It Takes A Village Idiot

Ladies man Big Ben -- always a danger to himself, is he a danger to the public at large?

With admitted, shameless personal bias, I have never liked Ben Roethlisberger. Even though the Pittsburgh quarterback played for deceased Indiana University coach Terry Hoeppner — a man I respected immeasurably — at Miami of Ohio, I have always perceived Big Ben as a big mouth-breather.

Naturally, the second Roethlisberger was drafted by Pittsburgh in 2004, he earned a permanent spot on my excrement list. I hold the Steelers in as high regard as the George W. Bush administration. Time and time again, the franchise has benefited from some of the worst calls and no-calls in the history of professional football, but most of their fans weep and bellyache when they aren’t able to steal every big game. Like Ohio State supporters, they descend on host cities like drunken locusts, consuming all liquor in sight while profanely chirping until the final whistle.

That said, I have to credit the Terrible Towel wavers, because despite two Super Bowl victories, Roethlisberger isn’t even liked much in Pittsburgh anymore.

On Thursday, statements from Roethlisberger’s accuser in Milledgeville, Ga., to police were released. The 20-year-old female said she tried to escape the 6-foot-5 behemoth after he pulled his junk out in a hallway and cornered her in a bathroom, before raping her.

We all know pro athletes are targets for some unscrupulous women seeking a payday, and yes, Roethlisberger’s accuser was illegally intoxicated. But the multiple-source evidence suggests a serious crime was committed. Not only that, but Roethlisberger was apparently aided by two off-duty cops/bodyguards who seemingly served as rape assist men. Also, security videos were miraculously erased, and the investigating officer — who has since resigned — insulted the alleged victim and posed for pictures with Roethlisberger.

Money and clout can make a lot of things disappear, especially in hillbilly portions of the former Confederacy. In my younger days of club-hopping, patrons only used bathrooms for urinating and drug use, not forced fornication. Still, I’m sure the mafia-supported club owners I met that turned a blind eye to narcotics would happily do anything to minimize police involvement or sweep a sexual assault under the rug, especially if it meant a little payoff on the other end. Whatever happened in that stall, it is clear a cover-up or at least unfathomable neglect took place in Milledgeville.

It is possible the girl is lying, but a young college student is a lot less likely to create a self-injuring tale for cash than the predators usually guilty of that kind of deception. They are typically older, jaded cougars tired of working, not kids with their whole lives ahead of them. Because prosecutors decided not to press charges, it looks like the only people that’ll know the truth are the accuser, Roethlisberger and his henchmen. The girl has decided to take her vaginal injuries and move on, saying a trial would be “too intrusive a personal experience.”

Last year, I covered the Pittsburgh/Chicago contest in Week 2 at Soldier Field. While searching the Steelers locker room for kicker Jeff Reed, who blew the game with two late missed field goals, I came across Roethlisberger. Dressed like a sloppy trailer-park reject, Big Ben didn’t have a care in the world as he hammed it up around his noticeably dejected teammates. It confirmed all I assumed about him — that he is an aloof, functional idiot with great athletic ability. Now, since it hasn’t been proven otherwise, I’ll amend that to include “problem drinker and probable restroom rapist.”

All indications are that the Steelers have joined their fan base in being steamed at their one-time hero. A suspension is likely, but it’s unlikely to change a man who nearly killed himself on a motorcycle despite warnings and who has made an ass of himself repeatedly throughout the United States.

In the meantime, if you see a large man in Steelers gear with a slicked-back semi-mullet stumbling through your local bar … please, go the other way.

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Bitter pill not so hard to swallow

Butler starters (from left) Ronald Nored, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack helped elevate the Bulldogs to new heights and will return for another run at a national title.

Two years ago, I was in media row at Conseco Fieldhouse when Gordon Hayward’s runner at the buzzer won an Indiana Class 4A state championship for Brownsburg High School. It was a moment which brought an involuntary reaction I have chastised others for over the years, as I sprung out of my seat and yelled in spontaneous joy for a kid I saw grow from a tiny skeleton into a major talent and leader during his high school years.

