Colts season already leaving questions to ponder

December 31, 2009
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There are still a number of questions surrounding the Indianapolis Colts decision not to go for the perfect undefeated season. And there is no shortage of conspiracy theorists among the ranks of Colts fans (and former Colts fans).

Some question why the Colts didn’t start to rest and protect their players during the Jacksonville Jaguars game the week before the N.Y. Jets game. It, too, was meaningless in terms of playoff seeding.

Some have theorized that because the game was on the NFL Network, and because that cable channel is owned in equal parts by the 32 NFL owners, Colts owner Jim Irsay was implored by NFL brass and other owners not to tank the game, and to put on a good show so the channel could have solid viewer ratings.

These marquee games after all, are the biggest ratings scores for the NFL Network. And ratings are particularly important for a fledgling cable channel still trying to broker deals and maintain premium payments with as many distributors as possible.
 
Irsay told me yesterday that the decision to play the starters such as quarterback Peyton Manning and tight end Dallas Clark for the entire Jaguars game was a “gut decision,” explaining that there’s a fine line between resting and protecting players from injury and keeping them sharp for the playoffs.

Others have asked why the Colts coaches and management simply didn’t state their plan earlier in the week before the Jets game. It’s not like the Jets were going to heavily scout Curtis Painter and the Colts’ third-string tight end.

Again, theories abound for why there was no such pronouncement. Some fans think that not divulging the plan kept more popcorn-, soda- and beer-buying fans in their seats for much longer than would have been the case had the plan been previously announced. Others theorists have surmised the prime time game would have seen a massive TV ratings nose dive, which could hurt in-stadium sponsors, including Lucas Oil Co., the title sponsor paying the Colts $121.5 million to put its name on the team’s home venue.

If the Colts had simply stated their intentions beforehand, I’m guessing fans wouldn’t have felt like this was a bait-and-switch routine. And nobody likes to play the fool.

I must admit, I wondered after Painter’s first two drives if Manning wouldn be re-inserted to save the game. Heck, he even had his helmet on and looked like he was ready to report for duty.

When was the last time you saw a QB yanked that didn’t almost immediately trade his helmet for a ball cap? Maybe Manning, too, was in the dark. Or, who knows, maybe he was in on the conspiracy to keep fans guessing. OK, even I admit, that sounds ridiculous. Or does it?

Some have even theorized that the NFL as a whole has a vested interest in seeing the large-market Jets make the playoffs, thus cheered the Colts' laying down of arms. Personally, I don't think that theory holds much water. Nothing is going to drive more media and fan attention than a team going for the perfect season. But who knows?

This much I do know. In 20-plus years as a professional journalist, I’ve come to this uncomfortable conclusion: As journalists, we don’t always print the truth. We print what people say.

When Irsay tells me everything that has been done to this point in the season has been done solely with the aim of giving this team the best chance to win the Super Bowl, I’m apt to believe him. I’m surprised by his admission that the ultimate goal is to win three consecutive Super Bowls in a row, but I believe him when he says that, too.

When Irsay tells me the very last word on how to handle the final games of this season was his, and that he, Bill Polian, the coaches and players are in lock step, I take him at his word.

But here’s the deal. You can control what people say just as long as you’re writing the paychecks. And listening to the Colts players in the hours and days following the Jets game, I think the team has done a good job of controlling its rank and file. And as a person who understands corporate governance, I applaud that. Everyone is marching to and singing the same tune.

But once that bond between team and player—employee and employer—is broken, I think the yapping about what went down in the days before and the hours during that Jets game will begin anew.
 
When the likes of Manning, Clark and some of the other Colts starters on this team either retire or leave due to free agency, what they say I think could change.
 
And the truth—as we know it—will change as well.

To read more about Irsay's take on this season, click here.
 

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  • Irsay & the Colts
    You're right, Anthony. Things will change. When, as you say, the decision was made at the top and the top refers to his empire as the "Horseshoe Kingdom", well that says legions about his prioities and whom he cares to listen to. Unfortunately, it was neither the players or the fans.

    Some fans are turning away from the "Kingdom" because they don't want to be associated with an organization that doesn't ALWAYS put its best foot forward, so to speak. And, unfortunately, what comes later, is disallegiance from the players with some of that starting next year with big money thrown around from other teams.

    This, unfortunately, may become the beginning of a big slide downhill for the "Horseshoe Kingdom". That term, cited by Mr. Irsay, himself, smacks of arrogance and self righteousness. If you don't care about the people (the players and the fans) and their opinions, Mr. Irsay, they will turn on you just like the voters will turn on Obama et all next election because he didn't listen either.

