Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why the Colts Should Hope for Luck: How the Colts are Lucky to Have a Bright Future.

***Written by guest columnist Sebastian Pardo***

Sports when at their most beautiful, illustrate complex and profound life lessons, that can often much more cleanly, and clearly express the complicated bitter-sweet nature of life. While this might be an over-simplification, the 2011 season for the Indianapolis Colts could be a lesson in patience, and illustrate the often cop-out philosophy of “things happen for a reason”.

The Manning-less Colts are finally facing the question they’ve been too scared to consider. What happens when Peyton’s gone?

The result is a team, spoiled by Manning, that has been neglected, and left to rot. For years Manning through shear obsessive perseverance has spackled in the void of both leadership, and perhaps talent to keep the Colts relevant in the regular season, and more importantly to the Owner/CEO Jim Irsay, as a brand.

The Colts this year are living “A Christmas Carol” like season. This year they are getting a glimpse of the Ghost of Colts’ Future, and like Scrooge come 2012, they can shudder and shake off the frightening spectre, and apply the lessons learned to save their franchise.

And that’s exactly why they should select Stanford Quarterback Andrew Luck.

Manning, will be age 36 at the start of next season, coming off two neck surgeries, that left him without power to his throwing arm. However, the argument shouldn’t surround the presumption that Manning will not recover, because in fact I believe the more persuasive argument, is not what Manning will or will not be able to do if he returns, but rather what drafting Luck would mean for the Colts, the city of Indianapolis, and the future of the organization.

The Colts have an opportunity to do something that would keep them relevant for another 15-20 years. When Manning came to the Colts in 1998 he ushered in a decade of success, taking a team with virtually no sustained success since the Johnny Unitas era, and transformed them to a NFL record breaking team, with 7 straight seasons with 12 or more wins, all while winning a Super Bowl and starring in Oreo commercials. Manning MADE people Colts fans. People who didn’t live in Indiana or the Midwest, he made them a national, and perhaps international brand. This from a team previously known for it’s managerial incompetence, and it’s bitter exit from Baltimore.

Manning is consistently in the debate as the best quarterback not only active, or alive, but perhaps ever. But, for all that, there is something that Andrew Luck can do that Peyton Manning can’t, and that’s provide upside. At 36 Manning is close to the end of his career, and whether Luck will be better than Manning is relatively irrelevant, simply by virtue of Manning’s age, and Luck’s potential. Of the two there is only one quarterback who could possibly be winning a Super Bowl in 2019.

In fact of the two, I believe there isn’t a quarterback who could win a Super Bowl before 2014. If Manning comes back, the team around him simply doesn’t have enough to win. Other teams have continued to build on success, and Manning and the Colts already had an aversion to winning big games, something that won’t be remedied with an even more feeble coach, weaker supporting cast and a stronger Super Bowl field.

The Colts have an opportunity to do something few teams do, by drafting Luck. They can bid Manning a fond farewell, and unbox a brand new proto-Manning in consecutive seasons. Where as most teams suffer the void of a quarterback of Manning’s caliber for decades, (read: Miami Dolphins) the Colts would immediately reload for another run at relevancy. Just for that chance at another decade of winning, of keeping the Colt’s brand in commercials, making more Colt’s fans, they should draft Luck.

Terry Bradshaw in 1982 underwent offseason elbow surgery, missing the first 14 games of the season, after which he returned, and upon throwing a TD pass felt his elbow pop again, missing the remainder of the season. However, in the 1983 offseason, he was adamant he could continue playing and the Steelers, ever so reverent of their great hero, planned for his return. Only to pass on local hero Dan Marino in the first round, and see Bradshaw never play football again. While it’s obvious in retrospect that Bradshaw could only play for a handful of years even if he could’ve recovered from a second elbow surgery, the decision certainly seemed difficult at the time. Imagine what Dan Marino would have done for the Steelers from 1983-1992, where the Steelers had little success, and suffered it’s first loosing season since 1971.

