History's nice but Colts should shoot for immortality

By Gene Wojciechowski

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Quick, name the winner of the 1997 Super Bowl. Or the 1983 Super Bowl. Or the 1974 Super Bowl.

Have to think about it, don't you?

Now name the only undefeated, untied championship team in NFL history. Easy as study hall: The 1972 Miami Dolphins.

Dungy wants to run the regular-season table, but he and Polian want to do it on their terms. That's nice, except that the coach and prez should know you only get so many cracks at NFL immortality. Why settle for a Super Bowl run when you can also make a run at 19-0 and the Dolphins?
This is the difference between history and a legacy. The Indianapolis Colts are making history, but will coach Tony Dungy and team president Bill Polian allow them to create a legacy of their own? Will they let the Colts chase down those champagne-chugging Dolphins on equal terms or curl up in the fetal position as the regular season comes to a close, willing to trade a chance at perfection for a chance, nothing more, at complete health as the playoffs arrive?

Polian thought about his answer for, oh, a nanosecond before making clear management's stance on the matter.
"Priority No. 1 is be healthy going into the playoffs," said Polian, holding a just-issued white AFC South title cap as he stood near a pile of wet blue towels in the nearly deserted Colts locker room late Sunday afternoon.

And about 20 minutes earlier, in a cramped, cinderblock room used for postgame interviews at Alltel Stadium, Dungy made it clear he won't be held captive by the Dolphins' record of 32 years ago.

"I know it's hard for people to believe, but 16-0 would be a nice footnote -- it'd be great, we'd love to do it and we're going to try to do it -- but it's not the ultimate thing," he said. "We didn't come into the season thinking, 'We want to go undefeated.'"

They didn't? Why not?

You can't tell me Dungy gathered the Colts together before the season opener at Baltimore and said, "Fellas, I can live with six losses, but that's it." Not from the guy who, said Indy defensive tackle Corey Simon, "wants to win worse than anybody."

Dungy wants to run the regular-season table, but he and Polian want to do it on their terms. That's nice, except that the coach and prez should know you only get so many cracks at NFL immortality. Why settle for a Super Bowl run when you can also make a run at 19-0 and the Dolphins?

Only four teams have ever begun an NFL season with 13 consecutive victories. The Colts joined the short list with a 26-18 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars and did so with ridiculous ease. Pay no attention to the final stat sheet, because it's more deceiving than a Penn & Teller act. If you were here or you saw it on the family LCD, you know: The Colts were three weight classes heavier than the Jags.

"We competed, but today it just wasn't enough," said Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio.

It wasn't enough Sunday. It wouldn't be enough for the other six days of the week. That's how good the Colts are. They can grind out an 11-play, 89-yard drive, as they did to take a 7-0 lead. Or they can score on one 11-second possession, as they did to extend their lead to 14-3.

"We can play any sort of game," said quarterback Peyton Manning.

The Colts clinched every conceivable postseason advantage with Sunday's win. They guaranteed themselves a first-round bye and the luxury of never having to leave the noise factory that is the RCA Dome during the playoffs. As usual, center Jeff Saturday reached into a small wooden cigar case and handed out Arturo Fuente mini-stogies to the other linemen. He even reached out to Manning.

"Eighteen, you want a shorty?" he asked his quarterback, choosing jersey number over first name.

"Yeah," said Manning.

Saturday tossed a cigar. Manning looked at it and cracked wise.

"Same size as your arms," he said.

"Freakin' punk," said Saturday. "Give me my cigar back."

The Colts are all smiles these days, especially after getting the post-victory "See You Wednesday" OK from Dungy. But they won't be so thrilled if Polian and Dungy become too cautious during these final three regular-season games. The starters want 16-0. They don't want to be coddled, rested or babied.

In short, if given the choice, they want to play.

"It's a no-brainer, of course it is," said Simon. "Without question we want to play."

'Eighteen' is all for it, too.

"I say, 'Yeah,'" said Manning. "I say let's go play."

And then Manning recited a phrase used often by Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore.

"No guts," said Manning, the new Mr. Vegas, "no blue chips."

It would be nice if Dungy would play for the blue chips. It would be nice for the Colts players; for the season ticket-holders who pay $1,640 for an RCA Dome seat inside the 30-yard lines (Tony, preseason is in August, not December); even for the '72 Dolphins, who would get Indy's best shot.

Instead, all Dungy will say is that the Colts will "play to win" against San Diego next Sunday. Presumably, that means Manning and the starters play until the Chargers drop. After that, who knows?

"The truth of it is, it doesn't really matter what any individual player says," Manning said. "We talk about 'one voice' around here, and that's the head coach. That's Tony Dungy's voice. It's his call. What he tells us to do, we'll do."

Strange day here in Jacksonville. First, a semi-blowout win by the Colts. Then the continuing debate about playing the Colts starters. Then the postgame question of the day, posed to Saturday by a female reporter, something about the pros and cons of players having sex the night before a game.

Saturday was polite about it, but he didn't have much to say about the subject.

Hey, just like Dungy and the topic of starters.