When my ticket was secured for the Final Four in Indianapolis last week, I began having a vision of the perfect ending for Hayward and the Butler Bulldogs. I pictured Hayward with the ball, nailing a long-range 3-pointer as time expired for the national championship.

As I stood with my brother and 71,000 others at Lucas Oil Stadium Monday night, that vision came agonizingly close to remarkable reality. But when Hayward’s heave from just inside half-court bounced off the backboard and front of the hoop, what would’ve been the greatest shot in NCAA history turned into the sad realization that one of the more memorable tournament runs ever was over.

Out of the many hundreds of events I have attended or covered, Monday’s title game with Duke will eternally be in a class of its own. Somewhere in my subconscious now resides a parallel universe, one in which Hayward’s bomb swished though the net, and security was steamrolled by thousands of Butler fans as they stormed the court in a stadium awash in tears and spilled drinks in the most raucous celebration since V-J Day.

Perhaps a life full of Colts and Pacers disappointments prepared me for Monday’s jaw-dropping conclusion, because as I filed out with the other Bulldogs supporters, which outnumbered Duke’s by at least 6-to-1, pain was surpassed by a feeling of fortunateness. We were lucky to be there, not only to see an instant classic, but to bear witness to Butler’s unveiling to the world.

The Hoosier State has long known about “The Butler Way” — a system of selfless commitment which this year’s team personified — and now the nation knows. It’s a big reason why Indiana and Purdue won’t play Butler anymore, and why media experts ate crow time and time again over the last few weeks. Even with shooting that would’ve doomed almost any other team, Butler survived in the tournament with grit and heart which are instilled from Day 1 in the program. It’s why nearly every player graduates on time, and why academic honors are hailed as much as athletic accomplishments. For a sport often mired in shadiness and scandal, Butler — much like Duke — maintains standards many programs and coaches can’t fathom.

Anyone thinking Butler’s national runner-up finish is an aberration should prepare themselves for future chagrin.

Brad Stevens, the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach through three seasons (89-15), is the hottest commodity in his field. But while Oregon and/or others will come calling, Stevens isn’t leaving anytime soon. The 33-year-old schematic and motivational genius seems to love Butler and Indianapolis as much as the sport he coaches. He is not one driven by cash, personal ambition or ego, and the university will do everything in its power to make him a lifetime resident of Hinkle Fieldhouse. Outside of the educational realm, that has to be the school’s top priority.

Fueled by a feeling that there’s some unfinished business, Hayward isn’t parting, either. The NBA will still be there in a year or two, and Hayward is smart enough to know he’s part of something priceless. With Willie Veasley and Avery Jukes as the only senior contributors, Butler will return nearly intact while welcoming a solid recruiting class.

How good could they be, especially if they realize their offensive potential?

“They’ll probably win it next year,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters after Monday’s championship game. “They’re the best team we’ve played. No one played us any harder or any better than Butler.”

Butler’s brand is forever changed, and this year’s run will pay dividends for many years to come. The Bulldogs will start next season ranked in the top five nationally, and never again will they have to worry about being grossly underseeded by the NCAA selection committee. Butler Nation has grown immeasurably, even if some members are only part-time — like President Barack Obama, who was so inspired by the Bulldogs that he called them on Tuesday.

As I got ready to leave Indianapolis Tuesday morning, I swooped downtown to pick up some half-priced Final Four gear at a merchandise stand, items to remind me of the tremendous season that was. While Butler’s players no doubt remain devastated, for this fan, a crushing loss never felt so good.

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A great ride spoiled

Peyton Manning’s reaction said it all as New Orleans ended Indianapolis’ Super Bowl dreams while ushering in another long, agonizing offseason.

