Polian does about-face on Irsay, not 2009 near-perfect season

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The release of a new book written by Bill Polian has caused some old baggage from his days as Indianapolis Colts president to be re-opened.

A recent media swing in central Indiana to promote his book, "The Game Plan: The Art of Building a Winning Football Team," had Polian answering questions about his relationship with Colts owner Jim Irsay and about his 2009 decision to scrap a shot at a perfect season.

Some things with Polian have changed; others, not so much.

It appears his relationship with Irsay, who is on probation and unable to talk with the media, has thawed a bit. Irsay fired Polian and his son, Chris, after the 2011-2012 season, in which the Colts went 2-14.

Last October, Polian told ESPN’s Sage Steele that he had not spoken to Irsay since his firing and had no plans to talk to the Colts owner. At that time, Polian was in town for the Colts' game against the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos.

When Steele said the separation between Manning and the Colts was “amicable,” Polian disputed that.

“He wanted to stay very badly right up until the end,” Polian said of Manning. “They cut him.”

And Polian made no secret where his allegiances were.

“My heart would be with the Broncos all the way,” Polian told Steele before last October’s game.

This month, however, Polian told WNDE-AM 1260 that his relationship with Irsay was “cordial.”

“There are no hard feelings,” he said.

Speaking about his time with the Colts, Polian said: “I couldn’t have worked for a better boss. [Irsay] was supportive and gave us everything we wanted and needed.”

He declined to say if he thought he could have kept Irsay out of his current situation (suspension) if he had remained with the team.

“I have no idea,” Polian told WNDE. But added, “I wish [Irsay] absolutely the best. … He’s a good person.”

But there’s one thing Polian—who is now an analyst for ESPN—hasn’t changed his mind about: the 2009 season.

WNDE’s Derek Schultz asked Polian last week whether, if he could do it over again, he would he go for the undefeated season. The Colts started 14-0 that year, but pulled some starters halfway through the 15th game, a contest they were leading at home against the New York Jets, heading into the third quarter. The Colts ended up losing that game and the next in Buffalo.

The Colts made it to the Super Bowl that year, but lost to the New Orleans Saints.

“I would have done it exactly the same way,” Polian told WNDE. “We recognized we had a good team, close to a great team that year, but pretty fragile.

“We didn’t have the kind of depth we had in ’06 when we won the Super Bowl. We were capable, we thought, of going all the way, but we were very concerned about depth. We were very concerned about not getting our key guys hurt.

“The proof is in the pudding … When we had Dwight [Freeney] and [Jerraud] Powers get hurt in the championship game, we were pretty weakened in the Super Bowl. We weren’t at our best.”

Polian went on to explain that he, coach Jim Caldwell and Irsay had talked several months earlier about resting the starters if the division was locked up.

“We knew what kind of team we had. And we talked with Jim [Irsay] and he concurred way back around Halloween that if it comes to this, we’re going to get our guys as rested as possible for the playoffs to try to make a run for the roses.”

Polian added that most of the ranting about tanking the perfect season came from the media. I seem to recall a fair amount coming from the team’s fans. In fact, to this day I still hear complaints about it from fans, a sentiment echoed in March 2013 by Jeff Saturday, the starting center on that team.

Many fans think the decision not to pursue the undefeated season killed the team’s momentum.

“While I recognize there was a hue and cry in the media principally for the undefeated season, it wouldn’t have meant anything anyway if we hadn’t won the Super Bowl,” Polian said. “Getting to the Super Bowl was the ultimate goal, and we achieved that.”

The forward for Polian’s new book was written by Manning, who apparently remains as close as ever to the man credited with drafting him in 1998. Manning waxes poetic about Polian in the forward, calling him the most loyal person he’s ever met.


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