It felt like the ride would never end. If leukemia didn't stop them, why would their pass rush, their secondary, their offensive line, or their youth and inexperience? None of that mattered. Until it did.
The Indianapolis Colts ended their season with a 24-9 loss at the hands of the painfully average Baltimore Ravens. For a half, they looked like the better team. But when the clock struck zero, the pumpkin emerged because of their inability to make plays with their pass rush, their secondary, their offensive line, or their young WRs.
Of course, the 2012 Colts won't be remembered for any of those deficiencies. They will be remembered for the innocence of youth - they never knew they were supposed to be bad. They will be remembered for their comebacks, the unexpected triumphs. And they will be remembered for their fight.
It was said by many in the hours after their Wild Card Round loss that 2012 was a great learning experience for a team bound for great things. While it's true that experiencing the atmosphere, as well as the sheer will and determination required to win a playoff game, can only serve to help the team in the future, the Colts learned their most valuable lesson off the field, when their coach instilled in them that fight, the never-give-up attitude, the ability to live in a vision.
There are no happy defeats and moral victories in sports. There's no such thing as a "good loss", and "taking your lumps" is just a patronizing way of saying, "wait until you get better." But as the sting of Sunday's loss eventually fades, the reality of what happened in Indianapolis this season will set in: beyond the comebacks and the overachieving, a team was formed. Between players, coaches, management, owners, and, yes, a city, who, despite ridiculous claims of being fair weather, welcomed each of them into their hearts. And that team, lead by their head coach, filled the masses with hope and inspired them to do more than they believed was possible. ChuckStrong became far more than a hashtag, it became a way of life.
As we move into the 2013 off-season, there is a lot of work to be done. On offense, the Colts must upgrade an offensive line which, for much of the year, inhibited Andrew Luck's ability to play at his best. Grigson should also be in the market for a true #1 WR. Not only must he prepare for the eventual retirement of Reggie Wayne - he was amazing for much of the 2012 season, but he's closer to the end than the beginning - but for the offense to be at his best, someone significantly better than Donnie Avery must be getting the lion's share of targets. On defense, Grigson will have his hands full as he tries to upgrade the safety position, OLB, CB, while strengthening a defensive line that is not talented enough to command double teams.
But the biggest challenge for the team will be making this matter. Tragedy and hardship often have a way of bringing out the best in people. They cause us to fix our perspective and readjust our priorities. But as time passes and the hardship becomes a footnote, people slip into their old habits, with their old perspectives and priorities. Build on this, all of this. 11-5, yes - Luck, Hilton, Ballard, Allen, Freeman, Davis, Grigson - but also the hope, the fight. The season has ended, the vision should not.
Don't underestimate Luck ... I'm not talking about his talent or football IQ ... He is intensely competitive and a real, strong leader. I think they will be intense ... For Luck, the old habits are the same as this year's ... Score on every possession, Win every game
"a city, who, despite ridiculous claims of being fair weather, welcomed each of them into their hearts"... Thanks a ton for writing that. As a loyal season ticket holder I get so sick of the "fair weather" claims made by others.
Grigson built a pretty good team on short notice, with no salary cap space, and one high draft pick. I am looking forward to see what he can do with a ton of cap space and plenty of time to "wheel and deal".
As the roster gets refilled via free agency vs. the draft, I'll be curious to see if those new players get acculturated to the Chuckstrong approach and the experience of this year, or if it gets diluted as many of the players who were here for it move on.
@pierrezombie Interesting question. Maybe Year 1 was the lightning in a bottle year – finding positive motivation from negative circumstances and overachieve. Let's hope Year 2 is when they fill the holes, the coaches are able to do what they do with better talent, and the 'magic' is offset.
Well said Greg.
And perspective is everything. This team did benefit from circumstances and lower expectations. (Imagine if that exact same team yesterday had been QBed by Manning. It would be getting blasted today.)
You couldn't be more right... the biggest challenge for the team will be making this matter!
@DougEngland I think the Manning-led team would have won that game. But of course, it would have had two (or three?) more first round picks on the field, too. Might have helped.
@DougEngland Hi Doug!
Thank you for the kind words, and thank you for supporting us all season.
Totally agree with your take on the team, expectations, and how it would have been treated under the old QB/regime.
Speaking of: I thought yesterday was a very "Manning" game. Luck was very, VERY good. Few others on the Colts were.