I'm not surprised to see the huge, draining display of emotion on this site. We Colts fans are a passionate bunch, and that's been proven countless times in the Manning era, particularly over this extended stretch of excellence. It's also very true that we're spoiled beyond belief, to the point that fans of 31 other teams in this league are incredulous at the reaction here. Oh piss, we're 14-1. Ask a Pats fan again how it feels to end 16-0 only to be dinged up to the point you can't perform at your peak level (I'm speaking here of the Pats' offensive line, specifically) to win The Big One.
Personally, I felt shitty at the end of the game. Who wouldn't, after seeing the way our guys looked on the sidelines? I'll guaran-damn-tee you, though, that feeling would be amplified to a near-suicidal degree if we were to succumb to the same hubris that brought down the 2007 Patriots. Obviously the worst, this feeling in our collective gut, is that it came on the final home game of the '09 season. Oh wait, no it didn't! We're assured to play at least one more game at home. That's when the real NFL season begins; the only one that really, truly matters. Isn't that the line we've been fed by the media, and the fan-bases of the Pats and Steelers both? So if we're going to go 18-1, where would you rather have your one loss? Which one is more of a gut-punch, or a middle finger, or whatever ridiculous rhetorical sentiment you attach to it?
Here's another reality for you: most all football players play hurt most of the season. In the modern NFL, the smart teams are the ones that can walk that precarious tightrope of keeping your most irreplaceable players off the IR. For the most part, we are one of those smart teams, and luckily so. Wasn't it correctly pointed out by this blog that most of our playoff upsets were more the result of injuries than rust? As a matter of fact, I believe one or two of those articles were penned by our esteemed blogger-in-chief. (Shoe, I love ya man, I really do. But to think you'd get caught up in the Polian-is-against-us bullshit saddens me.) Here's the extension of the above-mentioned reality: we were playing a Rex Ryan defense today, one of the best in the NFL in addition to being one of the most punishing. Now, who's to say whether someone like Reggie or Dallas or Joe wasn't dinged a little bit in this game? It happens in every game, more so at the end of the season; isn't it the wiser decision to beat a strategic retreat when the meaningful battle is one the horizon? The metaphor is apt: the course of an NFL season is very much like war, storming through enemies one after the other. Now, if you yourself are at the command of our Colts army, and the sitrep is in that Addai took a shot that's lingering with him a bit, or that Reggie has tweaked an ankle, or any possible similar scenario, isn't the wise decision to pull back and direct those troops elsewhere? Hank Baskett is an acceptable casualty; Reggie Wayne isn't.
And that's what's at the root of this: the fact is, we cannot win the Superbowl without Reggie, Dallas, Joe, Free, Rob, Brackett, and more peripherally a collection of others. This has been proven to us year after year after year. That's why Mathis and Frenchy didn't play, nor Jerraud Powers, nor Clint Session, nor Charlie Johnson. We need these men healthy. We rattle off victories better than any team in the history of the league, and we do it when we have the majority of our core players. Every last goddamn one of you knows this; it's inarguable. That's why when one of our major contributors gets hurt, we treat them gently. It's the reason we waited on Anthony Gonzalez and Adam Vinatieri. Gonzo's situation didn't pan out, but we would have been that much better if his talents were available to us; luckily it afforded us a measure of Austin Collie, who so far has proven himself the best receiver bargain in the last draft. A lot of these guys could have, and likely would have played if we were fighting another team for the division crown, et al.
All these guys have been playing football since youth. Players want to play, and they want to win; it's a major point of concern when you find a guy who isn't almost ruthlessly competitive. Fans want to see their teams win football games. But in the order of importance, players want to play in and fans want to see their teams win Superbowls above all else. After winning one almost every player to a man reflects in the moment, stating that that ring, that trophy, that accomplishment, is something that no one will ever be able to take away. You grow up wanting to play in the Superbowl, not in week sixteen. Freeney said it best: they don't give trophies for 16-0. Coming back to the '07 Pats, the most pathetic thing about that season, as Jeff Chadiha reminds us, is that there's a banner hanging in Gillette Stadium, commemorating the 16-0 season; all it will ever remind people of is the monumental sense of failure that comes with not losing a single game until the one that mattered most.
The silliest thing about it all is that people are shocked--shocked, I say!--that this was going to play out in the fashion it did. If you come to this website, you know this was coming, and to expect otherwise is tantamount to lying to yourself. We've been talking about this for weeks. Those of you at the Luke yesterday, you paid your good money to watch a football game. You didn't pay to see a team win; there's no guarantee of victory in the ticket's fine print. Otherwise there would be mass refunds in St. Louis and Detroit, to say nothing of the other horrible teams in the league. Bottom line, we as a team have never, not once, ever insinuated anything other than health trumping the desire to win meaningless games. I'm going to take a 14-1 team that's 80% healthy over a team that's 15-0 and 50% healthy any day of the week. You've got a right to be pissed off, but it doesn't mean that you are right. People talk about football immortality; what do you think winning a Superbowl is? Get some perspective, please, and be rational.