The 1995 Colts: Building the Franchise
Most Colts fans these days will tell you that the best team Indianapolis has ever put on the field was the 2006-2007 Colts who won the Super Bowl and brought a championship to Indianapolis for the first time in team history. I got to tell you that it’s hard to disagree with that since that was one of the best moments in my life of being a Colts fan.
However, Colts fans that were around when the team arrived in Indianapolis (1984) and specifically in the mid 1990’s, know that it was the 1995 team that truly put the Indianapolis Colts on the map. It was the team that finally took the limelight away from Indiana basketball and shined it onto professional football (at least on Sunday’s anyway). It was the team that took the long time Colts fans who had endured years of losing and grief, and gave them hope… gave them pride… and gave them a team to root for. It was a team that made Colts fans… COLTS FANS!!!
Before the 1995 season, Colts fans had little to cheer for. Since the Colts arrival in Indianapolis through the 1994 season the miserable Colts had only won a total of 74 of 191 games (387 win percentage). They had only four seasons over the span of twelve years in which their record was 500 or better, and they only reached the playoffs one time which resulted in a loss. In 1991, the Colts nearly became winless as they squeaked out only one win the entire season. The Colts were the laughing stock of the league, and Indianapolis was no place to be if you were a football fan.
But in 1995 something happened that had never happened in the history of the Indianapolis Colts… they began to win. Not just a few games… and not just in the regular season. They began to win games in the playoffs as well.
The 1995 Colts started off slow with a 1-2 record going into the week 4 bye. Their starting QB (Craig Erickson) had been injured and the formerly benched Jim Harbaugh would be the one leading the huddle in week 5. It seemed like the same old Colts having yet another disaster season.
And then it happened. Jim Harbaugh took the field and beat the St. Louis Rams with a nail biter score of 21-18. Then he did it again the next week with a 27-24 win over the Dolphins in over-time. The following week, the Colts trumped the defending champion San Fransisco 49ers 18-17, and suddenly the Colts were 4-2 and had just beaten the best team in the NFL.
Over the next few weeks, Jim Harbaugh and company put together a string of wins to finish the regular season with a 9-7 record which earned them a wild-card spot in the playoffs.
Over the regular season, Jim Harbaugh and the Colts were earning respect from the league with four come-from-behind wins. The Colts were not winning games by large margins, but they were winning. And those come-from-behind wins had finally earned quarterback Jim Harbaugh (now nicknamed “Captain Comeback”) a spot in Colts History. He earned the NFL passer rating title with a 100.7 rating, was voted to the Pro Bowl, was runner up in the MVP voting, was named the Comeback Player of the Year, and AFC Player of the year.
It wasn’t just about Harbaugh’s great season though. That season was about the team. Starting running back Marshall Faulk had put up great numbers but in the playoffs would become injured. The Colts would soon rely on back-up running backs Lamont Warren, Roosevelt Potts, and Zack Crockett to handle the load. Aaron Bailey and Floyd Turner were the wide out’s that became instant all-stars. And who can forget the 300 some pound Tony Saragossa, who would prove pivotal, as he somehow managed to leap (what seemed like 30 feet in the air) to block a key field goal in the playoffs? This was a TEAM from head to toe… and one that could grind out victories the hard way.
The Colts entered the 1995-1996 playoffs with momentum and perhaps destiny on their side. In the Wild Card game, the Colts finally got their first win in the playoffs since relocating to Indianapolis while crushing the Chargers 35-20 (The game where Saragossa leaped like a pole vaulter into the air to block a field goal).
Against the Kansas City Chiefs in the divisional playoff game, the Colts managed another close win with a score of 10-7 (The game where Faulk would go down and the back-up tandem of Warren, Potts, and Crockett would dominate).
Then came the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Colts were ready. This was their chance. This was their destiny. One more game… just one more win and the Colts would advance to the first Super Bowl in Indianapolis history. This was their time.
The Colts took the field with the Steelers in that AFC title game prepared for battle, and a battle it was. While the Pittsburgh Steelers were heavily favored, the Colts made it clear that this would be no easy win for the Steelers.
Just before half time, the Colts led the game 7-3 until Steeler’s quarterback connected with Cordell (Slash) Stewart on a 5 yard touchdown. But this play was not without controversy. Instant replay on television showed that Stewart ran out of the back of the end-zone prior to re-entering the field of play and catching the pass. Therefore the TD should have been negated and should have sent the Colts into half time with a 4 point lead. However in 1995, there was no instant replay challenge and the referees did not see the call on the field. The touchdown would stand and the Cinderella season of the Colts seemed like it may have been reaching an end.
The Colts however had a different ending in mind and came out firing as Captain Comeback fired a 47 yard bomb down field to wide-out Floyd Turner with nine minutes remaining in the game. Not to be out done, the Steelers fire back late in the game and scored with just over one minute remaining. Was this the end to the brilliant season of the Colts? Not just yet. The Colts dug deep and drove the field to the 35 yard line of the Steelers and launched a hailmary pass with only seconds remaining on the clock. The ball seemed like it was in the air for hours before being tipped several times. When it finally came down… Colts receiver Aaron Bailey would be laying in the end-zone with the ball on his chest… and then it rolled off… right along with the hopes and dreams of every Colts fan.
It was a heart breaker of a game, and the Colts organization and its fans had been on a roller coaster ride that could never be matched. They had lost… but they had made the City and the State of Indiana proud.
The 1995 Colts didn’t win a Super Bowl.. or even their division for that matter. They weren’t the most talented team that the franchise has ever had, and they didn’t continue their success over an extended amount of time.
They were simply the best of what sports provides for its fans. They were no-name athletes that overachieved. They were underdogs that found a way to win over and over again. They were regular blue color type of guys that had personalities the public could relate to. And most of all… had the desire and heart to achieve great things.
The 2006-2007 Colts may have been the most talented team in Franchise history, they certainly achieved higher status by winning the Super Bowl.
The 1995 team though… now that was the team that laid the foundation for Colts fans. That was the team that built the franchise.