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Colts fans, other teams cheated by Caldwell's benching his starters

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By Larry Goffinet

Many Perry Countians are Indianapolis Colts football fans, and some of them are understandably irate at Colts Coach Jim Caldwell’s benching his starters early in the third quarter against the New York Jets Dec. 27.

The Colts, who were 14-0 and had a chance to join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only team to go undefeated through the regular-season and playoffs, led only 15-10 early in the third quarter when Caldwell benched all of his key starters, including superstar quarterback Peyton Manning.

With backup quarterback Jim Sorgi injured, that meant Curtis Painter, a rookie No. 3 quarterback, was sent in for his first regular-season NFL action.

The Jets took his fumble in for the go-ahead touchdown and went on to win 29-15.

One Perry Countian who says he pays hundreds of dollars for his Colts season tickets each week, said he felt cheated by the Colts’ giving up their chance to make history with an undefeated team.

He and other paying fans have a right to be upset. But they aren’t the only ones who were cheated by Caldwell’s decision to bench his starters.

When Manning signed his current seven-year contract, it was reported to include $19 million worth of incentives.

Since players such as Julius Peppers now get a $1.5 million bonus just for making the Pro Bowl, I’d bet that Manning’s incentives include at least a million dollars for being named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

And the superstar quarterback of an undefeated team should have to be the favorite for the MVP award.

But now that the Colts have lost, I would bet that the award goes to New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees instead.

Besides the monetary reward, Caldwell’s decision cost Manning a chance to make history as the first four-time NFL MVP.

Otto Graham won five unofficial MVP awards, but two of them were in the rival All-America Football Conference in the 1940s and the others were before the award was officially named “Most Valuable Player” in 1961 (it was “Player of the Year” until then), so most sportswriters don’t even list him as a three-time MVP.

Other Colts also lost a chance to make history.

One fan said he can name at least 10 members of the 1972 Dolphins and asked how many other teams from that era still have so many players remembered? Good point.

But besides the Colts and their fans, other NFL teams were cheated.

Caldwell said the Jets game meant nothing because the Colts had already clinched home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

But the game meant a lot to the Jets, who by winning kept their hopes of making the playoffs alive.

The Jacksonville Jaguars, whom the Colts beat 35-31 when the Colts played their starters the entire game the previous week, entered that game still on pace to make the playoffs.

So Caldwell’s deciding to play his starters the entire game against the Jaguars and not against the Jets makes it appear that he is trying to decide which other AFC teams make the playoffs and which ones don’t.

But on what basis? Because he has more friends in the Jets’ organization than with the Jaguars? Because he’d rather face the Jets in the playoffs than the Jaguars? Or what?

The NFL should investigate Caldwell’s motivation.