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4. The legacy myth. This space probably was as guilty as any writing about Manning’s “legacy” in the final weeks of the season and postseason, and to be honest, that may be the thing I’ll miss least now that the season is over – the constant analysis of Manning and his legacy. During the lead-up to the game last week, Manning at one point said he didn’t plan to watch the Super Bowl pre-game, and if you watched any pre-game coverage, it was easy to see why. His legacy was discussed nearly as much as the Saints-Save-New-Orleans-After-Katrina Story, and by the the start of the game, Manning had been ranked on enough all-time lists and compared favorably and unfavorably that you wondered if those making the arguments could even keep the arguments straight anymore. Personally, I don’t know where Manning “ranks” in comparison to other quarterbacks, but I do know he controls much of the game from the line of scrimmage in an era in which that’s not supposed to be possible and I know defensive players and other quarterbacks speak in awe of what he’s able to do. I don’t know if that puts him on the Rushmore or not, but there aren’t many teams past or present that wouldn’t listen closely – even at 34, which he will turn in March – if he came available in a trade.
3.Scene to Remember. In my duties for CBSSports.com, I was asked to write about the scene I’ll remember most from Super Bowl XLIV. I chose the scrum after the Saints’ onside kick, but in retrospect, I probably should have chosen the scene from the interview tent. Ten or 15 minutes after the loss, the Colts and NFL public relations staffs began leading Colts players to the podium and that’s as bizarre a scene as there is in sports. Moments before, these players had been as involved in a moment as is possible, intensely striving for a goal few ever get a real chance to attain. Because these are professional athletes, the thought of losing often never occurs. Now, mere minutes after that goal is dramatically, unexpectedly gone, they were sitting on podiums – some showered and dressed, others in full uniform – speaking into NFL microphones and answering questions. Some seemed as if they barely heard. Understandably, none wanted to be there. But what I remember most is a sudden deeper appreciation for the Buffalo Bills, who returned to the Super Bowl three times after losing it. The idea that a team could regroup from such a letdown and prepare with the daily focus and intensity to maintain the level needed to negotiate the marathon NFL season seems impossible. To have done it three times – unreal. I’ve that thought before, and I’ve covered losing Super Bowl teams before, but having been around the Colts after big wins and equally painful losses, this seemed very much a new level of disappointment and disbelief. It’s not hard to see why only two teams – Dallas (1971) and Miami (1972) – have won the Super Bowl the year following losing it. Considering the Colts’ consistency this decade, and considering that Colts President Bill Polian was the general manager in Buffalo in the early 1990s and therefore knows something about getting a team refocused quickly, the Colts probably have a better chance than most. But without question, if the Colts are to return to even the conference title game level next season it will be perhaps their most impressive accomplishment outside winning the Super Bowl after the 2006 season.
2.Early look. Still, while returning to the Super Bowl will be difficult, it’s not illogical to say the Colts could be better next year than last. Manning has shown no signs of a dropoff, nor have any of Indianapolis’ elite players – WR Reggie Wayne, TE Dallas Clark, DE Dwight Freeney and DE Robert Mathis. C Jeff Saturday may not be the player he was three years ago, but he’s a Pro Bowl center and players at that position can play into their late 30s. The most intriguing position next season could be wide receiver, where the return of WR Anthony Gonzalez will give the Colts a receiving corps that looks like: Wayne, Gonzalez, WR Pierre Garcon, WR Austin Collie and TE Dallas Clark. Let’s save the analysis of who plays where – early guess: Wayne and Garcon outside with Collie backing up Gonzalez – and just realize that if you throw RBs Donald Brown and Joseph Addai into the mix, that’s a group of skill positions unlike the Colts ever have had.
1.Run to remember? This is probably too early for some Colts fans to digest, and given the national rush to find some sort of blame for the Colts’ loss in the Super Bowl it will seem somewhat apologetic, but in a very real sense, the Colts had a better season they perhaps were “supposed to have.” Considering this was a team that played all but two games without S Bob Sanders, with a pair of defensive tackles who weren’t on active rosters shortly before last season, without CB Marlin Jackson most of the season and without WR Anthony Gonzalez for all but a half, what the Colts accomplished this season was not only a good season, but a remarkable one. The Colts dominated the AFC, winning two postseason games by double digits en route to the Super Bowl, then lost to a team that won its first 13 games of the season and that – certainly until a late-season three-game winning streak – were considering the best team in the NFL. The Colts were favored to win the Super Bowl, and they obviously had their opportunities, but they also played the season with essentially two rookie wide receivers, an offensive line with no player drafted before the fourth round and without players – Gonzalez, Jackson and Sanders – who had been their first players selected in three of the past six NFL drafts. This is not to say the Colts shouldn’t have won Sunday. They should have. They feel that way. Their fans feel that way, too. It’s just that to paint it as a choke or as underachieving may not be as accurate as some believe.
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MORE COLTS NEWS
DAILY DIGEST: On Tim Tebow, Ed Johnson and the offensive line. Here.
Caldwell: Nothing to be ashamed of. Here.
Saints 31, Colts 17. Here.
Reviewing the Bill Polian Radio Show . . .
* Part One: “We just didn’t execute.” Here.
* Part Two: Improvement needed. Here.
* Part Three: Dwight Freeney expected to play all along. Here.
* Part Four: MLB Gary Brackett wanted back. Here