Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I haven't been this inspired by the Indianapolis Colts since the 1995-1996 team. That's when Harbaugh (my all-time favorite Colts QB) and company gritted their way into the playoffs, and managed to get into the AFC Championship Game. That was the little team that could, relatively devoid of star power and dependent upon a quarterback who had his own mystique. They did it the hard way, man. Road win in San Diego. Road win in Kansas City.
What did that earn them?
A trip to Pittsburgh.
You remember the play. Harbaugh, battered, bruised, bloodied. He was a Sunday afternoon gridiron gladiator, hoping the inspiration tank wasn't on empty yet. He lofted the ball high up into the air, and a thousand players jumped, pushed, cajoled for position as the ball arced downward, spelling either doom or destiny for the Colts.
Destiny is a fickle mistress, my friends. She teases us, taunts us, tests us.
"He caught the ball! Aaron Bailey caught the ball!"
Those were the words of Bob Lamey.
Then, seconds later, "Incomplete. They're ruling it incomplete."
Just like that, it was over. The magic of that 9-7 season, and that playoff run remains with me to this day. It's perhaps my most vivid and tangible memory as a Colts fan. Bigger than TD pass #49 to Brandon Stokley. Bigger than the Tampa Bay Comeback. Bigger than anything else I've ever remembered as a proud Colts fan.
Then came the New England game, a new memory so fresh, I can almost touch it, feel it. I replay it all back in my head, and it's so magnificent, so timeless. Just before halftime, the Colts score. It's 21-6.
And the Patriots are afraid. They're up by 15 points, and they're afraid. They know, somewhere deep down, they've awoken the sleeping giant. They know Foxboro Playoff Peyton is gone. In his place, a new fire burns in AFC Champion Peyton. We all saw it in that last drive before the half. For this stadium is not Foxboro. There's no snow on the field here, no supporting fans. If the Patriots are afraid, then the Colts are mad as hell. And they're not going to take it anymore.
No more Foxboro Folly.
No more Wide Right.
Nothing's gonna stand in their way now. Not Brady, not Belichick, and certainly not playoff history. No team ever rallied from an 18-point lead in a championship game before January 21, 2007. The history-making Colts did it. Now, they're Super Bowl Bound.
There were so many moments that turned this battle between Indianapolis and New England into one of the greatest playoff games in NFL history. Shot for shot, blow for blow, these teams matched one another. The Colts showed an indomitable will to win. The Patriots displayed a tenacious stubbornness to hold onto their dominance. In the end, it was not enough to keep the Colts down.
Several things worked against the Colts. Kickoff coverage, injuries, fourth down conversions. Manning played with a bruised thumb, chucking some shaky wounded ducks into the air. But he played hurt. And he made the throws, directing the offense so efficiently, the Patriots never had a chance.
After a brilliant drive that started at 2:17 and ended at 1:00, the Colts defense decided it was time to put Brady in his place. In domed stadiums, Brady hadn't lost a game, they say. Until January 21, 2007. That's the day Marlin Jackson picked off a desperate throw from #12 to end the game.
An unexpected hero. An unexpected outcome. Unexpected glory on a day that began so ominously.
38-34. This time, Willie McGinest was nowhere around to stop Edgerrin James. And James wasn't around to run it at the goal line either. That was up to Joseph Addai.