Colts Learn Lesson From Marvin Harrison Fiasco: "Gonzo" Put On I.R.

Justin JavanCorrespondent IDecember 25, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - JANUARY 13:  Anthony Gonzalez #11 of the Indianapolis Colts runs for yards after the catch against the San Diego Chargers during their AFC Divisional Playoff game at the RCA Dome on January 13, 2008 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Chargers won 28-24. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

On September 30, 2007 there was a pop that was heard around the N.F.L. world. Marvin Harrison injured his knee while attempting a block against a Bronco’s player. Though no one knew it at the time, that injury was to lead to the end of Harrison’s career.

In typical Colts fashion, little was released about the severity of Harrison’s injury or when he would return. One week after another the fans were told it would be soon, that he’s coming along, we expect him to start practicing any day, then it was we’ll see how many days of practice he can get through, then it was we think he's going to play, and finally, we decided to hold him out.

In other words, the typical stuff Colts fans hear every time a player is hurt.

I remember during this time talking to Pat Kirwan on N.F.L. radio about Harrison, with Pat reassuring me that Marv, as the guys in the locker room liked to call him, would be ready come playoff time.

 Pat tried to allay my concerns about Harrisons lack of playing time heading into the playoffs. I said to him, “Wouldn’t it be better if he could get out and play the last game of the season to get some of the rust off before the playoffs?” He retorted back that Marv wasn’t going to forget how to play football.

 To his credit Pat was right: Harrison didn’t forget how to play football, he just forgot how to hold onto the ball.

In that playoff game, Marv caught a pass from Manning, took a hit, fumbled the ball, and the Chargers recovered it. The Colts looked like they were about to go up 14-0, and put the Chargers in a real hole when it happened. Instead, it can be argued that playing Harrison that day cost the Colts the game.

In this age of parity, I feel confident making that statement. The new reality in the N.F.L. is that often games just come down to one play now: just go ask Bill Belichick.

The Colts seemed to have learned a lesson from how they handled the Marvin Harrison situation. Mind you the lesson learned wasn’t, “Let’s tell the fans what’s really going on with injured players.”

 The subterfuge about injuries continues to this day, with most Colts fans having to check Adam Schefter’s Twitter updates to find out the truth about the status of players.

No, the lesson learned here is it was better to put Anthony Gonzalez on injured reserve than what the Colts did with Marvin Harrison two years ago.
It was clear from watching that playoff game in 2008 that Marvin Harrison shouldn’t have been within 50 miles of a football field. However, the Colts played him anyway, even though he hadn’t played in a single game since the end of September and clearly was not 100% healthy.

Bill Polian learned from that disaster. This year, instead of trying to force it, the Colts organization did the right thing. It must have been obvious to Bill Polian that when Gonzalez practiced on Monday, that there was no way they were going to be able to get him on the field in the next two weeks.

The Colts understood that without Gonzalez getting significant playing time in actual games in the regular season that he was going to be useless in the playoffs. The Marvin Harrison incident proved that all the practice in the world doesn’t make up for playing in a real game, not even for a 12 year vet.

The reality is that, even if a player is let’s say 90% healthy, to be a contributor to the Manning offense you need to be out there on Sundays, in game conditions, scrapping the rust off, running perfect routes, and rebuilding the timing and trust that Manning demands from his wide receivers.

I have no doubt that “Gonzo” could play come playoff time, but the Colts wisely knew that for the team, and the player it was better to put him on injured reserve then have a repeat of 2008.

I.R. is a good thing for Anthony Gonzalez. It will really give him time to heal from his injury. He’s going to need it too, because he is going to have one hell of a battle in training camp next year winning back the number two receiver position from Garcon.  The sad reality for Gonzalez is it’s unlikely to happen

Garcon is putting up numbers in his first season as a starter that are better than Reggie Waynes numbers in his first full season starting; he has also shown that he is a much better as the flanker than Gonzalez ever was.

He has better speed, size, strength, and blocking ability than Gonzalez, on top of that he doesn’t appear to be made of glass like “Gonzo.”

In reality, Gonzalez will be cheap to keep around. His projected salary for next year is $1,396,250.

For a team that has implemented the spread offense more this year than any other season that I can remember, Gonzalez has a place with the Colts. Unfortunately, for him, it’s probably as the fourth receiver. 


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