INDIANAPOLIS –Though the NFL is a cut-throat business in terms of competition, there is a human element to the game.
Most game days in the NFL offer a chance for colleagues on all levels – owners, executives, coaches and players – to visit briefly before action starts in earnest.
When the whistles blows, competition matters and everything else is placed aside until the game is finished.
This Sunday brings the Minnesota Vikings to town. Their sole aim is to defeat the Colts in sold out Lucas Oil Stadium. The sole aim of everyone with the Colts is sending the undefeated Vikings home with a .500 record.
Leading the Purple Gang into Indianapolis is Head Coach Leslie Frazier, one of the classiest and friendliest people ever to serve with the Colts.
Frazier joined the Colts in 2005 as a special defensive assistant to Head Coach Tony Dungy. Frazier had just departed as defensive coordinator with Cincinnati, and Dungy snapped him up immediately.
Frazier joined the Colts' veteran coaching staff and provided his considerable talents. The Colts were 14-2 and 12-4 during Frazier's two seasons in Indianapolis, losing in the Divisional Playoffs his first year, then winning Super Bowl XLI.
Frazier left for Minnesota after the title season, joining Head Coach Brad Childress (a former Colt) as defensive coordinator. Frazier served for almost four years in the position before being elevated to head coach with six games remaining in the 2010 season. He directed Minnesota to a 3-3 finish. The Vikings were 3-13 in 2011, and won their opener last week, 26-23 in overtime against Jacksonville.
Frazier visited this week with media covering the team, and he remembers his time in Indianapolis fondly.
"Those were great times. I have so many good memories from my time there in Indianapolis," said Frazier. "We were rolling pretty good there and to come away with a Super Bowl ring, I will never forget that time with Tony, the rest of the staff, the players."
The Mississippi-born Frazier played at Alcorn State before having a six-year playing career (1981-86) with Chicago. He was the head coach at Trinity International University from 1988-96, then joined Illinois as defensive backs coach in 1997.
Frazier moved on to coach defensive backs with Philadelphia from 1999-02 before having the coordinator position with the Bengals from 2003-04.
Learning tidbits along the way, his Indianapolis years help shape what Frazier is doing in Minnesota.
"Tony is a great friend. I learned so much from he and the rest of the staff during that time," said Frazier. "A lot of the things I learned there in Indianapolis I've tried to institute here in Minnesota, both when I came as an assistant coach and now as a head coach. That time was very, very important in my development as a coach."
When the opportunity with Minnesota came about, it was a difficult decision for Frazier, given his fondness for Indianapolis.
"It was hard to leave. It was really hard to leave," said Frazier. "Bill Polian, the whole organization, Mr. Irsay, everyone was so good to me during the time I was there, from top to bottom. They treated me like I was a part of the family. I'll never forget it, and I'll always be thankful. That made it very difficult when Minnesota called and asked me to come here. It was a heart-wrenching decision for me and my family. … This was an opportunity I thought was best for me at the time, but it was a hard decision."
Frazier will compete just as hard to win Sunday as will the Colts. Times have changed for him and for the Colts. Frazier's staff also includes two others he served with in Indianapolis, Alan Williams and Diron Reynolds. Ironically, only two coaches remain with the Colts from Frazier's days here, Clyde Christensen and Richard Howell.
Frazier sees the change in Indianapolis, yet he has deep feelings for the team. He also holds Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano in regard. Pagano is like Frazier in being a people-oriented person with a great command of his players and with an outstanding defensive pedigree.
"(There are) a lot of new names on the team, a lot of changes in the organization, but I can see the direction they're going," said Frazier. "It looks like they are getting some things done that will put them on pace to get back to a team that can win the AFC South in the near future.
"I like some of the things they're doing on offense, defense and special teams. I have a lot of respect for Chuck Pagano. I know he's a good coach, and he'll do well. The organization has made some tough decisions, and I think it'll pay off for them down the line."