When Peyton Manning was pulled from the game with 5:36 left in the third quarter during their game against the New York Jets on December 27, 2009, head coach Jim Caldwell thought he was only forfeiting a game.
He may have given away the entire season.
Not only did the Colts give away the chance to go undefeated, but they may have put the feeling of defeat in the minds of the players, fans, and coaching staff. Conventional wisdom had the Colts easily defeating the N.Y. Jets and Buffalo Bills, but eventually they succumbed to both.
The question is: Did it in any way carry over into the post-season?
While the Jets snatched victory from the Colts that day, Peyton Manning stood on the sideline with helmet on stewing silently. He would never publicly admit that he disagreed with the decision, nor would he ever create controversy over it unlike Brett Favre did earlier in the season.
The last game of the regular season was against the Buffalo Bills, and as starters rested, the feeling of defeat dug in deeper in the Colt's psyche.
Winning their first 14 games earned them a bye in the first week of the playoffs, and that time off may have helped them battle back into a mindset of victory. To win the AFC Championship, the Colts had to defeat the Baltimore Ravens and Jets.
Neither victory was easy.
Once the Saints won the NFC Championship, the matchup had to cause emotional turmoil in the Manning family. Papa Manning, and the brothers Peyton and Eli, are from the area, and Archie is a legendary Saint himself.
Perhaps facing the New Orleans Saints was the worst-case scenario for Manning.
Now that the season is over and the New Orleans Saints are World Champions, the Colts now have to return to Indianapolis and ponder the fateful decision that was made back in December.
Clearly there was no guarantee that the Colts would achieve perfection when the decision was made. Again, though, did the decision to give away perfection quietly destroy the Colts' season?
Injuries play a huge role in the outcome of games and seasons. But I have to ask: How often does Peyton Manning take a hit? How often is he sacked?
Coach Jim Caldwell was in his rookie season, and the huge shadow of Tony Dungy continued to cover the coaching staff and team as a whole. If it was indeed Caldwell's decision to pull the starters, how much internal damage did it cause?
Did Caldwell's decision put him in a negative position with the team?
Peyton Manning is now 9-9 in post-season play. Some consider him the greatest NFL QB in the history of the game. Perhaps, but he wears one Super Bowl ring whereas Tom Brady owns three and Ben Roethlisberger two.
Now Drew Brees has the same amount as Manning.
Peyton Manning's career is turning out like a Greek Tragedy. Instead of a Super Bowl, Manning just participated in Dionysia. We just experienced the tragedy, now where is the satyr?
I'll tell you where it is: Bourbon Street.