Colts owner cautious despite 9-0 start

November 13th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Colts owner cautious despite 9-0 start


Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - Jim Irsay uses the decorations in his office to tell his team's story. There's a signed photo of the three Manning quarterbacks, a plaque commemorating the record-setting combination of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, autographed game balls and even a framed newspaper from the Colts' 1958 championship game.
Now he needs another spot to illustrate the latest chapter in Indianapolis' growing legacy. Despite Sunday's unimpressive 17-16 victory over Buffalo, Irsay is now the proud owner of the NFL's first team with back-to-back 9-0 records.
"It's amazing," Irsay told The Associated Press, "the types of performances and the wins we've had."
What Irsay's Colts have accomplished in the past several years is nothing short of remarkable.
Manning won two MVPs and set the NFL record for most touchdown passes (49) in a season, while Harrison shattered the league mark for receptions in a season (143). The offense looks virtually unstoppable and the defense has been just good enough.
This year, Indy is well on its way to a fourth straight AFC South title - holding a four-game lead with seven to play over second-place Jacksonville - and has a two-game lead in the chase for AFC home-field advantage.
The midseason buzz, which is again beginning in earnest around Indianapolis, is almost expected these days. Again, everyone wants to know whether these Colts could challenge the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the NFL's only team to complete a perfect season.
And since November 2004, they've made a mockery of the league's desire for parity. The Colts have won 31 of 34 regular-season games, including an incredible 30-0 record when the games actually had some kind of playoff implication.
Irsay has even used personal money to keep one of the league's smallest-market teams among the NFL's elite franchises - and the free-spirited owner who likes playing guitar and now has a tattoo doesn't seem to mind.
"I personally like to win, so I'll go into my own pocket sometimes to pay for it," he said. "It's been tough. Who knows how much better this team would be if we could have kept all those guys (free agents)?"
The Colts have undergone a major makeover since the 47-year-old owner took over the team in 1997.
Under Bob Irsay, Jim's father, the Colts were best known for losing games and players such as John Elway and Cornelius Bennett through the 1980s and most of the 1990s.
Since the younger Irsay took over, though, the Colts have produced seven winning seasons, five division titles and one appearance in the AFC championship game.
In 2005 and again this year, many have focused on the chase of perfection. To Irsay, unbeaten seasons aren't his desire. Super Bowls are.
"People make a lot about the Colts in the playoffs, and that's not something we shy away from," he said. "We understand that. Really, the Pittsburgh game was our only misstep last year. But I think if you look back to 2003 and 2004, I think the Patriots were a better team than us. They were great champs."
In some ways, this year's success may be more telling.
Denver lost in the 1996 playoffs after going 13-3, then settled for a wild-card spot in 1997 - and won the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh followed the same script last year, after going 15-1 in 2004.
Dungy worried during the offseason that last year's non-title hangover could linger, but the Colts haven't allowed it, continuing to find ways to win.
"We've worked well, practiced well, we've not always played as well as we can," Dungy said. "But there's been no thought that we'll wait till the playoffs and work hard in January."
Irsay isn't making any predictions about this season.
While some look at the remaining schedule and try to predict where the Colts may slip, more than three decades around the league has taught Irsay one thing: You can't count on anything in the NFL.
Sunday's game against Buffalo reinforced that point.
"I think what people do if you're an outstanding team is they kind of lie in wait for you," Irsay said. "They'll put a mark by your name. I remember we used to do that with the Niners in the late '80s and with other great teams."
Irsay hopes his team joins that list in February. But until then, he's not making any plans for additional trophies in his office.
"It's extremely gratifying that people are coming up with things that people never imagined, like saying this team is 29-0 or whatever when the games matter," he said. "I like to win, and I like to win all the time. But I'm not even thinking about January or early February. I'm just proud that we've been able to sustain our success."

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