I want to comment on the Indianapolis Colts’ decision on Sunday to pull their starters (i.e. Peyton Manning) against the Jets, thus setting the table for their first loss of the season. The rationalization for this choice is that the Colts have already secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, thus they didn’t need to win any more games, and it is a good idea to rest starters and minimize the risk of injury to a key player… i.e. Peyton Manning again.
Yeah, yeah. Bullshit.
This was a bad decision in many, many ways, and not least of which because it will almost ensure that the Colts don’t even get to the Super Bowl.
But let’s start with the “history” discussion. Do you remember who won the Super Bowl four years ago? I don’t. But I do remember the Miami Dolphins went undefeated in 1972. Yes, winning the Super Bowl should be the goal of every NFL team, but if you are in a position to make NFL history and you decide not to, then you might as well become an accountant, because you’ve decided job security is more important than the Game (yes, with a capital G).
No team has ever won all 16 regular season games AND the Super Bowl. Only one team has been undefeated in a 16-game season. The Colts had a chance to make a permanent mark in the record book, and they shrugged their shoulders.
And here is the other thing: Your best chance to win the Super Bowl IS playing each game like it matters. Coasting into the playoffs is never a good strategy. People who support the Colts’ decision use as an example the 2007 New England Patriots who didn’t lose a game in the regular season and then were beaten by the Giants in the Super Bowl. See, they say, how it doesn’t matter if you win ’em all but the last one. Well, you’re still talking about that team even though they did lose the Super Bowl… How many Super Bowl losers are talked about the next year even, let alone two seasons later? But, more to my point, what they fail to say is that the Giants didn’t have to play hard the last game of the season (against the Patriots, no less). They had already secured their spot in the playoffs. But the Giants played that game to win. They knew the Patriots were on the verge of an historic season, and they had enough respect for the Game (with a capital G) to give it their best shot, so a Patriots victory wouldn’t be tainted, and because doing anything else was just not in the nature of their coach. The Giants came very close to winning that game, an effort that gave them the momentum to make it through the playoffs to the rematch with the Pats in the Super Bowl.
By coasting into the playoffs, the Colts will almost assuredly lose their first game. They will be playing a team that likely had to win their remaining games to get into the playoffs. That team will be hungry. That team will have momentum. That team will be confident. And that team will know they are playing a team that could have made history, but settled for playing it safe. Can you imagine Vince Lombardi making that decision? Neither can I.