In a city known for the wildest of soirées, New Orleans partygoers are likely feeling the physical effects of a celebration like no other. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts and their fans are dealing with a hangover that’ll last until training camp opens in late July.

Leading up to Indianapolis’ win over Chicago in Super Bowl XLI, former Colts coach Tony Dungy repeatedly said the only pain worse than not making American sports’ biggest game is getting there and losing. The words and expressions of Dungy’s replacement, Jim Caldwell, said as much following Sunday’s 31-17 loss to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.

“Anytime you lose the last game of the season, it’s difficult,” Caldwell said. “Particularly on this stage, in this particular game, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.”

With a second Lombardi Trophy in four years, the Colts could’ve moved up the ladder of football’s historic hierarchy. Instead, they became a mere footnote in New Orleans’ story of triumph and redemption. After a great start, the winningest team of the decade was outcoached and outplayed in every facet.

New Orleans’ field goal before halftime which cut Indianapolis’ lead to 10-6 was big, but its onside kick and recovery to start the second half were monumental. If the Colts got the ball, extended their lead and went on to win, Saints coach Sean Payton would’ve been crucified. Instead, having the guts to shoulder ultimate blame, he will be remembered for the single greatest coaching decision in Super Bowl history.

“It was a big momentum swing coming out of the half like that,” Colts tight end Dallas Clark said. “I kind of had a feeling they were going to try and do something. They weren’t getting much going offensively, so they had to get a spark somewhere.”

The resulting spark ignited New Orleans’ offensive powder keg. Hobbled Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney’s effectiveness reduced with each play while fellow bookend Robert Mathis was rendered equally useless. With no pressure, the Colts’ linebackers and secondary were no match, as Drew Brees carved them up with ninja-like precision.

Yet despite giving up scores on all of New Orleans’ second-half possessions, Indianapolis had a chance to tie or win it late. But unlike in the Colts’ NFL-record seven fourth-quarter comebacks this season, quarterback Peyton Manning couldn’t conduct another masterpiece. Instead, Tracy Porter’s 74-yard interception return for a touchdown with 3:12 left will provide Manning a recurring nightmare for the rest of his life.

“(The Saints) played well in all phases,” Manning said. “They made some critical plays on special teams, they were good on offense and the defense made the plays they had to. They deserved it today.”

Yes they did. It was New Orleans’ time, and no team has deserved a championship more. The Saints’ effort on the field and philanthropic work off it have provided a beacon of hope in a city still mired in despair over four years after Hurricane Katrina. Though it was discussed even more than Freeney’s bum ankle prior to Sunday’s game, the Saints’ emotional value to New Orleans can’t be overstated. Even the most die-hard Colts supporter can take some solace in knowing a place with everyday problems beyond their comprehension finally felt good about itself after so much anguish.

Unfortunately, that far from alleviates all the agony.

“This is a tough feeling,” Colts linebacker Clint Session said. “You let the city down. We let ourselves down.”

This season was still an undeniable success for Indianapolis, which won an AFC title after being picked to go as low as 8-8 by some experts. It overcame the loss of three defensive starters to injury, including former defensive player of the year Bob Sanders. That would’ve crippled virtually every other team in the league, but the Colts didn’t miss a beat and now have valuable experience that can’t be quantified. Offensively, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez was lost in Week 1, but Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie were better than the most optimistic of preseason appraisals; running backs Joseph Addai and Donald Brown showed consistency and flashes of brilliance; the offensive line was nearly perfect; and Manning was a mastermind of unfathomable proportions.

The Colts’ future is unquestionably bright, but the clock is ticking. They likely have a three-year window before the inevitable age-induced decline begins. They will be a better team next season, and if the injury bug fails to bite, look out.

The Colts and Saints seem destined for a Super Bowl rematch, possibly as soon as next season. But even for two teams that proved you make your own breaks, you never know how the ball’s going to bounce, and only time will tell.

Until then, for the Colts and their fans, the hurt remains.

