Oh, unhappy day: Colts end drought

January 01, 1996|By JOHN EISENBERG

SAN DIEGO -- How do you ruin New Year's Eve in Baltimore before one champagne cork is popped?

That's easy. Let the Colts win a playoff game for the first time since Earl Morrall was quarterback.

Buuuurp.

But it really happened yesterday at Jack Murphy Stadium: Indianapolis 35, San Diego 20.

Unhappy New Year, everyone.

The Snowy Midnights are dancing on air today. Not even the Browns' pending arrival can keep stomachs all over town from souring.

Try not to get too upset about it, though. At the rate the Colts

are going, they won't win another playoff game until Jan. 4, 2020.

That would be in 8,771 days, which, until yesterday, was how long they had gone without a playoff win.

Twenty-four years and five days before yesterday, they beat the Browns, 20-3, in the AFC semifinals on Dec. 26, 1971. In Cleveland. Before a sellout crowd.

Help! Irony overdose!

"How could I remember 1971? I wasn't even born in 1971," Colts running back Zack Crockett said yesterday.

A rookie from Florida State, Crockett took over when Marshall Faulk was injured early and deep-sixed the Chargers with 147 yards rushing. He set two franchise playoff records that dated to Baltimore -- rushing yards in a game and longest touchdown run -- but neither was listed in the media guide.

Wonder no more whether the Colts' Baltimore tradition has truly vanished in all corners of the sporting world except the Colt Corrals.

Johnny U has left and gone away.

couldn't name you one player from the '71 team," linebacker Trev Alberts said.

"I know they won some championships and stuff back then," defensive back Jason Belser said. "Isn't that right?"

Should we tell him?

Actually, to be fair, a few current Colts came close to grasping the meaning of yesterday's win.

"I do a little bit," quarterback Jim Harbaugh said. "I know that it's been a tough go for this franchise for a pretty long time. I know that we wanted to win today to gain some respect back for the Colts name and for the city [Indianapolis, not Baltimore]. People always say, 'Same old Colts, average ballclub.' Maybe this will change that idea some."

Maybe, maybe not. Beating a 9-7 team in the watered-down playoffs of a watered-down league doesn't exactly raise echoes of Lombardi. And the Colts figure to get smoked in Kansas City next week.

But, as tough as it may be, let's give them credit for what they pulled off yesterday. The Chargers were the defending conference champions, playing at home, in a stadium that rocks like few others in the NFL. Faulk went down with a knee bruise on the Colts' first offensive play. It didn't look good for the Snowy Midnights.

"But we have a good football team," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "People just don't think we do. But we have now beaten both of the teams that played in the Super Bowl last year."

True story. They beat the 49ers by a point in October. Another spoiled day in Baltimore.

Yesterday, the Colts kept the game close for three quarters and pulled away late with a series of big plays. The biggest was Crockett's 66-yard touchdown run.

"Crockett basically won the game for us," receiver Sean Dawkins said.

Timely big plays were what the Colts lacked in the five losses that constituted their 24-year postseason losing streak. The first four losses came while the team was still in Baltimore. Marchibroda was the coach for the last three, a run of first-round losses in 1975-77.

"It's nice to win a playoff game for the first time," said Marchibroda, who was fired by Irsay in 1979 and rehired in 1992. "The thing I remember most about the Baltimore playoff losses was that they were all to teams that were competing hard for the Super Bowl."

True enough. The Colts lost to Pittsburgh in '75 and '76 and Oakland in '77 when those teams were in their heydays. Of course, playing in the AFC today means you don't have to worry about running into a Super Bowl contender in the conference playoffs.

But other than Marchibroda, no one in the Colts' dressing room was interested in summoning the franchise's past, good or bad. They were too busy celebrating.

"You got to respect the horseshoe now!" Belser shouted to no one in particular. "The horseshoe is for real! You got to respect it now!"

Unhappy New Year, Baltimore.

Over in the corner of the locker room, where a jubilant Harbaugh was taking all questions from all comers, Baltimore did come up several times. "Did Unitas call you?" someone asked.

"Why would he call me?" Harbaugh said.

"You're the first Colt quarterback since him to win the league passing title."

Harbaugh scrunched up his nose, as if the idea of Unitas calling him was absurd.

"Those guys from those days don't really come around," he said.

Pause.

"Oh, wait," he said. "Weeb Ewbank did come out to practice one day this year."

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