Tuesday January 22nd, 2008

He never left, so it's sounds a bit silly to say I'm surprised Tony Dungy is coming back to the Colts, but that's where my reaction to Monday's news from Indianapolis would fall. Surprised, but far from shocked.

The part that I still can't quite wrap my brain around regarding the Colts' 2008 coaching situation is the notion that it's business as usual in Indy. Yes, in that Dungy is still on the job, just as he has been the past six seasons. But no, in that business as usual for the Colts has never before looked, sounded or been arranged quite like this.

Watching the Dungy news conference late Monday afternoon, I couldn't help but be reminded of a police officer waving traffic past an accident -- "Nothing to see here, folks. Keep it moving.'' -- as I listened to, first, Colts owner Jim Irsay and then team president Bill Polian frame Dungy's recent indecision about his future as nothing more than standard operating procedure in Indy for the past three years.

The only thing is, the facts tend to get in the way. While I think it's great that the Colts aren't losing Dungy, one of the best head coaches in the NFL, it's not typical for Irsay to offer Dungy the freedom to live with his recently transplanted family in Tampa for three or four months of the offseason while continuing to work in Indy.

It's not typical for Irsay to make it possible for Dungy to leave the Colts on Fridays during the season in order to fly home south and watch his son play in high school football games. And it's definitely not typical for the Colts to name Dungy's successor even before they lose their head coach, or to award newly promoted associate head coach Jim Caldwell a $2.5 million annual salary to serve as the team's head-coach-in-waiting.

You can certainly make the case that, in doing so, the Colts took moves that were wise, generous, pro-active and potentially very shrewd in terms of the long-term health and stability of the franchise. I tend to agree with all of that. But I this isn't business as usual. Not when Irsay or the Colts have never done any of this before.

Irsay went out of his way Monday to make it clear that Dungy didn't come back for "a victory lap tour,'' adding "this isn't just definitely one year or something like that.'' But it very well could be that, and everyone knows it given that Dungy has made no secret of the fact he views coaching as a year-to-year proposition at this point in his life.

I understand neither Dungy or the Colts would want the '08 season to morph into a distracting farewell tour for their head coach, but that's kind of what they bargained for in this case. To expect otherwise is a bit naïve. It may be Dungy's last year on the sideline, it may not. But when there's no clarity to the situation, and it's left open-ended, speculation will always rush in to fill the void. See Brett Favre's situation the past three years or so when it comes to the issue of retirement. It's unavoidable, and today's 24/7 news cycle only feeds the interest in speculation.

Someone asked me on the radio early Tuesday morning if this makes Dungy, in essence, a lame duck in Indianapolis in '08? Not exactly, because in this case Dungy can remain in power as long as he cares to, without losing his authority due to any impending deadline.

But how does one describe Dungy's somewhat altered status? No matter how you downplay it, he's still around for at least one more year in part to officially groom Caldwell as his replacement. It's on-the-job-training for Caldwell, and it's of a much more direct nature than, say, Jason Garrett's situation on Wade Phillips' staff in Dallas.

No, the Colts don't have two head coaches this season, but they do have a structure in place that could lead to a bit of confusion when issues that pit present concerns against future concerns arise (for instance, could there be a different drafting philosophy from Dungy to Caldwell?). At the very least, they're in somewhat different territory than they were in '07, or in any of Dungy's other five years on the job.

Can the Colts' coaching arrangement work? Probably so, given the quality of the individuals involved. Dungy is back for now. But for how long remains the question that won't completely go away.

• My early Super Bowl matchup observations and musings include the prediction that the XLII storyline that won't get enough attention is the job that the Patriots defense has done of late.

In its past six playoff quarters, New England's defense has held the Jaguars and Chargers without a touchdown, surrendering just six field goals (two by Jacksonville, four by San Diego). For a unit that gave up 49 points in the six quarters before that (35 to the Giants in Week 17, 14 in the first half against the Jaguars), that's a quantum leap in terms of improvement.

The Patriots' record-breaking offense hasn't produced like it did in the season's first 10 games, but then again, thanks to New England's D tightening things up, it hasn't had to.

• How rare is this turnover-free run that Giants quarterback Eli Manning has been on in the postseason? Very. In a case of impeccable timing, Manning is on just the second three-game interception-less streak of his four-year NFL career. The only other such span he enjoyed came in Weeks 2-4 of '05, his first full season as New York's starter.

• It's so quirky that we have a Patriots-Giants matchup to cap the NFL's postseason. The two teams ended their preseason schedules against each other (a 27-20 Pats win at Gillette Stadium), and the same with their regular-season schedules (a 38-35 Pats win at Giants Stadium). University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., will be their third different venue this season.

• The Giants will be double-digit underdogs in the Super Bowl, but their fans can take solace in knowing that the last quarterback to beat the Patriots in a meaningful game was a Manning. Eli's big brother, Peyton, accomplished it in last season's AFC title game.

After playing his butt off in a loss against New England and Tom Brady in Week 17, Eli Manning won head-to-head against Jeff Garcia, Tony Romo and Brett Favre in the playoffs.

• Not only has New York won 10 consecutive road games this season, the Giants are now just one of three teams to make the Super Bowl after going 3-0 away from home in the playoffs. The 1985 Patriots did it, and then were roadkill against Chicago in the Super Bowl. But the '05 Steelers completed the job, beating Seattle in Detroit two years ago.

• I wouldn't make too much of that walking boot on Brady's right foot just yet. Brady has made 126 consecutive starts in the regular season and playoffs since taking over for the injured Drew Bledsoe in Week 3 of the '01 season. He'll be there under center come Feb. 3.

And by the way, with his win over San Diego on Sunday, Brady is now 100-26 in those games (.794).

• If I had to submit an early pick of a part-time player who will come up big on the game's grandest stage, it would be Giants rookie running back Ahmad Bradshaw. The seventh-round pick from Marshall runs like he's had mad at the world. I see him making more trouble for the Patriots defense than starting running back Brandon Jacobs.

• Hey, somebody ask Tiki Barber what he thinks of his Eli Manning and the rest of his old teammates now? Maybe it was Barber just holding back the Giants. They are in the Super Bowl without him in his first year of retirement. Just sayin'.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.