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In Pigskin We Trust

For football addicts, game day provides a welcomed escape from today’s economic despair while putting political discord on the backburner.

These days, warfare between Democrats and Republicans is America’s bloodsport. It has a level of hostility not seen in this country since the late 1960s, or in some cases, the 1860s. Many families and friends are divided, dug into ideological trenches as verbal nerve gas spread by partisan news organizations and radio shows turns once docile folks into maniacal combatants.

In a time of distemper and disillusionment, there seems to be only one thing most Americans have in common — a love for football. For the last six months, political angst has been tossed aside each weekend, as liberals and conservatives have joyously jammed into stadiums, sports bars and living rooms united by the teams they fanatically support.

Football doesn’t always bring out the best in people, especially for those afflicted with social-impact alcoholism — defined as the inability to conform liquor consumption to socially accepted channels. This ailment can cause a werewolf-like transformation which becomes more glaring as kickoff nears, and in NFL venues, it usually reaches its appalling peak with the end of beer sales in the third quarter. It could be witnessed at virtually any stadium I set foot in for a decade, as my pregame intake rivaled Wade Boggs’ on a cross-country flight.

For instance, in 1995 I challenged the entire Marshall University football team and its alumni section to a fight, decked out in Appalachian State gear in my seat two feet from the Thundering Herd’s bench. An usher approached me before the contest commenced, saying, “If you get jumped, I won’t help you.” I informed the gentleman that I’d make such an example of the first person to attack me that he should have paramedics on-call. Although Marshall’s All-American defensive back nearly accepted my invitation, no violence ensued, and after App upset the top-ranked Herd, I hopped the rail and the back of future All-Pro Dexter Coakley, and ran around the turf like some LSD-crazed streaker until I decided it was time to find more drink.

A year later, a scene of abhorrent behavior took place at the RCA Dome when the Indianapolis Colts met Miami on Monday Night Football. After a mix of intoxicants that could’ve killed a rhino, I verbally assailed Dolphins fans within screaming distance for four full quarters. At one point, while running down the stairs to flip off a row of horrified spectators in Dan Marino jerseys, I slipped, slammed on my back and slid down an untold number of steps with middle fingers still raised. Why I wasn’t arrested, tased or shot, I’ll never know, as my actions had to be far worse than I can recall. I won’t even tell you about the drive home.

This code of conduct occurred at varying levels until 2005, when I got my first serious job in journalism, which included covering the Colts for three years. During this time, going to games sober, I saw just how annoying most drunk fans are. Reclaiming my Colts season ticket last season, I’m now a responsible spectator, which can no doubt be partially attributed to marriage and parenthood. Now the only chance for altercation comes with antagonistic visiting fans who infringe on our typically peaceful, small section. Thankfully, we have some good ushers that send such miscreants on their way.

Regardless of any drunken idiocy, football is one of the last great unifiers. It brings small towns and big cities together like few things can, while providing immeasurable entertainment. For me, the $1,220 my wife and I spent on 12 games this year will go down as arguably the best leisure investment of my lifetime … and trust me, that’s saying a lot. From the unforgettable celebration after the Colts’ miracle comeback against New England, to the infuriation when perfection was abandoned against New York, to the raucous conclusion and banishment of those same Jets in the AFC title game, it was an emotional release needed by many in today’s economic and political climate. Not everyone gets to enjoy the same ride, but in times like these any diversion is a good one, especially when it’s shared by those close to you.

For the true gridiron junkie, Super Bowl Sunday is like New Year’s Eve, the end of an unofficial calendar which life revolves around. Some would rather be cryogenically frozen on Monday, to be thawed by the heat of August with training camp and two-a-days underway.

If that technology becomes available, count me in.

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Musings from the Snow Belt

NBA commissioner David Stern dropped the hammer on Gilbert Arenas (center) and Javaris Crittenton for their half-cocked behavior.

