DENVER — In the early Monday morning hours at the hotel after a rather memorable NFL playoff game, it’s confession time.
I didn’t expect the Indianapolis Colts to be heading to New England for next Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.
Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois knew this. He started laughing as he saw me walk toward his locker after the Colts’ 24-13 victory over the Denver Broncos in Sunday's AFC Divisional playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Sports authority, I’m not, at least this particular day. But the Colts were undoubtedly a mile high with elation.
After the Colts had defeated Cincinnati at home in the Wild-Card round a week earlier, Jean Francois talked about how nobody expected his touchdown underdogs to take down Peyton Manning and the Broncos. He asked if I was picking the Colts.
Confessions are good for the soul. And it’s more important, in my opinion, to be honest rather than dodge guys when they put you on the spot. The media puts these professionals on the spot enough. It’s only fair.
I mentioned how way back in preseason, because it’s one of those stories reporters do, the prediction was for an 11-5 record (which the Colts achieved) and a second-round playoff loss at Denver (which merited a heaping helping of humble pie served on the spot Sunday evening).
Defensive tackle Josh Chapman chirped something at us, to which Jean Francois said, “I ain’t gonna tell you his beginning-of-the-season prediction, though.”
You have to laugh when eating humble pie. It goes down easier. I fixed my video camera on my subject, and tried not to laugh too much to keep it from shaking.
“I feel great,” Jean Francois said. “I feel great proving to the whole damn world that we could come into Mile High and win this game. You know the guy who is holding this (video) camera had us predicted to lose at the beginning of the season, but like he said, hell, what does he know?”
Gulp. Burp. Yeah, I did say that upon approach. What the hell do I know?
“It’s just a moment we have to sit here and embrace it,” he said. “You can’t come inside of a building like this with Peyton Manning, a Hall of Famer, and actually win the game, especially in the playoffs?
“Ain’t nobody had us predicted (to win),” he said. “Nobody had us predicted. Nobody. So that’s the best feeling you can ever have, when no one had you predicted to win this game.”
He paused. For a moment.
“I’m feeling great,” he said. “I just don’t know what to say right now because I’m just looking at my teammates and looking at all the people and seeing how happy everybody is because next week, we want to be able to do the same thing.”
Jean Francois used a boxing analogy in advance of the Broncos game, likening it to James “Buster” Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson for the undisputed world heavyweight title in 1990.
When I mentioned the Colts would be in the same situation going to New England to take on the Patriots, Jean Francois brought up another historical bout. This time, it will be like Muhammad Ali knocking out George Foreman in 1974.
That fight was called the “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Considering the Patriots’ Foxborough, Mass, home, Gillette Stadium, is nicknamed “The Razor,” we can call this next game “The Rumble in The Razor.”
“We know who you got to pick,” he said. “But we don’t care. It’s better that way. As long as we have all these dudes inside this locker room, we’ve got all this support inside this locker room, it doesn’t matter what everybody else thinks.”
That’s true. And, as soon as I arrived at the hotel and turned on the TV, sure enough, ESPN enlightened that the Colts have been installed as early seven-point underdogs. Of course, same odds as the Broncos.
“We’ve got each other,” Jean Francois said. “As long as we’ve got each other, it doesn’t matter what the world has got to pick. It matters what we’ve got to pick.”
I’ve made that trip to New England three times in January in my 16 years of covering this team. The first two times, I picked the Colts to win. Last year, I didn’t. Each time, the Patriots won.
But that’s history. We live in the here and now. And, to be honest, this underdog storyline is better. Forget what we thought about this team entering the playoffs. They’ve taken the next step from a year ago, to reach the AFC title game.
The Colts now have a shot at Super Bowl XLIX. That’s the reality. And it doesn’t matter what anyone else says, not that I’m really that harsh of a critic. The ribbing was good-natured, and part of the perk of celebrating such a memorable road victory, one we’ll all remember for a long time.
“Keep picking against us,” each of them said.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.