The 2009 Colts are one win away from going down as one of the greatest single season teams of all time. They'll join the 1972 Miami Dolphins, 1984 San Francisco 49ers, and the 1985 Chicago Bears in the discussion for what team was the single greatest team in NFL history.
What the 2009 Colts have working for them is the amount of adversity they have overcome. Whether it was replacing a Hall of Fame coach with a rookie head coach, replacing a Hall of Fame wide receiver, losing Anthony Gonzalez week one, losing Bob Sanders and Marlin Jackson for the year, or facing media scrutiny for "giving up" on perfection, the Indianapolis Colts have faced adversity all season, and have overcome it each and every week.
Now, the Colts face their final test. Scrutiny for resting their players and the excuses of player injuries no longer exists, the goal is the same as it has always been for the Colts, win the Super Bowl or the season was a failure. Like the divisional round and the championship round, the Colts have a lot of pressure on their backs. In a lot of ways the pressure is off the Saints because they at least got to the Super Bowl. Of course the Super Bowl is the most pressure filled game one could ever be a part of, but there was such a sense of anxiety for New Orleans in the NFC Championship game, it sort of feels like a Super Bowl is just another game for them.
The Colts on the other hand need to win ring number two to get their core team listed in the annals of great teams in NFL history. The Colts of the 00's may have won more games than any team in any decade in the history of the sport, but their one ring to show for it is completely pedestrian. Considering the whole spygate scandal and what still has yet come from that episode, it's completely logical to consider the Colts, with their second ring, the team of the 00's. Personally, I'll still consider the 00's the Patriots decade, though their one more ring will eventually be evened out in time by the volume of Hall of Famers these Colts teams produce.
More so than anything for the Colts, that is what is on the line this week: Hall of Fame candidacies, legendary statuses, and most importantly; legacies. As it stands now, Manning Wayne, Saturday, and Freeney could probably punch their tickets to Canton now. A second Super Bowl ring for each and you could start to add their names to the All Time greats. A second ring could also do wonders for Dallas Clark, Robert Mathis, and maybe even Gary Brackett's candidacy for the Hall of Fame. There's also Adam Vinatieri who may not even dress on Sunday, but with a win would get his fifth Super Bowl ring. For the Colts, a second Super Bowl would transform all of these all stars to all timers, the type of names we'll hear about for the next fifty years.
If the Colts lose on Sunday than it all takes a huge step back. Even if the Colts go on to win another Super Bowl with this core, the one loss will always resonate. The sort of loss that those 49ers, Steelers, and Cowboys teams never had. The difference between these Colts and these Saints may be that the Colts, more than any other franchise in the NFL, understand this. They understand that they're on the verge of transforming a franchise that was on the verge of moving in 1997 into a dynasty entering 2010.
In order to do that the Colts will need to do something they have already done once, win a Super Bowl in Miami with Peyton Manning as their quarterback. If Manning and the Colts succeed on Sunday, then the NFL may not only be a coronation for it's 44th Super Bowl champion, there may also be a coronation for their Gretzky, Jordan, Woods, or Ali; in other words their greatest of all time.
A loss, and Manning and the Colts take a huge step back. One that even Manning may not be able to come back from.