By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — It’s often been said that familiarity often breeds contempt. While the on-field rivalry between the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans hasn’t reached the contempt stage as of yet, it is a fierce one.
Only two franchises have won AFC South crowns since the division came into existence in 2002 — the Colts six times and the Titans twice. Tennessee was the AFC South’s top dog in 2002 and won the division again last year. Indianapolis now rules the roost, having annexed the division title a week ago.
The Colts are 11-0 for the season and have won 20 regular-season games in a row dating back to last year. Their last loss? To Tennessee, of course (31-21). That occurred on Oct. 27, 2008 .
Now throw in the fact that three former Colts are now key players for the Titans — offensive tackle Jake Scott, outside linebacker David Thornton and cornerback Nick Harper. All three began their NFL careers in Indianapolis.
There have been a smattering of former Tennessee players signing with the Colts, such as outside linebacker Rocky Boiman and wide receiver/kick returner Courtney Roby. The only former Titans player currently with Indianapolis is quarterback Shane Boyd, who is on the team’s practice squad.
Of the three former Colts now playing for Tennessee, Thornton was perhaps the biggest loss. Indianapolis was unable to keep the former North Carolina linebacker when he became a free agent in March of 2006. He played four seasons with the Colts.
Harper followed a year later and then Scott made the move south prior to last season. All three enjoy facing their old team twice a year.
“I talk to David [Thornton] a lot. I know he’s excited about coming back [to Indianapolis],” Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett said late last week. “I haven’t talked as much to Nick [Harper] or Jake [Scott]. But I’m pretty sure that they feel the same way.”
Brackett, though, said that once the pregame pleasantries have concluded, everybody concerned will have just one thing in mind — winning the game.
“We’re all good friends. They were good teammates here in Indianapolis. And they’ve been good leaders down there as well. They’ve taken what they learned here and that’s helped them with the Titans,” Brackett said. “They’re all three good locker room guys. Class people.
“We’ll talk before the game and we’ll talk after the game. But once the game starts, it’s going to be business as usual for everybody concerned. They want to win to keep their [five-game winning] streak alive. We want to keep winning. It’s a divisional game. It’s a big game for both teams. That’s what we’ll all be working towards. Winning the game.”
Colts coach Jim Caldwell said that having three former Indianapolis players on the Tennessee roster just adds a little bit of spice to the overall flavor of the game.
“It’s always been a heated rivalry. [Tennessee’s] teams have been really outstanding. They play extremely well, so all the games have been hard-fought battles. Yet, you can couple that with our having some guys on their team that certainly know our way of doing things,” Caldwell said.
“They have gone on to help the Titans excel as well. That always makes things a little more interesting. The games are usually hard-fought, and the guys love playing in it as well.”