Be sure to check BrooWaha every week to discover the most controversial sports stories in Steven Waye and Eric Karlan's 2-Point Conversing. In the meantime, contribute to the Conversation by posting an Extra Point of your own below the article.
THE FIRST POINT...Why Steven Waye commends Coach Caldwell
It’s all on you, Jim Caldwell.
The thing about making tough decisions is that if you’re right, no one’s going to thank you for them until it’s safe. And if you’re wrong, the critics can’t wait to say, “I told you so,” feeling smug for holding an opinion that cost them nothing, but may very well cost you your reputation and/or your job. Right now the popular, reactionary move is to criticize the rookie head coach’s decision to pull his starters in the second half, essentially sacrificing the Colts’ undefeated season and their shot at moving in on the plot of football perfection currently occupied exclusively by the ’72 Dolphins.
And make no mistake, everyone from hardcore Colts fans to general football purists are vehemently decrying Caldwell’s move. A caller to a local sports talk show in Indy declared that he was trading in his Colts-themed license plate for the standard Indiana state model after what he saw as an act of treason on Caldwell’s part. (God forbid he lived two states over in Missouri, where a football fan’s biggest decision is which color the paper bag is going to be that your wear over your head: Rams’ blue and gold, or Chiefs’ red and white?)
But I’m not writing to defend Jim Caldwell. It’s not my job to make the decisions, and I’m not getting paid millions to do it. There are solid arguments both for and against resting your starters in a meaningless game. On the one hand, the Colts have a lot of young offensive playmakers, like Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, who could benefit from more time on the field with Peyton Manning, continuing to attempt to rebuild the flawless symbiosis of the historically successful connection Manning had with the departed Marvin Harrison. The Colts starters likely won’t play together in a game situation for three more weeks. On the other, why put your starters in harm’s way? If we learned nothing else from the Jets game, it’s that Curtis Painter couldn’t be trusted to replace Manning in an SNL skit, let alone a playoff game.
Only a championship will be the measuring stick for Caldwell’s success. In the end, all of the opinions of the bloggers, sportswriters, talking heads, and zealous fans will evaporate, and Super Bowl success or failure is all that will stand. But there are some arguments worth debunking, and some important points we can take away from the Colt players’ reactions to their second half sabbatical.
1) The integrity of the game argument, in any sport, is one of the most naïve and pointless debates consistently taking place in sports. Every year, a team or two clinches early and fans and sportswriters argue that the team “owes it to the fans” to do everything in their power to win every game or “disrupts the balance of competition” by bowing to lesser competition in order to rest and protect their most valuable players. This is a business, not an exercise in absolute justice, and if my team isn’t in the business of trying to win championships I’m going to pledge my allegiance, and my ticket and merchandising dollars, somewhere else. Whatever fan, owner, or player is going to throw a fit over a game that means nothing in the standings at the possible expense of a championship just doesn’t get it.
Sure, the Jets caught a break and were able to win a game they wouldn’t be able to otherwise, but so what? If the other 8-7 teams had taken care of business on any other week there would be no need to complain. The Colts are playing for a Colts championship, and they should feel no need to factor in some esoteric standard of fair play as part of their decision making process.
2) Some, such as Eric here, claim that it is unfair to the fans who showed up on Sunday to watch the Colts win. I get it. You paid for a ticket, you want your money’s worth, you feel cheated. I have to believe, however, that the average educated fan had to understand that there was a good chance, with nothing at stake, that the Colts would rest their starters. Be thankful that you root for a team led by a management team that puts a winning product on the field year after year, and that you have a coach with the guts to make an unpopular decision for the good of his team. The real victims here are those Rams and Chiefs fans who have to suffer through the abomination of their respectively hapless franchises. Jim Irsay has given you plenty.
3) The perfection issue. The only perfect season is one that ends in a Super Bowl Championship. You think for a second that the 2007 Patriots, along with their fans, wouldn’t have traded a few wins from that undefeated regular season for another ring? Hell yes, they would! Am I saying that if Belichick had rested his starters at the end of the season that would have prevented David Tyree from supergluing the football to the back of his helmet? No, but the point is, as always that the ring is king. Caldwell brought his team this far, so he’s earned the right to make the tough calls without the sports world calling for his head.
Which brings me to my final point: on today’s Outside the Lines, Merrill Hoge claimed that Caldwell may have lost his team, as ESPN played clips of the despondent Colts starters huddled on the sidelines. He’s right. Caldwell needs to sell his decision in the locker room, to drive home the point that they came here to win a Super Bowl, and nothing else matters. What player worth half his salary wouldn’t want to stay in a game and win?
