Even with seven straight 12 win seasons and a Super Bowl victory in 2007, the Indianapolis Colts are still searching for their rightful place among the NFL’s elite.
“There’s no question the importance of what this means to us. The legacy in terms of getting a second one and being able to be two-time world champions and separate yourself from some other franchises that have won one.”
Irsay believes his Colts could have appeared in many more Super Bowls, but playing in the same conference as New England and Pittsburgh was like playing against a stacked deck. “Literally, we may have been to four Super Bowls if we were in the other conference in my opinion,” said the Colts' owner. "I feel strongly about that."
Indianapolis may have been special in the regular season, but it couldn’t handle Super Bowl bound teams from New England and Pittsburgh in the crucible of the post-season.
Three times this decade the Colts been bounced from the playoffs by the eventual league champions. That’s why Super Bowl XLIV is also a salvage mission for Irsay's club.
But leave it to Peyton Manning to keep everything in perspective. The four-time league MVP knows his status as the games greatest quarterback will come into question if the Colts lose, but he says adding another championship to the Colts' stable of Lombradi's is the only objective. “There is enough pressure to win this game as it is,” Manning said.
“There are so many reasons why you want to win. …There is no question three years ago after winning this game, I think this franchise definitely took a step forward. But we have been knocking on the door for a number of years now. We are fortunate and grateful to be back. Obviously, we are here with one goal in mind and that is to win the game,” he said.
If Manning and the Colts melt under the pressure of the moment, and fail to deliver a ring, the season won’t be complete and neither will Peyton’s legacy as perhaps the best quarterback to ever lace up a pair of cleats.
On the other hand, if the championship confetti is raining down on Manning and the Colts, then this team will have a chance to reach new heights in the near future.
As long as Manning stays healthy, then Indianapolis could make it back to the "big bowl" several times before it's all said and done. If that's the case, then this franchise will be measured along side the greatest dynasties in NFL history.
Here’s a look at the company the Colts are hoping to join:
Green Bay Packers , 1959-1968 – These Vince Lombardi coached teams won three NFL championships and two Super Bowls. By far the greatest team of their time.
Miami Dolphins , 1970-1983 – Led by Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, the Dolphins played in five Super Bowls and won two. The ’72 Dolphins are still the only perfect team (17-0) in NFL history and arguably the greatest ever.
Oakland Raiders , 1970-1985 – Al Davis’ Raiders were good from 1970-75. But they were great over the next 10 seasons, winning three Super Bowls in an eight year span.
Pittsburgh Steelers , 1972-1979 – Possibly the most balanced team in NFL history, led by the famed “Steel Curtain”, Pittsburgh won every Super Bowl they played in (four) during this era.
San Francisco 49ers , 1981-1995 – Joe Montana and Steve Young combined to win five Super Bowls and ushered in the West Coast offense. But it was all sparked by Dwight Clark’s leaping catch over Everson Walls in the 1982 NFC title game.
Dallas Cowboys , 1992-1998 – Jimmy Johnson’s Cowboys picked up where Roger Staubach and the “Doomsday Defense” left off. The Cowboys of the early 90’s won three out four Super Bowls and then quickly tapered off.
New England Patriots , 2001-2007 – It could be the end of the road for the Patriots. But it’s hard to take anything away from a team that turned over players as fast as Bill Belichick did, and despite the rotation of key players, New England became the model franchise of the 2000's.