Growing up in a small town in Indiana in the '70s, the closest NFL teams to us were the Cincinnati Bengals and the Chicago Bears. Although I loved Walter Payton, I just could never bring myself to love the Bears. The Bengals were usually at the bottom of the division, so it was tough for me to be a fan of theirs either. The Raiders were usually good so that is who I always followed. However, in 1984, the Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis. I became an instant fan.
The people of Baltimore hated the fact that their team moved to Indianapolis. In fact, they still hate the Colts. They really need to get over it because that was 26 years ago. While they are filled with hate, the fans of the Indianapolis Colts are generally very good people. That all started when the current owner of the Colts, Jim Irsay, took over. Other owners in the league were weary of accepting Irsay because he was known as being the wild rocker with a huge collection of classic guitars and the mouth to match.
However, after a few years in the league, something changed with Irsay. He found and developed a relationship with God. His whole attitude in life changed at that moment. His focus became on his employees and everyone he came in contact with in life. He knew he needed a man who was strong in his faith to lead the Colts, so he began by hiring Bill Polian as the team president and general manager. Polian made quite possible the best move in hiring a head coach who was even stronger in his faith than Irsay or Polian.
After talking it over, they knew who their man was going to be: Tony Dungy.
When Irsay went after Dungy, he called Dungy and told him to fill in the check. He knew what Dungy would bring to the organization: fellowship, leadership, and quiet faith. Dungy's impact was immediate. As soon as he arrived in Indianapolis, he became a public figure for not only the team, but also the city and state, as well as the NFL.
In the press conference to introduce Dungy to the public, Dungy told everyone that he would do his best to be a leader for the team as well as the community and he did not disappoint. He guided the Colts to the playoffs every season he was the head coach.
When he was coaching the Tamba Bay Buccaneers, as well as his first few years as the coach of the Colts, he was labeled as "the best coach who could not win the big one". However, in 2006 he guided the Colts to a Super Bowl victory and that tag was immediately removed. He was now a legend in the state of Indiana.
Things were not always good for Dungy in his time in Indianapolis. On Dec. 23, 2005, Dungy's son, James, was found dead after he committed suicide. Some idiotic writers actually had the gall to ask the question, "If Dungy is so religious and such a great man, how could he not see the troubles that his son was going through and save him?"
Despite all of that, you never saw a tear in the eye of Dungy. You could tell he was emotionally drained, but he tried to keep a smile on his face. In a later interview, Dungy was asked how he could make it through such a tough time. He gave the credit to his faith in God. He said that he had to be strong during those tough times because he knew that if he sunk into depression, then the family and friends around him would have a harder time dealing with such a huge loss. Even while in such pain and heartache, Dungy was the leader that he was put on this earth to be.
From day one, Dungy made it clear to his players that they should listen to how he is talking because they would never hear him raise his voice any louder than that. His whole tenure he kept that oath. He also let the players know that he expected them to be active in the community and that any character flaws would be acknowledged and dealt with accordingly. When one of the heroes of the Super Bowl got arrested for drunk driving, Dungy reacted the way he told the team he would, and he released the player. When another player was arrested for possession of marijuana, Dungy followed suit and released him as well. Simply put, that behavior would not be tolerated.
The last couple of years of Dungy's tenure, the big question was "will Dungy come back?", so Bill Polian and Jim Irsay named Dungy's successor, Jim Caldwell. Caldwell was the assistant head coach until Dungy decided to retire after the 2009 season. Caldwell stepped in and things did not skip a beat. Several reporters questioned whether or not Caldwell would be able to keep the status quo for the Colts.
He became the first rookie head coach to win his first 14 games. With home field advantage secured, Caldwell rested his star players and the Colts lost their final two games. The fans quickly forgave the two men as the Colts won their first two playoff games to make it to the Super Bowl.
In the AFC championship game against the New York Jets, Head Coach Rex Ryan claimed that the Jets would win. The Jets even started selling AFC Champions t-shirts the week prior to the game! Caldwell just smiled and took it all in stride and even said "Well, teams use a wide variety of things as motivational tools."
Pure class. The Colts beat the Jets 30-17 and you never heard Caldwell say one negative thing about the Jets, despite their continuous jabs at the Colts.
It is easy to see why Colts' fans are so devoted to their team. It's the leadership, the faith, the community involvement, the ability to keep their mouths under control, and their love and being a role model. They are a team that I am proud to have my children support. In times when other athletes say that they aren't role models, its a breath of fresh air to see the players and coaching staff eager to step in to be role models.
Character wins out over attitude. Now you know why we love out Colts.
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