When the Colts held an open practice at Lucas Oil Stadium last Wednesday, they inadvertently became the laughingstock of many throughout the country (particularly in New England) when people took notice of their new "2014 AFC Finalist" banner hanging from the rafters at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Of course, the Colts lost 45-7 in that AFC Championship Game against the Patriots, which is certainly nothing to brag about. While it was a successful season that saw the Colts win eleven games, win their division, and then win two playoff games, hanging an "AFC Finalist" banner seems to commemorate the championship game blowout loss.
The Colts, however, don't understand what the big deal is. "It's very hard in the National Football League to win," the Colts' Chief Operating Officer, Pete Ward, told ESPN's Mike Wells. "Not every team gets to make the playoffs. To make the playoffs, and more so consistently, is something to be proud of. It's an achievement to be proud of. A lot of teams would love to be in a position to recognize a playoff season regardless of how it ends."
Ward noted that the banner is really about "pride" - pride for another playoff season that not everyone gets to experience. Ward also noted that he is "very surprised" at what the situation has turned in to, as it's nothing new for the Colts or for a sports team in general. And certainly, the Colts have been doing this for a while. They have banners hanging in the rafters to commemorate their 1995 and 2003 seasons in which they were also AFC Finalists, and that is the reason many in the Indy media give for this particular banner not being such a big deal.
And that's certainly fair, but it's also worth noting that expectations for the franchise have changed. The 1995 season was the Colts' twelfth season in Indy but it was just their second playoff appearance, and the team made it to within one play of making the Super Bowl. In 2003, the Colts had made the playoffs in four of the seven seasons since 1995, but they hadn't won a single playoff game since winning two in '95 - which, until '03, were the only two playoff wins in the Indianapolis era. The 2003 season also marked the first time the Colts had ever won a playoff game in Indy. Considering the history, hanging a banner for the two "finalist" seasons wasn't such an outrageous idea. Since that 2003 season, however, the Colts have made the playoffs ten times in eleven seasons, went 122-54 in the regular season, 10-9 in the playoffs, made it to two Super Bowls and won one. The expectations are higher for this franchise now than they were in 1995 or 2003.
But it's about pride for the Colts, and they should be proud of what they accomplished in 2014 - though the way they have chosen to express that pride is debatable.