A second chance coach, a comeback quarterback, a Cinderella season, and the coming of age of a probably hall of fame running back gave the fans of Indy plenty to be excited about in 1995.
In 1992, Ted Marchibroda was brought back for a second stint as the Colts head coach, having coach the then Baltimore Colts from 75-79. He led the team to a 9-7 record, but then the team struggled for the next two years, going 4-12 with Jeff George at the helm, and then 8-8 with Jim Harbaugh. 1994 also saw the arrival of Marshal Faulk, one of the best running backs of the recent era. Rookie TE Ken Dilger was the only notable draft pick, catching 42 passes that year for over 600 yards. However, unlike the NFL of today, he was given a chance to right the ship.
1995 had the Colts start off 1-2 entering an early-season bye. Coming out of the bye, however, the team ripped off 3 straight wins to get their record to 4-2 - with every game decided by less than a touchdown. However, the next week they were beaten handily by the Raiders, 30-17, and at 4-3 looked at the next game (vs the Jets) as a defining game. They didn't want to go into the middle of the season at .500. They beat the Jets, 17-10 - their first win by more than 3 points of the season. Then, things got tough.
Back to back losses against the Bills and Saints left the Colts at 5-5 with 6 games left - with the Patriots next on the schedule. Things weren't looking good, but the games were close again, 6 points and 3 respectively. The Colts were proving to be a resilient team, and their defense held the line time and time again.
They beat the Patriots by two touchdowns, in their best performance of the year. They followed that up with an 8 point win over the Dolphins to sit confidently at 7-5 and in control of their destiny. A 3 point loss to the Panthers stunned the Colts, but they came right back with a 10 point win over the Jaguars. The up-and-down trend continued as they dropped a 3 point game to the Chargers, followed by a 3 point win over the Patriots to finish the season at 9-7, in second place in the AFC East behind the Buffalo Bills.
Jim Harbaugh won comeback player of the year as he led the NFL with a 100.7 rating.- and he and Marshall Faulk went to the Pro Bowl that year.
The NFL playoffs proved once again how mature and dangerous the Colts truly were.
In the first round, the Colts were to face the Chargers, a team they had just lost to a couple of weeks ago. To add to the pressure, Marshall Faulk was injured in the first series, thrusting rookie rb/fb Zack Crockett into the starting role. Prior to this game, the rookie had 1 carry all year. He responded with 147 yards and 2 TDs. Indy found itself down twice, but both times rallied - and an impressive defensive series forced the Chargers to settle for a field goal which could only cut the Colts lead to 21-20. The Colts then put the Chargers away for good with a huge 66 yard TD run by Crockett and a 3 yard run by Harbaugh to blow out the Chargers 35-20. Notable as well was Chargers QB Stan Humphries 4 INTs.
Next up was the Kansas City Chiefs, which followed up a 2 year run with ex-49er QB Joe Montana with another ex-49er QB in Steve Bono. However, he was injured and replaced by later-Raider and NFL MVP Rich Gannon. 4 turnovers by the Chiefs and 3 missed field goals ruined the Chiefs NFL-best season 10-7 as the "out of nowhere" Colts advanced to the Championship Game to face the Steelers.
The game, labeled as one of the NFL's best Championship games, and later the focus of an NFL films special perfectly summed up the Colts miraculous season to this point. The teams started off hitting field goals back and forth, with the Colts up 6-3 before a controversial call changed the game.
QB/WR/?? Kordell "Slash" Stewart caught what appeared to be a 5 yard touchdown, however replays clearly showed he stepped out of bounds before making the catch; however, it could not be determined if he stepped out on his own - which would be a penalty - or if he was bumped out. In the end, inconclusive evidence let the TD stand and the Steelers took the lead 10-6.
Back to back field goals left the score differential the same at 13-9. A 4th quarter 47 yard touchdown from Harbaugh to Floyd Turner gave the Colts the lead late. However, with 3:03 left, the Steelers drove to the 1, where Bam Morris put the Steelers ahead 20-16 with 1:34 left. But the Colts weren't about to give up, and Harbaugh once again began a comeback drive.
Sadly, it was not meant to be. Harbaugh drove the Colts to the Pittsburgh 29 before attempting a Hail Mary pass with 5 seconds left. A tangle of arms and legs had the ball bounce in and out and almost into the hands of Colts WR Aaron Bailey, but it was knocked loose again - and the Colts were heartbroken. The Steelers went on to face the Cowboys, where Neil O'Donnell literally threw the game away with 2 INTs that were converted to TDs, and the Steelers lost 27-17.
As for the Colts, changes were on the horizon, as 1996 ended the Marchibroda era and began the Lindy Infante era. Notable was the drafting of Marvin Harrison. They again were 9-7, and again lost to the Steelers in the playoffs. They then went 3-13 and Infante was gone - replaced by Tony Dungy and rookie QB Peyton Manning. The rest is history.
As for those Colts players and their Coach, Harbaugh and Faulk made it through the Infante years, before Harbaugh was gone to the Baltimore Ravens in 98. He rejoined Ted Marchibroda, who became the head man in Baltimore after his Colts stint. 98 was their one year together, as both were gone after that 6-10 season (Marchibroda having gone 4-12, and 6-9-1 the years before). Harbaugh then started 12 games for the Chargers in 99 (6-6) and was 0-5 in 2000 before retiring and later become the head coach at Stanford. Faulk left in 99 for the Rams, where he played his way to a (most assuredly) Hall of Fame career.
But this season was more about one determined team - with second chance leaders and a hall of fame running back that gave Colts and NFL fans everywhere a roller-coaster ride for the ages...