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INDIANAPOLIS – Only 17 of the club's 53 players on the active roster were Colts when Tony Dungy quietly roamed the Indianapolis sideline.
Such is the ever-changing nature of NFL rosters.
On Wednesday, Dungy was in Indianapolis on multiple business concerns. He received a text message from a close friend. Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell was the friend who texted Dungy, and he offered Dungy a chance to spend a few moments with the team. It was something Caldwell tried when Indianapolis played at Tampa Bay three weeks ago, but a meeting could not be arranged. While in the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on network television business, Dungy found time to deliver a time-tested message to the team, and he did it with a parable.
Caldwell spoke Thursday of Dungy's message to the players.
"He (Dungy) talked about a father who had two young sons and he wanted to build a swing-set for them, but there was a huge rock right in the middle in the space that they had prepared for it. So he gave the one son a sledgehammer and the other son a pick axe and said, 'Go to work on that. When you get it cracked, we'll smooth it out and get it out of the way, because it's too big for us to move or carry.' They didn't have the money to spend to have a truck come in and move it, so the two young guys went to work. The oldest one, at some point in time, got a little tired, but the youngest one goes back out with the pick axe and hits it one more time and it cracks and crumbles. To make a long story short, the older one gave up on it. He thought, 'Hey this is a lot of work, and I don't necessarily have to have a swing-set. I'll go to the ballpark and play, or do something else.' The younger one still wanted that swing-set, so he just kept swinging at it. The moral of the story is, 'Keep pounding that rock.' That was the story that he shared with our guys. It was certainly timely, and we appreciated it as well."
The message is a truism and was not something new to any athlete, particularly ones who have played long enough to reach a sport's highest level.
It is not a message that was disbelieved by anyone hearing it from Dungy on Thursday. It was not a message that has not been conveyed by Caldwell or any of his staff this season, but Colts players enjoyed hearing the message repeated by one of the sport's best-ever voices.
"It was good to see him," said five-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday. "He's a very encouraging coach. He's been through some rough years himself, so he understands where we are. I love Tony, and he's a great man, far beyond just a football coach. It's fun just to catch up with him."
Defensive end Robert Mathis has 77.5 career quarterback sacks, so he knows something about impact. He recognized the impact in Dungy's words and loved seeing an old, familiar face.
"He gave us a story about hitting a rock," said Mathis. "It's a story that I feel all of the guys took to heart, and we are still hitting the rock. Keep hitting it until it breaks, and we'll get there, hopefully sooner, (rather) than later."
For the 17 current players who served under Dungy, it never was about giving up. The NFL's winningest regular-season decade, multiple division titles and a Super Bowl title stand as proof.
The quality of Caldwell's coaching and the continued ethic of the club by those 17 players and others who have followed is evident by a 23-game regular-season winning streak in 2008-09, two more division crowns, an AFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl XLIV.
Players are fighting hard now to re-route what has been a difficult start to a season. Four single-digit losses and a game not decided until the last two minutes a week ago obscure the battling nature of the team and how close success has been. Sunday in New Orleans is the next chance.
"You just have to keep grinding, and just keep doing your job, whatever that job is," said defensive end Dwight Freeney. "Defensive end, defensive tackle, linebacker, safety, cornerback, wide receiver, quarterback or whatever, it doesn't matter. Just do your job, and we'll worry about the end results (later), like we've always done. Obviously, we've come into a bad stretch, a real bad stretch, so we're just going to try to keep our focus on the goal of getting that first win."
Asked about the team's nine-year streak of winning 10 games, defensive tackle Dan Muir succinctly described the team's mindset.
"At this point, we're just trying to win a football game," said Muir. "We're not looking in the past or in the future. We're looking right now, today, what we can do today to be better today. That's what we're trying to do."
Quarterback Curtis Painter was queried as well about if the team's successful past matters at all right now.
"Not really," said Painter. "Not too much matters. Last season doesn't matter. Next season doesn't matter. Even two games from now really doesn't even matter. It's good on paper and it's good for the record books or for history but as far as this season, we're really concerned about this week. We're certainly not satisfied with where we are. We're going to keep going. Every week is a fight for a win, no question."
In addressing the team's season, Mathis provided a snapshot about how teammates feel about each other.
"I guess you can compare this (the season) to a fight," said Mathis. "We lost six of the 16 rounds. There are 10 more rounds to go. Hopefully, we can pull some of those out…We still have a puncher's chance. We still are a close-knit group. We still practice hard. We still work hard. We still put it on the line for one another."
Caldwell indicates the team will not look behind or ahead. It will focus only on what the moment holds.
