More so than any of regular season in the last 8 years, this one has by far been the most rocky, the most frustrating, and the most turbulent in terms of the roster. We started out with news that our famed WR was wrongly flogged by the national media for an incident occurring outside a bar he owned involving a known felon causing trouble. That news was followed by our QB being shutdown for Training Camp and preseason because of an infection in his knee. Then, our young, promising DT decided (while he was driving to Terre Haute) to turn around and retire; just like that. Training Camp saw us lose our kick returner for the year, and as camp wound down and pre-season started, the team looked shaky.
The grand opening of Lucas Oil Stadium was a dud, as the Colts lost badly to a Bears team that will likely not make the playoffs. Our QB looked weak, injured, and out-of-rhythm. After that humiliating defeat, Indy's other young DT decided to get high and take a late night joy ride. He was arrested, and then cut from the team the next day. Following a narrow escape against the Vikings, injuries started to mount. Bob Sanders was hurt and put on the shelf for a month, and since returning has been in and out of the lineup. The weeks after the Minnesota win saw nothing but inconsistency, and at the mid-point the Indianapolis Colts were 3-4 and had just suffered a devastating loss to the Tennessee Titans in Nashville; on Monday Night Football, no less. Losing is torture enough. Listening to the babbling fool that is Tony Kornheiser while you are losing is cruel and unusual punishment. After the loss, things really did seem to look bleak. The botched 11th hour trade for Bills DT John McCargo seemed to put a cherry on the first eight weeks of football. Things were low. Things looked dark. Life as a Colts fan was miserable.
Then, something happened.
This team decided that they were not going to simply pack it in and hope for things to turn their way next year. Despite all the bad breaks, the injuries, the sloppy officiating (like the first Jaguars game), and teammates out-and-out quitting on the club, the rest of the squad rallied together. Since that loss to the Titans way back in October, the Colts have won 8 straight games, including a hell-and-back stretch which saw them play New England, Pittsburgh, and San Diego back to back to back. After that 3-4 start, they have rallied back to earn an 11-4 record. Our team's QB, Peyton Manning, will indeed win his third MVP (tying him with Brett Favre as the only player with three league MVP awards). Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have battled back from last years injuries to become the best DE tandem in football. And for all the glory he has achieved as a coach, the season which sees Tony Dungy set an NFL record by getting to the playoffs for ten straight years (with two different teams) might be the best season he has coached, ever.
When I look at all this team has gone through, I can't help but feel very, very happy for them and our city. They do us very proud. They never bow down. Never give in. Never give up.
They were never in doubt of each other. That's what a real team looks like, folks. A real one.
So, no matter what happens this year in the playoffs, this regular season has been one of the best I have ever witnessed as a fan. No, the football was not pretty. It was not perfect. That is not what I watch football for. If I wanted pretty and perfect, I'd watch figure skating or ballet. That is their essence. The essence of American football is watching a team pick themselves up from the mud together, stand tall together, and defy the odds together.
Today, our team has come full circle, in a way. The winning streak (8 games) started after Indy lost at Tennessee. Even though this game today is meaningless, and even though players like Albert Haynesworth, Bob Sanders, Kyle Vanden Bosh, Gary Brackett, and Dominic Rhodes will not play, there is a part of me that really wants to win this game. I've seen a great deal of improvement from these guys since the Titans loss back in October. The addition of former Titan Antonio Johnson has helped solidify the DT position, along with the play of Daniel Muir and rookie Eric Foster.
The playoffs are a whole new season, everyone. What you did during this season is almost meaningless there. So, as this regular season closes, let's give some love to our guys. They battled back when everyone counted them out, and if they win today they would have the second best regular season record in the AFC (even though they will be the 5th seed in the playoffs). This is a strong, gutty team and this has been a very memorable regular season.