MIAMI – Team president Bill Polian walks quietly through the press box at Indianapolis Colts games, rarely stopping to talk for more than a few seconds.
But when he goes to his seat behind an area set off by a dark blue curtain, the show begins. Polian yells in loud bursts, screaming about an official's call or one of myriad things that bothers him.
On the road, Polian contains himself a little better. Usually seated among reporters, Polian does his best to keep it down. But the nervous twitches and occasional fist pumps portray the feelings below his hang-dog face that's accentuated by sandy-red hair.
Polian, the man who has assembled the Colts over the past nine years and who created the Buffalo teams that went to four consecutive Super Bowls to start the 1990s, is considered many things in NFL circles. In 19 seasons as a general manager or president, his teams have made the playoffs 13 times, the conference championship seven times and the Super Bowl four times.
Polian has replaced a number of significant starters over the years, including linebackers Mike Peterson, Marcus Washington and David Thornton. The biggest move came last offseason when the Colts let running back Edgerrin James go, turning the job over to the combination of Dominic Rhodes and first-round draft pick Joseph Addai.
He's a bright evaluator of talent and a shrewd protector of trade secrets, rarely revealing much of anything that goes into his decisions. He has a keen sense of finding driven players who might overcome their lack of size.
Colts coach Tony Dungy discussed that earlier this week when asked about linebacker Cato June and strong safety Bob Sanders, two of the emotional leaders of the Indy defense that has made huge strides in the postseason.
"We knew Cato would be an emotional leader," Dungy said. "Bill actually picked that one out. He saw Cato June play live a couple of times and said, ‘There's just something I like about this guy.'"
Same with Sanders.
"He's another one that Bill picked, a guy who played with such energy that he overcame whatever lack of size he had," Dungy said.
In some ways, that all makes perfect sense when you consider what Polian, trying to win his first title, is like personally. Polian also has a take-no-prisoners attitude in interviews. He has no tolerance for foolishness. His patience is onion skin and he's a case study in control freak.
Or as one of his players put it recently: "You wonder why only two guys [Dungy and quarterback Peyton Manning] ever really show up to talk with the media? A lot of guys are scared around here. You never know when you're going to say something that ticks [Polian] off. He'll just explode on anybody, anytime. Players, people who work around the building, anybody."
After the AFC championship game victory over the New England Patriots, Dungy was talking with a group of reporters following his press conference. Although Dungy will politely break up interviews when it's necessary, Polian eventually walked into the room and saw the situation.
Polian called over Colts media relations director Craig Kelley. They spoke quietly for a few seconds. Kelley then walked over and said to the group, "One more question."
Likewise, the Colts have been quietly antagonist with the NFL and the media during the weeks leading up to the AFC title game and now the Super Bowl. Manning was made available only once to reporters before the championship game. This week, the Colts didn't show up until Monday night and, when they did, none of their top stars like Manning or wide receivers Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne were made available to the media. All of that was despite the requests by the media and the league itself.
At the same time, some things about Polian are laughably apocryphal. Earlier this season, Polian was accused of shoving a New York Jets employee in a fit of anger. The story escalated into reports about Polian's famed temper, conference calls, letters of apology and even a request by New England for more security when the Colts visited.
Polian denied all of it in October during the NFL owners meetings and an NFL executive said the story was flatly wrong.
"None of the stuff that was reported ever happened," the executive said. "There was no conference call, no letter – The stuff about the security was the best. We don't even provide security at games [in the regular season] for stuff like that. If the Patriots were worried about Bill Polian, they could have hired more security.
"Now, does Bill have a temper? Yeah, but so do a lot of people in this league. This is a competitive business – But some of the stuff that gets reported out there is just a little silly."
But it does make for a good tale.
- Bill Polian