"What we try and do is we try to look at the things that we can control," said Caldwell. "That is that particular week, this particular point of the week. We don't worry as much about being 10-6 at this point. We don't worry much about being 0-6, because there's nothing we can do about that. We worry about trying to get ourselves in position to get one more game, and become 1-6. Then we can build upon that from there. In terms of potential with our team, I just think if we keep getting better, certainly, we have a chance to battle a lot of teams, which we've proven. We've been right in the middle of them (games), and we've been right there. A play or two here or there has made a difference, so we have to make some of those plays."
COLTS FRIDAY NOTEBOOK (QUOTE-UNQUOTE): Jim Caldwell(on playing in prime-time)
"I find very little reason to ever complain about anything. The game is going to be played. Any time you have an opportunity to play on national television it gives you a great chance to do something that's highly unusual. Sometimes a lot of teams don't get an opportunity to do so. We certainly appreciate that, but it's still a ballgame. Whatever time they set, we're going to be there and we're going to play. We look forward to it." Caldwell(on listening to player when considering replay challenges) "I think you should, but, obviously, you have to make a determination on whether or not you still can afford to challenge it. You still have to make a determination on whether or not, 'Yeah, he might have caught it, but can they see it?' That one (the challenge against the Bengals) was pretty tough, because he was in the shadows over there, in particular with the camera angles. In some games you have more camera angles than others. For example, this coming Sunday you're going to be able to get every angle. Typically, if it is indeed a catch or not a catch, then there is probably going to be a camera angle that will support your position. But I do also know that there was one time last year when we were down on the goal line, and (Robert) Mathis made a tackle on the goal line. The ball may have crossed the goal line late, and as soon as he popped up he said, 'Hey, throw the flag. His knee went down beforehand.' Obviously, we did throw the flag, and it was indeed the case. I think its incumbent upon you to listen, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you have to throw that flag." Caldwell(on former Purdue coach Joe Tiller's ability to develop quarterbacks like Curtis Painter and Drew Brees) "He's had a heck of a record in that regard. He's one of those guys that has always had a knack for offensive football, and being able to utilize the talents of the guys that play the position for him. He's certainly developed some good ones over the years." Caldwell(on the New Orleans offense and the pressure it creates) "They can outscore people, and that's the thing that they can do. They can generate points in a heartbeat. They're never out of a game. They, certainly, can put points on the board in the hurry, so they do put some pressure on you in that regard. You have to be able to play your game. You have to be able to play defense, that's extremely important. Offensively, you have to be able to control that clock as well." Caldwell(on knowing the pressures of coaching) "This business that we're in, I've been coaching for a long time now. In 1978 when I first started, I knew that it's a situation where it's day-to-day in this business. I was at Southern Illinois University and I was on the job about two days, and the athletic director there was Gale Sayers at the time. He was one of my idols growing up. I loved the (Chicago) Bears, and he was one of my favorites. He walked down to my office and asked if I would like to go to dinner. My wife wasn't there yet, because she was still in Iowa City. I remember picking the phone up and calling my dad telling him, 'Hey, guess who I'm having dinner with.' He sort of chuckled, he was always a big (Green Bay) Packers fan, but he knew I was a big Bears fan. So I sat down with Gale Sayers and we were just exchanging pleasantries, talking about our backgrounds and etc. Then he looked at me with a very serious look on his face, and he said, 'Why in the world did you go into coaching?' I kind of gave him my answer that I wanted to have an impact on young people, (I) wanted to have an opportunity to lead and direct, and that was a great way for me to do so. I talked through that thing, and he asked me again, 'Now, why in the world did you go into coaching?' I started all over again, and he interrupted me and said, 'Hold on a minute, I did hear that, but don't you realize that you put your career in the hands of 17-, 18- and 19-year-old young men?' I hadn't really thought about it that way at that point in time, but he was indeed right. It's one of those things that you've been in the business long enough to know that it's a demanding position. It's a challenge, that's why we love it as well. There are certain things that can be expected. I worked for Joe Paterno for a long time, and he won more football games than anybody in the history of college football. There was a point in time when they were trying to get rid of him. I also saw where a guy was 14-2 in this league and got released. It's (pressure) ever-present, but it's not something that we think about. Obviously, the challenge is something that we relish." Caldwell(on if he uses 'Us Against the World' approach) "I've never been one to buy into that. I believe more in getting them to do what's right, and that's the key. Get us to play in the way in which we know how to play. Play effectively, and everything else will take care of itself. Take care of those little things." Caldwell(on the adjustments a coach would have to make when coaching from a press