There are too many reasons to watch this game to list in a single story. The Patriots and Colts games have been the best spanning a decade. Their rivalry is matched by no other sports rivalry in professional sports. Why?
When Peyton Manning joined the Indianapolis Colts, the blue faithful in Indianapolis had a collective sigh of relief. Finally their football team was destined for league-wide relevance. The team would go from a commonly mocked, sadly defeated bastion of under-performance and bad luck, to a NFL powerhouse almost over night.
It took one season for Manning to get up to NFL speed, but once he did, there was no team that really looked forward to facing Indianapolis. Only one team really stopped a Colts dynasty. One team stood in the way of Manning building a resume that would make every other quarterback in the history of professional sports bow to the greatest player in the history of their position.
The New England Patriots physically beat up, abused, and baffled the Colts for a four-season stretch, during which their biggest challenge came from a small market team in Indiana. As luck would have it, most of the games would be played in Foxborough, often in the cold and in weather that did not play to the Colts strengths in timing and speed. Speed is irrelevant when there is not traction. At that point, the bigger and stronger team has the advantage, and it showed.
In 2003, the Patriots knocked the Colts out of the playoffs in the AFC Championship. The following year, the Colts sought revenge but lost 20-3 in the Divisional round. In both seasons the Patriots went on to win Super Bowls. Earlier, in 2001, the Patriots won their first Super Bowl in the Manning era.
For Colts fans, the history of those games is simple. Beat the Patriots in 2003 and 2004 and there is a very good chance you win the championship, increasing the Colts Super Bowl victories to three instead of the Patriots, who would only have one. That is not how things went down, and so the Colts, bleeding after the 2004 Divisional round loss, set out to right a wrong.
Since that time, the Colts have controlled the series by winning five of the last six games. The Colts are the team with the most recent Super Bowl victory. When the two teams have been discussed together, more often than not, the Colts are considered the favorite, particularly because four of the last six games have been played in the RCA Dome and Lucas Oil Stadium.
This year, the Colts will go back on the road. Is the score even to Colts fans and players? Not even close.
For Colts fans, there is no doubt that Peyton Manning is the superior quarterback. He set a passing record in 2004 that few thought would be broken anytime in the near future. Tom Brady did just that in 2007. What irked Colts fans is that in order to do so, Coach Bill Belichick kept his foot on the gas in multiple blowout wins, allowing his quarterback to air out against teams who logically had moved from prevent defenses to loading up the offensive line to keep New England from running out the clock.
In the end, it took Brady more passes, more time, and a large number of garbage time passes and scores to break the record and surpass Manning’s milestone. Under head coach Tony Dungy, Owner Jim Irsay, and President Bill Polian, the Colts never operated under a “beat them when they’re way down” philosophy. Indianapolis pulled Manning from games when there was not a need for his presence. The Colts moved to a ball control game to shorten contests, rather than score more points when no more points were needed.
These differences in philosophy. The differences between the moral coach who preached about doing things the right way, who did not attempt to be flashy or attract a lot of attention to himself or his star players, and the coach who wanted to win at all costs, and damn the consequences were stark. One coach would always take the high road and shake hands, even when defeated and embarassed. The other was visibly dejected, angry, and preferred to dismiss such common practices as shaking after a defeat.
Even when the Colts started to get the upper-hand, many fans thought Patriots players were instructed to flop when Manning’s high powered no huddle offense started to get the best of Belichick’s defense. At no time was that more frustrating or noticeable than when former Patriots linebacker/defensive end Willie McGinest dropped to the ground as Indianapolis was nearing the goal line during the 2003 regular season match-up. After sitting out one play, it was McGinest who came back into the game to make the game-sealing stop on Edgerrin James.
The point is, there is bad blood between these two teams. Whether you think the Patriots cheat or not. Whether you think the Colts have piped in crowd noise. Whether you believe McGinest did or did not flop in 2003. Whether you think the Colts whined to change rules. Whether you think the Patriots got away with bloody murder in roughing up Colts receivers in 2004. It does not matter.
These two teams hate each other. Legitimately, hate each other. It is actually humorous that the player who is friendliest to the Patriots is Peyton Manning, who is friends with Tom Brady and hangs out with Bill Belichick when he has the chance during the Pro Bowl every year.
Those ties will not make a difference. The Patriots want revenge for the fourth-and-two stop that cost them the win in the two teams’ game last year. The Colts will not be satisfied until they have made the Patriots irrelevant. The Colts have more Super Bowls to win. The Colts have more pain to inflict. The Colts are not soon to forget all of the disappointment their rival Patriots have brought on them during Manning’s illustrious career.
Nothing has changed. This game matters more to the fans of these two teams than any game but the Super Bowl. There are some who would almost trade a blowout in this game for wins in the playoffs. “If we can’t win it all, just let us beat the Patriots/Colts.”
This game is serious. Injuries are irrelevant. The past is anything but prologue. It’s time for the Colts and the Patriots to get it on one more time. If you’re not excited today, you do not have a pulse. Are you ready for some football?