We'll do one more article after this one in order to fully and completely eulogize Bill Polian's career in Indianapolis, the good with the bad. For today, we focus on why his firing was so necessary, and we get a lot of help from Phil Wilson at the Indianapolis Star.
If you haven't read his most recent blog entry at the Star's website, stop reading this article right now, go here, and ingest Phil's prose. Phil accurately nails down just how toxic not only Chris Polian was, but Bill as well.
I had a friend who landed a job with the Colts many years ago. The first time we ran into each other in a complex hallway, I congratulated him. All I received was a nod as he kept walking. I didn’t know what to think. After the work day, my friend phoned to apologize.
"You understand why I can’t stop and talk to you in the building," he said.
He was afraid Polian would see us exchanging pleasantries.
"He hates all of us, too," the friend said.
That stuck with me. I couldn’t get that memory out of my head when we learned Polian and his son, Chris, were fired.
Like Phil, I had a similar experience with friends who landed jobs with the Colts. Some of these people were family friends, people I deeply care for. Once the word reached Polian that they were close to me, all communication with those people stopped.
At Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, I walked up to one such friend and to say hello. Bill Polian was just a few feet away. The friend nodded and shuffled away. I didn't know what was wrong until a month later, when people told me that if anyone within the team was seen speaking with me, they could lose their jobs.
Like Phil, I couldn't get out of my head the unbelievable culture of fear that the insecure, violently paranoid Polians used to keep control of the organization. And I won't lie. I'm glad Polian and his equally odious son were fired.
Not 'allowed to resign.'
It was a fitting end to two people who simply lacked the ability to treat others decently and respectfully, especially if those others worked under them.
Most who question why a proven football man was shown the door weren’t on the receiving end of such rude treatment. It goes beyond not liking the media, folks. I couldn’t care less about that, aside from wanting to make the man accountable for the sake of fans who have every right to expect me to know information and share it with them. When Polian disrespected the fans for questioning the infamous Jets sitdown decision in 2009, when he alone (I believe) decided at 14-0 that perfection was a meaningless pursuit, that crossed a line. Don’t insult the people who have spent so much money to give you such a great life. That goes beyond arguing a debatable football decision.
As Irsay said in Monday’s presser, you should listen to the fans. It sure helps to be respectful, if for no other reason in that position than public opinion. You don’t have to do everything they say. There’s truth to an old Polian statement about how a front-office boss who listens to fans’ advice will end up sitting with them. But by listen, I guess I mean at least hear them out, and not just on a screened-caller basis for a radio show to spin half-truths and lies. It never hurts to be polite.
For me, the beginning of the end for the Polians was that Week Sixteen game. No decision was ever more divisive. We all saw the drama within the fanbase play out right here on this blog. We had longtime readers who were zealots to the Polians bashing anyone who DARED question their genius. It didn't matter that the decision was incredibly unpopular within the lockerroom and the press box. It didn't matter that 60,000 people booed the hell out of the team the moment Peyton Manning was removed from the game mid-third quarter. It didn't matter that fans were berated, insulted, and demeaned repeatedly by Polian the next day on his radio show.
Polian was god, and if you questioned him, you weren't really a Colts fan.
This cult of personality mentality sickened me.
I despised fans who screamed at me in comments, tweets, and emails to 'STFU! Who are you to question the Polians.' No fan epitomized this mentality greater than former 18to88.com editor Nate Dunlevy. Dunlevy seemed to go out of his way to take shots at me for questioning Polian, even to go so far as to say I made up stories just to garner hits for this blog and SBNation.com. No matter how much I tried to reason with Dunlevy, nothing I wrote or said got through to him.
I was anti-Polian, and thus I was anti-Colts.
It bothered me that fans were divided, and that the Pro-Polian side was completely inflexible. They'd question your intelligence. Your allegiance to the team. Your honesty. All because you questioned the big, mouthy red-head in charge.