What’s important here can be highlighted by a comparison between the reactions of Brett Favre to his almost-benching by Brad Childress, and the reaction of Peyton Manning to his. While Favre threw an unbecoming tantrum and caused Favre-sized drama, putting himself above the team and calling the authority of his coach into question, Manning kept his words to himself, and though he was visibly frustrated he came out afterwards in support of Caldwell in his postgame interview. Until we are the head coach, he said, we have to respect the decisions that the coach has made. If a player of Manning’s stature and competitive fire can get on board, however reluctantly, with Caldwell’s decision, it puts Caldwell in a position to unite his locker room. Childress has a far tougher job, as it is no longer clear who is in charge in Minnesota.
Questions remain, however. If Caldwell wasn’t playing to win, pulling his starters with an 8 point lead against a team fighting for its postseason life, why play his starters at all? Will he come out and stick to his guns, resting his starters next week against Buffalo, or cave to popular pressure?
It’s all on you, Jim Caldwell. Your captain is behind you, and that means the players, and eventually the fans, will be too. But hey, if it doesn’t work out, I’m sure there’ll be a job for you in St. Louis or Kansas City in a few years (paper bag not included).
GOING FOR TWO...Why Eric Karlan criticizes Coach Caldwell
"You play to win the game," a livid head coach once screamed in an infamous press conference tirade. And truer words could not have been screamed.
Unfortunately for football fans everywhere, this enraged exclamation of wisdom did not reach Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell. In this past Sunday’s game against the New York Jets, he played to win the championship – not the game.
In other words, Caldwell benched Peyton Manning, the best quarterback in football, and a slew of other star starters, only to let the bench players flounder to the final whistle.
The stated logic behind executing a game plan more often seen in meaningless preseason scrimmages was open and obvious: do not let Peyton Manning, the best quarterback in football, and a slew of other star starters risk injury before the postseason, having already clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Owners habitually invest millions of dollars into a single athlete – a high-risk commodity by the very nature of his profession. While I understand the theoretical wisdom in protecting such a precious and powerful investment at any cost, watching Peyton pace the sidelines as the Jets surged to victory was almost as painful as any bone-crunching, ankle-twisting, shoulder-popping injury he could have theoretically suffered.
You play to win the game. Fans pay hundreds or thousands of dollars every year to watch their teams play to win the game. The capacity crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium did not pay to see their team not play to win the game, and they are already crying for refunds.
To say that the Colts intentionally abandoned their pursuit for perfection would be inaccurate since, according to president Bill Polian, that pursuit never existed. Following the team's first loss of the season – the first regular season defeat since October of 2008, ending an NFL-record 23-game winning streak – Polian explained that using "football logic…it makes no sense to have guys out there with the potential for injuries."
With my newfound comprehension of "football logic," I hope the Indianapolis coaching staff promptly returned Peyton and company to their respective sterile bubbles for the week, safely protected from automobiles, undercooked food, all sharp objects, and existing in general – all things with the potential for injuries.
Plenty of elite professional football players partake in much less advisable – dare I suggest stupid – activities than the game of football on a weekly basis during the regular season. With the temptations of indulging in drugs and alcohol, taking advantage of the Second Amendment in nightclubs (kind of), and excessive celebrating insignificant field goals (we miss you Bill Gramatica), I find it shocking that players do not suffer injuries unrelated to the games more often.
If I am an executive or coach for a National Football League team who trusts my players to avoid the unsympathetic wrath of freak accidents, Mother Nature, the stupidity of others – let alone their own stupidity – then I most certainly trust my offensive line to keep Peyton Manning safe from the injury report for two games as my team tries to achieve something no other team has done in history: win the Super Bowl with an unblemished 19-0 record.
Trying to preserve a perfect record more than ever – you play to win the game. Ask Bill Belichick and the 2007 New England Patriots. Imagine the press conferences in New Orleans with Sean Payton had the Saints not faltered two weekends ago. Perfection is not worth passing up.
And that may be the most insulting and infuriating part about watching Jim Caldwell bench his starters in the third quarter of Sunday’s game – the organization's seeming nonchalance with simply winning. In recent years, football fans have watched the Colts hover on the brink of perfection several times and dominate the competition more impressively more consistently than the Patriots and Steelers, despite their each having won more Super Bowls.
Indianapolis' commitment to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy is admirable, but the franchise’s utter disillusionment with the glory of perfection is disheartening and disturbing. Adopting the role of "cool customer" never promotes likeability and rarely breeds success. Impossible to convey in numerical statistics, the sports clichés of "having heart" and "wanting it more" are key differences between great teams and champions.
Peyton Manning, Dallas Clark, and company should have wanted perfection more than any other group of players that has ever had a legitimate shot at accomplishing this incredible feat. When history examines this era of football, the Colts will be the "almost" team. They almost could have been a dynasty, except for those Steelers and bitterly hated Patriots. They almost could have been the best team to ever play the game. And now, they almost could have achieved perfection once again, only to say no thank you in the face of success.
If the Colts organization truly and firmly believes Jim Caldwell’s rejection of perfection was worth it, then owner Jim Irsay should quantify that worth in dollars and refund every fan at Sunday's game. Irsay may have the luxury to pay to win the championship, but fans should never be asked to pay to lose the game.