SPORTS: There's still time to savor a championship season

August 6, 2007

The Indianapolis Colts are back at it, and with their arrival in Terre Haute (which is French for "terribly hot") comes the first round of predictions.

Will they or won't they back up their Super Bowl championship?

Hey, we'll all find out in the dead of winter, not the heat of summer ... how's that for not being either bold or profound?

But words in the first week of August are just so much blah, blah, blah. So, too, as we discovered last year, can be the dire pronouncements of doom that come during the regular season. Think of the feeling after the loss at Jacksonville. Think of the feeling after the loss at Houston.

Or recall the feeling in the playoffs when it was 21-3, New England, and so much air had been sucked out of the Dome that it was in danger of deflating.

Then think of how it all turned out. Ah, smile.

This continues to be a joy ride-with the requisite, perspective-building agony tossed in-that we're privileged to be witness to. Teams that maintain greatness and a legitimate chance of winning the Super Bowl over an extended period are increasingly rare. Savor this for as long as it lasts.

That said, the top of the mountain does afford a magnificent view-and it's a first for many of us, those Pacer ABA championships and IU NCAA titles notwithstanding. Now that we have experienced the extended afterglow a championship brings, I must say that, both as a city and as a franchise, things have been handled with class and dignity.

Going back to the post-victory celebration on the downtown streets, to the thousands who packed city sidewalks in the bitter cold to welcome the team home and, finally, that joyous arrival in a packed RCA Dome, both the fans and the franchise have done things the right way.

The Colts' marketing and community relations folks certainly didn't take the offseason off. The Vince Lombardi Trophy has had a ubiquitous presence throughout Indiana and my sense is that everyone who just had to have their picture taken with the trophy had more than ample opportunity to do so. The Colts should be given credit for making certain there's a feeling the championship belongs to all.

Also to be admired is the way the coaches and players have represented themselves in the months following. Yes, Dominic Rhodes (now with Oakland and who will start the season with a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy) was arrested for that DUI, but there have been no other embarrassing incidents that would detract from a championship season.

Colts Coach Tony Dungy has done his book tour, leaving positive impressions in his wake and in his words. Although I didn't like the tone of some of the material Peyton Manning was handed for his stint as the host of "Saturday Night Live," the quarterback continues to be the best face a franchise-and a league-could ask for. While he has his detractors, few of his stature in professional sports conduct themselves as well.

And while the public and media weren't there, I'm told by someone who was in the room that the Colts' gathering at the Indiana Roof Ballroom to hand out the Super Bowl rings was as classy as it gets, the tone set by owner Jim Irsay.

Bill Polian could have gloated and offered a well-deserved I-told-you-so to his critics. Instead, he's kept his eye on the next prize, locking up Dwight Freeney, finding a replacement for Brandon Stokely in the draft-welcome, Anthony Gonzalez-and preparing for the eventual departure of pro bowl offensive tackle Tarik Glenn, the protector of No. 18's backside.

There might have been a raised eyebrow or two when the Colts traded next year's first-round choice to get Tony Ugoh of Arkansas, but with Glenn's subsequent, semi-surprising retirement announcement, Polian again showed why he's the best general manager/president in the NFL.

Sure, Ugoh has to prove himself. All the Colts do. With the exception of kicker Adam Vinatieri, defending the championship is uncharted territory. Will there be a subconscious dropoff, knowing that the biggest hurdle of all has been cleared? It's difficult to imagine a third straight year in which the Colts could win their first nine games. Who knows which defense will show up or if one guy, Bob Sanders, can really have that much of an impact?

In the meantime, let the fellas work up a sweat in Terre Haute, but stay cool here in Indy ... at least until Sept. 6, where a Super Bowl banner and a new season both will be unfurled.

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.
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