For Colts, most of fun comes after wins

The Colts take a serious, business-like approach to the game. The team has fun after it wins. AP Photo/Kevin Terrell

Late Monday afternoon, we’ll see the obligatory shot of Peyton Manning walking into Lucas Oil Stadium in a sharp suit. For many big-time players, it’s the standard pre-uniform uniform.

In the case of Manning and the Colts, it’s fittingly symbolic.

Some teams may match Indianapolis’ business-like approach. I don’t know that anyone surpasses it.

Serious has produced a lot of success in the Manning era. Preparation and semi-stoic personalities are staple elements of the team’s culture.

Colts president Bill Polian is a serious guy. Head coach Jim Caldwell is a serious guy. Manning is a serious guy. Their humor tends to be understated or deadpanned. Manning’s known for telegenic sarcasm, not whoopee cushions and hand buzzers.

A good organization takes on the personality of people in those positions, and most of the Colts follow the lead of the team’s power trinity.

I’m not around the team daily, but I’ve spent a good bit of time with the Colts since 2008. Big personalities are a big part of the NFL. But even the Colts’ bubbliest guys -- Gary Brackett, Jeff Saturday, Pat McAfee -- often strive to be reserved. (I bet McAfee shows a lot less personality than he used to when he returns from a one-game suspension for an alcohol-related arrest.)

Players in Indianapolis sometimes try to be uninteresting and bland. It’s safer. It takes less time. It can’t become a distraction.

Given all that serious and calm, I sometimes wonder where having fun ranks in the team’s pyramid of success. It’s something I’ve pondered since training camp and something I think can be looked at, like chemistry, as a chicken-and-egg question.

Do you need success to have fun? Do you need to have fun to have success?

Caldwell gave me a nice chunk of time on the subject during training camp.

“I think success breeds fun,” said Caldwell, whose team meets the Houston Texans in an AFC South showdown on Monday night (ESPN, 8:30 ET). “Guys have to believe in what you’re doing, they have to be able to in execute it, and that’s hard work. It’s discipline, it’s fortitude, it’s toughness. All of those things -- there is no easy way to get that done.

“I really do believe the fun comes after. And you can enjoy it. These guys enjoy it and have passion for what we do. Passion, enthusiasm -- those are high on the list. That’s different than fun. And I think fun comes after winning. That’s my take on it.”

Weekly preparations can be monotonous. There are moments in an NFL day and times in an NFL week that laughter can help pass time better than anything. I am sure the Colts, like other teams, have plenty of those times.

But you won’t come across stories of the Colts dressing up rookies in Halloween costumes for a flight or of a position group deciding to all grow mustaches or mullets. You won’t find two of their top players doing a reality show on Versus or a star with a weekly fantasy football radio show.

Stuff like that just isn’t part of the way the Colts operate, and their fun comes in different, less visible, ways.

“I think when you think of the Colts, you think of the mellow-type guys who take everything business-like and serious,” second-year cornerback Jerraud Powers said. “But we’ve got a lot of jokes going on on this team. We’ve got a lot of different personalities. You see Dan Muir and Eric Foster and them in pregame warm-ups trying to see who can dance the best. You’ve got Peyton in the funny commercials and all that. They bring that type of excitement to the team.

“We have fun, we cut up and play around. But when it’s time for football, that’s what it is: It’s football.”

And while Caldwell might go into great detail about work and discipline, fortitude and toughness, he does talk fun too.

“When Coach Caldwell has a meeting, it’s ‘We’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do that, we’ve got to do this.’ But he always ends with ‘let’s have fun and win,’ ” Powers said. “People take it to heart … I think we have fun, just in our own way. You might not see a guy going out of the ordinary, trying to get attention. But we have fun out there.”

And laughs and smiles and jokes are hardly the only measure of whether football players are having fun.

Seeing a smart plan work is fun. Executing with a precision that frustrates an opponent is fun. Carrying a coaching tip into a game and seeing it work against an opponent is fun. (Cashing large paychecks must be fun, too.)

Clyde Christensen, a Tony Dungy disciple who is now Caldwell’s offensive coordinator, said he looks at the whole job and setting as fun.

“I just give them the same bullet points that I have with my life, you know?" Christensen said. "What a great privilege to make your living in football. I’m going to enjoy it, I’m going to enjoy every day, I’m going to enjoy practice, I’m going to enjoy the guys.

“Now I have found ... winning is really fun. But I’m going to enjoy it either way. I love doing it, I love coaching, I love teaching, I love being around these guys, I like the relationships; I enjoy all that’s part of it. It is an awful lot of fun to win a football game. It’s an awful good feeling to head into that locker room with the guys you did that with.”

Things differ from guy to guy. Christensen cited injured tight end Dallas Clark as a fun-all-the-time type. Caldwell knows he comes across differently, and freely admits he doesn’t relax much until his work is done. There might be a few weeks during the offseason when he really asks if he’s finished.

Everything else qualifies as prep time.

“Our guys enjoy playing. Just watch our guys when they take the field -- there is a lot of enthusiasm, they have a great time,” he said. “But I also believe this: the fun is in winning. In our preparation to do so, we have a good time.”