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Happy with losing? Keep Bill Polian

I’d originally planned this week to write about some of the important issues facing our troubled country, such as the presidential primaries, the war in Iraq or a discussion I had with fellow passengers on an IndyGo bus about conspiracy theories. But after reading about 25 angry, threatening comments in my e-mail and on the NUVO Web site about my comments last week regarding the Indianapolis Colts, I decided to push aside the important problems of the times and revisit the issue of our professional football team.

In nearly 15 years of writing this column each week, no other single article has generated such immediate and impassioned anger. My suggestion that the Colts shed their losing ways by firing the man responsible for their defeatist mentality, team President Bill Polian, was greeted by howls of anger, outrage and demands for my firing. Besides the obsessed gentleman who wants to turn NUVO into a weekly coloring book, possibly because the orderlies at the institution where he’s sentenced won’t allow him to use crayons, the comments were lockstep in defending a team that has lost every important game for the last 10 years except two.

“We are still the best and youngest team in the NFL,” one anonymous poster wrote on NUVO’s site. While the word “best” is very subjective and can be measured in any number of ways, in sports the word “best” is usually defined as the team that wins the most games, or at least the most important games. There are two teams still playing for the NFL championship and neither one is the Colts. If the Colts are the best team in the league, then they should have been able to defeat the Chargers in the playoffs. They should have beaten the Steelers in the playoffs two seasons ago and should have beaten the Patriots any number of times.

When a team consistently chokes during the most vital games, someone should be held accountable. No matter how well a team does during the regular season, if the team rolls over every year in the playoffs, they’re eliminated just as much as the worst team is.

olian has a long and distinguished record of heading teams that always lose the big games. While with the Buffalo Bills in the 1990s, he set an all-time record for losing the most Super Bowls by lopsided margins. Since coming to the Colts, his team has replaced the Bills of the ’90s as the team that best personifies collapse under pressure.

Last year’s Super Bowl victory was a great triumph, to be sure. But it also came against arguably the worst team to ever play for the championship. Despite the weakness of their opponents, the Colts still barely eked out a win over the Bears. It was not the beginning of a dynasty.

Another comment from the NUVO Web site: “Were [sic] do you guys come up with reporters like this. Send him to Iraq, please.” So I should be sent off to die in George Bush’s mistaken war because of what I said about a football team’s mistakes? That’s Republican thinking at its finest.

Yet another Web comment: “I’ve never read this website before, and if I read it again - it won’t be your writting [sic]. Idiot.” Sir, let he who can spell “writing” correctly cast the first stone. I admire the fact that you are able to operate a keyboard at all, just as I admire the fact that the Colts have won a number of games over the past few years. Just as your point is invalidated by the fact that you can’t spell, the Colts’ achievements are invalidated because they always choke.

Despite the fact I spent much of the article explaining my admiration for coach Tony Dungy as a man and a leader, one reader wrote me, “I can’t believe you are so low as to degrade Tony Dungy and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts. They should be proud and hold their heads high.” Anybody who is proud of a record of losing is, by definition, a loser.

All of this reminds me of something Larry Bird once said when he was coaching the Pacers. Frustrated by yet another playoff exit, Bird fumed that Indiana fans are content with losing. They’re perfectly happy if the team gets beaten as long as they make it to the playoffs. That’s an admirable trait when talking about Little League baseball teams or middle-school girls’ softball teams; it’s not something to which highly-paid professional athletes should aspire. Winning is not the most important thing in the NFL, it’s the only thing.

The bottom line is that Bill Polian has proven that his teams can’t win important games. If the Colts and their fans are content with losing in the playoffs, then they should stick with the management team they have. If, however, the Colts want to return to the Super Bowl, Polian should be replaced.

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