And the race for perfection

The pursuit of perfection. The pursuit of the Super Bowl. What’s a head coach to do?

With their 26-18 win against the Jaguars, the Colts pushed their season record to 13-0 and clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs. If the Colts win the Super Bowl this year, it will be the culmination of a journey that began in 1999, the year this team was born. It was Marvin Harrison’s first 1,000 yard season and Peyton Manning’s first Pro Bowl season. It was also the season that the Colts drafted Edgerrin James instead of Ricky Williams. Seemed controversial at the time …

1999 was the birth of “The Triplets” in Indianapolis, and for the past six seasons Harrison, Manning and James have set the standard for offensive dominance in the NFL. And yet the ultimate goal has eluded them: the Super Bowl.

2005 has been different. This year, the defense has played at the level of the offense. This year, the Colts are Super Bowl favorites. This year, The Triplets have their best shot at separating themselves from other Very Good Teams of their era. They have their best shot at winning a championship.

But they also have a shot at going undefeated, and while Tony Dungy and the Colts are staying focused on the “ultimate thing,” it would be disappointing if they ignored history entirely and rested their starters over the final three weeks of the season.

After the win over the Jags, Dungy announced that the Colts would “do everything we can to beat San Diego [next week] … I don’t think it’s time to shut things down.” So, as of now, the company line is that the Colts will be taking things “one game at a time,” though I get the feeling that Dungy will sacrifice 16-0 in favor of resting his starters and preventing injuries.

That would be a shame.

Yes, it’s true that the ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl; if the Colts go 16-0 and lose in the playoffs, their season will be a failure. But why not go for both? The difference between a Super Bowl champion and an undefeated Super Bowl champion is the difference between the ’72 Dolphins and the ’73 Dolphins. It’s the difference between a legendary team and a team that won the title.

It’s been said quite often during this national and local discussion that while there is a Super Bowl champ every season, the legit opportunity to go undefeated is extraordinarily rare. The idea of leaving a legacy and making history is a common one.

But let’s forget about history for a bit and just look at the practicality of the Colts’ going after 16-0.

Indianapolis has three regular season games remaining, and since they’ve earned a first round bye, they will not have a game of consequence for a month … unless they shoot for 16-0. Going undefeated gives meaning and purpose to the final three weeks of the season; otherwise, the main goal is to “stay healthy.” The Colts are guaranteed every playoff advantage; is Dungy really going to rest his starters the rest of the way? Is he going to let them be content for a month?

Furthermore, I’ve never bought into the idea that a team needs to “lose one” in order to go into the postseason relaxed. That’s garbage. Did the 12-0 ’85 Bears and the 13-0 ’98 Broncos need to lose in order to win the Super Bowl, or did they just happen to have bad games? On the other hand, the 7-0 ’98 Vikings lost to Tampa Bay, finished the season 15-1, and then lost in the NFC title game. Did that loss somehow help the Vikings?

From the dominant team that steamrolls their way to a No. 1 seed, to the 8-8 squad that backs their way into the playoffs, EVERY team that wants to win a Super Bowl has to go undefeated in the playoffs. The regular season no longer matters once the playoffs start. Whether they go 16-0 or 13-3, the Colts have to win out in the playoffs for their season to be a success. Anything less than a championship at this point will be a disappointment.

The Colts have the best offense in the NFL and a top five defense. They have arguably the game’s best coach, quarterback, running back and receiver. Why not be bold? Why not be ballsy? Why not come right out and announce their intention to go 16-0? What do they have to lose?

Greatness is not simply about stats and wins. It is about that undefined quality that a team has, a swagger that says, “We’re the best. We’re not afraid of being the best, and we’re not afraid of other people knowing that we’re the best.”

The 2005 Colts have a chance to be more than just a Super Bowl champ.

They have a chance to be great.

What a shame if they don’t take it.


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