By all accounts, Tony Dungy is a class act, a gentleman on and off the field. But what his Indianapolis Colts committed Sunday night was a fraud, and a disgrace.
Sure, the Colts had already advertised that they planned to play mostly backups. True, the Cleveland Browns have only themselves to blame after blowing a key game last week against Cincinnati and thus leaving their fate in someone else's hands. Yes, Indy has an obligation to make sure its injured players have enough rest to be ready for the playoffs.
But the Colts also have an obligation to the National Football League, the game itself, to do their very best. What happened on the RCA Dome floor Sunday night was a sham.
The Tennessee Titans were not capable of winning in Indy, if the Colts actually tried. Even with Indy playing primarily backups for the better part of three quarters, the Titans barely eked out a 16-10 win. In short, Tennessee is not a playoff-caliber team.
The game became such a farce that at one point NBC's John Madden quipped that it would be in the Titans' best interest to keep Indy backup QB Jim Sorgi in the game because Peyton Manning would have to return if Sorgi was hurt. Except that it was no joke.
Yet the Colts did not have enough respect for the integrity of the league to play their best. It would be understandable for the Colts to do what they did had the game been a meaningless one for their opponent. But it wasn't. In essence, with the Colts' blessing, the Titans made the playoffs with a 9-6 record plus an exhibition win.
Indy really should've taken its cue from bitter rival New England. Besides the Patriots' pursuit of a perfect regular season, their Saturday night game against the Giants was essentially meaningless. Yet, both teams played hard from beginning to end, with their best personnel. The Patriots honored the game by insisting that being 16-0 means something. The Giants, in turn, validated the Patriots' perfection by not handing it to them on a platter.
The Colts, however, failed to see how their actions might stain the game. Really, with the NFL's constant and maniacal effort to distance itself from gambling, it's ironic that one of its best team just threw a game in broad daylight with absolutely no consequences forthcoming.
No penalties from the league, that is. But the football gods will have other ideas. The Colts lost a lot more than a game Sunday night. They lost their honor.