Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When 14-1 Isn't Good Enough

There's been a good deal of debate this week regarding Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell's election to bench his starters midway through Sunday's eventual loss to the New York Jets. This is a rare situation where I have a strong opinion about something like this, so I'm going to spout it: Caldwell was an idiot for pulling his guys.

I completely understand his logic about not wanting to risk an injury to one of his best players. Without Peyton Manning, Dwight Freeney, Dallas Clark, or Reggie Wayne, the Colts are probably still fighting for a playoff spot, and they'd be in bad shape in the playoffs if they lost any of those four to injury.

But they did play half of the game, right? Was that half of football intended to just be a scrimmage, trying to stay fresh without worrying about winning? I doubt it. Manning and the Colts were out there trying to win the game right up until the point they were pulled from the game. Everyone on the team has been saying the right things, which suggests that they buy into the coach's ideas on the matter, and that's great. They all think that the move will put them in the best possible position to win the Super Bowl, which Caldwell and GM Bill Polian have reiterated over and over as being the ultimate goal.

Do you know what Manning, Freeney, Clark, and Wayne all have in common, though? They've all already won a Super Bowl. Winning another one would be great, and solidify all of them as among the best at their positions in this generation of players. But the possibility of going 19-0 for a completely undefeated season, a season that would trump the '72 Miami Dolphins as the greatest NFL accomplishment of all time, should have overtaken the desire to "stay healthy."

It's so rare that anyone has an opportunity to be considered among the best all time at anything. The 2007-2008 Celtics went 66-16 and rolled through the playoffs, but people don't even consider them to have been among the top 3 Boston teams of all time. The Yankees only won 103 games in their 2009 World Series winning season, so they're just the best team this season, not a candidate for the best team ever.

Think back to the 2007 NFL season. It was capped off with a great Super Bowl, but a Super Bowl most memorable because it was the Patriots' chance to unseat history. When you remember that game, and that season, you'll remember that the Giants won the Super Bowl, but you'll remember it most because they beat the Patriots to preserve the '72 Dolphins' place in lore. The opportunity to be legendary is so rare that we'll remember vividly even those who came up short.

How dare Caldwell and Polian deprive this team of the opportunity for perfection. How dare they sacrifice history for a perceived improvement of their chances at winning a Super Bowl. For me, no matter how well this team does (and there's a reasonable chance that they win it all), I'll always wonder what might have been.

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