INDIANAPOLIS –No player ever is guaranteed team success when he enters the NFL.
The most fortunate players stay in the league for a number of years, while some even more fortunate than that enjoy team success.
A much smaller percentage enjoy it over an extended period of time and any player who is a part of a rivalry like the Colts have had with New England will look back at those days later and recall it as a special circumstance.
There are great long-standing rivalries like Dallas-Washington, Chicago-Green Bay and, from a prior generation, Oakland-Kansas City.
When the Colts and Patriots shared spots in the AFC East, the rivalry often did not carry significance beyond those particular game days. When realignment split them up after the 2001 season, everything changed.
The franchises went on to post two of the best regular-season victory totals in NFL history, along with earning multiple playoff berths. Indianapolis forged a 115-45 regular season mark from 2000-09, the NFL's highest decade victory total. New England was two victories back at 113, tying San Francisco (1990-99) for the second-highest decade total ever. There have only been 12 100-victory decades in NFL history.
The clubs have met in every regular season since 2003, with playoff games being fought after the 2003, 2004 and 2006 seasons. The winner of each of those playoff contests proceeded to win the Super Bowl.
Many players have moved on from the series, while some remain. The Colts have only Reggie Wayne around from their AFC East days, but a few current veterans have met the Patriots often enough that they feel a sort of divisional kinship.
"It kind of does," said Antoine Bethea if this feels like a divisional game. "It seems like we play them every year. It's around November time. They know us, we know them. It's a respect for each other. Both teams respect each other. It's always a fun game."
Fans in both markets have the same passion as players feel, and it manifests itself at those games. Seven of the 12 overall games since 2003 have been in Gillette Stadium, this weekend's venue. Fans attending will remember past battles which have gone 7-5 in New England's favor.
"I think obviously the fans don't like the teams but I think as far as the players, it's a form of respect," said Bethea. "Obviously, we both know when we go at it, it's always a hard-fought, 60-minute game. I think we respect each other. That being said, they want to get a win just like us. It's a very important game, (an) AFC game. It's very important, but I think we both have a mutual respect for each other."
Dwight Freeney is a Connecticut native who is fond of his home area that is about 115 miles from the Gillette playing surface. Some career high points and low moments involve particular New England games, and he feels the Patriots are close to being a divisional opponent.
"A lot of history between us and it never gets dull," said Freeney. "For a few years there, it was like they were a division opponent. We would see them twice a year. It's always been a battle. I'm sure it will be another one.
"We play Jacksonville, Houston and Tennessee twice, and we used to see these guys twice all the time. A lot of dramatic games. They had our number. We had their number. We had to get through them to win the Super Bowl. There are a lot of memories there."
Robert Mathis has five sacks in his previous contests with New England. Mathis knows the nature of the past meetings, but he is one who gives a nod of respect to Tom Brady.
"History, rivalry. Anything you want to call it, it's going to be that," said Mathis. "There's no love lost between both clubs, so it's going to be a good game, hard-fought.
"I think he's (Brady) one guy that you couldn't play the disrespect card out of any quarterback in this league, because he's the most highly-respected guy. His resume speaks for itself. He's a guy that's going to come and play. You just have to match that."
The only time since 2003 the game was not played in the television sweeps time of year was in 2004, when the clubs played in the opener. It was not a mistake made again by the networks.
Last year's game was moved to 1:00 p.m. when the Colts were enduring a difficult 2-14 season.
Now, the matchup is back in a preferred time slot.
"I guess that shows that the Colts are surprising people, moving the game a little bit," said Bethea. "Regardless of what time we play, we've got to go up there and play well, going into a great environment to play football.
"It's Gillette Stadium. When the Colts and Patriots are playing, 99 percent chance it's going to be a great game. This is when the great players go out and make plays. We've got to go up there and get this win."