It's far too early to play taps for the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning.
Yes, the team and its quarterback looked out of sync in a 36-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night. For the first time since 2002, the Colts won't win at least 12 regular-season games.
And unlike most seasons, when the Colts have clinched a playoff berth by early December, these 6-5 Colts must play hard throughout the final weeks.
The banged-up Colts, however, do have more than a month to get players healthy and make a push for their third Super Bowl appearance in five seasons. At 34, Manning who has never suffered a major injury in the NFL, should have at least a few more shots at another Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But have fans seen the best of the Manning Colts? If so, this wouldn't be the first one-and-done professional champion that appeared destined to win multiple titles only to fall short of expectations.
Consider the top 10 failed dynasties, those teams that were contenders for at least five years but only once enjoyed that glory day.
The A's are best remembered for the long-ball bashing of steroid-infused Jose Canseco (the '88 American League MVP), his sidekick Mark McGwire and leadoff man extraordinaire Rickey Henderson. But Oakland's pitching also was lights-out as the A's led the AL in ERA from 1988 to '90 and finished second in '92. Beginning in 1987, Dave Stewart had four straight 20-win seasons and Dennis Eckersley became one of the best closers in major league history.
Eckersley, however, had a hand in three punch-in-the-gut defeats that helped limit Oakland to one title. His Game 1 World Series loss to Kirk Gibson and the Dodgers in '88 has become part of baseball lore. He also was the losing pitcher in Game 2 of the '90 World Series, surrendering three hits in the 10th inning as the underdog Cincinnati Reds took a 2-0 lead in games en route to a stunning sweep of the 103-win A's.
Most spectacularly, Eckersley failed to hold a 6-2 eighth-inning lead over the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 4 of the 1992 ALCS with Oakland poised to take a 3-1 lead in the series. Toronto tied the game off Eck in the ninth, won it in the 12th and took the series in six games.
Throughout the 1960s the toughest sports ticket in the Windy City was the Blackhawks at raucous Chicago Stadium. Hawks games drew the coolest guys and the hottest women for a team that featured some of the greatest players in hockey history. Hull was the Golden Jet, winner of two MVP awards, three scoring titles, eight 40-goal seasons and five 50-goal seasons including a record 58 in 1969. Mikita was a two-time MVP and a four-time scoring leader.
When the young Hawks won the '61 Stanley Cup, it appeared they would dominate the decade. It never happened. Chicago lost the '62 Cup Finals to Toronto in six games and the '65 finals to Montreal in seven. The Hawks owned the 1966-67 regular season, finishing first for the first time in their history and besting second-place Montreal by 17 points. The playoffs, however, were another matter as third-place Toronto stunned Chicago in the first round.
The last hurrah for the Hull-Mikita Hawks was the 1971 finals. Chicago led Montreal 2-0 in Game 7, nearly making it 3-0 when Hull's blast hit the crossbar. But Jacques Lemaire's shot from center ice fooled Tony Esposito and Montreal was back in the game. Two goals from Henri Richard made the Hawks the first team to lose a Stanley Cup Finals Game 7 on home ice.
One year later Hull bolted for the World Hockey Association, and the Hawks would have to wait until a new century for their next Stanley Cup.
NFL Films narrator John Facenda intoned Steve Sabol's poem for a 1974 highlights package, words that Oakland owner Al Davis said epitomized the rollicking spirit of the franchise.
Indeed, the '70s Raiders were a piece of work: rough, rowdy, totally dismissive of public (and league) opinion. Bill King's radio calls ("George Blanda has just been elected king of the world") were the most colorful in the NFL.
But despite a decade of success (Madden's .759 regular-season winning percentage is an NFL best for coaches with more than 100 victories), the Raiders usually had not "conquered and won" at season's end. They had the misfortune of playing against Don Shula's two-time champion Miami Dolphins and Chuck Noll's four-time champion Pittsburgh Steelers, two of the NFL's greatest teams.
