Several years ago, when he was still the Tennessee Titans general manager, Floyd Reese told a story about how the defense prepared to play Peyton Manning.
This was in the early days of the AFC South, and the twice-a-year meetings with Manning had not yet added up to a significant number. Even then, though, the Titans looked for ways to outsmart him or — more accurately — cause him to outsmart himself.
In short, the Titans made up a few defenses that did not exist.
On select snaps, players lined up in a way they never had. It ultimately meant nothing once the play started, but the feeling of Tennessee coaches was that once he had seen something on film Manning knew exactly what to expect. So they gave him things he had not seen.
Even a moment of indecision on his part was considered a victory.
All of the sudden, such little triumphs seem laughable. There are entire games to be won against the Indianapolis Colts.
Why? Because Manning is not the quarterback. Offseason neck surgery has sidelined him indefinitely.
Although the Colts continue to hold out hope that he will return before the end of the season, he certainly won’t be on the field this coming Sunday when Indianapolis makes its annual visit to LP Field.
That means for the first time since the Titans took up residence in Middle Tennessee, a game with the Colts is ordinary. Nothing special. Run of the mill.
The same is true of the Indianapolis offense. If Manning’s absence has taught us anything it is that — as many suspected — he is the most valuable player in this league. No one means more to his team.
Tom Brady has more flair, better hair and the supermodel wife. Yet in 2008, when he sustained a season-ending knee injury in the opener, Matt Cassel — a guy who could not even get on the field in college — went 10-5 as a starter in his place.
Aaron Rodgers is the flavor of the month, and many pundits are in competition to see who can proclaim his greatness the loudest. Yes, he helped the Green Bay Packers win the Super Bowl last season, but they did not even win their division. Nor have they won their division in any season that he’s been their starter.
In a league with any number of rules designed to create parity, Manning’s Colts have been the exception.
Tennessee won the AFC South in 2002, but in seven of the eight since, that title has gone to Indianapolis, which included a run of seven straight seasons of at least 12 victories. The Colts have been to the playoffs each of the past 12 years.
Along the way they watched great players such as Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison get old and fade away, yet they continued to score points and win games.
Take Manning out of the mix and look where things stand now.
It was last Sunday’s visit from the Houston Texans that captured the imagination of fans, media and — to some degree — the players, and it had nothing to do with the fact that the local franchise was born as the Houston Oilers.
First place in the division was on the line. Plus a former University of Tennessee player (running back Arian Foster) was the leading name in the Texans’ offense.
Sound familiar? Typically, that would be the case for this next contest.
The reality is that as the Titans coaches prepare for the Colts this time, they won’t have to use their imagination and craft schemes that don’t exist.
No doubt, those on the former staff dreamed of what such a day would be like.