What if . . .
- . . . Alex Rodriguez had been traded to Boston?
- . . . The '94 MLB strike never happened?
- . . . Babe Ruth was sold elsewhere?
- . . . Williams and Dimaggio didn't go to war?
- . . . Michael Jordan had continued playing baseball?
- . . . N.C. State hadn't pulled off its miracle?
- . . . The Blazers had better injury luck?
- . . . Big Ben was drafted by the Giants?
- . . . Donald Trump had made the Bills great?
- . . . Drew Brees had passed his Dolphins physical?
- . . . These field goal attempts had been good?
- . . . George Halas had died in a boat wreck?
- . . . Jim Harbaugh had stuck with Alex Smith as 49ers quarterback?
- . . . The NFL map looked like this?
- . . . Peyton Manning went to San Diego?
- . . . Teddy Roosevelt hadn't revolutionized football?
- . . . Terrell Owens was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame?
- . . . LeBron James had chosen soccer over basketball?
- . . . U.S. soccer got the right call in the '02 World Cup?
- . . . Cleveland had been saved by George Steinbrenner?
- . . . These draft moments had happened differently?
- . . . Injuries had never altered these five careers?
- . . . Lance Armstrong had been whipped by cancer?
- . . . Muhammad Ali had never met Malcolm X?
- . . . PEDs had been legal all along?
- . . . Steve Bartman had never gone to Wrigley?
- . . . Things had happened differently for these four illustrious coaches?
- . . . Tiger Woods had pursued a career as a Navy Seal?
- . . . These trades had actually happened?
- . . . Wayne Gretzky hadn't been traded to the Kings?
David E. Klutho; Photo illustration by SI Premedia
What If ... Kelly Holcomb's nightmare game hadn't sent Peyton Manning to the Colts?
by Lee Jenkins
On the list of people I blame for the loss of my hometown football team, first comes Dean Spanos, the imbecilic owner who spent 15 years complaining about the Chargers’ stadium without ever legitimately trying to build a new one. Kelly Holcomb comes second.
On Dec. 21, 1997, the 2–13 Colts played their regular-season finale at Minnesota. Jim Harbaugh started at quarterback for Indianapolis, and midway through the second quarter the score was tied at 10. But Harbaugh sustained two injuries during the game, to his head and to his shoulder, forcing his backup into action.
On Holcomb’s third snap he threw an interception. On his seventh snap he threw another. On his ninth he fumbled. The Colts went to halftime down 29–10—but Harbaugh returned in the third quarter and rallied them. Indy trailed by only eight with 5:17 left in the fourth when Holcomb trotted back onto the field again. He fumbled his first snap. He threw another interception on his fourth.
His totals for the day: 15 snaps, five turnovers and two cities forever changed. What if Harbaugh had stayed upright? What if Holcomb—a serviceable backup who topped 300 passing yards five times in 25 career starts—had simply held on to the ball and the Colts had won? They’d have finished 4–12, the same record as the Cardinals and the Chargers, and with tiebreakers, the 1997 draft order would have gone like this: Arizona, San Diego, Indianapolis.
The Cardinals already had their quarterback of the future, Jake Plummer, leaving the Chargers to choose between Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. Even Spanos couldn’t bungle that. Instead of Indy, San Diego would have landed the Super Bowl trophy and the shiny downtown stadium.
Seven years later, when the Chargers selected Peyton’s younger brother with the first pick, the Manning family wisely leveraged Eli’s trade to the Giants. What if they had protected Peyton from the Spanos family’s incompetence the same way they did Eli? Peyton would have wound up right where he needed to be, in downtown Indianapolis, and Spanos where he wanted to be, on the outskirts of L.A.