With friends no longer able to talk to me, fans screaming at me for writing critical articles, and the very team I grew to love and cheer for viewing me as some kind of threat, I really questioned whether or not it was worth it to keep doing this. I remember sitting in a restaurant with my friend and mentor, Tyler Bleszinski, just a few months ago.
I don't think I can keep this up much longer, I told him.
Yeah. If I had to deal with the stuff you were dealing with, I'd quit, he said.
We talked about a plan to transition to other things within SB Nation (now VOX Media, in case you didn't know). We talked about writing general NFL articles, posts about the AFC South, and NFL Draft-specific content. Anything to get me away from covering the Colts, who were radioactive and making me sick.
I was tired and unhappy. Covering football had become a chore. Nothing was fun. When blogging stops being fun, you probably should stop.
So, for me personally, I'm glad Bill Polian and his son are gone from West 56th Street, and I know manymanymanymanymany people at the complex and who cover the team that are also happy. Very happy.
The hope now is that the new bosses in charge of the football operations are a bit friendlier, kinder, and much more fair than their predecessors. The Colts sell to their fanbase the notion that they do things 'the right way.' They play 'the right way' and they treat the game and the people who support it 'the right way.' This was a false slogan while the Polians were in charge. The rotten core was hidden for many years by the warm, inviting presence that was head coach Tony Dungy. But Dungy, unlike his successor Jim Caldwell, was likely insulated from the Polians because Dungy did not answer to them.
To you readers, I hope you can understand my personal feelings about how the firing of Bill and Chris Polian was a VERY good thing. As Phil elegantly states in his article:
There’s such a thing as being professional, even with those you don’t like. It’s nothing short of a travesty that so many over the years lived in fear at West 56th Street.
For the last two years, I had difficultly staying 'professional' in the face the the Polian Reign Of Terror. At times, I fought it with humor, such as when I would recap Bill's nonsensical radio shows. Other times, I attacked it with aggressive defiance, such as our open campaign to push Irsay to fire Bill and his son. When bullies try and intimidate you, you either laugh in their face or smack them in the mouth.
Both actions usually send the bully running to his momma, or, in Bill Polian's case, ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
In the end, both tactics worked, on some level. I'm not ignorant and arrogant to the point were I think our push was THE reason the Polians were cast-off, but I know it factored into Irsay's decision-making. He said so himself in his press conference Monday:
Hearing our fans, whether it is season ticket holders calling in, on Twitter, on blogs and all the ways they communicate, listen, you’re always listening to your fans. They’re your shareholders, and they’re a part of this thing in such a big way. So you’re very aware of that, but let me say this, that has never influenced my decision to make a certain critical decision, because in the end you can say, ‘Oh, this is a great decision’ or ‘That was a great decision,’ but if you don’t win, if you don’t show that you are going in the right direction and if you don’t show eventual dividends in the work you’re doing, then it’s all going to be criticized. It doesn’t really matter that people are giving you accolades because they think you made a move that was right. The bottom-line is to have success, but you do hear the fans. I do, I’m very aware of the intent interest that we have in our franchise, and you want (the fans) to be heard.
Like Phil, I needed a few days to write this because... well, there was just a lot of anger. I needed days to let all that go, and approach this as clearly as humanly possible, given all that has happened. I don't wish plague or ruin on the Polian household, but I am glad that their silly little game of playing dictator is now out of Indianapolis. With them gone, and with Irsay back in charge, it's given me, both as a fan and as a writer, renewed optimism and energy.
I was ashamed I rooted for this team. I really was. Not anymore.
We have some really exciting times ahead of us. Though this rebuilding phase will likely take a year or two, it's what this franchise needed. It's what football needed. It's what I needed.
I'll close with Phil's words, because he has been masterful all season long covering the team and the Polians:
I hope others, those who lived and worked in fear for the Colts, can do so as well.
He’s gone. Put it to bed. Move on.
Trust me, you’ll enjoy the rest of your lives a lot more.