INDIANAPOLIS IN - JANUARY 08: A fan of the Indianapolis Colts looks on dejected after the Colts lost 17-16 against the New York Jets during their 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 8 2011 in Indianapolis Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
I think most of us feel that the Colts are probably going to get their asses handed to them by the Steelers Sunday night. In fact, don't be surprised if half of Lucas Oil Stadium is twirling those yellow, 'terrible' towels when the NBC cameras cut to images in the stands. Simple-minded hacks will call the sight 'embarrassing,' chastising 'flaky' Colts fans for giving up on their team too soon after nine years of making the playoffs.
But, the reality missed by writers whose arms are tired after carrying so much water for the team they are supposed to cover objectively is that the fans expected a better product on the field this season. Management bungled an off-season of unprecedented player movement while failing to plan for the possibility of Peyton Manning not playing.
Also, it's not like management has a warm and fuzzy relationship with the fans, a point I plan to hammer home if the front office even mildly hints that patrons are being 'ungrateful' after years of winning football, as if winning was a 'gift' and not an expected result based on the seven-figure salaries management rewards itself with.
'Well, we could be the Bengals. Or the Lions. Or the Raiders,' some apologists yap, not realizing that if this franchise were on par in recent years with the futility of Cincinnati, Detroit, or Oakland, the Colts would be playing in Los Angeles now.
Hoosiers have little patience for bad professional sports teams. The last six years of Indiana Pacers basketball, and Pacers management's near desperate attempts to get anyone to come to games, should give you an idea of just how Indiana fans would treat the Colts if they sucked for a sustained period.
'Loyalty' in pro sports is a false virtue. Only a chump remains 'loyal' to a business that charges you $300 for decent seats at a publicly funded stadium and makes season ticket holders pay full price for four preseason games, not including over-priced beverages and parking. All that to watch a 3-13 team.
'Loyalty,' like anything else in professional sports, is a business. You have to be good to earn fan's love. If the Colts, or any other pro team in the Midwest, doesn't like that simple, hard truth, then move your club to a bigger market that has oodles of dollars to waste. In the Midwest, folks have to be choosy in today's economy.
Personally, I think this mindset is a good thing for pro sports in terms of the product on the field. As we often say around here, it is the responsibility of management to make the team worth the time and money of the customer, also known as the 'fan.' When management fails, smart fans don't show up to games. This tends to get the attention of otherwise clueless team owners, who are left flustered and fuming in their posh offices, demanding of their team managers, 'Why aren't fans coming? Is it because we're the worst team in the league?' Sooner of later, either management feels the heat from the owner and start getting results, or the owner replaces management because it is obvious that, without some change, fans won't come back.
The other option is the owner up and moves because he doesn't like being held accountable. In that case, the apt response from fans is tell said owner to go f*ck himself, and (to stay with a Colts metaphor) the horse he rode in on.
So, if Lucas Oil is a sea of black and yellow on Sunday night, the only people who should be embarrassed are those in the front office. They are to blame. Maybe if they had, you know, done a better job in recent years, things wouldn't have come to this.
All that said, I guess the question now is, how do we fix this mess?
I'm opening this up to ideas. How do the Colts get better?
2011 is finished. 0-2 teams rarely make the playoffs, and 0-3 teams never do. And based on what we have seen in preseason and these first two weeks, simply getting Peyton Manning back healthy (assuming he ever returns healthy) is not the elixir that will cure all ills for this team. Anyone who thinks it is that simple, that this team can win a Super Bowl with one great player and 52 nobodys, is a fool.
So, what needs to be fixed?
Does Jim Caldwell need to be fired? If so, who replaces him? Great coaches like Bill Cowher and Jeff Fisher are sitting out there, and up-and-coming coaches like Jim Schwartz are in the third year of their four year contracts (meaning they either need to get extended, or teams will stupidly let them walk).
Should Jim Caldwell be extended? He will enter the final year of his contract in 2012, and he absolutely cannot coach next year as a lame duck.
Does management need to be cleared out? Bill Polian will probably retire in two years, but is Chris Polian the right man to run this organization?
Is the Tampa-2 defense 'dead' in this modern era of 'flag football' with the quarterbacks being protected?
Please use the comments to discuss, share ideas, and propose changes. I have my own ideas, and plan to write about them after the Pittsburgh game, but I'm curious to read more from you guys. Please discuss.