This week has provided too many topics to dedicate a pontificating opus to just one. So, here’re a few thoughts on the week that was:

STERN MESSAGE: Outside of gang-bangers and far-right fundamentalists, the best example for the need to outlaw handguns and assault weapons in the U.S. is the NBA. A decade of firearm embarrassments for the league came to a preposterous conclusion last month, when Washington’s Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton nearly went Doc Holiday-Johnny Ringo over a gambling debt.

This week, NBA commissioner David Stern suspended the amateur quick-draw artists for the rest of the season. My opinion of Stern historically has hovered somewhere between Dick Cheney and cockroaches, especially since his imposed sentences following the Pacers-Pistons brawl in 2004 destroyed Reggie Miller’s final year. This time Stern got it right.

A sizable portion of the NBA is a testament to some of the failings of our society and struggles within African American culture. The ludicrous War on Drugs has helped put 1 in 20 black men in prison, which coupled with a deficiency of male accountability, has contributed to the erosion of family structure. Fatherless hoops stars are often handed grades in high school and disciplinary issues are buried as they’re coddled by coaches and AAU parasites. By the time they enter the NBA — now after a mandated year of continued pampering in college — many are unprepared for adulthood and responsibility, and outside of parenthood, few responsibilities are greater than gun ownership. Throw in the patented athletes’ aura of invincibility, and a fear of robbery of the thousands of dollars in jewelry the average player wears, and you have a hazardous mix.

Stern’s suspensions without pay have set a new standard. It is now up to the NBA Player’s Association to hammer the point home, and perhaps one day we can truly combat what ills the black community.

A LETTER TO THE NEW YORK POST: Public Enemy once lyrically defined the New York Post as “America’s oldest continuously published daily piece of bulls–t.” I had to agree with that assessment a day after the Indianapolis Colts sent the over-hyped Jets, blowhard coach Rex Ryan and their Neanderthal fan base home for the season.

Despite the Jets’ early 17-6 lead in the second quarter of Sunday’s AFC title game, the Colts’ crowd was unrelenting and never took a play off. I know this because I was there, and had the sore throat and accompanying full-body fatigue to prove it. I was not shielded in a box high above the field, completely sequestered from the atmosphere by thick glass like Post columnist Mike Vaccaro, who wrote about the first half:

“(The Jets) turned Lucas Oil Stadium into a morgue save for the pockets of grandstand where you could hear Jets fans chanting.”

This did not happen, but Vaccaro felt it necessary to lie for the folks at home, who if they possess the general loathsome demeanor of the Jets’ caravan of muttonheads, can’t read anyway. With the existence of Fox News, I’m used to agenda-based deception, but Vaccaro’s was nothing more than pointless placation to the most self-congratulatory sports city in America.

THE REAL STATE OF THE UNION: President Barack Obama’s task was multidimensional Wednesday night, as he tried to reach all elements inside the militant fringes of our society. While he might’ve succeeded in mildly reenergizing his increasingly disaffected base, most of his words bounced off the impenetrable forcefield of distrust and dislike surrounding his antagonists.

Naturally, the president’s address was praised on CNN and MSNBC and was target practice for Fox. I didn’t need Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda network and its journalistic impersonators to tell me the vibe from the right was cold. Long before Obama concluded, my Facebook home page lit up with conservative friends’ proclamations of petulance.

Misguided as it may be, I understand their rage. I felt the same way during the long, dubious reign of Darth Bush the Blunderer. Those days are over, and even though I’m one of Obama’s disappointed supporters through Year 1, a mess the size of the exploded Death Star takes a long time to clean up. Still, it is time to produce in Year 2.

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?: Around 200,000 could be dead in Haiti, but incredible stories of survival have been abundant. On Wednesday, Darlene Etienne, a 16-year old in Port au Prince, was rescued from under a crumbled building 15 days after a 7.0 earthquake devastated the country. Darlene apparently survived on a small supply of Coca-Cola.

With searches officially called off, sadly, Darlene’s will likely be the last miracle we’ll see.

