SPORTS: Only one team wins it all, so enjoy the journey

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Oh, the agony, the anger, the apoplexy and the “Apocalypse Now” reaction to the Indianapolis Colts’ sorry defeat at New England.

It called into mind a quote from Mike Tice, the embattled coach of the Minnesota Vikings, following his team’s playoffs demise.

“The NFL is so sudden,” he said.

Is it ever.

Suddenly, it seemed, the Colts were everybody’s darlings. Suddenly, the Colts were everybody’s dogs.

All in the time and space of a snowy, late January afternoon in Massachusetts.

In the first couple of days following, anyone wandering in from, say, the moon would have thought the Horseshoes had just put the finishing touches on one of those sorry 3-13 seasons that used to be the norm around here.

The Colts played with “no fire,” said an angry talk-show host. The Colts can’t afford to keep their 1,600-yard Pro Bowl tailback, wrote an outraged scribe. The quarterback-again-can’t win The Big One and is an uninspiring leader to boot. The defense couldn’t stop Grandma. The coaches are dunderheads. The Colts are a “soft” team because they play “finesse football”-an oxymoron if ever I’ve heard one-in a dome stadium. Bill Polian is the Village Idiot … and on, and on, and on it went, and on and on it is certain to go.

Was I disappointed? You bet. Like many others, I believed this was the Colts’ year to get over that Patriots hump. But my passion for the local team made me blind to the reality of the opposition.

I don’t think I overestimated the Colts. I underestimated the Patriots. I’ve said this many times: Teams don’t play in a vacuum. Those are not blocking dummies on the other side of the line of scrimmage. They are talented, well-coached professionals who arrive with their own skills and mind-sets. Uh, hello-the Patriots are no patsies: winners of 22 straight at home, winners of 15 of 17 this year, recent possessors of the longest winning streak in NFL history, winners of two of the last three Super Bowls with a real shot at making it three of four.

The Colts can’t get past New England? Here’s a bulletin … neither can most of the rest of the NFL.

That doesn’t excuse Indy’s performance. The goal, as it is for every team at the professional level, is to win it all. Every year. But the reality is that only one team wins it all each year.

The talk-show host repeatedly moaned, “When is Indianapolis ever going to have a championship team?”

Don’t know. Maybe never. But will it negatively affect our lives, or the city’s future, if we never have a street parade? Doubt it. Those whose individual or collective sense of worth is defined by the ability to stick a finger in the air and shout, “We’re Number One,” need to take a serious look at themselves.

Do I want the Colts and Pacers to win a championship? Certainly. Would I love for Indianapolis to become the new Titletown USA? Absolutely. But I enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Here’s something else. We’re not alone. One team wins it. All the others agonize. Here’s a sampling of media reports in cities as teams have been eliminated.

In St. Louis, they are lamenting “a gradual drain of talent” and question whether the 2004 Rams are “the last gasp for a fading team,” the result of “front-office dysfunction.”

In Minneapolis, the Vikings are “saddled with the residue from [their] eternal rallying cry: What if?”

In New York, the Jets lost in overtime to Pittsburgh because they played “scared.” One scribe opined: “Until [head coach Herm] Edwards changes his mentality in the biggest moments in the biggest games, he will never get the Jets to the next level.”

You remember the Broncos, don’t you? Denver is to Indy what Indy is to New England in the playoffs.

“So who is Mike Shanahan going to fire this time? The Broncos have not won a playoff game in 2,170 days, and he is running out of fingers to point,” wrote Mark Kizla in the Denver Post. “Something has got to change for Denver. But what, pray tell, can divert the Broncos off the road to nowhere as the league’s poster children for the false hope of parity? … chronic mediocrity follows Denver like warm bubble gum on a shoe.”

In Seattle, Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times pronounced this year “a season of blown chances and broken dreams. The Seahawks … are a team full of questions that never get answered and starters who haven’t grown up.”

So, you see, there are a lot of bad teams and bad coaches out there, even if they did make the playoffs.

As for the Colts, disappointment and disheartenment are to be expected. But it was the end of a season, not the end of the world.

Benner is 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

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