The entire sports world has decided to weigh in on Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell’s decision to rest his key players in Sunday’s loss to the New York Jets. After hearing every different expert’s take on the matter, I thought I would comment on this issue as well.
It seems that going undefeated through most of the regular season may turn out to be more of a curse than a gift for the Colts. The 14-0 Colts had to deal with a level of pressure from the media and their fans that a 13-1 team would never have gone through.
Some of the backlash that Caldwell is facing is unnecessary and close-minded. The scrutiny has come in from two different angles. One take is that the Colts should not have rested their players because they will lose some of their momentum.
Trent Dilfer on ESPN talked about how the team has had an invincible feeling over the course of their 23-game win streak and that now, doubt may begin to creep into the players’ minds.
The second angle that the Colts are being criticized for is that their decision ruined the integrity of the game. Some feel that they owed it to the AFC teams on the bubble of making the playoffs to play their starters against the Jets. They also feel that they owed it to football fans to take a shot at making NFL history.
The first issue shows the difference between an undefeated team and a team with one or two losses. Resting starters at the end of the season once your playoff spot is locked up is one of the most common practices in the NFL.
The San Diego Chargers are arguably the hottest team in football right now. They are also very likely to rest most of their starters next week, giving them two full weeks of rest before their first playoff game. This is a decision that will likely be seen as commonplace and will not come under media scrutiny.
The Colts have taken this same approach in several of the past seasons as well. In response to Caldwell’s decision, Michael Wilbon stated on ESPN that “there is only one thing worst than losing—not trying.” Apparently when several teams every year go about this approach in weeks 16 and 17, it is not a problem. It is only an issue when an undefeated streak is on the line.
It is unfair to think that the Colts were supposed to stray away from this common practice because they somehow owe it to their fans to pursue perfection. This leads in to the other reason the team is getting criticized. Colts fans, who I unfortunately am forced into association with, had the audacity to “boo” local Purdue product and Vincennes, Indiana native Curtis Painter, as he entered the field for the first time in his young NFL career.
For the fans and the media to feel some sense of entitlement, that the Colts should drift off of the path they had set for themselves and instead try for some side accolade to appease their followers is just downright selfish.
Colts fans have been complaining about Bill Polian and his staff’s decisions for years now. They have historically been the most vocal about draft picks. In Polian’s 12 years with the team, his three most criticized draft selections have been Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, and Dallas Clark. The three combine for 10 Pro Bowl Selections. The best thing Bill Polian, Tony Dungy, and now Jim Caldwell have ever done is not listen to their fans.
Whether it is right or wrong, NFL teams and their players are defined by Super Bowl victories. About half of NFL fans and experts believe that when comparing Tom Brady to Peyton Manning, despite his inferior statistics, inferior physical abilities and cognitive skills, and inferior value to his respective team, Brady can be considered a better quarterback because he has two more Super Bowl Rings than Manning.
Tony Dungy was transformed from a soft coach who couldn’t bring his team to greatness to one of the true great coaches in the game once he won a Super Bowl with the Colts.
When the Colts set the record for most wins by a team in a decade, I told people how proud I was of the organization. Their response to me was that it was a pointless record and the Patriots and Steelers will always be considered the dominant teams of this decade because they have more Super Bowl victories than the Colts.
If NFL fans and the media want to stay true to this principle, that greatness in this sport is solely defined by Super Bowl wins, I have absolutely no problem with this.
But please, when a coach does what he feels is necessary to bring his team to the top, to join an elite fraternity of people who can say they were a part of a championship-winning club, leave him alone when he decides to bypass any secondary accolades that do not help the team move towards this ultimate goal.
I can’t deny that it was fun to watch this team get on such a role this season and win close game after close game, keeping that undefeated streak alive. But it’s late December now, and the Super bowl is only six weeks away, and I have my mind focused on only one thing—bringing another Lombardi trophy to Indianapolis.
Colts fans, who knew for too many years what it was like to root for a team that was criticized for not being able to win “the big one”, should be ashamed of themselves for questioning a coach and a general manager who are doing exactly what they think it takes to make Indianapolis a championship city once again.
The media, who loves to stir the pot and pretend that the sky is falling when there is really no issue at all, should be embarrassed for assuming that the Colts have some duty to shift their focus away from winning a Super Bowl and instead appease the media and make sure what they do on the field makes for the best story.
It is now time to sit back, wait for all this ridiculousness to blow over, and wait until January when I can watch the Colts, fully healthy and completely rested, work towards becoming champions once again.