Who The Colts Really Owed It To In Their Attempt At Perfection

Michael Ielpi@ielpiCorrespondent IDecember 28, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS - DECEMBER 27:  A Indianapolis Colts is pictured during the NFL game against the New York Jets at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 27, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Peyton Manning and many of the starters were pulled from the game in the second half and the Colts went on to lose their first game of the season 29-15.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

There is a scene near the end of the movie Good Will Hunting, where Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is talking with Chucky, (Ben Affleck) and they are on a construction site discussing their future paths. Will is the gifted one who could be making tons of money doing advanced mathematics, but instead he would rather hang out with his friends who are not as educated and do not have his talents. Will says to Chucky that he wants to stay in South Boston for the rest of his life and continue working in construction. Chucky stops him and tells him this: 

“No, no no no. You don't owe it to yourself man, you owe it to me. Cuz tomorrow I'm gonna wake up and I'll be 50, and I'll still be doin' this. And that's all right. That's fine. I mean, you're sittin' on a winnin' lottery ticket. And you're too much of a wimp to cash it in, and that's garbage. 'Cause I'd do anything to have what you got. So would any of these guys. It'd be an insult to us if you're still here in 20 years. Hangin' around here is a waste of your time.”

The Indianapolis Colts owed it to no team; they did not owe it to the league, the owners, the coaches, the fans, etc. They certainly did not owe to anyone who has a Colt player on their fantasy team. They owed it to each other and to every player who played the game. Millions of people played organized football and hardly any were ever on a team that had a shot to be perfect.

The Colts owed it to those who came oh-so-close to perfection and those who never even came close. What would the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the 2008 Detroit Lions give to be in that situation? What would the three NFL teams that went 18-1 give to replay the game that they lost?

I did not agree with the way the Colts handled their players on Sunday. If your first-string players are going to play into the second half of a game, they should be allowed to win it.

Caldwell’s decision was equal to saying you can be a little bit pregnant. Peyton Manning and the Colts offensive starters were officially benched with 5:36 left in the third quarter against the New York Jets. There was just 20 minutes to play in the game. I know that injuries happen and you certainly do not want to lose anyone in any game, but if Manning and company were okay to play for 40 minutes, why not have them finish the deal?

The Colts are taking the company line when talking about this. They are saying the right things and have followed their rookie coach’s orders. But you cannot tell me that there are not some players who are thinking, “We could have won that game and we could still be undefeated.”

Yes, it is about winning the Super Bowl, but it is also about making your own history if you have the opportunity to do such a thing.

The Colts did not have the constant media pressures that the 2007 New England Patriots had. First, for the first 13 weeks of the season, the Colts were not the only undefeated team. Second, two years ago we were bombarded with the coverage of the 2007 Patriots. NFL Films had more video on the 2007 than they do on any other team that they have ever covered.

Third, none of the Colts games were switched to Sunday Night Football, like two of the Patriots games were in 2007. The Colts meaningless regular season finale against the Buffalo Bills was not going to be on three networks like the Patriots finale against the Giants was.

I think the biggest detriment to the Patriots 2007 season was that they had to play the Giants in that final regular season game. The Patriots had to go for the 16-0 season and play some of their trump cards during that contest. While, they probably did not figure the Giants to win three road playoff games, the Giants clearly had confidence in that they recently saw the Patriots at their best and could play with them and if they got a break or two in the game they could be Super Bowl Champions.

The Colts would not have to do any of that.

In the NFL and most sports, the margin for error is microscopic. While you need to be a great team to be perfect, you also need a little bit of luck. A missed field goal, a strange 4th -and-2 call that falls a foot short are the things that fall your way in an unbeaten season.

