Moments after the conclusion of Super Bowl XLVII on Sunday, Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis sent out a tweet reminding his teammates that work starts now on the quest for next February’s NFL title game in New York.
Somewhere out there, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano likely was wearing a broad smile.
When offseason workouts began last April, Pagano issued T-shirts to his players bearing the slogan “Build the Monster” on the front. By the time training camp started in late July, a list of the NFL power rankings — with Indianapolis highlighted in the bottom spot at No. 32 — was added to the back of a similar shirt.
The Colts meanwhile told anyone within earshot that outside expectations were way off base. Despite coming off a 2-14 season and preparing for a year with a rookie quarterback and a rookie head coach, Indianapolis promised to make some noise right out of the gate.
Once the regular season started, things went even worse than projected. Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia after a Week 3 home loss against Jacksonville and missed the next 12 games, the first-string defense never seemed able to get healthy as a unit and injuries along the offensive line forced Andrew Luck to play behind eight different starting combinations.
But the Colts kept their word, finished 11-5 and made a surprise appearance in the AFC playoffs.
By the time Luck hopped onto a conference call with local reporters from the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, he said his biggest regret after his inaugural NFL season was not playing in the Super Bowl.
So maybe it’s best if we take heed of the Colts’ words now, as they set their sights on the big game in the Big Apple.
After all, they have a nearly perfect role model to follow.
Pagano has immense respect for Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, the man who brought him back to the NFL in 2008. When Pagano took over in Indianapolis, he began building his new monster in his old boss’s image.
It goes far deeper than the installation of the 3-4 defense and the importation of former Ravens Cory Redding, Tom Zbikowski and Brandon McKinney. More Baltimore exiles could join the group in 2013 with safety Ed Reed, cornerback Cary Williams, outside linebacker Paul Kruger and wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Jacoby Jones among the Ravens eligible for free agency.
But Pagano has brought something more powerful than the Ravens’ personnel to Indy.
Remember that vision he spoke about with his players in October? That’s so Baltimore.
That’s all about the idea that no team should accept any fate but the one it makes for itself. Injuries, inexperience and unforeseen circumstances be damned. Stick to the vision.
The Ravens rode their vision all the way to a Super Bowl title on Sunday.
And somewhere in the midst of all the confetti and the glare from the Lombardi Trophy, Mathis and the Colts got a little clearer picture of their own potential future.