Several Internet journalists, and so called "arm-chair experts," have spent the better part of the off-season writing off the Indianapolis Colts.
Most of the reporting that is done cites the coaching turnover, the loss of Marvin Harrison, or the fact that the Colts play in one of the toughest division in football as reasons that the Colts will drop off the short list of elite teams in the NFL.
As a passionate Colts fan, I pride myself on keeping up to date with the news that involves my favorite NFL franchise. I stood by as Tony Dungy announced his retirement.
I watched as Marvin Harisson refused to accept a salary that fit his new role and was subsequently released from the only team he had ever played for.
I even cursed at the television screen on draft day when Rey Maualuga was still on the board and the Colts' turn to pick arrived and we selected a running back out of UCONN that I had never heard off.
Yet despite all my concerns as these very important and sometimes difficult decisions were made by the powers-that-be in the Colts' front office, I have never worried.
You see, throughout the last 11 years that I have followed the Colts I have come to accept one inevitable truth that is the foundation of my support for the team.
In Bill Polian and Peyton Manning I Trust.
Every step of the way from Buffalo to Carolina to Indianapolis, Bill Polian has staked a reputation as a man who seldom makes the wrong call. Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning, Eddgerin James or Ricky Williams, drafting Reggie Wayne when they still had a young Marvin Harrison on the roster.
How about letting Eddgerin James walk and replacing him with Joe Addai?
Remember Dwight Freeney? Apparently he was too small to play in the NFL when the Colts drafted him in the 15 spot.
Remember when Tony Dungy was too nice to be successful in the NFL? Tampa replaced him with Chucky, went to the Super Bowl, and won with Dungy's team. They never even came close to sniffing that kind of success again, as Dungy's influence started to fade from Tampa.
Every step of the way, Bill Polian has made the tough decisions. I know it wasn't easy to watch Marvin Harrison exit this team the way that he did. Lord knows it would have been even harder to watch him put on another jersey.
However, the fact of the matter is that no other team even wanted to take a chance on the surefire hall of famer. I couldn't believe that Tennessee and Jacksonville, both starved for wide receivers, wouldn't take a run at him when he hit the market. Even if just to put him on the sidelines to tip the coaching staff off when they play the Colts.
The fact that Harrison received no interest from the other teams in the NFL just serves to prove that Bill Polian again made the right call, doing what was best for the team.
When people say the loss of Marvin Harrison is going to be hard for the Colts to overcome, I have a newsflash for people that don't follow the Colts that closely.
The Colts lost Marvin Harrison two years ago. He hasn't been the same player since he injuried his knee, and, quite honestly, he cost the Colts a playoff game with that horrible fumble in 2007.
Marvin's replacement is Anthony Gonzalez, who is entering his third season. Why is that significant? Because the third year of a receiver's career has historically proven to be the year of the breakout season.
Consider some of the other top receivers in the game right now. Chad Johnson, Terrell Owens, and Steve Smith all doubled their TD production in year three, while topping the 1000 yards receiving mark for the first time.
Randy Moss and Jerry Rice managed to have their big seasons in year two, while several other high profile WR's took an extra year to hit it big, including Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison.
The second half of my reasoning comes from placing my faith in the hands, or rather arm, of Peyton Manning. Despite what the AFC East blogger at ESPN might think, Peyton Manning, not Tom Brady or any other QB for that matter, has been the pillar of consistency in the NFL since the 1998 NFL season.
He has guided the Colts to the playoffs all but twice. Since 2003, the Colts have won at least 12 games, and in 11 seasons Manning has thrown for 4000+ yards. He has yet to have a season where he didn't toss at least 26 TD's.
You will not find another active QB with type of consistent production over the last decade, not even that other QB over in New England.
The truth of the matter is that Peyton Manning played the first seven weeks of the 2008 season on one leg, and still won the MVP. He had the league's worst running game to back him up, and a defense that gave up an average of 4.2 yards/rush.
