If Indy wins the Superbowl, NFL fans will always wonder if the Colts could have had perfection. If Indy does not win the Superbowl, fans will will always wonder if the Colts ruined their chances by sacrificing the best possible momentum going in the playoff: 16-straight wins.
Real sports enthusiasts everywhere are left bewildered the morning after Indianapolis Coach Jim Caldwell ended the quest for a perfect season. Like a poker player throwing away the best possible hand, Caldwell settled for second best by putting his second-string players in down five points to the New York Jets and letting the Jets take the game.
Credit the New York Jets for pushing Indianapolis, winning against the actual team for over a half and pulling out a victory against the B team. We’ll never know if the Jets could have beaten Indianapolis with their stars on the field the entire game.
The decision to send the stars to the sideline is controversial. The main argument for doing it is to “give the team a better shot of winning the championship.” Pulling the starters in the 3rd quarter does not necessarily mean the Colts have any better shot of winning a championship as leaving in healthy players for another twenty or so minutes of football.
Going for a perfect season does not mean that the Colts will suffer the same fate as the 2007 undefeated Patriots. This Colts team is, arguably, a better team that the infamous 2007 Patriots team that came so close, but lost the most important game of the season.
Focusing on winning the Superbowl does not mean the team can’t also try to win every game until then. In his post game news conference, Coach Caldwell explained that, “The main focus for us is making sure we’re ready to go [for the playoffs]. The most important season is the one that is coming up.” But does trying to win one or two more games without risking borderline hurt players really take away from a playoff focus?
Analysts talk about the importance of momentum going into the playoffs. Defending an undefeated season with the determination and pride that is natural in all competitive athletes sounds like pretty good momentum to me.
“What if Peyton Manning got hurt?” The guy is not injury prone. He’s had 191 consecutive starts.
Wusses also draw attention to “the pressure of going perfect.” This is the same pressure that New Orleans thrived off of. As far as the post-season is concerned, isn’t there pressure on every game anyway? It’s win or go home! And what about the pressure on a team trying to knock off an undefeated opponent?
The 2007 season was different, as the Giants pulled together an unbelievable run by having fun and embracing their underdog, spoiler role. But the 2009 Colts are not the 2007 Patriots, and the situation cannot be assumed to be the same.
The fans booed the decision, making it clear that they had the faith the organization did not: that the Colts could win
everything this year, both the season and the Superbowl. Fans don’t ever like seeing coaches sit key players for a paranoid fear of injury. However, when there is nothing on the line, the precaution makes sense. A perfect season may only come once in a hundred years, if that. The Colts team is strong, Peyton Manning is the best of the best and deserves to show how he can lead a talented team to the same elite status.
Although this classy team supported whatever decision was made for them, the players wanted to have the chance to lose to the New York Jets fair and square, if that is what it came to.
After working hard all season to put their team in a terrific position for the season and post-season, none of the players wanted to give up the game like that.
In response to being asked if they wanted to go after the history and the victory, “Who wouldn’t?” Reggie Wayne said. “I mean. .. who wouldn’t? Doesn’t everybody want to be a part of history? Not a season goes by that you don’t hear about the ’72 Dolphins.”
“I guess there’s a bigger picture,” Wayne said. “We all wanted to play, but the big dog (Caldwell) made a decision and we have to roll with that decision. We came out after halftime and felt like we were starting to roll and could score some points, but the manager took us off the mound.”
Wayne was respectful, but like the rest, disappointed. The players would have unanimously voted to not give up on the game, to respect the integrity of the game. There was no vote, of course. In general, coaches shouldn’t listen to players because they usually don’t know what’s best for them. But when every single player feels the same passion towards the game, the YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME desire that makes the game what it is. It is disrespectful to stop the entire team from taking care of business. The business is go out and win games.
“Until any player is a head coach, you follow orders and you do it with all your heart,” Manning said.
There is no doubt that when Peyton Manning becomes a head coach, he will never concede a single victory that matters. And if you don’t think yesterday’s game mattered, you don’t understand the game.