Meaningful Games

"The Indianapolis Colts haven't played a meaningful game in over a month." How many times have you heard that phrase uttered from the mouth of some media know-it-all? I lost count somewhere around eleventy-billion.

Despite that, it appears as though Tony Dungy, Indianapolis and all of the NFL bought into the "meaningful game" hype. Here's a newsflash for you; every NFL game is meaningful.

Even games in which neither team has any hope of reaching the playoffs can have strength-of-schedule implications. In particular, the NFC playoff picture wasn't completely set until the final whistle of the final NFC game.

I don't know about you, but I've always been taught that habits are developed over a 21-day period and that you don't always quit a habit - you replace it with another.

The Tony Dungy-led Indianapolis Colts lost sight of the ball. They replaced the habit of winning with the habit of losing. Quite simply, they forgot how to win. They took up a bad habit.

In the fourth quarter of a 21-3 game, the phrase "meaningful game" was still spilling out of the shocked mouth of CBS play-by-play announcer Dick Enberg.

A team that appeared to have the NFL by the tail and the 1972 Dolphins by the ball; dominated their schedule – until December.

They dominated until Tony Dungy decided that home-field advantage throughout the playoffs had been secured – until the remaining three games on their schedule suddenly became "meaningless."

How is it that the usually focused Tony Dungy, a coach who repeats all the NFL coach clichés, can forget so quickly?

One game at a time became "one game at a time - except for these three meaningless games."

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," seemingly self explanatory, suddenly became confusing.

"Dance with the one who brung ya" became "Rest the one who brung ya so they don't get injured."

Let me throw out another confusing cliché for you to ponder - clichés are cliché for a reason.

Dungy could have ignored all the supposedly distracting 16-0 talk by refusing to acknowledge the most overrated record in NFL history. Instead, he opted to completely disregard what his experience taught him. Sports are epitomized by streaks, momentum and mental struggles.

To be fair, Dungy alleviated a lot of the mental pressure by downplaying the unbeaten streak – by giving his team permission to lose to the Chargers in week 15.

I don't mean to take anything away from the Chargers' effort (or that of the Steelers) but the Colts were the number one seed and played as if they were entitled to a Super Bowl appearance. The table was set for a dome team to finish out their home-field advantage and then go to the neutral site of Super Bowl XL, domed Ford Field.

The Colts blew it.

Tony Dungy is no doubt an incredible man and a first-class coach. He made a terrible mistake with his team's momentum and it came back to haunt him. He forgot about "any given Sunday." He forgot about "meaningful" games. He won't forget again.

But Phil, you say, this doesn't have anything to do with the Chiefs.

Stay with me. I'm going to tie this up with a Red-and-Gold bow by making a Shottenheimer/Dungy/Edwards connection.

Herm Edwards and Tony Dungy go way back. They were both assistant coaches under Marty Shottenheimer in Kansas City. Edwards also served on Dungy's staff in Tampa Bay.

In fact, they've been friends since 1977 when they were both wild-haired defensive backs in a postseason All-Star exhibition game in Hawaii.

Choking away the number one seed is a nightmare no Chiefs fan would care to revisit. Edwards is well aware of the Marty coaching tree and the conservative label that comes along with his occupation of a branch.

In his first Kansas City press conference Herm debunked the notion that he is a conservative coach.

"Like I said before, it sounds like I'm conservative but as I keep saying it's the players you play with. It might look conservative at times but I'm going to play to players' strengths. I'm going to do that. These players on offense obviously have the ability to score. I'm not going to all of a sudden say you're only allowed to score seven points a quarter. I'm not going to do that. I'm a football coach. I can coach anything that you give me: good players, great players. That's what your job is as a coach," the Chiefs new coach said.

Hopefully this means that he remembers that every Sunday is a Meaningful Game.

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