On the phone with a friend I’ll call Henry Hill. He’s a family man, casino consultant, degenerate gambler, and believer in conspiracy theories. Henry thinks the Indianapolis Colts are tanking the season.
Conspiracy theories are fun to play with. Some, like the President Kennedy assassination conspiracy, I regard as true, but most don’t make the cut, particularly those that depend on many people acting skillfully at the same time.
As to Henry and the Indianapolis Colts. If the team goes 0-16 and the head coach is not fired, and then, armed with the number-one draft pick, the Colts select Stanford’s once-in-a-generation quarterback Andrew Luck (everybody’s candidate to be the next Peyton Manning), then I’ll have to revisit Henry’s theory.
At 0-8, the Colts are halfway there. Peyton Manning is almost certainly out for the season. On September 8, Manning had a single-level anterior (read: neck) fusion procedure (read: operation). That was his third neck surgery. So, we can count him gone. But, it’s hard to believe the loss of one man, even a four-time NFL MVP, causes a team that has made it to the playoffs every year for the past nine years in a row, a team that has been to the Super Bowl twice in the past five years...hard to believe the loss of that one man means that same team goes 0-8, including a 62-to-7 loss to New Orleans, a defeat so deep and thorough that it wasn’t a defeat as much as a surrender.
Yes, other Indy players are out for the season (strong safety Melvin Bullitt and middle linebacker Gary Brackett), but that happens to every team. It’s true the team was designed around Manning’s individual talents, but that doesn’t explain it, either. Remember the 2008 New England Patriots? Quarterback Tom Brady was injured in the first quarter of the first game and was out for the season. The Pats went 11-5 that year.
Good coaches coach the team they have. If you don’t have Manning, then you draw up an offensive scheme that plays to the strength of the quarterback you have on the field. The Colts’ backup quarterback had been Curtis Painter, three years in residence. In a heart-tugging vote of confidence, club president Bill Polian and general manager Chris Polian (aka the Polian Bros.) went out and spent $4 million on quarterback Kerry Collins. Collins had played 16 years in the NFL and recently retired.
Collins didn’t know the Colts’ playbook, didn’t know where the cafeteria was, but did know enough to insist on a guaranteed contract. He started three games before exiting in the fourth quarter of game three with “concussionlike symptoms.” He’s on injured reserve now and can go home. During his stay, he completed 49 percent of his throws.
Now then, the Colts could turn to their secret backup quarterback, punter Pat McAfee, or to their just jilted backup quarterback, Curtis Painter, who does know the playbook, players, coaches, and where the cafeteria is.
Painter was the unanimous choice!
And to insure a successful season, the Colts signed another quarterback, Dan Orlovsky. Orlovsky has been a second- or third-string quarterback for Detroit and Houston, cut by Houston before training camp, invited to the Colts’ 2011 camp as a free agent, and subsequently cut.
The Colts sail into the second half of the season with Curtis Painter at the helm and Dan Orlovsky as his first mate. Are Painter and Orlovsky the two best QBs available? Not even close. The Colts could have made a run at Carson Palmer or David Garrard, even Brett Favre. Favre will win you some games, even now. Instead, they relentlessly (one could say intentionally) went for mediocrity.
Here’s the beauty part of Henry’s conspiracy theory: Players see the front office hire inept quarterbacks when better quarterbacks are available. Players know their team runs the same defensive and offensive schemes as they did when Manning was playing. Players see teammates who aren’t playing hard. Nobody has to meet you in an alley and whisper, “Psst. Throw the game or your family gets it,” for you to slack off.
This scenario doesn’t even require cooperation from the coaching staff. The GM provides the players. Just make sure you only have mediocre quarterbacks on the roster and let nature take its course. You’ll still need some luck to go 0-16, but so will Miami. Miami pulled out a loss against the Giants on Sunday, but it took a ten-point fourth quarter from New York to get it done.
Follows was written Friday by Bob Kravitz, a sports columnist for the Indianapolis Star: “If it comes down to the final two weeks and Luck is on the line, tank. Seriously, tank.”