This time, Colts are bound for Super Bowl
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• Game Notes
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• Opinions vary on Billick
• Colts message board
• Ask the expert: Colts reporter Mike Chappel
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Time for the Indianapolis Colts to finally bust through the glass ceiling and reach their first Super Bowl.
Time for Bill Polian, who has built so many nearly-great teams over the years, to fill the one gaping hole in his resume.
Time for Tony Dungy, who has taken two teams within a victory of the Super Bowl, to do with this team what his replacement, Jon Gruden, did in Tampa Bay.
Time for Peyton Manning, who will fight the foolish "big-game" knock until he takes his team to a Super Bowl, to do the thing that separates great quarterbacks from those who are truly legendary.
Time, starting tonight in Baltimore for the season opener against the Ravens, for the Indianapolis Colts to finish the job they began in 1998.
Should anything less than a Super Bowl appearance be viewed as a disappointment?
"One of the reasons I came here was because I felt like we had a real chance to get to the Super Bowl," said Corey Simon, the heaven-sent defensive tackle who is being paid to be the final piece in the puzzle. "I missed out on a Super Bowl ring last year (when his Philadelphia Eagles lost to New England). But I think it can happen here. They've done everything you can do, except that one thing."
The Super Bowl.
Aren't all the pieces in place by now? Haven't they suffered through the required growing pains? Isn't the memory of coming so close seared into their collective psyche, fueling a passion to take that necessary next step past New England, or whoever gets in the way?
Manning and Marvin Harrison have been together since 1998. Edgerrin James has been here since 1999. By now, the Colts have had enough time to build a champion with three once-in-the-lifetime-of-a-franchise players playing together -- including one, James, who is surely in his final season with the Colts.
It's not just the Triplets. It's a coaching staff that has worked in concert for many years. It's an offensive line that has been together forever. It's young receivers coming of age at the same time.
Even the defense, the dime-store defense built on draft choices and spare parts (until Simon came along last week), finally has the raw material it requires.
Dwight Freeney. Bob Sanders. Simon. How many defenses in this league have three play-makers?
In the past, it was unrealistic to think that Dungy, a defensive guy in Tampa Bay, could take substandard talent and mold a fearsome defense. For all the talk that Dungy was some kind of defensive savior who could turn Rob Morris into Ray Lewis, the fact is, last year, the third year under Dungy, the Colts' defense was 29th.
Which was about where it was when he took over for Jim Mora.
Well, there are no excuses anymore. With the Simon signing, the Colts' defense should rank in or near the top half of the league.
As a franchise, the Colts have sustained a special kind of excellence that is not often seen in a league built on a foundation of parity. In the end, though, they've always been left with that same empty feeling. In the end, they've turned into the San Diego Chargers and the Miami Dolphins for the new millennium. Fun to watch, lots of gaudy numbers, but no championships.
Well, second place is not enough anymore. Expectations are a monster they've created these past eight years.
"I'm glad the expectations are high for us, because we have those same expectations," linebacker David Thornton said. "But we've got to execute. We can't end up making excuses or giving explanations for what went wrong."
This is not to say this is a now-or-never proposition for the Colts. As long as Manning is behind center, the window of opportunity will remain open. This, though, is the best chance they've ever had, probably their last chance to win a title with James.
There is really just that one question left to answer:
When the stakes are highest and the prospects dimmest, do the Colts have that intangible something -- toughness, passion, whatever it is -- that separates the New Englands from the rest of the pack?
This is the perception of the Indianapolis Colts: Incredibly entertaining, a highlight film waiting to happen, but when things get tough and the weather turns ugly, they curl into the fetal position.
You've heard it, not just from the ink-stained chorus, but from former NFL players-turned-analysts: "They're too soft."
Not just because they've lost in the playoffs, but because of the way they've lost, turning to absolute mush at the first sign of adversity. A 41-0 loss to the Jets. Two no-shows against New England.
Admit it: Even you, the maniacal Colts fan, have muttered the same thing, haven't you?
This year, though, all the perceptions change.
This year, the Colts will get to the Super Bowl.