Football is not like baseball where fans can remember some of the great numbers in the game that made history like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Ted Williams hitting .406, Cal Ripken’s 2,131 consecutive game, Pete Rose’s 4,192nd hit, etc. Most football fans could not tell you the record for most touchdowns, sacks, interceptions, QB rating, etc. But, they do know what comes to mind when they hear 17-0 or perfect season in the NFL. That team was the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

Although, you could make a definitive argument that the 1973 Miami Dolphins were a better team than the 1972 Miami Dolphins who were a perfect 17-0. The 1972 Dolphins won their three-playoff games by a combined 17 points. The 1973 Dolphins won Super Bowl VIII by 17 points, and won their two AFC playoff games by a combined 35 points. The 1973 Dolphins were likely the better team, but they hardly get talked about because all you hear from Miami is about the 1972 team that won every game.

Personally, I have never played on a team that went perfect. The closest I came to perfection was in Madden 95 on the Sega Genesis. I was in college and the guys in my dorm set up a league where half the weeks we would play each other and the other half we would play against the computer.

It was a week three contest against the Cincinnati Bengals, a computer opponent, one of the lower ranked teams in the game. The Bengals hung around, and I held a 17-14 lead late in the fourth quarter. My defense stopped the Bengals with fewer than two minutes to play and the Bengals punted. The punt came to my return man who dropped the football and before the ball hit the ground it landed in the arms of a Bengal player who ran in to the end zone for the game-winning score. This was a fairly common glitch in the game and the game actually would call that play an interception. In the NFL, that would have been a muff, and a muff could not have been advanced.

I did not lose another game that season and managed to steamroll over one of my friends to take the championship. I do not remember the score of that game, but I never forgot that 24-21 loss to the Bengals. I did not have control over a glitch in the system, but the Colts had a chance to do it without any glitches, but on their own merit and chose not to do so.

If the Colts do win the Super Bowl with an 18-1 record, don’t you think one of the first questions will be, “Do you regret not going for the win against the Jets?” It will always be a question mark on a great season.

Many years from now, there may be some members of the Colts sitting in their trophy room and could be looking at a plaque that says, Indianapolis Colts, Super Bowl XLIV Champions, 18-1 record, and say, “Man, if we only played that second half against the Jets.” 

Michael Irvin recently said that it would be worth trading in all three rings for one undefeated season. For once, I believe him. He knows that a 19-0 record puts your team into the stratosphere of the immortals. It is a record that can only be equaled, never overtaken, unless the NFL adds more regular season games.

There are three teams in NFL history that won 18 games and lost only one. Everyone knows about the 2007 Patriots. The 1985 Bears were 12-0 when they traveled to Miami for a Monday night showdown with the Dolphins. On a hot night in Miami, the Dolphins went out and ended the Bears run at perfection 38-24. It was a game the Bears never led.

In the 1984 season, the San Francisco 49ers came just as close to perfection as the 2007 Patriots. In week seven, the 49ers hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that the 6-0 49ers were clear favorites to win. The 49ers held a 17-10 lead with just a few minutes left in the contest, but the Steelers would rally to tie the game and later take a 20-17 lead with just 1:42 to play. The 49ers would attempt a late field goal but it would hit the uprights and the 49ers would not lose for the rest of that season.

Those other teams, the Bears, the 49ers, the Patriots, myself, etc., got their perfect seasons taken away not because they laid down to rest, but because they gave it everything they had and someone else was just a little better that game.

Let’s say for example, that there is a baseball team that has clinched the best record in baseball with a week left to play. That teams has their number one starting pitcher pitching a perfect game through eight innings. The team is winning by three runs. If the manager even thought about taking him out of the game, the media would have slammed him like there was no tomorrow. Pitching a perfect game through eight innings may happen once in a career for a pitcher, if he gets to be that fortunate. You would never want that chance taken away because of fear.

In another Matt Damon movie, Rounders , Damon’s character, Mike McDermott quotes from a poker book by Jack King who said, “Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career." It seems true to me, cause walking in here, I can hardly remember how I built my bankroll, but I can't stop thinking of how I lost it.”

On Sunday, December 27, 2009, the Colts sat at the table, played a few hands and then folded up and went home. They never went all-in and that is what you have to do truly reach the ultimate football achievement.

Man, I feel like visiting my parents’ house and finding my Genesis.


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