ESPN has recently been filling the offseason in which they got beat out for the Lebron James news by looking at each NFL team's best play in their respective histories.
Mike Wells, the excellent beat writer for ESPN's Colts coverage, wrote Friday about the best play in Colts history, and it was no surprise: Marlin Jackson's game-clinching interception against Tom Brady to send the Colts to the Super Bowl. Really, could it have been anything different?
It's a game that will go down as the greatest in Colts history, the greatest in Peyton Manning's history, and the greatest memory for many Colts fans. The Colts vs. Patriots rivalry was well documented and, while the tide had begun to turn after the Colts win in Foxborough in 2005, the Colts had yet to get past that hurdle of getting past the Patriots to the Super Bowl. Twice in the past five years the Patriots had beaten the Colts in the playoffs on their way to winning the Super Bowl, and three times in the past five years the Patriots were the ones hoisting the Lombardi Trophy while the Colts hadn't hoisted the Trophy since 1970, when they were still in Baltimore.
Nobody expected the Colts to go anywhere in the playoffs that year - not after losing three of four late in the season after an utter collapse of the run defense. The Colts, facing one of the leagues best running backs in the Chiefs's Larry Johnson in the wild card round, looked destined for yet another one-and-done. But Tony Dungy maintained his philosophy and instilled confidence. Bob Sanders returned, as did Dallas Clark. Suddenly, a team that was left for dead came to life. A team with an offensive juggernaut became defensively dominant. The Colts shut down Johnson and the Chiefs and advanced to play the Ravens on the road in the divisional round. With the offense yet again just a bit out of sync, the defense powered the way and Adam Vinatieri's five field goals were enough to win it. The Colts were heading to the AFC Championship game and they'd be playing it at home. Of course, their opponent would be the Patriots. For the right to go to the Super Bowl.
The game started out as a disaster in every sense of the word for the Colts. Their defense was rolled over and they weren't helped out by their offense, most notably when Peyton Manning threw a pick-six. At halftime, the score was 21-6 Patriots. Shocked and embarrassed don't begin to do it justice, but Tony Dungy never lost faith. And behind their leader, the Colts slowly began to believe as well.
Manning led the Colts to a few scoring drives and before long the score was evened up. The game then turned into a shoutout between the league's two best quarterbacks, and with just a few minutes remaining the Patriots led 34-31 as the Colts offense took the field. It was the biggest moment in Peyton Manning's career, and it would soon become the defining moment. Manning led the Colts offense quickly down the field and then with 1:02 remaining in the game, Joseph Addai ran it in from two yards out. Colts 38, Patriots 34.
But it wasn't over yet. Tom Brady had led several game-winning drives in the playoffs before, and several thought he'd do it again here. As Brady led the Patriots offense down the field approaching midfield, Colts nation held their collective breath and hoped for a miracle.
That miracle came in the form of a second year starting cornerback out of the University of Michigan. As the future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady took the snap and threw the ball, Marlin Jackson stepped in front of the pass and picked it all, immediately falling to the ground to end the play and the game. He was mobbed by his teammates as the RCA Dome erupted into complete euphoria. Bob Lamey's call of the play still gives me chills: "INTERCEPTED! MARLIN JACKSON! MARLIN'S GOT IT - WE'RE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!! WE'RE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!!"
The Colts had finally overcome the hurdle and made it to the Super Bowl, and in doing so had finally overcome the hurdle of beating their rival Patriots in the playoffs.
The game is widely regarded by Colts fans as the greatest moment in franchise history, and I agree completely. It's the greatest game of Peyton Manning's career - in a career that has seen a heck of a lot of great games.
Two weeks later, the Colts defeated the Chicago Bears in the rain in Super Bowl XLI and finally got to hoist that Lombardi Trophy that had evaded them for so many years. The Indianapolis Colts were Super Bowl champions.
On ESPN's poll, Jackson's interception received 40 percent of the votes - a surprisingly low number. A close second was Peyton Manning's record-breaking 49th touchdown pass in 2004 against the Chargers, as that received 38 percent of the vote. Coming in as a distant third was Andrew Luck's game-winning touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton in last season's comeback against the Chiefs, as that play received just 22 percent of the votes. My top three would look different than that top three, but my number one would be exactly the same. Honestly, I'm surprised the vote was even close. The Colts have had several great plays, but there is none that are greater than Marlin Jackson's interception of Tom Brady to send the Colts to the Super Bowl.