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Peyton Manning And The Fleeting Nature of Sports Excellence

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The city of Indianapolis has enjoyed a decade of excellence. The Indianapolis Colts have put together an unprecedented 10 years of superior football. To one degree or another, so too have Boston and Pittsburgh. In years past Dallas, San Francisco and Pittsburgh (again) were also the beneficiaries of a prolonged period of excellence from their respective NFL franchises.

In other major league team sports there have been franchises which managed to play at the highest level of their particular sport  for extended periods: the Boston Celtics, LA Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Detroit Pistons, and of course the Chicago Bulls in basketball. In baseball various teams have produced long runs at or near the top of their leagues – LA Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers and almost perennially, the NY Yankees among others.

I don't follow the NHL, but I'm sure the same applies to some of their franchises.

In the case of the Colts, I won't argue regarding which of the teams mentioned above during the past decade has been better. While the Colts have more regular season wins during the last decade than any other NFL team, their postseason record is rather lackluster. The obvious winner in that regard would be the Patriots with the Steelers running a close second.

The point, though, is when looking over the breadth of American major league team sports, the franchises which have performed at the highest level for an extended period of time are relatively few. It is a luxury.

NFL fans in Indy, Boston, and Pittsburgh have lived high over much of the past decade having understandably high expectations of their teams come each September. More often than not, they haven't been disappointed.

The fall from grace is usually a hard one. Most sports franchises can look back and point to one or more "glory year" periods (excepting perhaps the Detroit Lions, who have never been glorious in the Super Bowl Era). However, the level of play for most teams before and after those 'up' years was, more often than not, mediocre at best, and at times dreadful.

The current run of the the Colts at or near the top of the league over the past decade is owing first and foremost to the presence of Peyton Manning, and almost equally to the team management which is the product of the efforts and the vision of owner Jim Irsay, president Bill Polian and the coaching staff, at least since their hiring of Tony Dungy and now his successor, Jim Caldwell. Much the same can be said for other long term successful sports franchises. The Colts have been so good for so long that we just expect them to win week after week. We expect the offense to score on virtually every series, and are dismayed when they don't.

Up until a few years ago, the Indiana Pacers was looked upon as a model NBA franchise. For several years — mainly during the Reggie Miller era — the Pacers managed to be one of the most competitive teams in the NBA, which, unfortunately, coincided with the glory years of one Michael Jordan. (Remember him?) Nevertheless, the Pacers were looked upon as a solid franchise from ownership and management to coaching and players. It appeared to be a well run machine. Then came the brawl in Detroit. It all went south for the Pacers from that moment onward, and they have yet to show any significant signs of recovery.

It can be assumed that whenever Manning hangs up his flack jacket that the fortunes of the Indianapolis Colts will at best be questionable. You just don't go out and seamlessly replace a Peyton Manning, or a Michael Jordan.

The lesson here, I believe, is for fans of great teams in whatever sport to savor the moments. They are ultimately fleeting.

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About Baritone

  • I guess it’s lasting at least a little bit longer. Woohoo! 🙂

  • Yes, I allude to that in my comment above. Between free agency and the salary cap, it has become far more difficult to keep a team together and still have the kind of talent at key positions to field a competitive team.

  • Baritone,
    I’m not familiar with all the nuances of NFL ops, but didn’t free agency cause problems in keeping talent together? Remember some of the dominant teams of the past and how we could name all their big stars that stayed with them for years?

  • Actually, Jim Irsay took over from his father, Robert, who was perhaps one of the worst NFL franchise owners ever – remember John Elway refused to play for Irsay when drafted? Robert Irsay purchased the team, I believe back in the early 80s and in 1984 made the midnite move from Baltimore to Indy.

    Jim took over the reigns in the early to mid 1990s. It took a while for him to learn the ropes. He oversaw some horrendous trades and poor draft picks, i.e. the mega deal that landed Eric Dickerson in the twilight of his career, and the drafting of Jeff George.

    The hiring of Bill Polian was, perhaps the key. Polian handled personnel issues with the Buffalo Bills during their 4 consecutive (losing) Super Bowl appearances. It was Polian who strongly opted for Manning over Ryan Leaf. Enough said there, I presume.

    As you note there have been a few success stories like the Montana/Young change over, but they have been few and far between. Such successions have been made far more difficult since the advent of the salary cap and free agency. Ya just can’t keep good help anymore.

    Consider how top heavy the Colts offense and so called “skill” positions are with respect to total salaries. Over the years the Colts have been obliged to give up the likes of Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, tight end Marcus Pollard, plus any number of line backers and good secondary players among others. While there have been a few duds, overall, Polian has managed to fill those holes with eager and able young guns.

    Again, I’d venture to say that the same is and has been true of other franchises in all team sports having an extended period of success. It’s a tough bill to fill year in and year out.

  • The last time the Lions were good were the ’50s. Three NFL Championships that decade, I believe.

    It starts and ends with ownership. That’s why the Steelers have never been terrible. That’s how the Red Sox turned their franchise around. It’s why the Orioles, Clippers, and Lions just don’t have a prayer. Teams like the can catch lightning in a bottle. Behind every sustainable period of dominance is a dedicated ownership. Irsay inherited the team in the, what’s that, late 90s you say? Right around when Manning was drafted? Well, that explains a lot.

    It’s too far down the road to see how Manning’s replacement will do, probably because that guy is in high school right now. Joe Montana was replaced by Steve Young. Brett Favre begat Aaron Rodgers, and it’s an unfair comparison, but he’s a legitimate starter.

    And then there’s Troy Aikman, whose successor was Quincy Carter. That’s not even fair.