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Even on days of despair, the depraved don’t rest

Pat Robertson claims Haiti’s pact with Satan brought on this week’s cataclysm, unsurprising from a shyster who alleges he’s an instrument of the Creator.

Only one day after this week’s catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, approximately 15 million Americans were treated to messages of devious stupidity and religious lunacy at incomprehensible levels.

That 5 percent of the United States population is the daily audience of talk radio shill Rush Limbaugh and detestable televangelist Pat Robertson. The typical repulsive rants of these degenerates are nauseating, but Wednesday’s set a new benchmark for vicious cretinism. On a day after thousands were killed or buried alive, it was business as usual for the ideologue hate-traders.

Limbaugh indicated president Barack Obama would use the country’s quick Haitian relief effort to improve his standing with “light-skinned and dark-skinned blacks” in the U.S. Limbaugh criticized Obama’s reaction time to the simpleton terrorist-wannabe who only scorched his crotch over Detroit, while somehow belittling his response to save lives in a destitute nation where folks make about $2 a day.

Over the last two years, Limbaugh has tirelessly disgraced the realm of communication I used to call my trade. From his half-witted fascination with the “Barack the Magic Negro” ballad to blatant lies regarding all things political, Limbaugh has created a new genre of advertiser subsidized propaganda. And just when I thought I couldn’t be shocked by his arrogant dogmatism, Wednesday’s broadcast left me dumbfounded.

On the unfathomably long-running “700 Club,” Robertson said Haiti’s fate was enacted by his god for the deal its inhabitants made with the devil to ensure freedom from the French in the late 1700s. My dislike of Robertson’s program dates back over 30 years, when as a child, the show was an hour of agony before my afternoon cartoons came on at my channel-challenged grandparents’ house. That displeasure has been repeated over my lifetime when the false-prophet Robertson says something socially ignorant enough to make the national news.

Robertson’s transgressions are too numerous to list but include a stint as a phony faith healer, venom-spewing toward anyone not living up to his twisted Biblical interpretations and lying about his service as a bartender in the Korean War. He was likely disappointed that the disaster didn’t hit Los Angeles or San Francisco so he could blame the state’s gays, medical marijuana users and pro-choice advocates for the carnage. If the Big One ever hits California, you can bet Robertson or whatever charlatan replaces him in death will do just that.

I have learned more about this country over the past year than at any time of my life, as the dark underbelly of America has exposed itself on the airwaves every afternoon. What we have brewing is a disturbed cult of stupidity, which is horrifyingly dangerous. Fed misinformation by opportunist mouthpieces, there is a sliver of us that has drawn battle lines and is arming itself, as evidenced by the nationwide ammunition shortages of 2009. Most of the misguided limit their reading to firearm manuals and thirstily consume the audio and visual strychnine produced by Limbaugh, Robertson and their ilk. The poison only further corrodes the minds of those whose world-scope is the size of a .22 bullet.

Al Qaeda and fellow Islamic extremists might be our leading adversary, but the psychotic fundamentalists within our borders are a solid No. 2. This perverted movement, which laid dormant in a servile slumber during George W. Bush’s reign, only occurs during Democratic presidencies. Bill Clinton’s eight years saw a massive spike in seditious activity. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh showed the damage one man could do when his truck bomb killed 168 innocent people in Oklahoma City, in the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil prior to 9/11.

There was a time when broadcasted far right-wingers were comedic entertainment, but the days of Morton Downey Jr. are over. While plenty of level-headed people listen to Limbaugh or watch Robertson, Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity, so do McVeighs-in-training, and the absorption of their fatwa-like decrees regarding the Great Satan Obama have a menacing effect. Daily they throw gasoline on the fires of confused discontent, and if a domestic attack from within does occur, the fabricating zealot cheerleaders should be implicated.