    Sad, sad, sad, and he still doesn't get it...........
  • gravity
    I simply think Jim Irsay and Bill Polian misjudged the historical significance of this. If that would simply admit that, we could all move on. Perhaps in time, they will. But the wound is still far too open and raw for that right now.
  • I am thinking this time next year few will remember or care about this whole deal. Especially if we make the Superbowl this year and are in the mix next year. This has legs only because what else is the press going to write about a team that wrapped up everything weeks ago?

    if I had to guess, and that is all any of us are doing is they played the Jville game because they were not sure what they were going to do to end the season. The plan going into the jets game was probably try to get a big lead over the jets, pull the O Starters and then let the defense beat on sanchez. Unfortunatley the offense did not execute well and we were only up 5. i am sure, after seeing several jets players laying on the field that they had to pull Peyton et al no matter the score and hope the defense could hold on. take out the Painter fumble (Santi's fault) and the Colts could have won the game. Painter actually had some good plays to baskett.

    If field conditions are good, i would like to see Peyton et al... play a quarter or two in buffalo to keep sharp and then give painter some more time.
  • Bill "No Mo" Polian
    Where is the list of all the past Super Bowl champions that successfully took a three week "rest" prior to the playoffs? Not only is it a blatant disregard of fans who pay dearly to support the team, it is simply not a strategy that has proven to work.

    The players may have towed the company line with the media, but the body language on the sidelines Sunday does not portend good things.

    Polian has enacted a no-win strategy. If the Colts fail to win the Super Bowl, their strategy is a complete failure. If the Colts win the Super Bowl, the franchise and fans will forever be talking about what could have been, history. It is amazing that this was not thought through.

    Poor managers tend to think they can manage everything, but you cannot manage momentum or passion. Both happen naturally. Both have been disrupted.

    Congratulations Mr. Polian, the albatross that is this unnecessary distraction is all yours.
  • Colts Made a Big Mistake
    This reminds me of the European attitudes after they pulled most of the cars from after a few laps at the Indianapolis Formula One race.

    The fans were rightfully outraged.
    • History
      Peyton had his helmet on while he was out because he was sending his signal that he did not approve of the strategy and wanted to play.

      Here's the deal - a perfect or undefeated season is a generational history making occurance - the super bowl is an annual event.

      We fans were participating with this years Indianapolis Colts for that generational title as perfect and Irsay could care less. Daddy gave him everything he wanted his whole life, so he doesn't care or comprehend that us plebes (he calls us fans) that don't live in a world with chocolate rivers and marshmallow clouds appreciate our associations - especially if they are champions and even more especially if they accomplish a once in a generation perfect season.

      Who cares if we have the consecutive game winning streak - no one paid attention until we were a game or two away. every year however, the 72 Dolphins are discussed. Every year, no matter how bad the Dolphins do that season they can pull the undefeated season card and shut us up.

      Last but not least, Irsay screwed Baltimore already - for business reasons. Irsay screwed the Colts in 2005 by resting the starters too early and got his a-55 handed to him by San Diego without LT or Rivers - for business reasons. Irsay just screwed his teams place in history, his players place in history, his fans place in history, the other teams who legimately were playing the game last Sunday to make the Wild Card spot and set us up for another 1st round loss - for business reasons. What will Irsay do with the city of Indianapolis when - for business reasons - he decides that Los Angeles is a better market for his bottom line?


    • History and Irsay
      Peyton had his helmet on while he was out because he was sending his signal that he did not approve of the strategy and wanted to play.

      Here's the deal - a perfect or undefeated season is a generational history making occurance - the super bowl is an annual event.

      We fans were participating with this years Indianapolis Colts for that generational title as perfect and Irsay could care less. Daddy gave him everything he wanted his whole life, so he doesn't care or comprehend that us plebes (he calls us fans) that don't live in a world with chocolate rivers and marshmallow clouds appreciate our associations - especially if they are champions and even more especially if they accomplish a once in a generation perfect season.

      Who cares if we have the consecutive game winning streak - no one paid attention until we were a game or two away. every year however, the 72 Dolphins are discussed. Every year, no matter how bad the Dolphins do that season they can pull the undefeated season card and shut us up.

      Last but not least, Irsay screwed Baltimore already - for business reasons. Irsay screwed the Colts in 2005 by resting the starters too early and got his a-55 handed to him by San Diego without LT or Rivers - for business reasons. Irsay just screwed his teams place in history, his players place in history, his fans place in history, the other teams who legimately were playing the game last Sunday to make the Wild Card spot and set us up for another 1st round loss - for business reasons. What will Irsay do with the city of Indianapolis when - for business reasons - he decides that Los Angeles is a better market for his bottom line?

    • huh?
      What on earth are you talking about? "pulled most of the cars from after a few laps at the Indianapolis Formula One race"???

      Seriously - what on earth are you talking about?
    • Clueless
      For those of you blaming Irsay for this you're clueless. Polian, and Polian alone made the call. And Robert Irsay left Baltimore for business and political reasons not Jimmy. Jimmy was a young boy when that happened...and if you think, as a fan, that you have a place in NFL history you're truly dillusional and I truly feel bad for you.

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