INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts don’t generally say a whole lot. Last week while preparing for the Jets, they turned it down a notch. Now, with Super Bowl XLIV approaching, they’ll really scale things back.
Peyton Manning will lead a majority of his answers with “I can’t really get into that,” or one of several alternative versions of it, mixing in good humor in a way that helps offset the dearth of actual information.
We’ll try to ask the Colts about trends, matchups, X's and O's and philosophy.
And they will tell us only what they’ve predetermined is sufficient and allowable, leaving us wanting. It’s as much a part of their strategy as they head toward Miami as their plan to protect Manning or their methods for slowing down New Orleans Saints star Reggie Bush.
“I think you’ve probably gotten a little feel for me as time has gone on,” Colts head coach Jim Caldwell said recently when asked a question about the shaping of his philosophies. “I’m not certain you get a great feel for me, because we certainly don’t allow that at times.”
So reserved are the Colts, that admission amounted to news.
From my time around the team, I’ve concluded this sort of shutdown mode -- the shield they raise -- has four sources/purposes:
It starts with Bill Polian. The team president is a great conversationalist on broad topics, league issues and player résumés. But try to walk him down the wrong avenue -- be it about a strategy or something he considers created outside team headquarters -- and he’ll respond with a quality scowl. Caldwell and Manning aren’t scowlers, but they are in line with the philosophy and help make sure it trickles down to everyone else. Nobody’s nasty about it. They generally have a polite way of not sharing.
They fear giving away any useful information that could somehow be put to use by an opponent.
The less they say, the more humble they come across. And it’s important to them that they not be viewed as brash in any way.
Polian and Manning might be allergic to cork -- their team has severe bulletin board aversion. The Colts want to ensure nothing they say lands on a photocopy machine in New Orleans, then gets passed out in the Saints' locker room.
If you want to see the full effect of these elements in action, watch and listen to youngsters on offense over the next two weeks. This week will be somewhat normal in Indianapolis. Next week in Miami will be unlike anything they've experienced, especially at Tuesday's media day. Receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie, guard Kyle DeVan and running back Donald Brown might break a sweat as they attempt to be as bland as that dry toast and warm ginger ale you had after your last bout with the flu.
Center Jeff Saturday is a thoughtful, well-spoken veteran completely plugged into the plan.
“I think it’s common sense,” he said. “I think what we do offensively and what we do as a team is nobody’s business but our own until we get on the field. It doesn’t help us telling teams anything or talking about what we do or what we have done.
“They’ve got film. They can go watch it. That’s the way I’ve always looked at it. Go look at it and you decide what we’re doing. There is no reason for us to talk about it.”
So what are players advised to do in interview situations?
And how do the outspoken players walk the line between being a good interview and not crossing into territory that could get them in trouble with their quarterback or boss?
“You hear it whenever you get here,” left tackle Charlie Johnson said. “You have the meeting about how to talk to the media and it’s just one of those things you just kind of learn -- just be smart with what you say.
“You just really make sure you know what you’re saying. Make sure you think before you speak. After a game if you’re angry about something, just don’t speak off the top of your head. Calm down and think about it. Think about what you want to say and how you want to convey this team in the media.”
The contrast last week between the reserved Caldwell and his unabashed counterpart -- New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan -- was stark. Ryan’s confidence and swagger drew the headlines, even prompting one writer to hope it might be contagious, while Caldwell won a game bigger than any news conference.
Reggie Wayne would seem to rate as the most “dangerous” Colt. He’s productive and confident and doesn’t mind attention.
Like his teammates, he speaks purposefully. But he came to Indianapolis from the University of Miami. At The U, learning to not be shy in front of a microphone is not a piece of the core curriculum.
But he said the organization has never tried to handle him.
“I’m going to say what I feel, I’m going to have fun, I enjoy life,” he said. “So there is no sense in me sitting back with my mouth sealed when I feel like I’ve got something to say. I’m  years old, hopefully I can live 70 more years, but while I am here, I am going to enjoy it.
“Some guys may be soft-spoken, not say much. But I feel like if I have something to say, I’m going to say it. … I’ve never ever once in my nine years had them say, 'Don’t say this, don’t say that.' I don’t think I say anything bad anyway. So, I’m cool.”
There is a follow-the-leader system in most locker rooms. And the Colts’ biggest stars send loud messages: Manning is measured but funny and cordial, often calling questioners by name. Receiver Marvin Harrison, who was let go after the 2008 season, was beyond reserved, rarely talking to the media.
Ryan Lilja, another Indianapolis offensive lineman, said he simply follows the course set by Polian and Manning.
“That’s our leader up top and that’s our leader in the locker room, those guys set the tone for the locker room, no matter how big or small,” he said. “It seems to work. Smarter guys than I do figure that stuff out, I just do what I am told.
“Everybody knows how powerful the media is. Obviously you guys are a 24-7 deal and what’s the point of tipping your hand too much? They’ve found something successful, they’ve kept it and they want to hold on to it.”