Its Championship weekend in the NFL this Sunday. Going along with me theme of the last few weeks, I'll be looking back at some of the happier moments in Colts history.
Admittedly, I wasn't sure if I would have too much material, getting this late in January, to write about this week. But then I opened my Timehop app this morning, and instantly knew my topic for today.
Today, January 21, marks the nine year anniversary (to the day) of the AFC Championship Game between Indy and New England that vaulted the Colts to the Super Bowl.
This is still probably my favorite game in Colts history, and that is heightened due to the fact that I was at this game.
So let's do it, let's go back and look at the Colts AFC Championship win over the Patriots on January 21, 2007.
Heading into the playoffs, the Colts were the third seed in the AFC, and the Patriots were the fourth seed. The Colts would soundly defeat the Chiefs on the Saturday of Wild Card weekend, and the Patriots would follow up by dominating the Jets the next day.
In the Divisional Round, the Colts again played the Saturday game, going on the road and defeating the second seed Ravens in a field goal fest. The next day, the Patriots went into San Diego and knocked off the 14-2 Chargers.
This would bring the AFC Championship Game to Indianapolis for the first time ever, and would again see the Colts take on their rival in the playoffs. It also meant that the Colts did not need to travel to San Diego for the title game; something I (and I'm many of you) were thrilled about.
The AFC Championship Game was the second of the two title games that Sunday, so the Colts and Patriots knew that the winner would be facing the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.
This game was probably the earliest I ever arrived to the RCA Dome for a game. I've also never heard the Dome (or Lucas Oil for that matter) any louder during the pre-game warm-ups. Every time Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, or Bob Sanders (to name a few) were shown on the big screen, the crowd went wild. One of my favorite memories of pre-game was the camera focusing on first-year Colt (and former Patriot) Adam Vinatieri who promptly gave the camera, and the fans, two thumbs up.
There was still a game to be played, though.
The Patriots got on the board first with what would be one of the many bizarre touchdowns in the game. After running back Corey Dillon ripped off a 35 yard, the Patriots were set up on the goal line. There, Colts fans were given a glimmer of hope when Laurence Maroney coughed up the football on a botched hand-off with Tom Brady.
However, the ball rolled into the end zone, where it was recovered by Logan Mankins. Just like that, the Patriots were on the board leading 7-0.
The Colts were able to move the ball back down the field, but were forced to settle for a Vinatieri field goal, cutting the lead to 7-3.
The Patriots responded with a long touchdown drive, aided by a 27 yard pass on a fourth and 1, culminating in a Dillon seven yard run. Now, early in the second quarter, the Patriots led the Colts 14-3.
Things didn't get any better from there.
Three plays later, Asante Samuel jumped a pass from Manning to Harrison and took it to the house. Suddenly it was 21-3 Patriots and it was only the second quarter. The play prompted Bob Lamey to comment the obvious saying, "The Colts just aren't here."
It seemed like the route was on.
The Colts had been beaten down by New England in 2003 and (especially) 2004 in the playoffs. Fresh in the fans' memory was the similar deficit the Colts faced a year before against the Steelers.
For as loud as the Dome was before the game, it was eerily quiet at this point in the game.
The next score wouldn't happen until late in the quarter. Manning led the Colts on a beautiful two-minute drive to end the half. However, despite the boos from the fans, the Colts settled for a field goal to end the half.
The decision to kick, though, would be a wise one. As Phil Simms noted on the TV broadcast, kicking the field goal gave the Colts points, momentum, and made it a two score game. The Colts would also receive the kick to begin the second half.
The Colts got the ball right back to begin the second half and picked up right where they left off. Manning led the Colts down the field, and called his own number, sneaking into the end zone to make the score 21-13.
The defense then stopped Brady and the offense, giving the ball back to Manning.
The Colts again marched down the field to the Patriots goal line. This time, Manning dropped back to pass, finding defensive tackle Dan Klecko in the end zone for a touchdown. Klecko would be the second lineman to score in the game. Down 21-19, the Colts elected to go for two and tie the game. Manning found Harrison on the sideline and the game was tied.
It didn't take New England long to respond.
An 80 yard kick return by Ellis Hobbs set the Patriots up deep in Colts territory. Only three plays later, Brady found receiver Jabar Gaffney in the back of the end zone to put the Patriots back up 28-21.
Now the game took on a shoot-out style. Manning led the Colts right back down to the Patriots goal line. This time, the plan was to run the ball. Dominic Rhodes got the ball, but coughed up the rock on the Patriots one, prompting one of my favorite Bob Lamey calls of all time: "He fumbled the freaking football."
Earlier in the game, Maroney did the same thing, with his lineman bailing him out, recovering the ball in the end zone. The same thing would happen here. After Rhodes lost the ball, Jeff Saturday fell on the ball, scoring for the Colts. And the game was tied again.
After the score, the Colts and Patriots would trade field goals for most of the fourth quarter. Of course, there was some excitement on both sides of the ball.
The key play of the Patriots came deep in Colts territory. Just about everyone expected the Patriots to run the ball on a third and short. That was evident as the Colts put just about everyone in the box to match the Patriots heavy package.
What the Colts defense missed, though, was Patriots receiver Reche Caldwell out wide on the right had side. Literally no one was covering him. Obviously Brady noticed, and it looked like this would be the dumb mistake that would doom the Colts chances.
Except for one problem.
Brady threw the ball to Caldwell who flat out dropped the pass. His second such drop of the game.
The Colts had averted disaster.
There was potentially a bigger issue for the Colts, though, and one which those of us in the stadium really didn't know was an issue.
Mid-way through the quarter, Manning banged his throwing hand on Tarik Glenn's helmet, injuring his thumb.
The injury prompted Manning to tell back-up Jim Sorgi to "be ready." Not something Colts fans wanted to see in a close game with the Super Bowl on the line.
Of course, Manning would return.
The Colts got the ball with a little over two minutes left, down by 3. And Manning went to work.
On an efficient drive, Manning led the Colts down the field into the red zone. The drive was probably highlighted by Reggie Wayne nearly losing the ball on a slant route. Wayne was hit, sending the ball flying straight above the receiver. Somehow, Wayne was able to corral the football, preventing a costly fumble. Although, to be fair, there was a roughing the passer penalty on the play, so the Colts would have kept the ball anyway.
With a minute left, rookie Joseph Addai ran into the end zone to give the Colts was 38-34 lead in the title game.
Now Brady had the ball back in his hands with a minute to go, and a couple of timeouts. Too much time.
With time running down, Brady had the Patriots moving efficiently down the field.
Marlin Jackson put an end to that.
The corner picked off Brady in the middle of the field, before sliding to the turf, preserving the Colts win. The Patriots first turnover of the game came at the worst time, for them. It was official, the Colts had beaten the Patriots in the playoffs (still their ONLY victory over New England in the playoffs) and were going to the Super Bowl.
This Sunday, Manning and Brady will meet in Denver for what will probably be their final match-up. In the playoffs, Manning and Brady are 2-2 against each other, both winning at home and losing on the road.