Seven times Madden's Raiders went to the AFL or AFC title game between 1969 and 1977 and six times they went home losers. Oakland's signature defeat was the "Immaculate Reception" at Pittsburgh in the 1972 divisional playoffs, when Franco Harris grabbed a deflected pass and dashed 60 yards in the final seconds for a 13-7 Steelers win.
Madden retired after the '78 season, then watched successor Tom Flores win Super Bowls in the '80 and '83 seasons with only a handful of Raiders who had played for the '76 champs.
During the early 1980s, even as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were transforming the NBA, the league's best show was the Sixers' pregame layup line. Fans circled the court to watch Dr. J., Darryl "Chocolate Thunder" Dawkins, Bobby Jones and Caldwell Jones perform a series of dunks that seemed to emerge from a future century.
But that was the problem with the Erving Era Sixers, a lot of show and not many results -- certainly not enough for such a talented team.
The Erving years got off on the wrong foot when the Sixers blew a 2-0 lead in the 1977 NBA Finals and lost to Bill Walton's Portland Trailblazers in six games.
The Los Angeles Lakers took the 76ers' measure in the 1980 Finals and again in 1982, both times in six games.
In between, the Sixers blew a 3-1 lead to the Boston Celtics in the 1981 East finals, losing the last three games by a combined five points.
Finally in 1983, the addition of Moses Malone brought the Sixers their first NBA title since Wilt Chamberlain's 1967 powerhouse. After a 65-win regular season, Malone predicted the playoffs would be "fo, fo, fo," Malone-speak for a trio of four-game sweeps. The Sixers came close, going 12-1 in the postseason, including a sweep of the injured Lakers in the Finals.
The 76ers' reign was short as they fell in the first round of the '84 playoffs, losing every home game to the underdog New Jersey Nets. Charles Barkley briefly revived the franchise, and Philly reached the '85 East finals before losing again to the Celtics.
There is much to admire about these Colts. No NFL team won more regular-season games during the decade of the 2000s and the Colts have appeared in eight straight postseasons, one short of Dallas' (1975-83) NFL record.
Indianapolis, however, has been an underachiever in the postseason. Six times it has lost its first playoff game, including four at home.
The Manning Colts are 3-6 in games decided by 10 points or fewer. This doesn't include last season's Super Bowl, when Indy was driving for the tying touchdown only to have a pick-six interception clinch the win, 31-17, for New Orleans.
There is still time for Manning to add another NFL title or two to his resume but his 9-9 postseason record pales when compared to Bart Starr (9-1), Tom Brady (14-4), Terry Bradshaw (14-5), Joe Montana (16-7) and Troy Aikman (11-4).
Manning's postseason passer rating of 87.6 is solid, but about eight points below his regular-season mark.
The '85 Bears join the '72 Lakers as the best one-year champion but the rest of their near-reign is not nearly as accomplished as the other failed dynasties. Chicago never reached another Super Bowl and three times dropped opening-round playoff games at home to teams from warmer climes. In the 1986 and '87 playoffs, the Bears blew second-half leads to Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins.
The 1988 NFC title game against the San Francisco 49ers at Soldier Field seemed tailor-made for the Bears: 17 degrees, a howling wind plus Chicago already had defeated the Niners during the regular season.
Joe Montana played as if the game were in Malibu, throwing for 288 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-3 rout. San Francisco's defense only let the Bears cross its 40-yard line twice. It was obvious that the 49ers, not the Bears, were the preeminent NFL franchise of the 1980s.
The Ditka Bears would win only one more postseason game.
Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux were Atlanta teammates for only 10 seasons (1993-2002) but it must have seemed like 30 to the National League hitters who battled the Braves' starters. At least two of the Big Three were on the same roster for 14 seasons (1991-2003, 2008).
Maddux and Glavine both topped 300 career wins and Smoltz (213) might have come close had he not spent nearly four seasons as the Braves' closer. But where Smoltz was a superlative postseason pitcher (15-4, 2.67 ERA), Maddux (11-14, 3.27) and Glavine (14-16, 3.54) weren't quite as sharp when October rolled around.
