INDIANAPOLIS – A large part of the success the Colts have enjoyed as a franchise since 1999 is because players believed in the process and had faith in the leadership.
In 2002, Tony Dungy found a squad full of workers from the days of Jim Mora, and he never hesitated to cite the ethic Mora instilled and left behind.
Jim Caldwell succeeded Dungy and the Colts hummed to a long string of wins and a second Super Bowl.
Even last year in the throes of a 2-14 record, the integrity of the players was firm as they battled all season.
When new Head Coach Chuck Pagano talked this spring about relationships, building the monster and reloading rather than rebuilding, he was seeing faces old and new.
Pagano was introducing new schemes and methods across the board. What he was selling was falling on willing ears and attitudes.
“Everybody bought in,” said
Bethea played under both Dungy and Caldwell, meaning he had reached the Super Bowl as a rookie and a fourth-year veteran. The 2011 season was a shock to his system.
A heady leader, Bethea saw the same willingness to embrace change that Mathis did.
“I think from the jump,” said Bethea of when players believed. “We were all in the different situation all together, coaches coming over, players who were here seeing new faces and the new guys coming in. We were all in the situation together.
“Coach Pagano was talking, ‘We’re family. Trust, loyalty.’ We knew from the beginning what type of monster Coach Pagano was trying to build. Everybody bought in.”
Pagano was joined by a bevy of new coaches, including coordinators Greg Manusky and Bruce Arians, along with a fresh general manager, Ryan Grigson.
Bonding and growing started quickly and gained steam as spring turned into summer. Players took authorship of the “reload” not “rebuild” process knowing that time in the league is not a privilege.
“No, not all,” said Bethea if he had any qualms about the message. “Rebuilding, it takes two, three, four years. Playing this game, that’s not for certain. Next year is not for certain in this game. Two years is not for certain.
“We reloaded, got some new pieces in and we have what we have now.”
Pagano left the team after three games to fight leukemia, giving the team inspiration to battle on the field while their leader was doing the same against a grave illness.
Arians stepped to the fore, hammering away by repeating Pagano’s message, and players responded.
“I would say it’s been the same,” said Mathis about the messages from Pagano and Arians. “His (Pagano’s) main thing was, ‘Do you job. Get the job done.’ Coach B.A., he did a good job of (continuing it).”
The Colts are close to nailing down a playoff berth. Doing so would make the franchise only the third in the last 30 seasons to do so after losing at least 14 games the previous season. It would be the franchise’s 12th post-season ticket since 1999, a league-leading total.
Arians says the success is because of the players’ approach from the start.
“I think they bought into a message, and there are a lot of new faces that bonded,” said Arians. “They found a reason to play and when a team finds a reason to play, they’ll overcome some things.
“Chuck’s illness took everybody, even strangers that we would bring off the street on Wednesday and we’d play on Sunday, and they’d fight their tails off. When you have guys playing hard for 60 minutes, you’re going to win some games because most teams in this league don’t play hard for 60 minutes.”