INDIANAPOLIS – Let's start with the coach.
For seven seasons together, Tony Dungy and Bill Polian formed a head coach/general manager pair that NFL Owners dream about.
Jim Irasy lived that dream with seven double-digit win seasons (six of those coming in at least 12-win campaigns) and five division titles.
With Polian entering the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend as a contributor, Dungy touched on some of the pivotal moments that paved the way to Canton:
On taking Peyton Manning No. 1 overall in the 1998 Draft:
"He had those two choices that really shaped my time there and the Colts future, Peyton Manning versus Ryan Leaf. Everybody looks back now and thinks it was a slam dunk but it wasn't a slam dunk at that time. Bill had to sort through that and make the right call and they did."
On the extremely controversial decision to select Edgerrin James over Ricky Williams in 1999:
"The next year, they are picking fourth and they want a running back. Ricky Williams had won the Heisman Trophy. Everybody is saying they've got to take Ricky Williams. He got roasted by the media and everybody else, 'How could you pass on the Heisman Trophy winner and take this guy?'" Those two decisions set the pace for the Colts."
On taking Dwight Freeney No. 11 overall in the 2001 Draft:
"The draft was always the most fun because that was the lifeblood. He could look at guys and see what they were going to be two years from now, three years from now. That was his gift. I think back to our very, very first choice. We are picking 11th in my first year (2001). Everybody said, 'They took (Dwight Freeney) too high. They reached or whatever,' but we knew what was going to fit for us."
On then following the Freeney pick with Dallas Clark:
"We come back the next year and everybody thinks we need more defense and he said, 'This kid at Iowa, he plays like we play.' Bill didn't worry about what anybody else thought and I think that was his greatest talent by far as a drafter, evaluating young talent and seeing who could play."
On his overall thoughts about Polian being enshrined this weekend:
"Bill, No. 1 he knows football. He always looked at what was going to make the team the best. I think the thing that he did for the Colts to keep us at a high level for a long period of time was because he had that vision of the future.
"You look at someone who has gone to Buffalo and put a team together that goes to four title games. Then goes to Carolina, puts an expansion team together, puts them in the playoffs so quick. Then goes to Indianapolis, puts a third Super Bowl winning team together. That's pretty difficult to duplicate that in multiple places. That's what sets Bill apart."
Now onto the player.
Jeff Saturday will go into the Colts Ring of Honor in September, but the six-time Pro Bowl center makes it clear without Polian, he might not have lasted another day in the NFL.
Saturday shared this personal story about a contract talk with Polian, before expanding on why the Colts were so successful during the 2000s.
"I remember my first contract negotiations. I played five years and they had tendered me the first-round draft pick the year before, so I came into my unrestricted year and my agent and Bill couldn't get a deal done. I remember Bill calling me in and just the struggle of going in, what's going to happen. So my wife and I prayed about it. I go in and meet with Bill and I remember him looking at me and talking to me about this contract and it was going to be a six-year deal. It was going to be a long deal and he looked at me and said, 'If my son was sitting in your seat, this is what I would say to him.' He said, 'You can go be the highest paid center on another team and it's going to be a bad team that can afford to pay centers and make them the highest paid players. But your legacy and longevity that you are going to be offered on this team and the success that you are going to have is going to give you a legacy that men would seek after. I promise you we are going to do the best for your career.'
"I trusted him and he's a trust worthy general manager. What he said I took to heart and I told Bill, 'I'm all in favor, but I still deserve to be paid a certain level.' He asked me face-to-face, man-to-man, 'What do you need to be paid?' And I told him. Done. I drove home and it was one of the greatest learning lessons I ever had in my life that you can look a man in the eye and you can have a true conversation about. I use it in business today. There's got to be a win-win. It was a win for me. It was a win for the Colts. It was a win on so many different levels that I got to stay playing for the greatest fans in the NFL and the greatest city to play in. I just could not have been more blessed in that situation.
"(He was) the voice of stability. I can remember so many times where he would come in, and he would address the team. He would just totally support the coach that he had in place. He'd say, 'Listen men, there's one voice on this football team.' He's the president, he's the general manager, but that wasn't the voice. The voice would be the head coach. He'd say, 'That's who we speak through men. That's where everything comes and goes. This is the way this team is going to be run.' You respected him because you knew that he had been at every level of football. He really got the game. If you were asking him about X's and O's, he could answer questions. He could help you breakdown on why defenses do what they do. I remember my first year starting at center, we're playing against the New York Jets and I fumbled a snap and basically lost the game for us. We were on the brink of are we going to make the playoffs? I think we had two or three games left, and he walked in the locker room. I'm broken up. I'm choked up. I'm struggling and guys are trying to encourage me and here comes my boss. I'm thinking, 'Oh I'm getting fired. I'm an undrafted scrub, and here it goes.' He walks up and grabs me by the head and gets his face real close to me and he's like, 'Don't let this moment define you. We've got tomorrow. We're going to be better.' He said, 'The things that you have already done this season have proven the type of player that you're going to be. Come back tomorrow with your head up.' It just meant so much because at that moment. He could have ripped me, he could have cussed me out, he could have said a lot of things and all would have been par for the course in football a lot times. But that wasn't who he was. He really believed in win-wins."