Jets-Colts: A Rivarly Reborn Thanks to Jim Caldwell's Call
Is it just me, or does it seem that the Colts reinvigorate old AFC East rivalries long after they have left the division?
For the past decade, football fans have grown accustomed to seeing the Colts in this corner in the AFC Championship game, and the New England Patriots opposing them in the other corner.
Patriots versus Colts was never a great rivalry when the two teams shared the AFC East, but by the time Peyton Manning and Tom Brady faced each other in the playoffs, the Colts had already moved on and into the AFC South in 2002.
Yet that rivalry is better now than ever before. Watching the two best quarterbacks in the world trade touchdown strikes rivals the best theatre this side of Shakespeare.
Colts versus Patriots is practically an annual rite: a midseason Super Bowl.
The two teams are always opposing each other because they finish in first place the previous season, and the winner of the game always helps determine the team that receives home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Yet this week another old AFC East rivalry is being renewed in the AFC championship game, a rivalry that dates back to January 1969, when Joe Namath led the 18.5-point underdog Jets over the then Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Indeed, it is the Patriots' other arch-enemy, the New York Jets, that are in this game against the great Peyton Manning and the Colts.
For the first time in a very long time, there is extra spice for this Jets-Colts game.
The history of this rivalry has been kind of spotty over the years since Super Bowl III. The Colts have dominated, but every now and then, the series has had its great moments.
Manning's first signature win as a professional came against the Jets in 1998 when he led a game-winning drive against the eventual AFC East Champions to beat the Jets 24-23.
In 2000, Jets running back Curtis Martin racked up over 200 yards on the ground as the Jets beat the Colts 27-17 at the Meadowlands.
And who could forget the whipping the Jets put on Indy in the 2002 Wild Card Game, 41-0?
Yet even with those moments here and there, Colts-Jets never really matched the height of some other rivalries when the two shared the same division.
Some could argue the Super Bowl aura was lost by having both play each other twice every year. Since the Colts left the East in 2002, the two teams have met only four times, splitting all four meetings at 2-2.
Finally, this year, it is decidedly different.
Jets versus Colts has that extra zest this week thanks in part to a controversial decision by Colts coach Jim Caldwell and Colts president Bill Polian, to pull Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and all of the Colts' starters from a Jets-Colts game a few weeks ago—a game Indianapolis was winning 15-10 in the third quarter.
Once the likes of Curtis Painter came into the game, the Jets took total control, racked up 19 unanswered points, and were on their way to postseason play after a 29-15 victory.
Players and fans of the Colts were upset at Caldwell and the front office for pulling this stunt.
The players wanted a 16-0 season, as did the fans, but the bosses didn't care about history, figuring being healthy for the playoffs was more important. Certainly that's management's prerogative.
The Jets were the beneficiaries of the Colts decision.
Sure, the Jets held the Colts offense in check to just 15 points midway through the third quarter, and they flustered Manning and the Colts to nine measly points in the first half, but the argument goes that if Manning had stayed in the game, the Colts would have rolled over Gang Green.
Since that time, the Jets have run about defending their victory over Indianapolis, claiming that they had to beat whoever was on the field that day, and that the win was legit.
They too, like their fans, cited that the Colts starters had nothing on them for about 35 minutes of football, and, because of that, the Jets would have beaten the Colts even with Manning in the game.
However, people around the league have complained that the Colts damaged the integrity of the sport by making the move. Even the Colts' players had a closed-door meeting to discuss their displeasure with the front office's decision.
The Colts' decision ignited the Jets haters of the world, especially fans from teams who had similar 9-7 records and had to face teams at full strength down the stretch as compared to Gang Green.
This time around, if the Jets want to prove that they are indeed better than the Colts, prove the legitimacy of their win three weeks ago, and shut up their critics, they'll get the chance to do it on the big stage.
A win over Indianapolis will not only propel the Jets to their first Super Bowl in 41 years, it will allow them to pump their chests and tell their critics, "We told you so."
Don't think for a minute that the Colts wouldn't relish beating the Jets and proving to New Yorkers that they were unbeaten for a reason.
The Colts players are still upset that the Jets upended their dreams of going 16-0 and possibly 19-0. They will be out for vengeance for sure.
Outside of two games they lost with backups in the game, the Colts are 15-0 when they play their starters from start to finish. Even with the best defense and running game in football, the Jets will need to bring their A-game and more if they are to outsmart Manning.
Who knows really what would have, could have, or should have happened three weeks ago?
What matters now is that both teams are about to clash on the open gridiron, with the winner earning the right to represent its conference in the Super Bowl.
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