|Manning, Colts get ready for 1st trip to Oakland's 'Black Hole'|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 13 December 2007 00:15|
On Sunday, Manning and the Indianapolis Colts face a new challenge. For the first time in Manning's brilliant 10-year career, the Colts are going west to the NFL's wildest venue, Oakland.
``It's kind of strange,'' Manning said Wednesday. ``I've played them here three times, but this will be my first trip out there.''
The Raiders are a rare blip on Manning's impeccable resume. In three games against Oakland, Manning is 1-2 with eight touchdowns and five interceptions while producing only one passer rating over 100, all in the RCA Dome.
Now he must perform in the only AFC stadium he hasn't played in, the infamous ``Black Hole.''
Thanks to a scheduling quirk, the Colts haven't traveled to Oakland since 1995, the year before their longest-tenured player, receiver Marvin Harrison, was drafted. They haven't won a road game in this series since 1986, when the Raiders were still in Los Angeles, and the Colts' last victory at the Coliseum came in 1971 when they were defending their first Super Bowl crown.
Since then, the teams' images have changed.
The Raiders (4-9), regarded as one of the league's best teams through the 1970s and '80s, have struggled most of this decade while trying to revitalize their successful tradition.
The Colts (11-2), in contrast, are on the verge of becoming the first team in league history to win 12 or more games in five consecutive seasons and can wrap up their fifth straight division title with a win Sunday. An Indy win and a Pittsburgh loss would give the Colts the No. 2 seed and a coveted first-round bye in the AFC playoffs.
Coach Tony Dungy understands those records and Indy's recent momentum will not matter to Oakland fans, who enjoy distracting opponents with their spiked shoulder pads, nicknames like ``Darth Raider'' and genuine hostility, nor to a Raiders team that still prides itself on the team's old motto - ``Just win, baby.''
``You have to really work to focus on the field and you can't get caught up in what happens off the field before the game, after the game, those kinds of things,'' Dungy said. ``You have to just really zero in on their team and that's hard to do. That's part of it, too, especially if you don't play out there a lot.''
Dungy also knows how difficult the challenge can be.
When Dungy last took a team to Oakland in 1999, his Tampa Bay Buccaneers had won six straight and appeared headed toward the NFC championship game. They ended up enduring a humiliating 45-0 loss.
It's a point Dungy has reinforced with his players this week.
``It was almost the same situation we're in now and we lost 45-0 to a team that wasn't in the playoff race but might have been right around .500,'' he said. ``I referred to it after the Jacksonville game last year (a 44-17 Colts loss), and Jacksonville looked beautiful compared to that.''
If the rowdy crowd isn't disconcerting enough, the Colts again will have to deal with a short-handed lineup.
Dungy said Wednesday that Harrison, the perennial Pro Bowler, was likely to miss his eighth consecutive game. The Colts are also likely to be without three defensive starters; defensive tackle Raheem Brock (ribs), defensive end Robert Mathis (two sprained knees) and safety Antoine Bethea (sprained left knee). Their absences Sunday would mean Indy would play with only two starters from last season's Super Bowl defense.
But the Colts have overcome these issues before, and Manning is convinced they can do it again.
``It's a tough place to play, every game on the road is tough,'' Manning said. ``There's a lot on the line, and that's what we want to stress to the young players. When you have an opportunity to seize the opportunity, you have to seize it.''
Especially in Oakland, where the crowd can be almost as wild as the game itself.
``I think our guys understand how tough it is going out there to the West Coast and going out and playing well,'' Dungy said. ``I know what it's like going out there, going out there with a good team and still not being able to come back with a win. We're forewarned, and I think we'll be ready to go.''