You Only Got One Shot
Is chasing a historic record worth the risks?
by Casey Jacobsen
Just this past Sunday after a night of practice, I sat down on my couch in Bamberg, Germany and opened the “Slingbox” application on my laptop computer (if you don’t know what Slingbox is, google it….right now.) Thanks to modern technology, I am still able to watch live NFL games from my house even though I live thousands of miles away. As this current football season enters its final two weeks of play, the playoff race is coming into focus.
Some teams are still playing for their lives, while others have already clinched their positions. My favorite team, the Indianapolis Colts, was enjoying their best regular season in franchise history and came into last week’s game as the only undefeated team at 14-0. They had already clinched a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the coming playoffs.
So winning their home finale against a desperate New York Jets team, a group clearly not on their level, wouldn’t have meant anything except keeping their record unblemished in order to chase the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only NFL team to go undefeated through the Super Bowl. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past week, I think you all know what happened last Sunday…
Summary: Colts led a close game late in the 3rd quarter, then pulled out their starters (including MVP-lock Peyton Manning) and watched the Jets score 17 unanswered points. That gaves the Colts their first loss of the season.
The following day TV analysts, radio talk shows and blogs all weighed in on whether or not head coach Jim Caldwell did the right thing in resting his starters. My initial reaction was as it usually is: It is not up to ‘us’ (fans or media) to decide what is best for the team.
They are trying to win the Super Bowl, not the regular season. It is always easy to second guess when you are not the one making the tough decision.
But I can’t say the same for this situation. It bothered me. I felt so strongly that the Colts did the wrong thing that I had to write about it…and I write a basketball blog! (Don’t worry…basketball comparisons are coming soon!) This wasn’t just an ordinary game in an ordinary league. The Colts had a chance at history in the most popular sport in our nation and they threw it away just to ‘rest’ their players. I don’t buy it, and I’m shocked that Peyton Manning actually allowed it to happen.
Does making history mean anything to them? Should it?
We live in a sports world where the only thing that matters is winning (and money). As fans, we don’t remember who comes in second or third and we don’t care. We come to ballparks, stadiums and arenas to see victories. Once in a lifetime, fans are lucky enough to cheer for a team that transcends their sport. Basketball fans of the 1980s Boston Celtics know what I’m talking about. So do those is Chicago who witnessed MJ and Pippen in the ’90s. Those teams weren’t just good…they were historic. Their stories are continually told years after all the players have retired and moved on. You can’t talk about the NBA without mentioning those teams and players.
In 1996, the Chicago Bulls posted a 72-10 record, a mark previously thought impossible. I was in high school at the time and although television’s ‘NBA League Pass’ didn’t exist, I remember following their box scores religiously. They had the League’s best player and people were talking about them possibly being the best team ever. I don’t remember that team taking a day off, and I’m almost certain that Jordan wouldn’t have allowed it. Can you imagine how that conversation would have gone if Phil Jackson proposed to rest MJ toward the end of that season?
Phil: You know, Michael, I was thinking about it today…We already clinched the first seed in the Playoffs and it’s been a long season. I want to rest you tonight. Another win won’t help our standings and there is a risk that you can get hurt. What do you think?
MJ: So are you going to tell all the fans who paid money to see what might be the greatest team ever that we’re taking the night off to avoid injury….or should I?
The point is that Jordan & Co. understood that they had a chance to be one of the best of all time. They owed it to themselves and all the people who followed them to find out if they truly were. They embraced their challenges and the pressures that accompany them.
In comparing the 1996 Bulls to the 2009 Colts, I understand that football is a very different game than basketball. The NFL is much more violent and the risk of injury is far greater. If the Colts lost Peyton Manning to injury in the closing minutes of that game to the Jets, nobody would have forgiven Caldwell for not pulling him in a “meaningless” game, right? I would have.
The 2007 New England Patriots and Tom Brady faced the same dilemma and they pushed forward, although eventually losing in the Super Bowl to the Giants. That Patriots team wanted to find out if they were one of the best. They found out that they were not, but at least they tried. The Colts robbed us, and more importantly their own fans, of finding out if they were the real deal.
They could have been a part of football history…and that should mean something.
Casey Jacobsen is a former SLAM High School First Team All-American and NCAA First Team All-American. He currently plays for Brose Baskets in Bamberg, Germany.