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March 7, 2000
And the Winner Is: Colts Awards for the 1999 Season
By Mike Devitt
We live in a society that likes attention, which may be one reason there seems to be an abundance of awards and award-related programs lately. There are awards for television shows and movies; awards for musicians and playwrights; there's even an annual award which is handed out just for TV commercials. The next thing you know, they'll have an awards show just for the awards themselves.
Following that trend, I believe that there are certain members of the Colts who should be singled out for their performances over the past season. Not all of them are awards for deeds well done -- in fact, some of them are downright sad -- but the fact is that sometimes, people deserve recognition for what they've done, no matter how good or bad.
So without further ado, here are my Colts awards for the 1999 season. The winners (and their respective awards) are as follows:
The He Could Sell Ice to An Eskimo Award: to team president Bill Polian, who said, "I don't think you can get well in free agency" last February, then proceeded to sign Lake Dawson, Chad Cota, Cornelius Bennett, Chad Bratzke, Stoney Case, Sale Isaia, Darick Holmes, Steve Muhammad, Jeff Brady, Steve Walsh, Jamie Wilson, Spencer Reid, Tito Wooten and Thomas Randolph -- all in free agency. If Polian ever retires from football, he'll make a fortune as a car salesman.
The Golden Toe Award: To kicker Mike Vanderjagt, who shook off an early season slump and finished with a flurry, converting a team record 26 consecutive field goals en route to a league-high 145 points. Also winner of the "Best Dressed" and "Most Likely to Become a Runway Model When He Retires" awards.
The Homer Simpson Award: To free safety Jason Belser, who finished second on the team with 10 passes defended but dropped at least three sure interceptions during the season. Including the postseason, it's been 23 games since the last time Belser picked off a pass. Doh!
The Best Use of Multiple Two-Letter Words in a Colts Broadcast Award: To radio commentators Mark Herrmann and Ted Marchibroda, who took the art of covering a football game to new heights with such insightful commentary as "um," "er," "ah" and "oh."
The Open Mouth, Insert Foot Award: To center Jay Leeuwenburg, who popped off about the Colts on a nationally syndicated radio show, failing to address team president Bill Polian with the proper amount of respect and listing a number of teams he'd rather play for instead of Indianapolis. With less than two weeks before the start of the season, Leeuwenburg was suddenly and unexplicably let by the Colts. He eventually signed with that vaunted powerhouse, the Cincinnati Bengals, for even less money than he was making in Indianapolis.
The American Kennel Club Award: To broadcaster Bob Lamey, who appeared to ask every Colt player one or more questions about their dog, cat, lizard or other miscellaneous animal during his series of training camp interviews.
The Tremayne, We Hardly Knew Ya Award: To running back Tremayne Stephens, who was signed by the Colts on September 15th and then released by the team two days later. He eventually signed with his old team, the San Diego Chargers, who had originally release him in August.
The Trivial Pursuit Award: To wide receiver Kio Sanford, who was waived on August 12th to make room on the Colts roster for a certain rookie draft pick who had signed a contract earlier in the day. His name? Edgerrin James.
The "I Got Your Keyshawn Right Here" Award: to Marvin Harrison, who proved in 1999 that he (and not Keyshawn Johnson) was the best wide receiver taken in the 1996 draft. The numbers don't lie: although he was picked 19 spots later than Johnson in the first round of the draft, Harrison has more touchdowns (33 to 31) and receiving yards (4,141 to 4,108) than Johnson, despite playing in two fewer games. Harrison's also had to deal with a multitude of quarterbacks over his four years, catching touchdown passes from such memorable names as Kerwin Bell and Kelly Holcomb while with Indianapolis.
The Golden Hurricane Award: to Steve Walsh, who continued the trend set by fellow University of Miami alums (and backup Colts quarterbacks) Craig Erickson and Gino Torretta with a pair of lackluster appearances late in the season and a quarterback rating of 22.4. Hey, at least this one didn't cost the team a first-round pick in the process.
The Lou Gehrig Award: to Bradford Banta, for doing the same thing -- long snapping the ball on punts, extra points and field goals -- without missing a beat over the past six seasons. Most of the time, the long snapper's name is only mentioned when he does something wrong. So why is it you hardly hear Banta's name called during a game? Because he does his job so well.
The Stay-Puft Award: To cornerback Jeff Burris, who seemed ready to put a woeful 1998 behind him early on but became more and more shaky as the season wore on. By season's end, he was getting burned as routinely as a campfire marshmallow.
