stay the course

Stay the Course

Image © Los Angeles Times 2014

The Colts left Baltimore in 1984 when Jim Irsay’s father moved the club to Indianapolis via a caravan of moving vans. We saw footage of those vans continuously the weekend the Colts played the Ravens during our playoff run in 2006, when I was head coach and Clyde Christensen was quarterbacks coach. This matchup was being portrayed as a “revenge” game for the Ravens, but Clyde and I took our customary pre-game walk anyway, in Baltimore’s picturesque Inner Harbor. We weren’t looking for any excitement, but we weren’t sure how worked up the fans might have become about this game. On our walk, most of the people we saw greeted us and wished us good luck. But the ride to the stadium was a different story.

We’ve played in front of raucous crowds in Philly, New York, and elsewhere, but this crowd was vicious. As our bus approached the stadium parking lot, it was obvious that these fans, dressed in purple Ravens gear, were not the same people we had seen in the Inner Harbor. Fortunately, I had warned our guys. I knew we would see WWE wrestling-style introductions, with their defense coming out through smoke to whip the crowd into a frenzy. But eventually, there would be a kickoff, and it wouldn’t matter how much the crowd was pumped up. The crowd wouldn’t be playing. After the opening kickoff, this was going to be a normal, 60-minute game. It was, and we controlled it. But I’d have to make a difficult decision in order to the stay the course.

Baltimore had the league’s top defense, so our offense wasn’t able to get many big plays. We had a number of solid drives but had to settle for field goals. For the second week in a row, however, our defense played lights out, and we led 12-6 in the middle of the fourth quarter. We had the ball and were trying to run out the clock. We relied on our run game and held the ball for over seven minutes, throwing just one pass. We took the clock down to 0:26 as the Ravens called their last time-out.

Difficult Decisions

We faced fourth down from Baltimore’s 17 yard line, and I had a decision to make. I had been thinking about this moment for the entire drive, knowing it might come to this. If we ran the ball again but didn’t make the first down, they would have to go more than 80 yards to score. But we only had a six-point lead, and the fluke touchdown would beat us. If we kicked a field goal, the game would be over. They wouldn’t be able to score twice in the last 26 seconds to overcome our nine-point lead. But disaster still could strike if they blocked our field goal attempt and ran it back for a game-winning touchdown. It was not unthinkable. Ed Reed, one of the Ravens’ great players, had blocked many kicks in his career.

We had the best kicker in the game, Adam Vinatieri. Still, the memory of my decision to kick deep to New England’s Bethel Johnson in 2003, resulting in a touchdown return, flashed through my mind. I’ve learned that our past often prepares us for the future if we allow it to.  God provides us with opportunities to learn from those things that had happened to us. I remembered the New England game in 2003, and I remembered Herm’s “Miracle in the Meadowlands.” Did I want to give the Ravens that remote chance to score quickly? People sometimes ask me if I pray during the games. I certainly do, and this was one of those instances. I prayed for wisdom.

I decided to kick the field goal. Situations like this are exactly why we signed Adam. He nailed the kick, tying a playoff record with his fifth field goal of the night. It was not until the next day, when I was watching the film, that I saw how close Reed had actually come to blocking it. Adam had gotten the ball up quickly, just over the tips of Ed’s outstretched hands.

The flight home after a road win is always fun, but this trip was extra special. We were headed to the AFC Championship game and celebrated on the plane.

Sound off: What’s a difficult decision you’ve had to make that worked out well for you in the end?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What is the most difficult decision you have ever made?”