We watched the NFL's Network's America's Game feature on the 2006 Colts last night, getting ready for the big kickoff showdown tonight against the Saints.
An awesome job, as you always get from NFL Films, with insight into Indy's improbable Super Bowl run last year.
Here are a couple thoughts on the show from the perspective of the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
Where's the deef ... ense?!
Our only real criticism of the episode was the lack of representation of the team's widely criticized, and then vindicated, defensive unit.
The central theme of almost every America's Game episode is redemption in one form or another. And each America's Game episode features insight from key figures from the Super Bowl champion. The featured guests for the 2006 Colts episode were Peyton Manning, Tony Dungy and center Jeff Saturday.
Manning and Dungy certainly made sense, as the team's two most visible figures. The years of criticism they endured (Hello, Cold, Hard Football Facts!), and their triumph over the critics (Shut-yer-trap, Cold, Hard Football Facts!), was the central theme of the show.
The remarkable postseason metamorphosis of this defense was the other central storyline of the show.
"It's hard to explain what happened in the playoffs (with the defense)," said Manning.
It would have been nice to get some insight on this transformation from one of those vindicated defenders in a program that will go down as the definitive history of Indy's championship run. Sadly, we didn't get it.
Manning can tear it up with the best of 'em
The best, and most enlightening part of the whole show was watching Manning rip into two guys he wouldn't mess with in a dark alley: Saturday and Tarik Glenn. Manning was screaming at them on the sidelines about their blocking, spitting all over himself in anger in the process. Really just kind of out of his mind in the heat of the moment.
They showed him talking about the incident a few moments later on the sidelines with Brandon Stokley and Dallas Clark.
"I'm miked up, too," he said, adding that the sideline soap opera, "was better than Desperate Housewives."
Well, we'll take Eva Longoria half naked. But you get the point.
New England haunted Indy more than we knew
The Colts had bested the Patriots in each of their previous two regular-season games heading into the 2006 AFC title game. But Indy's frustrations with New England over the years was discussed rather openly and frankly.
Manning literally said he would rather have faced a lousy team like Oakland in the AFC title game.
Saturday compared the Patriots to the old Soviet hockey team, implying that they needed a 1980-style miracle to beat their "nemesis." He quoted the movie "Miracle" about the 1980 U.S. Olympic team in a fiery pre-game speech, telling his teammates before the game, "It's our time!"
When it came time to turn things around, Manning said he took a page out of the Patriots playbook.
Manning watched the Patriots shred the Jets with a series of quick-strike passes in the wildcard round, a 37-16 New England victory. He said the Jets ran a number of defensive packages in that game quite similar to those used by the Ravens. So he employed many of the same offensive strategies as New England in Indy's 15-6 win over Baltimore the following week in the divisional round.
"The Patriots did a lot of no-huddle stuff against the Jets, and really it worked," said Manning. "This had some merit to it, this kind of plan. It's a copy cat league, this NFL."
Dungy held the team together in its darkest hours
Dungy really comes across as the rock of ages that held together the Colts as they walked through the valley of elimination. It was never as dark for the team as it was late in the first half of the AFC title game.
The Colts were down 21-3, they were moving backwards on offense, and it just seemed like it was all going to end badly for them, as it had so many years in a row.
Saturday said that everyone on the team had doubts at that point ... everyone but Dungy.
The coach hung tough, telling his team at that point, "It's still our time ... I promise you we're going to win this game."
Said Saturday: "He stuck with it longer than I would have."
"If (Dungy) believes it, we should believe it," added Manning.
Manning is one goofy, likable good ol' boy
We developed a reputation over the years of not liking Manning. That simply was not true. We merely pointed out that New England's Tom Brady was a better quarterback ... hardly an insult. And, when nobody else did, we cited the irrefutable evidence that made Manning the Picasso of Choke Artists ... a label that stuck with him until the second half of the AFC title game last year.
We can't, and don't, let personal likes and dislikes get in the way of the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
But we never disliked Manning, the dude. It's hard to dislike him after watching the America's Game episode.
Oh, sure, we came across as a little arrogant, tooling on teammate and back-up tight end Bryan Fletcher for suggesting plays when he "hadn't earned his stripes" - especially when his suggestions bore fruit in the AFC title game.
But generally speaking, Manning came across as just a down-to-earth, fun-loving good ol' boy type ... a guy you'd like to have a few beers with.
And that's the highest complement we can give anybody ... especially if he's paying.