Tony Dungy will soon have a decision to make, and some explaining to do.

If you think like an NFL head coach, the decision really isn’t that hard. By some accounts, it’s one Dungy has already made.

The explaining part may take a bit longer.

As in, what possible reason could there be to give up a chance to make history when it’s seemingly yours for the taking?

Try not to answer this one too quick. We know about that Super Bowl thing and what’s at stake.

But please tell us Jim Sorgi isn’t going to be behind center when the Colts take aim at only the second undefeated season in the NFL. Tell us Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison won’t be sitting on the bench while the 1972 Miami Dolphins pop the champagne to celebrate yet another failed attempt to break their 17-0 mark.

Whatever you do, tell us you’re not going to play games with history.

These Colts are way too good for that.

“Everybody is way, way ahead on this,” Dungy insisted after the Colts manhandled the Pittsburgh Steelers. “We don’t even have our division won yet.”

Technically, that’s true. But that doesn’t stop us from seeing trouble ahead.

And, football coaches being football coaches, you can be sure Dungy already knows what he’s going to do as the Colts move toward the final month of what is rapidly becoming a magical season.

He danced around it Monday night much the way James danced around Steelers tacklers, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t given it a lot of thought. At some point over the next five games, the coach in Dungy is going to want to rest his regulars for a playoff run.

He’s going to want to do it because the Super Bowl is the Super Bowl, and that’s the only thing NFL players and coaches are supposed to aspire to win.

Leave the undefeated season and their place in history to others, if need be.

They just want the ring.

Dungy said as much the other day when he told SI.com he would likely rest some players when the time comes. He’d rather risk blowing a shot at perfection than a chance to hold the Super Bowl trophy aloft in Detroit.

“We’d be playing to win, but we may be playing some different players,” he said.

Playing to win, of course, is admirable. And so far the Colts have been awfully good at it, dusting off the Steelers in a one-sided game Monday night to put win No. 11 in their 2005 NFL season account.

But playing to win with the best quarterback – make that the best player – in the NFL is one thing. Playing to win behind a second-year backup who hasn’t thrown a pass all year is quite another.

Unfortunately, that may be what happens, say in game 15 against Seattle or the regular-season finale against Arizona when the home-field advantage is already wrapped up. That’s what happened last year when Dungy replaced Manning with Sorgi after one series in the final game against Denver and the Colts got drubbed, only to come back and beat the Broncos in the first game of the playoffs.

There was little at stake in that game. Imagine the outcry if Dungy fields his second team when the Colts have a chance to do what only one NFL team has done.

You’ll have to imagine it because Dungy so far is making believe he doesn’t.

“There’s a proverb in the Bible: You shouldn’t look ahead and make plans and do hypotheticals,” Dungy said. “We will play the way we’ve always played. Last year, we were in a situation where it was more beneficial to rest our guys. We’ll play it out.”

They must love hearing that down in Miami, where the former Dolphins, who drink a toast when the season’s final undefeated team loses, are growing increasingly nervous.

Because the way the Colts looked Monday night against the Steelers, they aren’t going to be beaten as long as Dungy has the foresight to keep the first team in.

This was supposed to be their toughest remaining test. But, from Manning’s opening 80-yard touchdown pass to Harrison to the defense that slammed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger around all night, they dominated on both sides of the ball.

“Indianapolis misunderstood me,” said Roethlisberger, who has missed three games because of knee surgery. “I said I wanted to knock the rust off, but they knocked the rust off.”

The win made the Colts the 11th team in 71 years to win their first 11 games, a stat that is only good for trivia games on a cold Indiana night. But Tennessee is almost a gimme at home on Sunday, and then the countdown can really begin.

By the time the Colts head to Seattle for a Christmas Eve game, the chances are increasingly good they’ll be 14-0.

Then it really gets interesting.

Dungy has shown so far that he’s an awfully good coach. But let’s see what kind of historian he wants to be.

The last two games will likely mean nothing for the Colts’ playoff hopes. They could mean everything, though if these Colts want to secure their spot among the NFL’s greatest teams ever.

Dungy owes them – and their fans – a chance at that ring, too.

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org


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