October 31, 2006
Hey Colts, "You're Next"
BY: Kevin Rousseau
My father-in-law was inducted into a veteran boxers' hall of fame last Sunday afternoon at a banquet in Dorchester. More so than any other sport, boxing is loved for its past but mentally disposed of quickly for its present and future. At Florian Hall, the proud past of Boston-area boxing was on display and it was hard not to get caught up in the camaraderie, history and pride.
As part of Todd's induction, they told a great anecdote about his boxing past. Back in the late 1960's on the Golden Gloves circuit, he quickly disposed of an opponent in a semifinal match. Spotting his next opponent sitting at ringside, Todd confidently shouted down to Eddie and everyone else that was within earshot "You're next, (expletive depleted)!"
Turns out that their match was stuff of Golden Gloves legend with Eddie taking a close decision. Years later, the animosity between them is an amusing, distant memory as the two proud ex-fighters are best of friends and have a deep respect for one another. (Eddie even came to our wedding back in 1999).
With Monday night's laugher against the Vikings winding down, I couldn't help but think of Todd and Eddie's pre-fight hype. As the Patriots were leaving the Metrodome squared circle, confidently they were pointing down to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts sitting at ringside and saying "You're next. Let's go. This was just a sparring session to get ready for you."
And so this coming Sunday night, the NFL's version of Ali-Frazier will write another chapter in their story as the Colts come to Foxboro for a genuine tilt of two great contenders for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Like boxing, there's plenty of history to enjoy between these two. The 38-34 victory by the Pats back in 2003 at the RCA Dome. Perhaps the loudest game ever played in Foxboro was the AFC Championship victory by New England a few months later. An opening night squeaker by the Pats in 2004 was followed by one of the greatest defensive displays in NFL history later that year in the divisional playoff round. And don't forget the Colts getting their Foxboro monkey finally off their back last year with a 40-21 victory over the Pats.
Along the way, we have seen Colts GM Bill Polian lose his self-control in the Gillette Stadium press box during that 2003 AFC Championship game at the perceived clutching and grabbing by the Patriots secondary. This lead to Polian leading the charge to change rules the following offseason. Then there there's this whole Adam Vinatieri signing this offseason. And don't forget that during last spring's draft, Polian allegedly freaked out when the Patriots took Laurence Maroney. And the latest installment in the pre-fight hype this year now includes Polian recently leaning on the League to address the Gillette turf issue and the Patriots returning serve by asking the League to ensure the safety of its employees from Polian after he assaulted a Jets employee earlier this year in the Meadowlands.
That's the rivalry's recent past. Its present and future--unlike boxing--is even more interesting. If you don't have Sunday night's game on your mind by now, please exit down the steps of the ring and find some other way to spend your free time. It's games like this one--and really the anticipation building up to them--that make sports the premier pastime of American culture.
Last Sunday afternoon in a room full of prideful men, I realized just how much courage it takes to step into the ring and put your reputation, health and legacy on the line. Deep down inside, there has to be some fear that you might leave the ring the loser and forever be tarnished in the history books. But to be able to look beyond that fear and believe in your training, team, and ability is an excellent Webster's Dictionary definition of pride and courage. Both the Colts and Patriots will look beyond this fear on Sunday night and seek to leave the Gillette Stadium square circle holding the belt--for now.
"So how does this one match up?" you ask.
Putting my parochialism and life-long allegiance out front for you, I really like how the Patriots match up in this game for a number of reasons.
Bill Belichick, his coaches and players have the confidence and talent to reinvent themselves for the opponent that they face each week. I'm still trying to identify another team that could pull that off. I'm still searching….
Anyways--against the Vikings Monday night it was as if the NFL mandated the Patriots offense to employ just the five receiver set formation all night long. This week, given that the Colts are DFL in the NFL when it comes to rushing defense, there's a good chance that the Patriots will run the ball 40 times to chew up the clock and keep Mr. Manning on the sideline as much as possible. Who knows? We might even see no down lineman on defense and just two pass rushers by the Patriots defense. Don't believe me? Just ask the Philadelphia Eagles how shocked they still are that the Pats came out in a 4-3 base defense in Super Bowl XXXIX when they had played the entire season in a 3-4 alignment.
And then there's Tom Brady. If we are playing the Martians for control of the planet, I want #12 at the helm and not #18 thank you very much. Big game performances are what we remember of our sporting heroes years later. Not stats, blowouts against crummy teams or fantasy league heroics. Nobody puts Dan Fouts ahead of Joe Montana when the QB historical pecking order is being debated. Until further notice, Brady is well ahead of Manning in this category.
On the other side of the coin, if #4 puts through a game winner for his Colts, the sports radio hotlines will begin ringing off the hook with revisionist history in session. A Colts victory would probably ensure home-field advantage for Indianapolis in the playoffs. Such a scenario would wipe out a cold, snowy Gillette from being the backdrop for a future chapter in this great rivalry come January.
I'm excited, scared, confident, nervous and intrigued about Sunday night. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying to you or naïve. I'm taping up the Patriots' fists, giving them final instructions and waiting for the bell to be tapped.
The NFL's version of Ali-Frasier is about to go 12 rounds on Sunday night.
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