I'd hate to be a member of the Indianapolis Colts today -- either a starter who had to stand on the sidelines and watch it all slip away or a second- or third-stringer who heard the crowd's boos as he labored haplessly to contain the New York Jets yesteday.
Hell, I hate even being a Coltsfan today. When it became obvious the coaches weren't going to put the starters back in even as the Jets started racking up points, nervousness became a sinking feeling: They really aren't going to try to win this game.
This is the part where we're all supposed to be Monday morning coaches and endlessly debate whether it was right or wrong to pull back in this game as a way to somehow psych up for the Super Bowl. But I don't hear much debate. Most everyone seems to have about the same feeling, summed up nicely by The News-Sentinel's Reggie Hayes:
The Indianapolis Colts had a chance to do something special and they threw it away.
They took their unbeaten season, labeled it irrelevant and chucked it in the trash.
They insulted Colts fans who paid hundreds of dollars for tickets. They scoffed at the ideal of competitive spirit in sports. And they cheated other NFL teams fighting for a playoff spot by handing a win to the New York Jets.
But enough sugarcoating.
The Colts' 29-15 loss to the Jets on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium was disgraceful and unnecessary.
Fan disgust comes in large part because of that disdain for perfection. Chances at doing or being something perfect don't come along all that often, and the Colts were so close. But part of it is just the idea that they didn't try to win this one specfic game. If you don't enter each game determined to do everything you can to win it, you shouldn't even show up. By thinking ahead to the Super Bowl, and letting that guide their actions in this game, the coaching staff has already showed the kind of thinking that will keep them out of the Super Bowl, never mind actually winning it.
And even if they do win it, it will mean a lot less to the fans than it could have. I have a friend who is a passionate Detroit Lions fan, and she stays with them trough thick and mostly thin. She's prouder of them for winning only two games this year than many Colts fans are of their 14-1 team today. And least the Lions were actually in every game, trying to win it.
UPDATE: Here's somebody who takes the other side. Jeffri Chadiha, writing for ESPN.com, says benching the starters was smart, "even if it smarts."
Most importantly, the Colts already have endured big hits to their starting units, losing receiver Anthony Gonzalez and defensive backs Marlin Jackson and Bob Sanders -- among others -- to season-ending injuries. Those setbacks also had to factor heavily in Caldwell's thinking about resting players against the Jets.
[. . .]
What he was telling his team was that playing well in January and February is all that matters at this point.
Caldwell also might know most people probably couldn't even recall the regular-season records of the last 10 Super Bowl champions. That's because the only thing that matters is which teams end up holding the Lombardi Trophy at season's end.
And if that team ends up being the Indianapolis Colts this season, you can bet that nobody will be blasting Jim Caldwell for what he did on Dec. 27.
But a player can be hurt in any game of the season, affecting the team's performance in every remaining game. That's all part of the deal. If you think you're going to gain a playoff advantage from resting the starters for half a game, you're sure not going to risk them on the last game of the season. So look for a final game that's lousy the whole way and a 14-2 season record for the Colts.
And a point I haven't seen anybody else make yet: The Jets now have a shot at the playoffs, which they only have because the Colts threw the game. Indianapolis let a team that didn't deserve the playoffs make the playoffs. Wouldn't it be some kind of poetic justice if . . .?