an extended time.
Just offhand, I can think of at least 20 other NFL franchises, and their fan bases, that would be elated to swap places with the Colts, and would likely relish the thought of their team being led by a man of such grace as Dungy.
And just what is the benchmark for underachieving in the NFL this year? Well, here are my unofficial rankings:
1: Detroit. Winless is as winless does.
2: Dallas. All that payroll. All that talent. Watched the playoffs.
3: The Jacksonville Gags, er, Jags.
4: Denver. Heimlich maneuvers, anyone?
5: Tampa Bay. Missing Dungy more with each passing day.
6: New York Jets. After their win at Tennessee, they were the Super Bowl contender du jour, then imploded down the stretch.
7: Chicago. Weren't the Bears in a Super Bowl not long ago?
8: Seattle. See No. 7.
9: Cleveland. Another mistake by the lake.
10: Kansas City. Chiefs have lost 22 of last 25.
11: Cincinnati. Thank goodness we're on this end of I-74.
12: Washington. Proof that off-field revenue does not guarantee on-field success.
13: Green Bay. No, the Pack is not back.
14: Buffalo. So ecstatic over a 5-1 start that it extended the contract of coach Dick Jauron. Lost 8 of last 10.
T-15: San Francisco and Oakland. When was the last time the Bay Area bombs were relevant?
17: New Orleans. Wasted the second-most prolific passing effort in league history.
18: Houston. Texans' year to become a contender never materialized. Again.
19: Arizona. Sure, the Cards won a wild card game, but they made the playoffs only because of a woefully weak division and won the wild card only because division champs get to host home games in the NFL's whack playoff system.
20: San Diego. See No. 19.
And now I'll give you the Colts.
Yes, it was a major disappointment. Another one. It was agonizing to watch a punter beat them. It was agonizing to watch them beat themselves, especially on that 2nd-and-6 and 3rd-and-2 when the game could have been put away. It was agonizing to see the Colts on the wrong end of the NFL's wrong-headed, coin-toss overtime system, which is as whack as the way it seeds teams for the playoffs. But that doesn't excuse the penalties or the poor defense that failed to get the Chargers off the field.
The Colts get paid big money to win, and that imperative doesn't end when the regular season does. Still, someone has to mix in some perspective about this franchise. Sure, team President Bill Polian has to shore up some glaring weaknesses, but he is not suddenly the village idiot. Peyton Manning is not a choker. The Colts aren't soft, gutless, uninspired wimps. They got beat. It happens. It's sports.
But Dungy remains the right man to lead them, lest he chooses otherwise. If that be the case, most of us here will remember him as a great coach but a better man who did make class, dignity and integrity matter. Winning was the bonus.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.