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.