Bill Polian is in his first season as Colts vice chairman after spending the previous 13 seasons as Colts president. Polian has a resume unique in the NFL. The only man to win NFL Executive of the Year six times, Polian in the 1980s built the Buffalo Bills into a four-time Super Bowl participant. In the mid-1990s, he built the expansion Carolina Panthers into a team that made the NFC Championship game in its second season, 1996. Since joining Indianapolis in 1998, he built the Colts from a 3-13 team in 1997 and 1998 into one that has made the playoffs 11 of the last 12 seasons, including AFC Championship game appearances after the 2003, 2006 and 2009 seasons, an AFC East title in 1999, AFC South titles in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010, Super Bowl appearances following the 2006 and 2009 seasons and a Super Bowl championship following the 2006 season. Each week during the season, in The Polian Corner, Polian and Colts.com will discuss issues pertinent to the Colts and the rest of the NFL.
The Polian Corner will run in two installments each week. Below is this week's first installment:
Bob Lamey: With Marvin Harrison going in the Ring of Honor this Sunday, what were your impressions of him as you scouted him and watched him through his career?
A: Well, I'll take you all the way back to his workout for us. We were with the Carolina Panthers at the time, and we worked him out at Syracuse University. That was the year after we had gone to the NFC Championship game, so I think we were drafting 28th. I was praying that we would get a shot at him, but, of course, we did not. He had the single best workout I had ever seen by a receiver – absolutely incredible, speed, flexibility, moves, explosion, dexterity, hands, just off the charts. We were blown away by it. I recall going back to the airport and Dom Anile, who was our personnel director here for many years, said to me, 'Man, we are probably not going to see the likes of that for another five or 10 years.' Well, he was wrong by five years. I haven't seen the likes of him for 15 years. He's a special, special guy. Then, of course, playing against him and then seeing him on film you noticed how special he was, but then to see him here up close and personal and see his work ethic, and see his dedication, and see how totally immersed he was in his craft, day after day, and what a clutch performer he was (was special). Again, I've been fortunate to be with Andre Reed, who I truly believe is a Hall-of-Famer and Marvin from a standpoint of work ethic and dedication is exactly the same. Marvin is blessed with talent that, again, I haven't seen in a wide receiver. When I think of Marvin's time here, I think of two plays in particular and there were so many great ones over the years. Anybody could pick two or three, probably 10 and you'd have a highlight reel to show on Sunday before the induction, but two stick out in my mind. The first is a play, and I can't recall who it was against (Oakland) but it was in the dome, and it was in the end zone going east. Peyton threw a ball that ticked off Kenny Dilger's fingers and it went end over end. Imagine he's (Harrison) got three yards or so to catch this ball and it goes end over end, and it was going down end over end and he was on the end line. He reached down and caught the ball, which in itself was an incredible feat, planted both his heels and fell backwards out of bounds clutching the ball. I've never seen anything like that in 35 years of professional football. And, of course, the one that everyone remembers at Tennessee where Peyton 'overthrew' him. Now if you ask him on Sunday, he would tell you no one could overthrow him, and he's right. But Peyton overthrew him and he laid out horizontally to the ground and caught the ball with only the tips of his fingers, hit the ground, completed the catch, stood up and waved everybody to come on down for the next play. It's my enduring memory of Marvin because it captures everything that Marvin Harrison was – the consummate professional, quiet, dedicated, proud of his gifts and proud of how he had developed them and a winner that would do anything to help his team win.
Bob Lamey: With Marvin Harrison it never mattered to him who he was facing across the scrimmage line. It was his mindset that he was going to defeat his opponent no matter who it was because that was his job. Isn't that right?
