INDIANAPOLIS –For two Colts players in their first seasons with Indianapolis, late December has typically meant planning for offseason trips.
No postseason aspirations were ever involved in such plans.
Instead, it was just vacation time, once Week 17 of another NFL regular season came to a close.
For eight seasons, D'Qwell Jackson played in Cleveland and never experienced a meaningful game in the month of January.
When Jackson received a "Hoist It' T-shirt, with the Lombardi Trophy displayed across the back of it, earlier this offseason, he was in awe of such talk.
Even as late as early December, Jackson didn't know that division champions received hats and shirts to signify making the playoffs.
So no one could blame Jackson for rocking that AFC South Division Champions hat all around the Colts locker room after the team's Week 15 victory over Houston.
"It was a matter of time," Jackson said following the Colts clinching another AFC South title. "There were times in Cleveland I thought it was going to be that time but that's what keeps you motivated, keeps you working out, that what keeps you eating right, the challenge. It got to the point where I was just blessed to be able to still play this game, still have my health.
"To me, it's a bonus to be able to go to the playoffs and be division champs and everything else that comes with that. I feel very humbled to be in this position with this great organization."
A little further down the locker room that December afternoon stood Josh Cribbs, beaming with a hat he thought would never come.
Cribbs was in Cleveland from 2005 to 2012, bounced around the NFL in 2013 and was then unemployed for the first 11 weeks of the 2014 season.
When Cribbs first met the Indianapolis media back in mid-November, he said the Colts locker room had the smell of a postseason aroma.
He was taking a big whiff of that with his AFC South Champions hat on a few weeks back.
"The smell is a metaphor for the emotion I'm feeling, the energy that overcame me once I came into this football organization," Cribbs said. "To actually see it creeping up on me as the clock was winding down, I was fighting the tears like, 'I can't cry. This isn't the Super Bowl!' Not yet.
In Cribbs' short stint with the Colts, his new team rolled off four straight victories to secure another playoff berth.
Throughout his previous nine seasons in the NFL, Cribbs watched teams wilt in the final weeks of the season when trying to earn a postseason bid.
But not in Indianapolis, with that distinct smell helping Cribbs to believe playoffs were coming.
"The atmosphere, the guys, how hungry they were," Cribbs explained of why he felt the environment was different in Indianapolis. "To have that confidence to know that you're going to do it.
"That confidence, that undying and unbelievable confidence that the team has, and everybody embodies it. That's what that energy, that vibe is when you walk into this locker room."
In that playoff-clinching win over Houston, Reggie Wayne collected the game ball in his franchise-record 209th career contest.
Playoffs have been a part of 12 of Wayne's 14 seasons in Indianapolis.
Before Wayne took the field in that Week 15 meeting, Jackson wanted a word with the longest-tenured Colt.
"I was talking to D'Qwell also before the game and he was like, 'Man, I'm ready to play right now.' He said, 'I've never had a chance to have this feeling.' I said, 'I'm going to do everything I possibly can to help you out.'" Wayne said re-telling the story.
"It's a lot of people in (the locker room) that have never had one and those guys, they've put so many years in and have not been able to have this feeling. It's special, man. It means everything. Whenever you achieve your goal, it's always great, it's always that great feeling and D'Qwell, he was going into the shower with his hat on. He forgot he had his hat on, so it just goes to show you how great that feeling is and for those guys, I'm just excited to be a part of it to bring them their first division championship and hopefully, we can go on."