Sport Imitates Life

January 3, 2010 7:37 AM

Bravo Urban Meyer, Boo Indianapolis

Sometimes slamming on the brakes helps you avoid an accident, but sometimes it causes one.
Florida's Urban Meyer probably avoided a nasty -- and potentially fatal -- head-on collision by pulling off to the side of the road last week in Gainesville.
Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell (and the rest of the Colts' brass), on the other hand, caused a 53-car pileup by slowing down suddenly in heavy traffic last Sunday at the Lucas Oil Drum.
Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, but these contrasting cases illustrate how exercising discipline, foresight and restraint isn't always the right move to reasonable minds.

Meyer was neglecting his health and his family to maintain his football empire at the University of Florida, and it takes a big man to recognize and admit he can only save himself by stepping away from something as grand as a college football powerhouse. Meyer has turned Florida into one of the half-dozen elite programs sprinkled across the NCAA Division I landscape, but he wisely decided it wasn't worth his life in exchange.
He woke up with chest pains in the middle of the night and realized there's more to life than football and more to death than regret. He realized he'd rather have a free night for his wife's birthday or their anniversary dinner than frequent flyer miles and free hotels on the road. He realized he'd rather go to church Sunday morning than go to his office to break down film. He realized he'd rather watch his daughters play high school volleyball than watch a kid he's never met play high school football.
I'd rather watch his daughters play volleyball too, for that matter, but that's beside the point. The point is, Meyer was able to see the forest for the trees before it was too late, and whether he coaches at Florida next season or never coaches organized football again, his will to be unwilling should set a precedent other workaholic football coaches can follow when they come to the same crossroads.
As for the Indianapolis Colts, let's just call it what it is: they tanked an NFL football game on purpose last Sunday and greatly disrupted the natural flow of the football world.
The NBA has a draft lottery in place because the competitive integrity of the game was severely compromised in the early 1980's by bad teams purposely playing even worse to ascertain the top pick in the subsequent draft. Major League Baseball has exiled two of its all-time greats -- Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson -- for compromising their game's competitive integrity.
I understand the Colts' motives last Sunday were completely different, legal and even justified in some people's eyes, but that doesn't mean they weren't downright wrong at the same time. I feel both crass and cross for suggesting the NFL -- an already suppressive, oppressive, repressive, narrow-minded, nearsighted, unimaginative, uncreative regime -- should further over-govern its franchises and players more than it already has, but perhaps Roger Goodell and Co. should consider some form of punitive legislation to ensure no NFL team ever again does what the Colts did against the Jets in Week 16.
Granted, Caldwell and the Colts would've also come under enormous criticism had Peyton Manning torn his rotator cuff or Reggie Wayne broken both his hands in the second half of Sunday's 29-15 loss to the Jets, but those injuries could just as easily happen in the first half of a "meaningless game".
I would say, however, that the backlash from around the country and the Indiana legislators potentially pursuing reimbursement and reparations for Colts fans who paid good money to watch a bad event Sunday indicates that there is no such thing as a meaningless game. Football has become a religion in this country, and it is becoming sacrilegious to forsake an attempt at a perfect season or a record regular-season winning streak.
It's probably time the NFL fostered a culture and a climate where those same things that are important to fans and followers are more important to the league and its franchises than protecting their million-dollar babies from injuries. Football is a violent game and good players are going to suffer bad injuries, and since that's simply the way of things, we must let it be.
This whole issue could've been avoided, and the Colts could've won the game and rested their starters had Peyton Manning not overthrown a wide-open Reggie Wayne twice Sunday for probable touchdowns in the first half (Manning also missed Dallas Clark down the sideline for a big gain). If he connects on two of those three throws, chances are Indy is up 29-15 in the third quarter and the Colt stars can come to the bench comfortably and quietly as the second string sits on the two-touchdown lead.
Instead, the Colt starters left the game shortly after halftime with a 15-10 lead, which the Jets erased with 19 unanswered points. Not only did Indianapolis cost itself a record 23-game regular season win streak and a shot at a perfect season, the Colts caused a half-dozen other teams considerable grief by letting the Jets turn the AFC playoff picture upside down and inside out.
If Indy beats New York the same way they would have done if the game had been played in week 2, or 6, or 10, several teams are just about out of the playoff race and some teams are still in the hunt this Sunday. That's the way it should've been. That was the delicate balance nature intended for, and the Colts, of all teams, should know better than to upset the natural way of things.
And besides, how much rest do you need when you're already assured a bye the first round of the playoffs? Indianapolis has upset the football gods, and their punishment should be a playoff upset on their home field by an inferior opponent, which is exactly what happened them the last three times they pulled up at the last minute of an otherwise stellar regular season. The most recent of which was 2007, when San Diego went into Indy's old RCA Dome and clocked the Colts 28-24 in the AFC divisional round.
Those same Chargers are a good candidate to do it again this season, but perhaps a more fitting punishment would be for the Colts to run the table the rest of the way and win their second Super Bowl in four years with an 18-1 record. Then they'd have to live the rest of their lives knowing they should've been perfect. Opportunities like that only come around once or twice a career, and even Peyton Manning may never have another shot at perfection as good as the one he missed out on this year.

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