I used to think football karma was just an irrational superstition. The domain of the weak-minded; an easy crutch to lean on when statistics and probability failed to explain events on the field. After all, who needs football karma when your team is good for a decade? When it wins the division almost every year; always plays into January; wins a Super Bowl and just keeps rolling? And, of course, when it’s led by one of the greatest ever to play the game?
Not me. Not Colts fans.
Then Peyton Manning stopped playing. You know the rest. Ugh.
It’s clear, now, that Manning covered up a multitude of flaws in this team all those years. He’s obviously worth more yards, points and wins than even the most die-hard homer would have predicted. (In September, Coltzilla’s own Brett Mock had them “conservatively” at 3-4 at this point in the season, with Collins at QB.)
In much the same way, it seems Manning masked the Colts’ karmic debt, too. It was accruing steadily all that time, like interest on a bad credit card. We just couldn’t see it because he always brought home so much money.
What karmic debt, you ask?
Too much good fortune. Too many wins, too many playoff runs, too many MVP’s, too much quarterbacking greatness. Getting Polian at the perfect time. Picking Manning over Leaf. Edge over Ricky. Hitting on Wayne, Freeney and Sanders. Getting Dungy on another crazy owner’s stupid whim. Finding Saturday, Brackett and Mathis out of nowhere. Drawing Rex Grossman in the Super Bowl. Rex Grossman! It was almost like they had a lucky charm on their helmets or something.
And there were football sins, too. Not playing for 16-0. Polluting the purity of the Tampa-2. The whole Kerry Collins debacle. And let’s not forget, there’s still that lingering Baltimore thing, too. (Sorry, Hoosiers. Truth hurts.)
There were payments made along the way, of course. At times, I’ve pondered this karma thing and thought, “Hey, it hasn’t been all unicorns and rainbows. I mean, we’ve suffered, too. The heartbreaking playoff losses to the Pats and Chargers. Losing Harrison and Sanders, each a few years too soon. Vanderjagt’s wide right. Nick Harper, stabbed in the leg, a fingertip too slow. Hank Baskett’s “hands”. Historic runs of injuries. Ugoh and Hughes and Brown. The very existence of Tom Brady.”
That’s what I thought. But none of that was enough.
Football karma demands parity. Regression to the statistical mean. The occasional losing season. Flaws in the perfection. Humiliating defeats. And so here we are: Check. Check. Check. Check. Check.
The 2011 season is mind-numbingly awful. It will be a black mark on the Colts for decades. I wish it was already over.
But at least it will finally be enough. The Football Gods will be sated; the karmic slate wiped clean. There will be room for Manning’s triumphant return. The first-to-worst-to-first swing will finally make an airtight case for his GOATness, beyond everything he’s already done. We’ll have earned the right to some luck (no, not Luck) in the draft, and with a full slate of top round picks to spend it on. There will be new and improved coaches and, hopefully, a return to old schemes and philosophies. The veterans will return battle-scarred and hungry; the rookies ready to be part of a new generation of greatness. Manning’s Colts, version 2.0.
The winning will start again, the horseshoe reoriented in the right direction. Divisional wins, playoff runs, Championships. There will be more banners hanging in Lucas Oil before he’s done.