Sorry, Indy, it's your turn to suffer

January 15, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

PITTSBURGH -- Good, now Indianapolis can suffer.

All Aaron Bailey had to do was grab the Hail Mary pass, and the Colts were going to the Super Bowl.

Bailey was in the end zone.

The ball was on his belly.

But he couldn't bring it in, just as Baltimore can't bring back the Colts.

What goes around comes around.

Justice prevailed yesterday, with the Pittsburgh Steelers defeating the Colts, 20-16, in the AFC championship game.

The Colts could have won. The Colts should have won. But for once, good triumphed over evil in a league that rarely distinguishes between the two.

Good, as represented by the Steelers, their fiercely loyal fans and their hometown coach, Bill Cowher, who was crying as he left the field.

Evil, as represented by the Colts, the team that left Baltimore in a snowstorm 12 years ago, only to reinvent itself as the Cinderella story of the NFL.

Know what's crazy? Baltimore would have loved this team. It was the football version of the '89 Orioles, wide-eyed kids and wily veterans, playing their hearts out.

The Colts were 11-point underdogs yesterday. They were 0-8 at Three Rivers Stadium. They were trying to become the first dome team to make the Super Bowl.

And they came within one play of making it all happen.

"People thought Peter McNeeley was going to show up," quarterback Jim Harbaugh said. "But Mike Tyson came roaring out of this locker room."

Tyson, without the knockout punch.

What if Quentin Coryatt had made that gimme interception on the Steelers' final drive?

What if Lamont Warren had avoided that shoestring tackle on a critical third-and-one in the fourth quarter?

What if a referee had seen Kordell Stewart run out of the back of the end zone to get open for the Steelers' first touchdown?

Let Indianapolis wonder.

Let Indianapolis suffer.

The Colts started the final drive from their 16. Harbaugh had his right index finger bandaged to protect against an earlier cut. Then he dislocated his right middle finger with 39 seconds left.

"Now, maybe I'll be able to throw spirals," he said to a teammate, joking.

All day, all postseason, the Colts' offense had been wildly improvisational. Indianapolis' best two running backs were injured. And the way Harbaugh was scrambling, you could've sworn he was drawing up plays in the huddle.

Yet, there he was with five seconds to go, dropping back at the Pittsburgh 29, flinging his Hail Mary pass toward heaven.

Five Steelers defenders were waiting in the end zone.

And Bailey, falling backward, still almost caught the ball.

"I thought we lost another one," said Pittsburgh defensive back Carnell Lake, referring to the Steelers' last-second defeat in last year's AFC title game.

Indeed, several Colts signaled touchdown.

"It was like slow motion," Bailey said. "I said, 'C'mon, I have to hurry up and grab this ball.'

"I had one arm tied up. I couldn't get the other arm free. If I was able to get my other arm to the ball, it would have been another Immaculate Reception."

Wrong, Harbaugh said.

"It would have made up for the Immaculate Reception," said the childhood Raiders fan.

Heck, it was the same stadium where Franco Harris made his historic play in the playoffs in 1972. But on this day, the luck of the horseshoe ran out.

Take Stewart's touchdown.

No game officials saw him run out of the end zone.

The touchdown gave the Steelers a 10-6 halftime lead, but the Colts rallied back. They led 16-13 with less than three minutes left when Coryatt blew his big chance for an interception.

"I had the ball. I caught the ball," Coryatt said. "But the receiver was running a slant. He ran right into me. I don't even think he saw me. He knocked it out of my hands."

TTC Other plays proved just as haunting.

There was the third-and-one pitchout to Warren for a 2-yard loss, leading to a missed 47-yard field-goal try in the third quarter.

And there was the third-and-one run by Warren that was stopped only by a stunning tackle from behind by blitzing cornerback Willie Williams.

"I saw a ton of field in front of me," Warren said.

It came down to the final play, the Hail Mary pass, the ball on Aaron Bailey's belly.

"I had it for a split-second," Bailey said.

Well, Baltimore had the Colts 31 years before losing them.

Suck it up, Indianapolis.

Your turn to suffer.

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