Finding Buckner: An Indianapolis Colts Scapegoat Tournament

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Every franchise has one - the player/fan/coach that kept you from getting to the top when you should have. In Boston it's Bill Buckner. In Chicago it's Steve Bartman. In Buffalo it's Scott Norwood. Who is the biggest scapegoat in Indianapolis Colts history? That hasn't been determined - yet.

If you're a sports fan you probably remember the 1986 World Series. That series can be summarized by one name, whether it's fair or not....

Bill Buckner.

You remember it don't you? The Red Sox were leading the series 3-2 and Game 6 had gone into extra innings. A routine ground ball was hit to Buckner at first base when the unthinkable happened. Reminiscent of my days in Little League, the ball rolled through the legs of the first baseman and the winning run came around to score. Game over.

For years Buckner's name was synonymous with failure - he was the reason the team hadn't gotten the championship they deserved. He was the villain. The scapegoat. The name that sparked anger in every Red Sox fan that walked around Boston.

And (of course) this got me thinking. Who is the Indianapolis Colts' Bill Buckner? Who was one of our own that kept the franchise from realizing the success of a championship earlier? That's why, over the next couple of weeks I will post a series of articles that puts some of the biggest scapegoats in Colts history against each other in a 'loser-take-all' tournament.

This is going to be fun.

A couple of months ago I reached out to Colts fans via Twitter (follow me @ColtsInsiders) and asked who they would nominate for such a dubious crown. In other words - in Indianapolis Colts history, who do you love to hate? I got about 12 different names. I selected the best of the best and took the liberty of seeding the top eight.

  1. Mike Vanderjagt
  2. Jeff George
  3. Jim Caldwell
  4. Hank Baskett
  5. Ron Meeks
  6. Bill Polian
  7. Nick Harper
  8. Aaron Bailey

Our first match-up will be between the #1seed, Mike Vanderjagt and the #8 seed, Aaron Bailey. I'll make the case for each one and you can vote for the winner below.

#1 Mike Vanderjagt

Profile: Vanderjagt was originally a quarterback at Michigan State before ending up at West Virginia as a kicker and punter for the Mountaineers. Mike bounced around Arena Football and the CFL before joining the Colts in 1998. He retired as the most accurate kicker in NFL and CFL history, hitting nearly 87% of his attempts.

Years with the Colts: 1998-2005

Best Moments:

  1. In 2003 Vanderjagt went a perfect 37 for 37 on field goals during the regular season and 3 for 3 during the playoffs becoming the first kicker in NFL history to have a 'perfect' season.
  2. Led the NFL in scoring in 1999.
  3. Vanderjagt holds the record for most consecutive field goals made at 42.
  4. Most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history (minimum 100 attempts).
Why he is on the list: Of all the responses I received on Twitter, Mike Vanderjagt topped them all. It's amazing to me that he seems to be the most disliked Colt of the Indianapolis era. Here are the lowlights:
  1. After the 2003 season, in the Pro Bowl, Vanderjagt (Mr. 37 for 37) missed a game tying 51 yard field goal with three seconds left.
  2. Vanderjagt's streak of 42 straight field goals was broken on the Monday Night opener in 2004 against the New England Patriots. The Colts lose 27-24.
  3. In a 2000 playoff game against Miami Vanderjagt misses 49 yard field goal in overtime.
  4. Following the 2002 season, Vanderjagt goes on a Canadian television program and questions the leadership of Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy. Manning follows with his historic 'idiot kicker' comments at the Pro Bowl.
  5. During the 2004 playoffs Vanderjagt describes the Patriots as 'ripe for the picking' in their playoff matchup with the Colts. This bulletin board material inspires the Patriots and leads to Rodney Harrison proclaiming Vanderjagt as 'Vanderjerk'. The Patriots go on to win the game 20-3 and are the eventual Super Bowl Champs.
  6. In the 2005 NFL playoffs the highly favored Colts (coming off a bye) played host to the Pittsburgh Steelers. With 18 seconds left to play and the Colts trailing 21-18 Vanderjagt misses a 46 yard field goal very wide (like not even close) right. Compounding the problem, Vanderjagt goes on David Letterman and successfully makes a 46 yard field goal with Letterman as the holder.
Summary : Mike Vanderjagt is the #1 seed in this tournament for a reason - he wasn't all that likable. He missed clutch kicks when they mattered most and said some dumb things about two of the most loved Colts of all time (Manning and Dungy). He displayed arrogance and was outspoken while playing a position that most in the NFL don't respect. His stats say that he was one of the best kickers in NFL history but Colts fans remember him a very different way.


#8 Aaron Bailey

Profile: Used primarily as a kick returner throughout his career, Aaron Bailey had just 67 career receptions for 6 touchdowns over 5 NFL seasons. Returned two kickoffs for touchdowns during his career. Finished his career playing in the XFL and the Arena Football League.

Years with the Colts: 1994-1998

Why he is on this list: 1995 AFC Championship Game. The Colts trailed 20-16 with 1:34 left in the game. Jim Harbaugh and the miraculous Colts had finished the year 9-7 and scrapped their way through the playoffs with nicknames like 'Captain Comeback' and slogans like 'Let 'er Rip'. Harbaugh gets the Colts to the Steelers 31 yard line with 6 seconds left and is forced to throw one final Hail Mary pass. The ball falls into Bailey's lap as he hits the turf and barely scrapes the ground before he scoops it up. Game over - Steelers go to the Super Bowl.

Summary: Most Colts fans agree that the playoff run of 1995 was the beginning of our love affair with the team. Would the Colts have gone on to win the Super Bowl if Bailey had caught that pass? In Bailey's defense, there were several other plays that could have changed the outcome of that game (Coryatt dropped an interception, Kordell Stewart stepped out of bounds and Harbaugh nearly throwing an interception on the final drive) but it's his that will be remembered. There was one good thing to come of this - the Captain Comeback and the Colts eventually puttered out again and went 1-15 again in 1997 leading to the #1 pick in the 1998 NFL Draft.... Peyton Manning.

I've presented both sides. Now it's your turn.

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