For the Colts’ it is a much riskier proposition, the Steelers have a legacy, wide ranging and passionate fan base, coupled with stable well run ownership that goes back generations. The Colts are really only 12 years or so removed from being bottom feeders, further more they’ve only been in Indianapolis for 26 years, they just simply don’t have roots that go as deep, and could risk sinking back into mediocrity. They desperately need to do something to stay relevant post-Manning, their entire brand relies on it.

While it is a difficult thing to dump the franchise hero, and perhaps see him suit up for another team, it would be both the best football decision and business discussion the Colts could make. Perhaps trade players like Reggie Wayne and Dwight Freeney in order to start building parts around Luck, much like how Faulk was sacrificed to make way for Edgerin James.

As hard as all those decisions will be to make, and as much as I think they should do everything in their power to get Luck, which would set them up for another 20 years of being an elite franchise, something that would solidify them amongst the sporting elite, there is still one possibility.

Manning returns completely healthy.

If Manning returns, having faced his sporting mortality, he will certainly be more motivated than ever. In this scenario the Colts have a rejuvenated Manning, for another 3-4 years, coupled with a lesson learned, and a high draft pick to help build for one last all-in push that can transition to the Post-Manning era, all the while hoping he wraps up his career like Elway. Perhaps the lesson is so well learned, that they look at a team like Green Bay, and draft a quarterback in two to three years time to groom as his replacement, in hopes of a smooth transition.

But the Colts have already squeezed so much out of Manning, are they really desperate to get 3 more years of him at the cost of 15-20 years of potential excellence. Is Manning going to get better from here on out? Will he stay as healthy as he has for the last 11 years? Will facing retirement give him a new found drive, and allow him to rise above crippling post-season mistakes and win multiple Super Bowls? Even if he does, in 5 years he’s gone. And the Colts’ are back to facing the same question. What happens when Peyton’s gone?

What makes the decision difficult, is that Luck is touted as a once in a generation prospect, the “next” Peyton Manning, the “next” John Elway. Will the quarterback who is available in two to three years come with the same outstanding character, physical talents and star power/marketing opportunities? There could be, sure, one never knows. But the likelihood is slim. Even slimmer if Manning is successful, and yields a low first round draft pick. Luck isn’t just any number one pick, this isn’t a player having a good combine, he’s a star. To me the odds of Luck being a bust are lower, than the chances of Manning returning to win a Super Bowl. And to me that’s the final arithmetic, now it’s a matter that the Colts must grapple with, can they do the emotionless cost benefit analysis that drives players to drop the borderline cliche, passive-aggressive “it’s a business” when pressed at news conferences. Or will they be looking back in 10 years wondering, what if?

For the Colts, “things-happen-for-a-reason”. And perhaps Manning’s ultimate gift to Indianapolis could be that his body gave out on him the exact year Andrew Luck became available, and not a year when a team has to talk themselves into a Quarterback being worthy of a number one pick. For Manning if he never plays again he goes out on top, without the slow Farvian fade-out, and the Colts take Luck, he pans out and together go on to become part of the international sporting elite. Or like Favre, Manning continues play, but the Colts, having seen their grim future, decide to take a once in a generation star college Quarterback for the second time in 13 years. Freeing Manning to play for a team looking for the final piece of the Super Bowl puzzle where he can then ride off into the sunset, as a hero, hall-of-famer, and possibly erase the doubts about him by winning a Super Bowl outside of Indianapolis.

Ultimately, this could be the best thing that happens to both the Colts and Manning.

So for the Colts it’s a lesson in life that often we as individuals can be too impatient to learn. Sometimes, we have to do the hard thing, sometimes we have to take a step back, and do what’s best, even if it hurts, even if it’s emotional. In our lives it’s hard to see things as clearly in ourselves as we see it in other people. And likewise, even if the Colts can recognize the Steelers mistake in 1983, it doesn’t mean they are immune to making the same mistake themselves. Sometimes in life one has to go backwards, and suffer in the short term in order to set up a brighter future. Hopefully the Colts can recognize this.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure if Indianapolis will be worse than Kansas City. The two play each other so we'll eventually find out.