Mathis was packing up after a season just ended. Hours earlier he played the only way he knows how – with all his heart – but the Wild Card game at Baltimore was a 24-9 setback.
Thus ended his tenth season as a Colt, yet the harsh end to a labor of love still is difficult.
“Because our lives are so structured during football season, it is quite a change,” said Mathis. “You never really can get used to it, unless, of course, you’re a Super Bowl winner.
“But 31 teams are disappointed with how their season ends. It’s something that you never get used to but at the same time, it’s something to build on and we have a great foundation.”
The foundation Mathis has is rock-solid. He started building it as soon as he became a Colt, and he has started 83 of 147 career regular-season games and nine of 16 playoff outings.
He is closing in on 500 tackles (489), and because he produces sacks at a prolific rate, Mathis (91.5) could join
Mathis ended a year of change last Sunday with a sack of Joe Flacco, bringing his playoff career mark to 4.5 takedowns.
The playoff berth may have surprised a number of onlookers, but not Mathis. He spoke during the year of Colts players not listening to anything outside the locker room, and he credits the internal mind-set for helping the team achieve an eighth 11-plus victory total in the last 10 years.
“Everybody’s bought in. From day one, everybody was on the same page and everybody had the same goal,” said Mathis. “We’re still striving and working towards that. (The season was) very special because from the jump people predicted us to be 1-15. So 11-5, it’s very special. We got the ball there from the jump and just (reaped) the benefits of our labor.”
Buying in meant Mathis learned a new position. He moved to linebacker in the club’s 3-4 scheme, and Chuck Pagano appreciated the professionalism.
“It takes a (heck) of a man with a lot of character to come in after 10, 11 years playing the same thing over and over again for so long and say all of the sudden, ‘Alright, you guys are going to outside linebacker and you’re going to be standing up and you’re going to be dropping in coverage and you’re going to be doing a bunch of different things,’” said Pagano. “It speaks to character. If they’re not the men that they are and the type of people they are, who knows where we’d be?”
Where Mathis ended up was with eight sacks, and it was the eighth season in his career he produced at least that number. He missed four games with injuries, and he has appeared in at least 12 games a season throughout his career.
Elected to a fifth Pro Bowl, Mathis should be able to play for a third time. He sat out the 2010 Pro Bowl because the Colts were in Super Bowl XLIV. Last year after gaining the honor as an alternate, he was not able to attend.
On his mind, though, is 2013. Observers may have a different preseason view of the club, but Mathis has dealt with high aspirations most of his career.
“Well the element of surprise is not there anymore,” said Mathis. “People know what we’ve got and they know when they play the Colts we’re coming fighting.
“We come to play the game. Hopefully we don’t have those 1-15 predictions from outside sources, but really all that matters is that we believe in each other. We know what we’re capable of doing.”