Current players' focus on making history, not revisiting it

January 07, 2007|By RICK MAESE

INDIANAPOLIS — INDIANAPOLIS-- --The playoffs. And Baltimore. And for a one-time engagement, the horseshoe.

This is Barry Levinson material. Daniel Stern should narrate. Time to take the kids to Grandpa's. Hear some old stories. About Lenny Moore and Artie Donovan. And Johnny U.

About the Colts. Your Colts. Not these "Colts."

On Saturday, we'll see a football game. But every day leading up to that game will feel like something much more - childhood memories colliding with adult fantasies.

Colts vs. Ravens - the winner gets a ticket stamped into the AFC championship game. It's a beautiful and riveting script with conflict taking place on two fronts.

There will be the three-plus hours of actual football, a stage set by unique circumstances and what could be the most exciting four quarters of football the city has seen in years. And then there's the battle that will play out every hour of every day until kickoff - the dredged-up emotions, the old scars, a kind of pain that apparently you just can't understand, not unless you were actually there.

Outsiders will point out that almost 23 years have passed since the horseshoe left town on March 29, 1984. Why can't you get over it? The game might have special meaning, but not to everyone.

The moments after the Colts' 23-8 playoff win over the Chiefs yesterday revealed at least this much: For some - more specifically, for those who wear the horseshoe today - the Colts-Ravens matchup will indeed be "just a game."

"There are a lot of subplots anytime two teams play," Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri said. "I don't think [Ravens] players will care, and I don't think we'll care too much about it.

"Don't get me wrong, there's history and stuff like that," he said, "but at the end of the day, I really think it's about two teams trying to advance in the playoffs and make it into the AFC championship game. There are a lot of reasons that guys will play hard, and that might be one of them. But for us, there are a lot of others."

He's speaking for the players - for today's Colts. And there's no reason to doubt Vinatieri's words for a second. When a football player diverts his focus from whatever physically and mentally needs to be done to win, he's digging his own hole.

For them, it's Team vs. Team. Not Past vs. Present.

"They're just our next opponent," said Colts defensive back Antonio Bethea. "We're not going to worry about what happened in the past. It's 2007, and this is the playoffs. We just want to go in there and get a win."

To get an idea of how long it's actually been - Bethea, the Colts' rookie strong safety, wasn't even born when the Colts played their last game in Baltimore on Dec. 18, 1983. He's only known the Midwest version of the horseshoe.

And to be fair, it might not be that different for the Ravens (rookie Haloti Ngata was born two months before the Mayflower trucks pulled out of town). They're playing for Baltimore, but not because they want to avenge the past. For them, it's for the future. And after watching the Colts yesterday, you've got to think the Ravens will practice this week with a great deal of optimism about that future.

Couldn't you just sense that Ravens defenders were licking their chops as they watched the celebrated Indianapolis Colts offense stumble down the field yesterday? I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of them - Kelly Gregg comes to mind - leaped from the couch and licked the actual television screen.

If the Colts think they can enter M&T Bank Stadium next weekend and duplicate yesterday's performance, they should expect another early playoff exit.

Sure, Peyton Manning was 30- for-38 for 268 yards, but his three interceptions - the most he's thrown in a game since 2002 - killed a couple of probable scoring drives. Granted, Manning's miscues weren't as surprising as the Colts defense's strong performance yesterday. Facing mounting criticism that it has no chance against a decent running back, Indy's defense held the league's second-leading rusher to just 32 yards.

At the half, the Colts had amassed 255 yards of offense to the Chiefs' 16. In fact, Kansas City didn't move the chains at all until late in the third quarter. But here's what's even more absurd: Because of the Colts' own struggles, the Chiefs were still in the game entering the final quarter. That won't fly next weekend.

Expect the Colts to make note of yesterday's mistakes. There's too much at stake for them to foolishly think they're playing the Chiefs again. There isn't some generic opponent waiting for them in Baltimore.

And you can bet the Ravens won't forget exactly who they're facing Saturday. In fact, they won't be able to escape it, not from the media and certainly not from the fans.

There's plenty of pressure on Manning to finally reach a Super Bowl, but put simply, next weekend in Baltimore, the Ravens have more at stake. Past, present and future - all packed into three hours.

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