New York Jets defeated the Indianapolis Colts yesterday to hand them their first loss and ruin their chances at a perfect record. The final score was 29-15. Of course, however, the Jets were playing the Colts' second-string unit for much of the second half. One question jumps to my mind: why?
To start off, I did not want the Colts to go undefeated. I just enjoy records staying records unless it's someone or some team I really like, and the Colts are not that. But for it to end like this? That's not what I wanted.
Of course, the age old debate will ensue about whether or not it's a good strategy to rest players at all. Are the players rusty or rested? Healthy or out-of-sync? And, to a lesser extent, whether or not resting players is fair to the other teams. Is it fair to the other teams in the AFC playoff hunt that the Jets got to play a team that, for all intents and purposes, apparently couldn't have cared less whether they won or not?
I'm not going to attempt to tackle those here, because there are much bigger things at play in this case, namely the opportunity to go undefeated. [As a side note, though, there is certainly a line that the Colts have passed about trying to win a game. Week 17 of 2007 was the worst instance of this, and I will never forgive them for it. The Colts were playing the Titans, down six points, with under two minutes to go. With a win, the Titans would make the playoffs; a loss and the Browns would make it instead. Yes, I know, it's hard to believe the Browns were almost a playoff team then. The Colts had Jim Sorgi knee the ball rather than attempting to score. It's one thing to rest players, but it's another altogether to essentially forfeit a game, especially one that means so much for the other team. It was a slap in the face to every other team and I think, if it should ever happen again, the team perpetrating it should be barred from the playoffs. It's just completely unfair if one team is not attempting to win their game. If that team was, say, 5-10, wouldn't everyone be up in arms about unfair play? It really bothers me. Whew, long side note.]
Back to the current situation. There is a quote, from Calvin & Hobbes, that comes to mind in regard to the Colts. It goes something like this: "In the short run, it would make me happier to play outside. But in the long run, I know it would make me happier to study. But in the very long run, I know which will make better memories."* To me, that is (correction: was) the Colts' predicament. The short run is the one game--it'd be great to win it, but their real goal is winning the Super Bowl, which is the long run. Therefore, they'll sacrifice the short run fun of winning their week 16 game to accomplish their long run goal (assuming, of course, that that would actually help them do so). But what they don't consider is that, in the very long run, what would matter the most, by far, is going undefeated.
Do you know who won the Super Bowl in 1970? 1971? 73, 74, 75? I'm not sure--maybe the Steelers? I know they were good with Bradshaw and the Steel Curtain back around that time. You probably answered something similar. But if I asked you what happened in 1972, is there a football fan in America who wouldn't know? Would anyone not be able to tell me that the Dolphins won all 14 games in the regular season and then won the Super Bowl that year?
It's not about winning the Super Bowl this year against not winning the Super Bowl this year. It's about making history and being remembered for generations to come as the first team to go 19-0 (and second to go undefeated) against not winning the Super Bowl this year (yet again, assuming that resting players improves a team's chances). Even if the Colts did increase their probability of winning the championship, was it worth their chance at history to do so? If I were a Colts fan, I would have been booing as loud as anyone at the RCA Dome, and I'd be tearing into them to anyone who would listen.
And as a player, how can you allow this to happen? If you're Peyton Manning, don't you walk into Jim Caldwell's office and say, "Hey, don't take me out on Sunday. I don't want to lose this opportunity."? Perhaps he did. But I don't think so. Someone of his importance... I just don't believe for a second that the head coach would turn him down if he told him it was important to him to go undefeated.
Which will you be more likely to remember in 50 years: what happened in Super Bowl XLIV in 2009 or what happened during the 2007 season? No question, you'll remember the Patriots, and the Giants too, for stealing their chance at glory. If the Colts do win the Super Bowl this year, you won't remember them.
And it was all by choice.
*I couldn't find the quote online, so that may not be very close to the real thing, but the meaning of it is definitely the same. It also may not be Calvin & Hobbes, but again, I'm pretty sure it is. If anyone knows exactly where it's from I'd love to know.