Brian Hamilton: From Dolts to Colts dynasty – Believe it
They certainly don’t look like the ‘Aints I grew up watching.
Brees, Bush and the New Orleans Saints are certainly the heartwarming story of the Super Bowl, hoping to lift the hearts of their hurricane-ravaged hometown and bring a championship to one of the true hard-luck franchises in football history.
I say one of the hard-luck stories, because the team on the opposite sideline Sunday is among the others.
Oh sure, the Colts might be Sunday’s favorite – a five-point favorite as of Friday night – but there was a time when the Colts were the biggest underdogs in the NFL.
I know. I lived through it.
It seemed that Indianapolis would forever be cursed by how the Colts bailed on Baltimore in the middle of the nigh back in 1984t. The team went 4-12 in its debut season at the Hoosier Dome and, aside from a few spikes of promise, it really pretty much went downhill from there.
Seriously, in the first 14 seasons of Indy football, the Colts struggled to five winning seasons, 88 victories and 135 defeats. Through those years, the franchise twice hitched its wagon to a pair of running backs – Eric Dickerson and Marshalll Faulk – who pushed the Colts past the.500 mark, but never established itself among the NFL’s elite.
(Of course, as bad as it was, the Colts never approached anything close to annual ineptitude – seven straight seasons with at least 11 losses – the Raiders are feeding their fans right now.)
Colts fans were resigned to hum along with Duke Tomatoe’s bluesy Indy anthem “Lord, help our Colts” each week over the radio airwaves, after quarterbacks Mike Pagel, Art Schlister, Mark Herrman, Jack Trudeau, Gary Hogeboom, Chris Chandler, Jeff George and Jim Harbaugh had failed to take them to the promised land.
Although Harbaugh did carry the Colts to the 1995 AFC Championship game – and within four points of the Super Bowl – the success was short-lived and the Colts went back to being the “Dolts!” and posted a 3-13 season in 1997.
And then came the decision that changed the course of a franchise and a city:
Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf?
Though it looks like a no-brainer today, that choice was considered pretty much a 50/50 proposition in 1998. But Colts GM Bill Polian did his homework, picked Manning No. 1 overall and left Leaf to the Chargers with the second selection.
Somewhere, Bobby Beathard is still sobbing.
Of course, we all know how it turned out. Leaf ended up being the “million-dollar arm, 10-cent head” Crash Davis warned us about in “Bull Durham.”
He became the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
Simmer down 49er fans. I know that last sentence remains a work in progress, but we’re no longer talking about Manning owning every passing record by the time he retires from the game.
Now we’re talking Super Bowls. And on Sunday night, Peyton will hoist the Lombardi Trophy for a second time in what might very well be followed by many more, as the Colts are on the verge of having folks whispering about a … (shhh) … dynasty.
Since stepping under center for the Colts five months after he was drafted in 1998, Peyton Manning has not missed a single start.
He has led Indianapolis to 131 wins against 61 losses. Thirty two of those losses, by the way, came in the first four years of his career. He’s 99-29 in the last eight years (a 77.3 winning percentage), including seven straight seasons of at least 12 wins (essentially the exact opposite of Oakland in that same stretch).
The Colts will win Sunday, because they’ve won every time they’ve tried to win this season.
As Tony Dungy has pointed out, the Vikings turned the ball over five times and the Saints still needed overtime to win. Along with predicting the Colts won’t turn the ball over five times, Dungy also said the game won’t even be close.
Tony going bold. Who knew?
But he’s likely right. Considering Peyton carved up two of the top defenses in the league – Ray Lewis’ Ravens and Rex Ryan’s Jets – en route to Miami, I don’t think the Saints’ 26th-ranked pass defense is exactly striking fear in the heart of a certain 6-5, 230-pound quarterback with a laser, rocket arm.
And don’t forget that the Colts defense was second in the league in scoring, before Indy began resting their regulars for the postseason run.
Taking the conversation up a level to dynasty talk might seem a bit premature, but considering what this Colts team – one, mind you, that has been ravaged by injuries – has done this season, there’s no reason to think there aren’t more Super Bowls on the horizon.
That much improved Colts defense is without its top two defensive backs in Marlin Jackson and Bob Sanders. Yeah, Bob Sanders. And Peyton played the whole season without his No. 2 wide receiver in Anthony Gonzalez. Yeah, Anthony Gonzalez.
So what happens when all of the above make their return next season and the younguns like Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon have a full season under the belts? (Of course, then Polian gets the chance to add even more talent two months from now when the NFL Draft rolls around).
Yet, if the Saints are able to withstand Indy’s aerial assault, though disappointed, I certainly won’t be disgusted. It’s hard not to root for them, especially for Hoosiers when you consider all the connections to the Colts.
Yes, we all know that Archie Manning once starred for the Saints and he raised his son, Peyton, in the Pop Warner and prep leagues of Nawlins.
But what about Jim Mora? After all, he led New Orleans to its first winning season (12-4) in 20 years of football in 1987. And a dozen years later, in Peyton’s second season, he led Indy to its best record (13-3) since coming to the Circle City from Baltimore.
Of course, he also gave both franchises pretty memorable post-game press conferences with long-lived quotes like “We didn’t do diddly poo!” and “Playoffs?Don’t talk about … playoffs? You kiddin’ me? Playoffs?”
So no matter how Sunday’s show turns out, either winner will be worthy of my applause.
After all, it sure beats the ‘Aints versus the Dolts.
Still: Colts 38, Saints 21
Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 477-4240.
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