Harbaugh's touch put ball in right hands

November 30, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

So much of what Jim Harbaugh does on a football field is spontaneous. His last and best handoff yesterday was no different.

Harbaugh sees defenders coming, he scrambles out of the pocket. He saw John Unitas on the Ravens' sideline, he ran over to give him the game ball.

A bow to the past? A gesture for the fans? A tribute to the greatest Colt of all?

"Don't give me that much credit. I'm not that smart," Harbaugh said after leading the Ravens' 38-31 victory over Indianapolis.

"He's always been a hero of mine. He has been an inspiration for me and the city. I thought, 'Who would really like to have the ball?' No. 19."

Unitas was chatting with friends, relatives and Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary when Harbaugh interrupted, shaking Unitas' hand, patting him twice on the shoulder.

"This one's for you," Harbaugh said.

"Thank you," Unitas replied, stunned.

"I never saw him until he was on top of me," Unitas said. "It was a big surprise. It was awfully nice of him to do that."

Much as Harbaugh downplayed the moment, he seemed to have the best sense of what yesterday's game meant to the city, what this was all about.

"[The fans] turned on the Colts shortly after they came out there. They turned on us shortly after that," Harbaugh said.

"It was either get run out of town, laughed out of town or win the game."

That about summed it up, didn't it?

"I prayed this week. I trusted God for an impossible blessing," Harbaugh said. "Us putting 38 points on the board, you know that came from above."

The Ravens trailed 17-3 at the end of one quarter, 24-13 at halftime and 31-21 entering the final period.

But they scored on four of five second-half possessions before running out the clock, matching the highest point total in their three-year history.

"[Harbaugh] almost had to play a perfect game. At the end there, we had to score about every time we had the ball," coach Ted Marchibroda said.

Almost perfect? Harbaugh smiled. "I haven't heard that in a while," he said.

That's Captain Comeback, forever self-deprecating, forever honest.

Why did he try to throw long early?

"They know me so well. They probably know I can't go deep," Harbaugh said of his former team. "I tried to cross them up a little bit."

He was still wisecracking when two Indianapolis reporters approached in the locker room, calling him "Harbro."

"That's what [Robert] Irsay used to call me," Harbaugh said. "He never could get it."


"Something like that," Harbaugh said.

Clearly, it was a special victory for Harbaugh and the rest of the old Indianapolis gang -- Marchibroda, Tony Siragusa and Floyd Turner.

But the game was bigger than any personal redemption, and Harbaugh quickly sensed the, uh, "displeasure" from the crowd.

The Ravens trailed a team that is 0-5 on the road, 2-10 on the season and 5-24 since Dec. 21, 1996.

They trailed a team that stole the city's name, colors and football heritage, and never gave it back.

On this day, they had no choice but to produce 17 fourth-quarter points, no choice but to win the game or lose the city for a long, long time.

"I guess we're safe for a while," defensive end Rob Burnett said.

Safe in large part due to their quarterback, whose team was 0-6 trailing after three periods until he led the 13th fourth-quarter comeback of his career, and first as a Raven.

Harbaugh hit a 53-yard pass to Jermaine Lewis early in the third quarter, setting up a touchdown and two-point conversion that cut the deficit to 24-21.

He finished with 16 completions in 25 attempts for 198 yards and two touchdowns -- nothing to make the Colts regret drafting Peyton Manning, but good enough.

Attention, Irsay, wherever you are:

It's H-a-r-b-a-u-g-h.

"The last time I heard him say [Harbro], we played the Bears in the preseason," Harbaugh said. "I was the backup at the time. He was still healthy, feeling good.

"I had a good game against the Bears. He came into the press conference after the game. Before anyone could start asking questions, he said, 'Put in that Harbro guy. I like that Harbro.' "

"That Harbro" brought the Colts within one play of the Super Bowl in 1995, but he came to Baltimore in the twilight of his career. It's too bad, really -- Ravens fans would love him, if only he could recapture his old magic.

Harbaugh doesn't completely grasp this city's anger over March 28, 1984 -- "We know the fans here in Baltimore don't hate the Colts, don't hate Indianapolis, don't hate Irsay," he said.

But at least he tries to understand.

"Sometimes you get the feeling that they would like to have had an expansion team, but you can't always have your cake and eat it, too," Harbaugh said.

"We just want them to be proud of us. Hopefully today, we made them proud."

Beating the Colts and reaching out to Unitas will do that.

Way to go, Harbro.

Pub Date: 11/30/98

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