After watching Anderson Cooper’s jaw-dropping live reports from Port-au-Prince, I ended Wednesday by flipping to Hannity on Fox News. Instead of discussing one of the worst tragedies in modern times, the self-congratulatory host dropped mindless knee-slappers while assailing those trying to improve health care. As I sat sickened, I envisioned those in living rooms or bunkers nodding in approval, and thought sadly, “Welcome to America, 2010.”

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The Grinches Who Stole Perfection

Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell will never live down what happened Sunday in Indianapolis.

Perhaps the best known case of castration is that of Scottish legend William Wallace, who was emasculated for treason against England prior to execution in 1305. Sunday in Indianapolis, the measure was used as punishment for a team whose only crime was being perfect.

In pulling Peyton Manning and other starters from the game against the New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell and team president Bill Polian neutered the unbeaten team in front of 67,000 disgusted fans at Lucas Oil Stadium and millions of bewildered viewers. For a franchise that has always embraced history, including its now-snapped 23-game regular season winning streak, the Colts leadership ran from it like a burning house. The 29-15 defeat ended the team’s deserved shot at immortality, and made Caldwell and Polian look like out-of-touch loons with the strategic adaptability of Donald Rumsfeld.

Along with other positive-spin nonsense spouted afterward, Polian said, “No, it’s not frustrating. Anytime you lose, whether its preseason or this kind of a game which has no issue with the standings, you want to win every game. This one got away early.”

Really, Bill? With your team up 15-10 with 5:36 left in the third quarter and the greatest finisher in football behind center, it seemed like you were still in the game. Your cowardly rationale is as transparent as fresh-cut glass, and Andrew Golota couldn’t throw a more damaging low blow to your players or the fans which fill your stadium and bank account.

No matter the power of Polian’s influence, the decision came down to Caldwell. In a season in which Bill Belichick’s fourth down-and-2 call against the Colts was labeled as insane, the ultimate irony is that Caldwell’s choice will go down as one of the more ludicrous in American sports history.

“We worked all week, in terms of our preparation, and just felt that if we go into the third quarter with a lead that we’d give our starters a break in the action,” Caldwell said. “The most important thing for us is obviously to make certain that we’re operating on all cylinders come the playoffs. That’s key. That’s important and that’s our focus.”

Sorry, Jim, there is no suitable explanation for destroying the collective morale of your players in a game only meaningless to you and your boss. And this was against a team that handed the Colts and Manning their most embarrassing playoff defeat, a 41-0 lambasting in 2003. The world would love to know how quitting helps peak performance and why you learned nothing from your predecessor’s failures. Your fear of injury is borderline schizophrenia, especially when Manning hasn’t missed a game in his career. In a misguided attempt to preserve your players, you abandoned them, and you can’t expect them to win a game for you again.

While most infuriated players toed the company line after their season-long hard work was urinated upon, center Jeff Saturday couldn’t hold back entirely. Saturday understood why fans booed (Caldwell) mercilessly, and while the head coach said it was understood that starters would be removed, Saturday wasn’t privy to that information.

“I had no idea,” Saturday admitted. “I didn’t know what the situation was going to be. I knew we were going to play and try to win the game and it didn’t work out like that.”

A possible perfect season wasn’t the only thing lost Sunday. A lot of Colts fans will never look at the organization — outside of the players — quite the same. Polian and Caldwell inexplicably disgraced the Colts brand they’ve worked tirelessly to build, and Polian’s condescending statement that his “football logic” supersedes the desires of players and fans alike will not be forgotten.

Polian and Caldwell have ensured that they will be remembered. If the Colts lose in the playoffs, they will assume full blame. If the team hoists the Lombardi Trophy in Miami, the duo will be classified as egotistic over-managers who robbed the players of their true historic destiny.

An old coaching axiom states, “mental is to physical as four is to one.” Polian and Caldwell have undeniably hurt the team’s cerebral edge, and San Diego and New England are salivating. Only time will tell the extent of the damage, but instead of being astonished if the Colts didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, many — myself included — will now be surprised if they do.

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