Colts president has magic touch

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INDIANAPOLIS --- Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian is just an old-school scout at heart.

He willingly attends college games, enjoys interviewing players and coaches and spends countless hours studying film to evaluate college prospects. He prefers being involved to delegating, and he still believes NFL winners are built through the draft.

After decades in pro football, Polian couldn't imagine doing it any other way.

"That's how I've always done it and that's how I'm going to keep doing it until it doesn't work," he said with a chuckle.

He's good at spotting them. Polian's acumen for finding and replenishing talent is virtually unmatched.

In the 1980s, he turned a reeling Buffalo franchise into the only NFL team to reach four consecutive Super Bowls. In 1995, he took advantage of the NFL's generous expansion rules and got Carolina to the 1996 NFC Championship game.

But his masterpiece has come in Indianapolis, where he finally won a Super Bowl and his team is on the cusp of making more history.

A victory Sunday over Denver would give Indy a league record 22 consecutive regular-season wins, a record 114th win in a decade, and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Indy already has extended its own NFL mark of consecutive 12-win seasons to seven.

Few thought this was even possible before Polian arrived after the 1997 season. Polian's task: Rebuild a once-proud franchise that had produced only five winning seasons in the previous 20 years and had a major image problem.

Whether it was the unforgettable midnight move from Baltimore, Art Schlichter's gambling problems, John Elway's forced trade, the criticism Indy took for spending too much to get home-state native Jeff George in the 1990 draft or the infamous 1994 draft day argument between then-Colts executive Bill Tobin and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., the Colts were anything but a model franchise.

Polian's changes began with a critical move: Taking Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf with the No. 1 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. To the old scout, there was never a question about who he wanted.

"Television, especially sports channels, are in the business of ratings, and many times they'll construct players out of whole cloth who really have no reason to be stars," Polian told his radio listeners Monday night.

"The greatest of all examples is when Peyton Manning came out," he said.

"They said he did not win the Heisman Trophy, and he was considered by the so-called experts to be a 'product of the system, a guy with a weak arm and a guy who didn't have room to grow.' Ryan Leaf was considered by many to have the better arm and be a better leader."

Of the 53 players on Indy's active roster, 31 were originally drafted by Polian. Seventeen of those draft picks were in the fourth round or later.

Not only has it helped Polian keep the stream of talent flowing into Indy, it also has given him enough depth to overcome obstacles.

The Colts have already lost three defensive starters to season-ending injuries this year. Yet the Colts have allowed the third- fewest points in the league and still haven't lost.


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