With This Ring…
…the 2006 season is officially complete.
It was enough to make even the toughest NFL players giddy. The blue horseshoe. The Lombardi Trophy in the middle of the Colts’ logo. Even a red ruby to represent the figurative blood shed by the Colts over the course of the season. And, of course, the Super Bowl rings were all handed out Wednesday night on — what else? — a silver platter. Get past the 50 diamonds and synthetic blue sapphire horseshoe — if your eyes allow it — and the Indianapolis Colts’ Super Bowl ring is much more about the simple words and symbols found in the subtleties of the design. There’s the word “Faith” on one shank, or side, of the ring. Faith “gives you the strength to have the perseverance to move forward even after many disappointments,” Irsay explained. On the opposite shank is the phrase “Our time.” That was the Colts’ theme as they headed into the playoffs. Much less conspicuous, but just as meaningful, is a dot of red enamel found on each of the players’ rings, forming one rivet in a small horseshoe. The red symbolizes a drop of blood, emblematic of players “leaving it all on the field,” according to Pete Ward, the team’s senior executive vice president. “There’s obviously some bling,” Irsay said. “But we wanted it to have some beautiful simplicity and we wanted to feature the horseshoe. The symbol of the horseshoe is so universal, so powerful.”
In discussing the ring at length, Irsay kept returning to that word: symbol. “That’s the powerful thing about it,” he said. “In life we use symbols . . . the art of symbols and reminders are part of our culture.” The team did not release a list of ring recipients, but all 53 players who were on the active roster for the Super Bowl, along with the eight-man practice squad and players on the injured reserve list, received the deluxe, “first-tier” ring. It’s priced at approximately $5,000, the maximum allowed by the NFL for Super Bowl rings. Top executives and other team officials also received that ring. Some employees were given a second-tier ring, a scaled-down version of the original priced between $1,500 and $2,000, while others received a third-tier ring that, according to Irsay, “is more like a class ring.” All were made by Herff Jones, a local jeweler.
“To me,” Irsay said, “it was trying to take into account everyone that I thought should be given consideration. You look at years of service, things like that.” Irsay’s mother, Harriett, was on hand Wednesday night. So were some people who contributed to the championship season but are no longer with the team, including wide receiver Brandon Stokley, linebacker Cato June and assistant coaches Leslie Frazier and Diron Reynolds. Irsay picked up the tab — flight and hotel costs — for everyone who came in from out of town.
Three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney said the design, courtesy of team owner Jim Irsay and his wife, was precisely what he envisioned. When they left the downtown theater’s ballroom, players were so excited they didn’t know what to do. “I might sleep with it tonight,” said Freeney, one of the NFL’s most-feared pass rushers. “I think today is the first day it really hits. Now it hits home and tomorrow is a new day. So it’s time to get another one.”
He dreamed about the moment since he can remember. Once it happened, once Bob Sanders slipped the ring around his finger, the Colts’ Pro Bowl safety said he could only think of one thing. Do it again. “Once you do it, it just makes you a lot more hungry to do it again,” Sanders said. Such was the feeling among Colts players Wednesday night. Said Sanders, “It’s just amazing. It’s a dream come true. You never expect it to be like this. The whole presentation, the ceremony – how they brought it in, was just amazing. I’m blessed. We’re all blessed. It’s a moment you all dream about. . . .The moment finally got here. I always thought about how it would feel once it happened. It just makes you want to do it again and again and again.”
It was, for many players, the culmination of a lifetime goal. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was seven years old,” Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. And Wayne, like many, said it made him think of the future as well as the past. “It’s worth it,” Wayne said. “It’s a great feeling. Everyone’s excited. I feel like a new man right now. “We’ve got to keep it going and figure out a way to get it done next year.” Said Wayne, “It was great. We knew we were going to get the rings. The big thing was everyone came in with the smiles and loving that we were here together. It just goes to show this team is together. The camaraderie has been here forever. To get the ring just solidifies the whole thing.”
“It’s a little emotional,” Colts middle linebacker and 2006 defensive captain Gary Brackett said. “You see from the video all we had to go through during the season, the perseverance – all of it culminated by the rings. It was a beautiful event, man. A great feeling. I guess I’m still a little bit shocked. I feel really blessed to be fortunate enough to be on this team, with this great leadership. All we’ve been through the last couple of seasons, knocking on the door, knocking on the door – finally opening the door and seeing what’s on the other side, it’s a beautiful feeling.”
Rob Morris, who started the final seven games last season at strongside linebacker, called the night “awesome.” “After the Super Bowl I was like, ‘Now what? I’m hungry,’’’ Morris said. “It was nice to win and somebody said, ‘Wait until you get the ring.’ They were right. It really sets in.” Of the ceremony, Morris said. “You kind figured Mr. (Colts Owner Jim) Irsay was going to do it up real nice, which he did. I don’t think anyone was let down.”