Manager Bobby Cox also had difficulties when the weather turned cooler. His 67-69 playoff record (including the 1985 ALCS with Toronto) is well below his regular-season (.556 winning percentage) performance. Cox's Braves were 12-14 in postseason series and won only one series after 1999. Cox was 22-30 in one-run playoff games.
Don't be too hard on the Giants. Their duels with Jim Brown's Cleveland Browns, Johnny Unitas' Baltimore Colts and Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers helped stamp professional football as the nation's preeminent sport.
In a city where everyone is on the lookout for the next big thing, Giants football became the place to be on a fall Sunday afternoon to see the likes of Gifford, Huff, Charley Conerly, Del Shofner and Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle.
Because NFL home games were blacked out on television, Giants fans used to flock to Connecticut to get beyond the 75-mile blackout limit. Stratford, Conn., became as popular for visiting Giants fans jamming its motels as for its American Shakespeare Festival.
The Giants, however, probably ruined their chances for a successful dynasty by allowing assistant coaches Lombardi and Tom Landry to land head coaching jobs in Green Bay and Dallas, respectively, while retaining the befuddled Jim Lee Howell and then promoting the less-accomplished Allie Sherman.
After the Giants hammered the Bears 47-7 for the 1956 NFL title, their next five postseasons ended badly. There was the 1958 sudden death loss to the Colts for the NFL championship when Unitas rallied Baltimore to the tying field goal in the waning seconds of regulation.
In 1962 the Giants' high-powered passing attack led by Tittle was blown away in the 35 mph. winds that shook Yankee Stadium. The Packers won the NFL title in a 16-7 defensive struggle.
There never was as good a Giants offense as in 1963. Led by Tittle's record 36 touchdown passes, the Giants averaged 32 points per game and were favored against the Bears in the NFL title game at Wrigley Field. But 8-degree temperatures and Tittle's injured knee short-circuited New York's attack as the Bears won 14-10. A year earlier, on a much warmer day at Wrigley, the Giants had beaten the Bears 26-24.
The Giants did not reach the playoffs again until 1981.
Even more so than the football Giants, the Boys of Summer Dodgers are best remembered for their contributions to their sport rather than their failures. The Dodgers integrated major league baseball, ignited one of the most loyal and colorful fan bases in the country and featured a roster of Hall of Famers: Robinson, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese and two young pitchers, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale.
Between 1947 and 1956, Brooklyn averaged nearly 95 wins and captured six National League pennants. But the one that got away, the 1951 NL pennant, still stings. Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning home run for the rival New York Giants was a wrenching reminder to Dodgers fans of how quickly fortunes can change in baseball.
The Dodgers also lost seven-game World Series to the Yankees in 1947, 1952 and 1956.
The ultimate joy of the '55 World Series triumph was short-lived because three years later, the team packed its bags for Los Angeles. For longtime fans the final insult was that after winning only one championship during its many decades in Brooklyn, the Dodgers won the World Series three times during their first eight years in L.A.
Quick question: Between 1962 and 1973 which team appeared in the most NBA Finals? Not the Celtics who went six times. Try the Lakers with nine Finals appearances, the longest run of sustained excellence for a non-dynasty.
West and Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor provided one of the great 1-2 punches in NBA history. Wilt Chamberlain was added for the 1968-69 season.
But L.A. couldn't get past Boston and Bill Russell, not in 1962, '63, '65, '66, '68 or '69. The '62, '66 and '69 Finals went seven games with the Lakers losing each time by a combined seven points.
Even when Russell retired, the Lakers were stymied again, this time by the young New York Knicks in 1970 as L.A. and Wilt failed to take advantage of a limping Willis Reed in another Game 7 defeat.
Finally, in 1972, the waters parted as the Lakers put together one of the greatest seasons in athletic history. They won a record 69 games, highlighted by a 33-game winning streak, the longest in North American major league sports.
The Lakers crunched the Reed-less Knicks in the Finals but West felt more a sense of relief than achievement. Afterward, this lone remaining Laker from the early '60s, asked "Is that all there is?"
A year later, with a healthy Reed back in the lineup, the Knicks bested the Lakers in five games.