The Roberto Duran Award: To wide receiver Jerome Pathon. A former world champion boxer, Duran was nicknamed "manos de piedra" ("hands of stone") for dropping his opponents. Pathon is getting the same reputation for dropping passes.
The Worth Every Penny Award: To Adam Meadows, who endeared himself to Colts fans around the nation when he signed for less money in 1997 so that he wouldn't miss any of the team's training camp. In three seasons, he went from being an undersized, out of place rookie to arguably one of the best right tackles in the league, allowing only 5.5 quarterback sacks over the past 32 games. His reward? A five-year, $20 million dollar deal from the Colts earlier this month. If there's one guy who deserved a raise -- and a long-term deal -- it's him.
The Three Strikes and You're Out Award: To Shawn King, who was suspended by the NFL after violating the league's drug policy for the third time since 1996. Now the Colts will be saddled with the remaining two years on his contract at an estimated $1.2 million a season. What a waste.
The Jim McMahon Award: To E.G. Green, who is almost as likely to break a bone as he is a long gain. In just two seasons, he's already missed nine games due to assorted knee, ankle and elbow injuries. Word is that next season, the Colts are going to dress him in a suit of armor to keep him from getting hurt.
The Comeback Player of the Year Award: To tight end Ken Dilger, whose career appeared headed for oblivion after a pair of subpar seasons in 1997 and 1998. Forced to stay in and block for the team's woeful offensive line, Dilger's receiving numbers -- and his ability to catch -- suffered greatly over the past two years, catching only 58 passes for the Colts in 1997 and 98 combined.
With improved blocking from the line, however, Dilger became a more integral part of the offense as the season wore on. In the last five weeks of the 1999 season, in fact, Dilger caught 18 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown and played a huge role in the team's wins over Miami and Cleveland. He finished the 1999 campaign with 40 receptions for 479 yards and two touchdowns, his third 40-catch season in five years, and earned a new five-year, $15 million contract to remain with Indianapolis.
The Rookie of the Year Award: No, it's not Edgerrin James. In my opinion, it's wideout Terrence Wilkins, who had a much more difficult time making the team as an undersized, undrafted rookie out of Virginia. For everyone who said "Edgerrin who?" on draft day, an even greater number of people said "Terrence who?" when Wilkins made the team's opening roster. By season's end, fans across the country knew his name quite well.
While James was busy grabbing headlines and showing everyone what a genius Bill Polian was for selecting him instead of Ricky Williams, Wilkins quietly worked his way up the depth chart at wide receiver, first beating out Jerome Pathon for the #3 spot and then taking over as the team's other starter when E.G. Green went down with an injury. By the end of the year, he was one of the Colts' focal points on offense, finishing the season with 42 catches for 565 yards and four touchdown receptions. He also racked up another 1,522 all purpose return yards, scored touchdowns on a kick return, punt return and fumble recovery, and did nearly everything but drive the team's bus to the stadium. Say what you want about James, but pound for pound (and dollar for dollar), Wilkins may be the most exciting player the Colts have.
The Most Valuable Player Award: To Cornelius Bennett. Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James all had outstanding seasons for the Colts in 1999. In any other year, it'd be hard not to consider any of them the team's MVP. Of all the moves the Colts made this past offseason, however, none was greater than the addition of Cornelius Bennett.
Sure, Bennett did a lot to help the Colts on the field. He finished with 105 tackles (including a team-high 33 solo tackles), led the team with five fumble recoveries, and came in third behind Chad Bratzke and Ellis Johnson with five quarterback sacks. He even had six defended passes, the most of any non-defensive back on the team.But for everything he did to make the Colts a winner on the field, he was that much more off of it. Leadership, experience, unity, a will to win -- this is what he brought to the clubhouse, concepts and ideas that eight-figure signing bonuses and flashy moves simply can't make up for. He filled the void left when old pros like Jeff Herrod and Tony Siragusa departed and brought respectability and a sense of teamwork back to a team that had suffered consecutive 13-loss seasons in 1997 and 1998. Even if he never plays another down for Indianapolis, the effect he'll have on his teammates -- young and old alike -- will not be soon forgotten.
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A brief note of thanks to those of you who asked when (or if) I'd be writing an article like this anytime soon. These are the types of articles writers pine for -- a subject where you can let your imagination breathe a little and not be stuck to the sometimes too-rigid guidelines of writing down just the facts. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
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