A Season – And a Gamble – to Remember
The Indianapolis Colts have had a season that fans will be able to cherish for a lifetime. Their made-for-Hollywood story, however, could very well come to an end this weekend, and on paper, it looks all too likely. Advanced metrics, standard statistics, turnover differential, and overall talent levels all say the 2012 Colts don’t belong in the playoffs. All that logic, reasonable though it may sound, indicated they wouldn’t finish the season 11-5, either. Yet, here they are. (And the Ravens aren’t exactly setting the world on fire).
Aside from simply being a better at football than most people expected, the Colts have benefitted from great leadership, a sizeable chip on their shoulder, and a big motivational gamble by Chuck Pagano
When everyone – EVERYONE – picked them to finish at or near the bottom of the league, Pagano used it to light a fire under his players, even provoke them a little. He said from day one, they were not rebuilding, that they were “Building the Monster.” He even had those t-shirts made for his players, showing the Colts dead last in the power rankings.
Pagano’s methods were a high-risk, all-in gamble. The roster had been gutted, there was a new coaching staff, new system, new everything. In that situation, coaches are supposed to use careful language to avoid looking foolish. They try to focus on the future, and to protect their jobs, hoping they get some more talent and start winning soon.
It was not the typical situation to come in and say the future is now, and the time to win is now. Pagano did it anyway. This was his shot at being a head coach, and he would either win from day one or look like a fool for thinking they could. Either way, Pagano was ready to go down swinging, and as a result, so were his players. At 11-5, Pagano’s gamble looks like a very smart one.
As incredible of an experience as this season has been for Colts fans, imagine for a moment the emotional ride the players have been on this year. “It’s been real special to me,” Reggie Wayne said of the 2012 season. “Starting off like I’ve been saying, power ranked 32nd. That’s been pretty satisfying. A lot of people really didn’t have us winning much. They felt that we were rebuilding and rightfully so, whatever words you want to use. The way we’ve been going about it, it’s been great.
“It could have been easy for us to kind of hang our heads down lower with everything that went on with coach Pagano and kind of had an excuse, being young or whatever the case may have you. Everybody just continued to just fight and do everything they had to do to prevail. Seeing it be done by so many guys is special. They’ve been keeping young, keeping me into it, keeping me laughing and it’s been a special year. Hopefully we can continue, like I’ve been saying, to write this movie.”
It doesn’t matter what the football experts think. It doesn’t matter what anyone else understandably thinks. Wayne, Pagano, and the Colts are not finished yet.
“You Mean We Get Paid for This?”
As you may have heard, very few players on the Colts current roster have any significant playoff experience, namely a handful of long-time Colts, and Mewelde Moore. When people are talking about Jerrell Freeman’s CFL playoff experience, it underscores just how scarce playoff-tested veterans are on this team.
So prevalent is the youthfulness on their roster, that some of the young guys either didn’t realize or had not yet considered that they would be paid extra to play in the postseason. “It’s kind of funny, man,” said Reggie Wayne yesterday. “You just see guys’ eyes light up whenever you say something they didn’t know anything about. We were talking to some of them and talking about the playoffs and what happens in the playoffs and we tell them, ‘The more you play in the playoffs, you get more checks.’ You see guys’ eyes light up almost like saying , ‘What? More money?’ If you tell them that there’s more incentive to the deeper you go in the playoffs, guys are excited.”
Obviously, competitors want to win in the playoffs. These young Colts have demonstrated their powerful, intrinsic motivation to win all season in a way that has endeared them to their fans and football fans everywhere. However, a little external motivation can go a long way too, especially when it comes as a surprise.
Wayne continued on a more serious note about the young guys staying motivated to win and not just happy to be in the playoffs. “They understand where we are at,” he said. “I don’t think it’ll be too big for them. Everybody has played big all year, big stages, little stages. Hopefully we can continue to do that. It’s not going to be easy though. We’ve got to be ready to face some adversity, which we’ve had that all year and be able to throw a counter punch whenever we get punched. It’s kind of how it’s been all year with guys staying in tune, working the process and not worrying about all the negative stuff.”
Counter punch, he says. The 2012 Colts have been great at throwing counter punches all year. Against an elite defense on the road Sunday, they will need to land the first punch as well.
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Man, I am nervous for this game. I think we have a legitimate shot at winning it and moving on. The excitement with this team is that anything can happen. We have what seems like an insurmountable road to get on to the AFC championship or Super Bowl, but that's what people thought about us making the playoffs, too, so who knows? Any manner of playoff experience is only going to help us, even were the game to be a blowout. A team often learns the most by losing, and while I hope we don't lose again this year, every team but one is going to and if we move on and improve next year, then this will be a huge win of a season. Go Colts!
If the Texans beat the Bengals tonight, I wonder if Pagano is going to play the ultimate motivational card to Freeney and Mathis.... "if we win, you will get the chance to actually hit Peyton Manning."