By Tom James, CNHI News Service
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — To say that the Indianapolis Colts hadn’t learned their lesson in the team’s previous Super Bowl appearance would be putting it mildly.
Three years ago, the Colts contemplated openly about whether to kick the ball to the Chicago Bears’ Devin Hester during Super Bowl XLI. He already hard returned six kicks for touchdowns during the course of the 2006 season, including a missed field goal.
Former Indianapolis head coach Tony Dungy put on a brave front and declared his team wouldn’t be afraid to challenge the Bears’ kickoff return ace.
As everybody now knows, the Colts did give Hester a chance to return the football on the game’s opening kickoff. He responded by taking Adam Vinatieri’s kick 92 yards for a touchdown, notching the quickest score and longest kickoff return for a touchdown in Super Bowl history.
Indianapolis opted not to kick to him the rest of the night, preferring instead to pooch the ball and taking its chances by giving Chicago better than average field position for each possession thereafter.
Move forward now to Super Bowl XLIV. Instead of Hester, who was a dual threat for kickoffs and punts, the New Orleans Saints instead have a pretty good one-two punch in punt returner Reggie Bush and kickoff returner Courtney Roby.
Feel free to call them “Flash and Dash.” They’re both dangerous when given the opportunity to break a long kick. Bush is electric in the open field. Roby, meanwhile, can turn on a second motor and isn’t afraid to bring a deep kickoff out of the end zone.
The Colts’ game plan this time isn’t quite as transparent. Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell and special teams coordinator Ray Rychelski have a plan, although they’ve decided to keep it to themselves for the time being.
It is known, though, that rookie punter Pat McAfee most likely will be their answer to the Bush/Roby problem. McAfee also kicks off for the Colts and has been impressive handling the job.
“First of all, Pat McAfee’s been a godsend as a kickoff man and as a punter even though he’s a rookie. That’s been a huge help. Our gunner, T.J. (Rushing), has done an outstanding job all year. That’s a priority,” Rychelski said recently. “On the other side, we’ve had (rookie) Jacob Lacey. And we’ve had to use different guys due to injuries to our cornerbacks. But they’ve all stepped up.”
Which brings us back to how the Colts plan, or hope, to contain both of New Orleans’ kick returners.
“The last time (Devin Hester) was history. I’m a big believer in history, learning from it and not repeating it. So they have to see that. Some guys on this team that were on that coverage team (in Super Bowl XLI), we’re not trying to bring back bad memories because in the end (the Colts) won. That’s all that really mattered,” Rychelski said. “But what I wanted them to learn from that situation was that we can’t let this happen. This offense, I’m talking about the Saints, you can’t give them field position. (In 2006) they squibbed it out three or four times, and the Bears’ field position was excellent. We can’t do that (Sunday night) and help our team win this football game.”