Colts COO Pete Ward: Reaching title game something to be proud of

The Indianapolis Colts lost the AFC Championship Game in January by 38 points and now have a "2014 AFC Finalist" banner hanging at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Some critics believe such a defeat isn't something a team should celebrate.

The Colts, though, disagree.

"It's very hard in the National Football League to win," Pete Ward, Indy's chief operating officer, told ESPN.com on Friday. "Not every team gets to make the playoffs. To make the playoffs, and more so consistently, is something to be proud of. It's an achievement to be proud of. A lot of teams would love to be in a position to recognize a playoff season regardless of how it ends.

"Pride is one reason. A second reason is it adds pageantry and color for the stadium for the fans. We had a very elaborate ceremony when we put up our Super Bowl banner back in 2007. It's not the same as a Super Bowl banner, but it's a recognition of a playoff season nonetheless."

Pictures of the banner surfaced Wednesday, when the Colts scrimmaged in front of fans at Lucas Oil Stadium. They quickly spread on social media and were met with significant backlash, especially in New England; it was the Patriots who beat the Colts 45-7 to advance to the Super Bowl in the now-infamous Deflategate game.

"I'm very surprised at what it's turned into," Ward said. "This is not a new thing we've just started. All the visiting, all the national media -- as well as media attending the [NFL scouting] combine and other major events -- have all seen our banners since 1987, have known we've done them. So it's interesting that it has suddenly become a news story. I know we're not the only team and franchise in sports that recognizes in-stadium achievement that doesn't involve a world championship."

The Colts also have "AFC Finalist" banners commemorating their conference title game appearances in 1995 and 2003. The Patriots, meanwhile, famously raised a "16-0 Regular Season Record" banner for 2007, even though their quest for perfection that season ended with a Super Bowl XLII loss to the New York Giants.

Information from ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells was used in this report.