Colts center Jeff Saturday called it, “a great night. We had a great time seeing guys. Everybody enjoyed it and the event was first-class, all around. All the pictures, it was a great way to finish up the season.” Saturday, like many players, said the moment when the ring slid on his finger was memorable. “It’s a bunch of emotions,” he said. “You’ve worked for it. You see it on your finger and it represents how hard all your teammates have worked to get to one destination and you finally made it. It’s a pretty great feeling.
Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning kept a low profile after picking up the one personal trophy that eluded him through his first eight seasons in the NFL. “It only gives you about a month and a half to wear it because then next season starts,” Manning said last week. “I think you really can’t wear it after that or you’re just sort of hanging onto last season.”
Moments after receiving his ring, team owner Jim Irsay said the moment was still sinking in. “It was incredible,” Irsay said. “The ring is what it’s all about. There was a lot of emotion in the room tonight, as there should be. I couldn’t be happier. It was a special evening – for the whole Colts family, it was special.”
Since taking over as owner, Irsay has built the Colts into one of the NFL’s elite franchises, hiring Bill Polian as President in 1998. The Colts drafted quarterback Peyton Manning shortly thereafter, and in 2002, hired Tony Dungy as head coach. The Colts have made seven playoff appearances since 1999, winning the last four AFC South Championships. From 2003-2005, they lost in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champion each season, losing at New England in 2003 and 2004 and at home to Pittsburgh in 2005. Those moments and others, Irsay said, made Wednesday night special, too. “It’s really about enjoying the journey,” Irsay said. “You realize in life as you get older some of the things that help you grow are the more difficult things. Also, the difficult things you have to deal with with the bitter losses sometimes make the victory that much sweeter. It’s really a culmination of all that. It really feels great to the steward of the joy, so to speak. That’s my most enjoyable aspect – to see all this joy, to see dreams come true.” Irsay mentioned not only Dungy and Polian, but longtime Colts players such as wide receiver Marvin Harrison and Tarik Glenn, first-round draft selections by the team in 1996 and 1997, respectively. He also said the night was special because of the presence of many longtime Colts employees, some of whom have been with the organization since before the 1984 move to Indianapolis. “That’s what makes it so special,” he said. “I think about those who aren’t here, also. I think about my dad. Everyone thinks about people who didn’t quite make it in their bodies to this day, but we know they’re with us. Obviously, that’s something where it’s very retrospective in your mind. You take it all in and you start getting ready to defend and get ready to do it again.”
Gold, studded ring on his finger, Dungy – who will enter his sixth season as the Colts’ head coach next season – posed for pictures in the middle of the Indiana Roof Ballroom. He hugged friends and shared laughs with players past and present, family and coworkers. Through it all he said his emotions were never far from the surface. This night, he said, was about a group that achieved together. And he said being together again was what mattered on Wednesday. “I’m still so emotional,” Dungy said moments after the Colts received their championship rings in a private ceremony in downtown Indianapolis. “Just being here together, all of us, just reminds me how great this group is. The memories of the season, and the accomplishment, seeing the guys get their rewards . . .I’m so proud to work with (Colts Owner and Chief Executive Officer) Jim (Irsay). I’m so proud to be these guys’ coach – I don’t know what to say.” Wednesday night, he said, was a night he’ll long remember recognizing a team he and Colts fans will never forget. “It’s the symbolism of the sense of accomplishment,” Dungy said. “You start every year trying to get there. You know how difficult it is. When you achieve it, you’re just so proud of the guys, getting done what everyone wants to accomplish.”
Polian, the Colts’ President since 1998, helped lead the Buffalo Bills to three Super Bowls as that organization’s General Manager in 1990, 1991 and 1992. The Bills lost each of those Super Bowls, and the Colts’ 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in January marked Polian’s first time as a member of a Super Bowl champion. “Worth the wait,” Polian said, smiling. “Absolutely worth the wait.” Polian, a five-time NFL Executive of the Year, said the ring symbolized what the night celebrated – not any one individual. Rather, it was about a team, a season, and a group of people working as one. “It’s a tangible symbol of everything you work so hard for,” Polian said. “This was a magnificent night. It was really the first time everybody in the organization has been together under one roof since we left for the Super Bowl. It’s special in that regard.” Polian also noted the presence of several players from last year’s team who have since signed elsewhere as free agents, players such as running back Dominic Rhodes, linebacker Cato June, cornerback Nick Harper, cornerback Jason David and wide receiver Brandon Stokley. All attended Wednesday night’s ceremony. “It’s special to have all of our players back, the guys who won it,” Polian said. “So many of them came back and that’s a tribute to Jim Irsay, to Tony and the organization. It’s just an incredible, incredible night.”