A: That by the way, was the philosophy that Tony (Dungy) enunciated all the time, 'It's not what the opponent does that counts. It's what we do that counts. Focus on yourself and focus on doing your job, focus on being prepared.' Now, he knew who he was playing against. I can tell you that because every once in a while he would say to me on a Thursday or a Friday, 'I feel a big one coming.' He knew who he was playing against, but he was quite correct in that he worked so assiduously on his own craft, on developing his own moves, on working with Peyton on timing, on developing routes that would be successful against any opposition that all he had to do, and all Peyton had to do, was make sure that they were on the same page. The odds were very strong that he was going to be successful and virtually always was. Until he got injured, it's hard for me to remember a game where Marvin didn't do well, hard for me to remember that. I think the other story that points out exactly what a professional he was, was my first year here. We went down to Baltimore and in a nip-and-tuck, back-and-forth game – and that may not have been Baltimore's Super Bowl year, but they were still exceptionally good at that time, head and shoulders above most of the AFC – they'd score and we'd score, they'd score and we'd score. It went back and forth. We couldn't stop anybody, but neither could they. The game turned on a missed audible where Marvin read one thing and Peyton another, and he was wide open but Peyton threw the ball to the other sideline, misfired. (It) would have been a touchdown to win the game. I got both of them in the locker room as soon as we'd finished the prayer and I said, 'Don't worry about this. Don't think about this.' It was Peyton's rookie year because after one off-season together, you will do that and it will never happen again. You will do it unconsciously. You will have your own little signal system. No one else will know what you're running, and that statement presumed that both guys were going to spend the off-season doing that. I knew that they would, and it never did happen again. They were on the same page the rest of their careers because all they did was work together, and I'm not talking about practice time, off-season, extra work, extra work after every practice to perfect what it is they were doing, and I guess they still are the most productive duo ever.
Bob Lamey: They truly reached a point where all the work together created the ability to think alike and to implement their own system, didn't they?
A: You reach a point – and let's remember and our fans should remember these are Hall-of- Famers we're talking about, first-ballot Hall-of-Famers, so not everybody can do this, in fact, the vast majority cannot – but when you reach a level when you have talent, coupled with work ethic and dedication, almost obsession with your craft, with your profession the way Peyton and Marvin did, then you take the game to a whole other level that average players, even above average players who don't have that work ethic and dedication, can't do. That's what he was (and) in my mind still is. All of the good things that he represents relative to not blowing his horn, being a consummate team player, not saying much to anybody at anytime, although those of us that got to know him around the building got to see a different side of him, but he was a private person. The big joke was that he could disappear in plain sight. There were even people taking bets if he would be in the team picture at the Super Bowl and he was, and we didn't know where he went after that. That humility, that lack of need to get the public adulation was balanced by the fact that he was a proud professional. He was very proud of what he did on the football field and rightly so, because he earned every single yard he got.
Bob Lamey: How many times did you see Marvin Harrison make those catches, hand the ball to the official and go back to the huddle? Never did he do anything else.
A: I will say something else. Marvin Harrison blocked whenever he was asked to block. He ran after the catch early in his career on virtually every catch, and he was told by coaches and by me, 'Marvin, unless it's for a first down that means the game, go down. We need you. We don't need people take shots at you.' I've heard people that don't really know the game criticize him for that. The fact of the matter is that he would give anything he had to give for this team. At the end when he no longer could do it anymore and he realized that the injuries had taken their toll and taken away some of that magic from him, he was a proud professional, and just absolutely in sync with the way he conducted himself throughout his career, (he) went out on top.
Bob Lamey: The one time against Denver in the playoffs, he went down after a catch, stayed down and wasn't touched, then got up and ran for a touchdown.
A: He's among the smartest players ever to play. I remember that play now. The playoffs all bets were off. But bottom line, you couldn't ask anymore from a player in the meeting room, in the locker room, on the practice field and on the game field than Marvin Harrison gave.
Q: Did Kerry Collins get to keep the whole four million dollars in his contract even though he only played three games? Also, why didn't the team look at David Garrard? Was he healthy?
A: David Garrard is not healthy. As a matter of fact, he had his back operated on very recently. It was well known throughout the industry that he was not healthy, not 100% healthy, let me put it that way, and might require some surgery. That was a risk that we were not willing to take. Kerry Collins did get his whole salary. That's what injured reserve calls for. His issue was and is a concussion, although he's better now. I think it's fair to say that we paid him what the going rate was for a backup quarterback. You and I may think that's astronomical money, but that's the way it is in this game these days. We did it because we assumed at the time that we signed him, which was before we found out that Peyton was going to need the spinal fusion surgery, that he would play four-to-six games and then Peyton would be back. We did not expect Kerry at his age to play 16 games. Unfortunately, we found out probably a week after we signed him that Peyton was not going to make the season because of the surgery that was required, the new surgery. That was a complete surprise to us. There was never any indication of that until such time that we got the word on the day of the cut to 53. Obviously, we never expected that because of an illegal hit that Kerry would suffer a concussion that would linger for quite some time. There are things that happen in this game that you cannot anticipate. In his particular case there were two things that happened that we did not anticipate. We did anticipate his not playing a full season, but we felt that, and Jim Irsay agreed, that it was worth bringing him in because we felt he could be a good bridge until Peyton got back. The two things that we didn't anticipate was that Peyton was not going to get back and that Kerry was going to get a concussion and be gone for the season.