Colts leaving last season's ride to title behind them

August 05, 2007|By RICK MAESE

Terre Haute, Ind. — Terre Haute, Ind.-- --At the Indianapolis Colts' training camp, it's somewhat hard to believe, but it really was just six months ago that this team hoisted the Lombardi Trophy and celebrated a Super Bowl win. Since then, the leading tackler and two starting cornerbacks departed, and the man charged with protecting Peyton Manning's blind side retired. The coach has become a best-selling author. And the quarterback has hosted Saturday Night Live.

But typical of a Colts team, there's no swagger, no barking, no chest-thumping. Just a group of guys diligently going through drills, refusing even to acknowledge themselves as the defending champs.

I bring this up because in Baltimore - whether it's in the Ravens' locker room or down at the sports bar - you get the sense that last season's playoff loss to the Colts still stings. In fact, it was Ravens quarterback Steve McNair who said the first day of training camp, "Anybody that says the loss to the Indianapolis Colts is not in the back of their mind, they wouldn't be telling the truth."

So I was curious to see how the Colts reflected on not just that game, but their Super Bowl win over the Chicago Bears three weeks later.

If months-old games are lingering in the back of anybody's mind, the Colts certainly aren't acknowledging it.

"I think we're real focused on what's going on now," kicker Adam Vinatieri said. "The successes of last year don't mean anything right now."

Added defensive tackle Anthony McFarland: "Super Bowl is over. You realize that the second you step out there in two-a-days. It's way in the past."

And center Jeff Saturday said: "We don't consider ourselves defending champions. It's a new team. We have a number of guys who have moved on and new guys who've come in."

The point for the Ravens - and the 30 other teams that fell short a season ago - is that for winners and losers alike, in August there's very little room for old victories and past defeats. You can't let memories - good or bad -linger because it could hinder progress.

"I know how Baltimore feels," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "I'm sure they feel like, `Hey, we didn't play our best. We'd love to play those guys nine more times.' But you have to put that behind you, move forward to try to get back to that same spot."

Dungy has thought a lot about the changing of seasons. Before winning the Super Bowl, Dungy's Colts teams watched their previous four seasons end with playoff losses, including a 41-0 drubbing by the New York Jets in 2002. He says last week's practices - six months after the Super Bowl win - felt the same as the team's training camps coming off disappointing playoff exits.

"I think they all have to be the same. I really do," Dungy said. "I think you can dwell on a loss or dwell on a win to the point where it's counterproductive. There's probably more incentive after a loss, but sometimes after a loss people are telling you all the things you need to do, you need to fix, you need to change. That can be negative. And after a win, they're patting you on the back, telling you how good you are.

"The thing is, you have to put both of those thoughts out of your mind. You can't worry about it when they're telling you how bad you are, and you can't take it all in when they're telling you you're great."

Everyone from team president Bill Polian to Dungy to Manning has accepted that this season's Colts are a different group, and the mantra around here is that the Super Bowl was won by a different team.

"We are just like all other 31 teams, trying to bust our butts here in training camp and get ready to play and hopefully have a good year," Manning said.

None of this is to suggest that Colts players don't remember their January trip to Baltimore. In fact, it's not something they'll soon forget. Dungy says he's still surprised at the animosity directed toward his team. The middle fingers. The nasty taunts from the stands. A scoreboard that read "IND" instead of Colts and a public-address announcer who didn't once acknowledge the visiting team as the Colts.

"We just kind of laughed at it all," tight end Dallas Clark said. "I was maybe 5 years old [when the Colts left Baltimore]. It was like, `Are we still talking about that?' ... I don't live there, so I don't know everything or how it all went down. But it happened so long ago. It doesn't affect us. It's just funny to see people's passion about it - their hatred, their anger. It was like, `Yeah, they're still pretty passionate. You yell whatever you want to yell, but we got to play a football game over here.'"

To move forward, you can't have one eye cast on the future and the other on the past. That's an NFL tenet that governs teams that won championships and those that suffered defeats. The league is filled with different talent levels and different schedules, but the one thing every team has in common is that the last win and the last loss mean nothing now. The next game is the only one that matters.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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