Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Are You Ready...?

For some FOOTBALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Ok, sorry; there has been a lot of talk of exclamation points this week.  Perhaps I just exceeded my quota.  (For life, some might argue.)  But who cares?  Football kicks off a new season in eight days!

Now, I'm a Colts fan.  That does not mean they are the only team I like or root for.  Like any good football girl, I've got a handful of teams I'm die-hard in love with, a handful of teams I rejoice in obliterating, and then a bunch of teams that are somewhere in the middle.  But I'm excited about this year's Colts, and here's why:

They've finally taken the steps necessary to build themselves into a world-class, sustainable team.  They have finally caught on to good teambuilding and leadership practices.

I know you're saying, Wait.  Didn't they win the Super Bowl once?  And play in it twice?  With Peyton Manning?  And isn't that enough to make them world-class?

Not really.  See, the team got progressively smaller over the past seven or eight years as the franchise poured more money into some big-name, top-producing players and kind of scuttled on the rest.  We had guys on our team that, on the off-chance they actually contributed to the game, nobody would recognize their name.  We had draft picks - first-rounders, even - that saw no playing time for at least their rookie season, sometimes longer.  We had a handful of stars who rocked the field, and a bunch of guys at positions we never invested in - financially or in training.

Which is kind of why we didn't win more Super Bowls.  We didn't have an offensive line who could protect Peyton all that well or hold the defense to build any sort of running game.  We had a few key names on defense, and other guys who kind of came in and out and let the opponent run right through them.  That's why we went 2-14 last season with Peyton out of the picture: we were measuring the dust on our backup quarterback in inches, dusting off his shoulders, and he didn't have the ability to scramble behind a line that couldn't protect him; without practice, he had no rhythm with any core of receivers; and our resulting lack of offense put our defense on the field more than they'd been in two-a-days and they had no idea how to keep up.  From the outside looking in, it was clear to see that the whole locker room centered around what the powerhouse, invested-in, name-recognition offense could do and everyone else had a bit part.  If you need more evidence of that, look at the way we gave a Super Bowl ring to our former running back after we'd traded him away and won without him.  Bit players.  I hate to say it, but it kind of stings of "participation ribbon."

Except, of course, the ring is much cooler.

Questions about Peyton ruled last postseason, and we cut him.  Much to the dismay of many blue-blooded fans.  Now, I love Peyton Manning.  He's got a good head on his shoulders, a generous spirit, and a great heart.  He is humble and articulate.  He even gave up part of his salary to make sure the team could keep all the guys they wanted a few seasons ago and be under the cap; he wasn't playing for money.  But I also know that in order to do what we've had the opportunity to do right now, in a way that so seldom comes in the NFL, this was precisely the time to let him go.  Sad, but necessary.

And now we have the chance to build a team.  To stop throwing our salary cap under a few keys names and broadening our base to grow talent at every position.  Investing in everybody.  Bringing in a largely new team means these guys get to work together.  Andrew Luck, probably the biggest name, isn't going to be built into a strong(er - he's pretty rockin') quarterback unless he's got a line to protect him, a running back to carry part of the load, a core of receivers whom he's built chemistry with, and a cast of tight ends and fullbacks to fill in the gaps.  The line isn't going to work harder to protect him unless they think he's going to produce.  The receivers aren't going to discipline their hands unless he's throwing them the ball.  The running backs aren't going to gain any yardage unless they see something in him and trust him enough to hand off.  These guys now get to come in and do what they do, and building them up is part of building greatness into Luck, and everything we're doing to get Luck ready and at peak performance hinges on our also getting the rest of the offense strengthened, trained, skilled, honed, and sharpened at what they do.  Everybody's depending on each other; it's a team.

On top of that, we brought in new leadership with a powerful vision and the courage to go after it, while our new head coach has the specific set of skills necessary to work on our defense, which has taken on an entirely new formation this year and is looking sharp for the first time in recent memory.

So that's what I'm looking forward to about my Colts - the fact that right now, we have this chance (and we're taking it) to build a team.  Not a headline.  That we're in this place where every guy on that field knows what he's doing, and strives to be his best because that makes the other guy be his best, which in turn helps the first guy achieve something greater.  And nobody's lost in the big names.  And chances are, yeah, some of these guys will make a name for themselves.  But the chances are greater that before we start talking about Andrew Luck's completion percentage, T.Y. Hilton's brilliant catch, Reggie Wayne's veteran leadership, Freeney and Mathis vicious from the outside, or even Vontae Davis bringing power to the corner...we're going to be talking about simply "those Colts!"  Can you believe them?

That's the goal of any good team; that we wouldn't talk about the players so much, but about the team. About what this group is doing.  Right here.  On their field.  In your field.

We rarely get the opportunity to rebuild our lives, but we ought to take whatever chances we get to invest in everybody.  At every position.  By doing our best at our slot in the formation so that they can excel in theirs.  So that when people look at us, they aren't picking us out by name or contribution; they're too busy catching their breath and saying, "Wow!  Look at those guys!  Can you believe them?"  Because we're not really ever "I."  We're always "us."  We're "those guys."  Let's start looking like it.  Maybe start by bringing in a new Coach, a Man with a powerful vision and the courage to go after it with the specific set of skills necessary to work on our defenses.

Eight days to kickoff....eight days to kickoff....eight days to kickoff....

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