Notebook > Sports

An epic, and tragic, season

Sports | The Colts flirted with perfection for so long, then everything went wrong

Issue: "God and mammon," Jan. 14, 2006

For the Indianapolis Colts, it must have felt like this day would never come. Sometimes teams as dominant as the Colts don't need 16 games to prove they're playoff material. The Colts started the 2005 season with 13 straight wins, and by mid-December the national sports media had begun their yearly comparison of the season's last undefeated team to the famous 1972 Miami Dolphins, which survived that year undefeated.

Then, for the team that flirted with perfection for so long, everything went wrong. First, they lost at home in an uninspiring game against San Diego on Dec. 18. The Colts weren't happy, but seemed relieved to avoid talk of an undefeated season. "If it brings us back for the last two weeks with more resolve, maybe some good will come of it," head coach Tony Dungy waxed after the game.

But days later, Mr. Dungy would face a harrowing tragedy. On Dec. 22 James Dungy, the coach's oldest son, died in Tampa, Fla., in an apparent suicide. He was 18. The disastrous circumstances forced Mr. Dungy away from the team-a team mourning with its coach, adding black horseshoe decals to the backs of helmets. Two days later the Colts lost again, though the Indianapolis locker room seemed more focused on its coach's mental state than on the scoreboard.

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On New Year's day-five days after Mr. Dungy buried his son-the coach returned and so did the Colts' winning ways. Still the attention was focused on Mr. Dungy and his loss. But when the Colts return to the field on Jan. 15, the game will matter. Perhaps that's a good thing for Mr. Dungy, who described watching the Dec. 24 game on television as three hours of comfortable diversion. And for the Colts, it's a chance to finally play a game that matters after a month of irrelevance on and heartbreak off the field.

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