box) "As a head coach, I'm not certain what that would be like. I remember when I was a young coach, it might have been 1978-79, Darrell Mudra, if I'm not mistaken, he was coaching at, I think, Drake at the time, and that was his deal. He would coach from the press box, and that was a normal thing for him. I think with guys that have been around one another for a long time like the Saints staff, those guys know it extremely well. I understand (Pete) Carmichael is going to be calling them in, and Joe Vitt's going to be down there kind of handling the head coaching duties and those kinds of things. With that kind of a group, it's much like at Penn State, those guys have been together for a long, long time. They know how Joe (Paterno) thinks. They know what works within the system. Obviously, (Sean Payton's) not that far removed, and he's still involved in it. Here's the other thing you have to think about, too, because every one of the head coaches in the league, we all have our toggle switch that we actually hear everything that's going on. It's like an air-traffic controller, you literally could be anywhere and hear what's going on in the game as long as you can see what's happening on the field and make your adjustments and things of that nature. The difference for (the Saints) is that (Sean Payton) calls the plays, and they go down to the sideline and then in. That's a little bit different in terms of a little lag time. Typically, they're right from him, right in to the quarterback. But you can't ever coach the quarterback up in the box, so that just adds just a hair of a difference for them. I would assume that (Drew) Brees probably could call his own plays, if need be." Caldwell(on the need to sustain an offensive attack for 60 minutes) "I think that's kind of the process with a number of different phases of where we are right now. We just have to be able to sustain it an entire game. We've done some things well for a quarter, some things well for a half, some things well for three quarters of a game and in certain spurts, we've shown some signs in the fourth quarter, like the defense playing well in the fourth quarter and getting the ball back for the offense and this past game. There are a number of things that are moving in the right direction. We just have to get them to move a little bit more quickly." Jeff Saturday(on what would constitute a successful season at this point) "10-6. What are we now, 0-6? 10-6 would be great. That's what I'm shooting for. The way I look at it, I want to win them all. I've been on teams that can win them all. You can come real close in this game. Just because you're having a down stretch doesn't mean you throw the towel in, it doesn't mean you look for an average season. (If) we right the ship and start playing good football, we can do some good things." Saturday(on improvements in the running game) "I think the one thing is that it's definitely a focus of our team more than it has been, because of the reliability of where we were in the passing game. As we were leading up (to the season) we didn't know if Kerry (Collins) got hurt, who was going to be the QB, and how Curtis (Painter) was going to do. So as you make those adjustments, you have to rely on some parts. You focus and you rely on one part of your offense to, maybe, be the side that you need to keep drawing up. When you focus on it, things tend to get better and you get more precise on them. The details are focused on (that area) more often." Curtis Painter(on if Saints offensive ability to score puts pressure on Colts to do the same) "You don't want to look at it as putting any more pressure. Certainly, every time we get the ball there's an emphasis to score and put some kind of points on the board, whether it be a field goal or touchdown. So I wouldn't say more emphasis, but it's certainly going to be a challenge for us and we're going to have to be on our game." Delone Carter(on grading his first start last Sunday) "That's a hard question. I thought it was okay. I always feel I can do better. I thought with the opportunities I got, I did well. I wouldn't say it was an 'A' or a 'B.' I thought it was average. If I get a four-yard run, I want it to be a 10-yard run. If I get a three-yard run, I want it to be an eight-yard run. That's just how I run. I feel like I have to stay hungry. That's how you play this game." Joe Lefeged(on facing PR-Darren Sproles) "That's part of being in the NFL, each team has a guy that can return the football. It's going to be another challenge next week, and we're going to see what happens. (Darren Sproles) is a great athlete and he's a big playmaker. You get him in space, and it's hard to bring him down, especially because he's so low to the ground. He's got a strong lower body, and he can make you miss. He has great speed."
Jerraud Powers(on strategy of Saints passing attack) "Drew (Brees) likes to take his shots downfield. Like Dwight (Freeney) said, he'll take what you give him, and keep taking it, taking it and taking it. Then he'll try to sneak one over your head. As a defense, you just have to be fundamentally sound and make sure you read your keys, because they do have an explosive offense that makes a lot of big plays." Dwight Freeney(on strategy of Saints passing attack)
"They do a lot of quick passes. What they do is they throw quick, throw quick, throw quick and get you to bite on the quick stuff, then throw deep. They do a very good job at that, so it's going to be a challenge." Gary Brackett(on LB-Pat Angerer) "I think he's doing well. Obviously, he's making a ton of plays. As a whole, we just have to find ways, and it goes back to winning on third down. The more you can do that effectively, then the more you can get the offense back the ball and the fresher you can be for the long haul and the fourth quarter."