INDIANAPOLIS --- While football fans are counting down to the regular season, there's a different kind of countdown going on inside the Colts practice facility. 90 to 75 to 53. It's not fun, but it's required. And as much as players try to focus on the task at hand of making the final roster, it's near impossible to ignore the emotional side of it.
"It's a brotherhood. Regardless of anything that happens, anybody that comes in and works out, you form a relationship with whoever it is," said former international rugby player and outside linebacker Daniel Adongo, who was on the practice squad two years ago before going on Injured Reserve last season. "It's friendship and sport, as there is in business. So for me to say that it's all business would be completely absurd."
The first cuts took place Monday for the Colts, before Tuesday's 4:00 PM deadline to reduce rosters from 90 to 75. The final preseason game follows Thursday against the Bengals at Lucas Oil Stadium, before Saturday's 4:00 PM deadline to go from 75 to 53.
"The cuts are never easy. We've been with these guys, most of them, since OTAs, even before the draft some of them. Some guys for a couple years," said backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was cut himself as a rookie and spent 1998 on the Packers' practice squad. "You see, in particular, the injured guys...you see them every single day in the training room and on the field working hard to get back, and they never really get that opportunity to be back with us. It's tough."
10 of the 22 players that the Colts will inevitably release by the end of this week could also fill spots on the practice squad, but that still leaves 12 players with no immediate alternative.
"It's one of the toughest weekends, this week really," said tight end Dwayne Allen. "There are going to be 12 guys that we've been with since OTAs who aren't going to be with us anymore. You still communicate with those guys. You care for them, but you know and understand that it's a part of this business. We want the best 53 and 10 guys on the practice squad that can help us win a championship."
In this locker room in particular, that bond with teammates isn't taken for granted.
"There's a camaraderie and brotherhood around the locker room," said Adongo. "That's why we're able to play so passionately."
"It's a reality of this business. You know it's them, but it could easily be you," said Hasselbeck. "You just wish them the best."
The math of it says it all. 32 teams, and 90 players on each roster cut to 53 in less than a week. 37 players get released. 41.1% of the rosters trimmed in that short time. That's 1184 total players around the league that find out their NFL dream has been put on hold or dead altogether.
It's perhaps the biggest reminder all season that playing in this league is not a right, but the ultimate privilege in the sport.