AL HAMNIK: Colts feel-good story not over yet

2013-12-31T17:30:00Z 2014-01-04T22:32:06Z AL HAMNIK: Colts feel-good story not over yetAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
December 31, 2013 5:30 pm  • 

There's a feel-good story unfolding in the NFL playoffs that tugs at heartstrings, like an angel playing the harp.

It has nothing to do with Denver's Rocky Mountain high over the outrageous numbers put up by Peyton Manning. We expect that from him.

I have a better story line, more compelling and farther reaching if you enjoy rooting for the underdog.

That would be the Indianapolis Colts going from 2-14 two years ago to sweeping the AFC South this season and standing on the playoff doorstep at 11-5.

They're led by a no-nonsense cancer patient players love and opposing coaches have the deepest respect for.

Chuck Pagano is not Hall of Fame material — yet — but he knows football like Wall Street knows money.

"We took this thing over a couple of years ago. They had left us for dead, 2-14, and talked about a rookie GM, rookie coach, rookie quarterback and whoever else was left," Pagano said.

"All we did as players and coaches was make a decision we weren't going to live in circumstances. We were going to live in vision. We were going to go to work."

And they did it at a feverish pace.

Team President Jim Irsay gave general manager Ryan Grigson the green light to tear down and rebuild, swap and trade, earning the Highland native NFL Executive of the Year honors in 2012.

Like a parent showing off photos of their first newborn, Pagano couldn't contain his pride in the organization after his Colts disposed of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

"Got the best owner in the National Football League. He gives us everything we need to be successful," Pagano said at his post-game news conference. "Ryan (Grigson) and his crew do an unbelievable job of getting us players.

"But it's the guys. It's their resiliency. They don't read the clippings, good or bad, listen to talk radio and everybody telling them what they can't to."

Why? Because they're too focused, too well-coached.

The Kansas City Chiefs, losers in five of their last seven games, visit Indianapolis Saturday. They were roughed up 23-7 in their Dec. 22 meeting, and Pagano will approach the rematch as if it were the Super Bowl.

His guys have been all business, particularly in December when they went 4-1, quite aware of what was at stake.

"It's the team. We always talk about the team, the team, the team," Pagano said. "They believe in what we're doing. They bought into it hook, line and sinker from Day 1."

It didn't change after All-Pro receiver Reggie Wayne was lost to a knee injury early in the season. Pagano went to a no-huddle and quarterback Andrew Luck has thrived.

When their team was 8-5 and fans began worrying, the coaches put a greater emphasis on playing smarter.

Well, the Colts have won three straight, are plus-seven in turnovers, have scored 106 points the past 14 quarters and have the fewest penalties (66) and turnovers (14) in the league.

The Bears, by comparison, finished with 23 turnovers and 85 penalties.

They'll be home, watching this game on TV.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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