As a Colts fan, I look at 2008 as the worst possible scenario of what could happen, and I have to believe that if Peyton Manning could pull a 12-win season out of that bunch, there has to be some reason for optimism as we gear up for the 2009 season.
The Colts, just like any other team in the salary cap era, have their deficiencies. This season will be the year we find out if Tony Ugoh will become a solid rock on the Colts' offensive line for years to come, or just a guy that cost us two draft picks and about 100 yards in false start penalties over his short career as a Colt.
This is the year that we find out if Reggie Wayne can handle the role of bona fide No. 1 wideout. Many would argue he has held that mantle for two years now, but this is the first season where he takes on that role without any questions.
I think you would be hard pressed to find another team out there with a better option for No. 1 receiver than Wayne. The Colts could do worse than handing the keys to the WR position over to a guy with Reggie Wayne's track record and ability.
This is also the year that we find out just how much Tony Dungy meant to that locker room. I think this is probably the largest hole in the Colts' fabric, and that is saying something if you consider the gaping hole they chose not to address at DT.
Tony Dungy was a presence; his fingerprints all over the Colt's locker room.
When Reggie Wayne's brother was killed, the WR sought out his coach for guidance and support to help him through that difficult time. It would be hard to imagine anyone on the Patriots' roster seeking out Bill Belichick for advice outside of football.
When Ed Johnston was arrested and charged, it was Dungy that made the call to cut him off the roster. It's all fine and well to stand on principle, but it's another thing entirely to stick to that principle when your team is screaming out for help at DT and you have to cut arguably your best DT because of his off-field conduct.
It's almost symbolic that with Dungy's departure Johnston would return, something that clearly couldn't have happened with Dungy still here.
Will the absence of Tony Dungy produce a better team on the field, albeit of team where we are willing to sacrifice character for production? Or will the absence of Tony Dungy's "quiet strength" prove to be the unraveling to a locker room that for the last 10 years has stayed close together?
This team was grown under the direction of a coach who believed his mission was to help these young men improve as both football players and human beings.
I sit on the fence here. I believe that character still counts for something, yet I am also completely aware of the fact that Peyton Manning could have thrown for well over 55 TD's in 2004.
Tony Dungy was too good a man to allow his QB to embarrass the opposition, and the integrity of the NFL.
Without Tony Dungy, and with potentially the weakest schedule that the Colts have seen since that magical 2004 season, perhaps Caldwell unleashes Peyton Manning; hoping that a new record would mean almost as much to his coaching career as it would to Peyton's legacy.
There can be no doubt that Peyton Manning has heard the news. For all that he has done, he is slighted in a way that no other NFL player has had to endure. Such criticism comes with the territory of being such a notable player.
For every endorsement deal that Peyton signed, for every NFL record that he continues to rewrite, the pressure and expectations that the NFL's prodigal son might fail continues to mount.
Whether the Colts can win another Super Bowl or not is not entirely up to Peyton Manning. Time has shown us that the greatest players do not win Championships on talent alone.
A phenomenal offensive season is something that Manning can control, and I wonder if an entire offseason of getting treated like a second-class QB will resonate with him enough to take his respect for the game and sets it aside. Tony Dungy would never allow that to happen, I wonder what happens with Jim Caldwell at the helm now.
I suspect that the Colts will have trouble stopping the run, and I suspect that the AFC South will prove to be a very tough division to win this year, but I also have faith that Bill Polian has made the right decisions this offseason, and that as long as Peyton Manning is on the field, we will have a chance to win the game.
It's normal for a team to reel off 12+ wins a year, but it's not normal for your QB to throw for 4000+ yards a season, and it's not normal for a team to enjoy sustained success in this new NFL.
I have been spoiled since 1998 as a Colts fan. I know that the ride will have to end eventually, but I just know that with Bill Polian and Peyton Manning that time is not right around the corner, and its most certainly not going to happen this coming season.
My Colts have something to prove this year, and the rest of the NFL had best stand up and take notice.
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