INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers share a few bonds through the years as NFL teams.
One of the greatest NFL players of all-time, John Unitas, was a Pittsburgh native who starred with the Colts after failing a Steelers tryout. The teams have met in every round of the AFC playoffs over the five times the franchises have battled as post-season contestants, once duking it out for a chance to reach Super Bowl XXX.
As recently as last year these teams met and now tonight's game adds a different mix as three prominent Colts – Head Coach Chuck Pagano, Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians and Defensive Tackle Cory Redding – march into Heinz Field.* *
Pagano joined the Colts in January after four seasons with the Ravens, the final one as defensive coordinator. In his role with Baltimore, Pagano matched wits with Arians, who spent 2004-11 with the Steelers. Arians was the Pittsburgh wide receiver coach in 2004-06, then moved to offensive coordinator. He was a member of two Pittsburgh Super Bowl champions. Redding is less experienced in the mix, having played the past two years with Baltimore, but the salty nature of the rivalry provided a quick indoctrination. Redding tipped off some young teammates what to expect on Sunday.
"I know these guys very well. I've already said my piece to the guys on what this game is going to be about," said Redding. "We don't take this game lightly because it is preseason. These boys are going to put these pads on and are going to be ready to play. They took a loss against the Eagles but are now back at home, going against their old offensive coordinator (Bruce Arians), so it's a lot of things built up on this game.
"Even though it's a preseason game it's going to be pretty big. Put your big boy pads on and get ready to roll."
This game counts nothing in the standings. The results will be wiped away come opening day, but both teams count winning as an objective any time they hit the field. Roster evaluations and maturation also are components to Sunday's game but to Pagano, he remembers the past rivalry.
"Yeah, I know first-hand for two, mostly three times a year for the last four years," said Pagano. "They're a great team. Mike Tomlin's a great coach, and they've got a great coaching staff and a lot of great players. So it'll be a great test for us, obviously."
Every one is a product of past experiences, and that includes NFL coaches. Pagano will focus intently on shaping his team, but he remembers meetings in the past.
"I don't think it (feelings of the rivalry) will ever leave, once you've been in that deal on both sides of the ball," said Pagano. "I think it goes the same for Coach Arians going back to when he was there. It's a Colts deal now. That's in the past. We just hope to go out there and play well."
Arians is a football coach through-and-through. He builds relationships because of his nature, and he is one to appreciate competition and past successes. Those, however, pale to current competition, and his focus now is with the Colts, his second tenure with the team.
"All I'm thinking about is practicing with Indianapolis. I don't think anything about Pittsburgh until we play them Sunday night," said Arians when asked early in the week about facing his most recent team. "I look forward to coming to work every day and wearing blue and white.
"Those were eight great years (in Pittsburgh, 2004-11). I wouldn't trade anything for them. I'm so excited about where I'm at now. I haven't even thought about it. It's just the next preseason game. We'll worry about them a little bit on Friday when we have to practice a little bit of that stuff that Coach (Dick) LeBeau is going to throw at us. It'll be fun seeing those guys."
Last week, Pagano played his front-liners in the opening period. He will ramp up the process another notch this week, but not to the extent he will for the third preseason outing at Washington on August 25. Regardless of opponent, that is common practice in preseason.
"I think we'll try to extend them (starters) a little bit," said Pagano. "You always try to extend them in the second one and try to get a quarter-and-a-half, two quarters for most of the guys. We'll look for a little bit of extended playing time this second ballgame.
"You look to get them a couple quarters. The third one is the one you treat like a regular season game and try to take them through a regular work week and try to bring them out at halftime. If we can get two quarters out of the starters (in Pittsburgh), that'd be great."
Old feelings have their own place. The present for Pagano and the club is growth for a team whose roster is comprised heavily of players in their rookie, first or second years. He looks for improvement from last week.
"I always say you make your biggest jump from your first preseason game to your second preseason game, so we're looking obviously to get better in all areas," said Pagano. "If we can go out there and do the things we talk about doing – running the ball, stopping the run, taking care of the football, playing well on third down on both sides of the football, scoring points in the red area, taking care of the football down there – and those type of things and then finishing strong in the fourth quarter, then we'll be happy."