Colts' Dungy shouldn't pass on chance to make history

November 30, 2005|By JOHN EISENBERG

Let's hope Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy experiences a change of heart in the next few weeks as his undefeated team goes about wrapping up a division title and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

Let's hope he decides to make every effort to have the Colts become the first NFL team to go 16-0, and just the second in the modern era to finish a regular season with a perfect record.

Let's hope he doesn't ease up in the last few games if the Colts have nothing left to play for, as he intimated he might late Monday night after the Colts thrashed the Steelers to improve to 11-0.

"They don't give out rings for 16-0. They give out rings for winning the Super Bowl," Dungy said. "And everything we do will be with that goal in mind."

Dungy is a terrific coach and person, but hearing him on this subject, it's no wonder some people say the league's initials stand for No Fun League.

The Colts have a real shot at leaving the kind of mark that would last as long as football is played. If they go 16-0 and then go on to win the Super Bowl, they would almost surely be acclaimed as the greatest team ever. Talk about a goal worth striving for.

The 1972 Miami Dolphins also went undefeated, but they played two fewer regular-season games and didn't have to deal with the crushing media scrutiny that exists today. Their degree of difficulty was slightly lower.

But there would be no historic accolades for the Colts if Dungy rested his starters in late December and lost a game or two, then went on to win the Super Bowl. The Colts would be regarded as just another championship team -- a very good one, but distinctly mortal.

That would be unfortunate, as it appears the Colts are capable of going all the way without a defeat.

We all know where Dungy is coming from -- pro teams and coaches don't get paid to make history, just to win. In his defense, Indianapolis has never won a Super Bowl, so that in itself is a priority. And that mind-set is as set in concrete as the cornerstones of the dome where the Colts play.

"Your whole plan is to win the Super Bowl. While it would be nice to be 16-0, that doesn't change our plan," Dungy said.

That's basic CoachThink at work, setting a goal and staying the course, regardless of the circumstances.

But isn't it also CoachThink to endeavor to take your team as far as it possibly can go?

Perfection is so rare in sports -- in any aspect of life, for that matter -- that it would be a shame to have a team that was capable of it, yet intentionally sold itself short.

It would be more than just a shame, in fact; it would be depressing.

If you watched the Colts take out the Steelers, you saw a team at the peak of its powers, playing with confidence, skill, intelligence and exuberance. Some fans around here might be annoyed by the sight of an Irsay-owned team exhibiting such dominance, but apart from that tired history, if you appreciate sports played well, the Colts are a joy to watch this season.

Now, imagine walking into their locker room with them sitting on, say, a 14-0 record, and telling them their spectacular fire needed to be doused for a couple of weeks. Good luck having them understand.

Pro football players are intensely competitive creatures, wired differently from the rest of us. They're willing to put their bodies on the line for the chance to make money and be remembered. There's no doubt the guys in the Colts locker room want to have it all, go undefeated, make history. That's why they do what they do.

Asking them to turn off the heat for a couple of weeks might succeed in giving them rest and preventing an injury or two, but it also might dull their momentum and cause psychological damage. Losing a substitute-ladened late-season game would send them into the playoffs thinking about what might have been.

What should have been.

Winning the Super Bowl is great, but let's face it, some team wins it every year, and then, within months of the final whistle, millions of fans have forgotten who even played, much less who won.

On the other hand, the chance to make history like this comes along rarely, and the Colts are well on their way.

Let's hope someone convinces Dungy of these facts of life in the coming weeks. It's his duty as a sportsman to go for it all, aim for football immortality. He can do it with this team. And he won't have another chance.

john.eisenberg@baltsun.com

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